United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Gregory Ellis claims that while working for the United States
Navy, he was subjected to discrimination, retaliation, and a
hostile work environment because of his disability. He thus
brought this suit against Secretary of Defense James N.
Mattis, asserting violations of the Rehabilitation Act, Title
VII, and the Family Medical Leave Act. The Secretary now
moves to dismiss all but the FMLA claim, principally arguing
that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies
or state a plausible hostile-work-environment claim. Agreeing
that none of the challenged claims as currently pled may
proceed, the Court will grant the Motion.
the facts in the Complaint are true, as it must at this
stage, the Court begins with Plaintiff's active duty in
the Navy from 1995 to 2001. He suffered a stroke or transient
ischemic attack during that time, resulting in
“persistent migraine headaches” that continue to
this day. See Compl., ¶¶ 10-12. These
migraines “substantially limit” Ellis's
“visual acuity, sleeping, reading, concentrating, and
working.” Id., ¶ 26. In 2002, the
Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that he had a 30%
service-related disability from his migraines, a
determination it recertified in 2006. Id., ¶
12. “His disability has worsened since 2014, ”
when Ellis was “separate[ly] diagnose[d]” with
depression and anxiety attacks. Id., ¶ 27.
relevant here, Ellis worked as an Archives Specialist and
Archivist for the Naval History and Heritage Command in
Washington, D.C., from around 2010 until January 2018.
Id., ¶¶ 3, 19. His responsibilities
included accessioning and deaccessioning records -
i.e., transferring Navy records to and from the
custody of the National Archives. See ECF No. 8
(Def. MTD), Exh. A (Investigative File) at ECF p. 26; see
also National Archives and Records Administration,
Accessioning Guidance and Policy (Mar. 10, 2017),
https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/accessioning. He was
also charged with performing “[v]arious data entry
procedures for documents” and “physical
labor” such as “moving boxes, file cabinets,
[and] packaging records.” Investigative File at ECF p.
claims that his supervisors initially accommodated his
migraines by allowing him to telework upon request.
See Compl., ¶¶ 3, 18, 52. At some point
during 2015, however, this accommodation allegedly ceased
when Ellis began working with new supervisors. Id.,
¶¶ 28-34. Although Defendant continued to
“permit liberal teleworking” by other employees
in the History and Heritage Command, Ellis claims that his
new supervisors denied him that accommodation on
“numerous” occasions in 2015 and 2016.
Id., ¶¶ 30, 35-36. Instead, they
“belittled and marginalized” him, with one
supervisor remarking that the medical documentation of his
disability was “irrelevant.” Id.,
result of this treatment, Plaintiff alleges that he felt
pressure to resign. Id., ¶ 39. In February
2016, he met with the Command's Director - Samuel Cox -
to explain that he was leaving because of a “lack of
accommodation” and “persistent, continuous
harassment in the workplace.” Id.,
¶¶ 38-39. Plaintiff also met with Assistant Deputy
Director Sharon Baker around the same time, who encouraged
him not to resign by saying that the Command could
“work out an accommodation with a variable
schedule.” Investigative File at ECF p. 28. After
receiving similar assurances from Director Cox “that
the discrimination and harassment towards him would cease,
” Ellis “rescinded his resignation.”
Compl., ¶ 40. According to Plaintiff, the Navy never
followed through with these promises. Id.,
¶¶ 42-43, 53.
Ellis claims that the discrimination and harassment against
him “accelerated” when supervisors learned of his
decision to rescind his resignation. Id., ¶ 44.
He focuses on a March 7, 2016, Letter of Requirement issued
by one of his supervisors that “outline[d] the
procedures for taking unscheduled leave.” Id.
This letter faulted Ellis for his “leave use during the
previous calendar year.” Investigative File at ECF p.
35. Ellis asserts that the Letter of Requirement was imposed
because of his disability. Id. at ECF p. 34.
the Letter of Requirement was issued, Plaintiff submitted -
and one of his supervisors approved - an application for
leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act. Id.
at 10. His application mentioned treatment for
“anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.”
Id. at 11. The Letter of Requirement's
procedures remained in effect, however, for any leave
“not directly related to” these conditions.
Id. When Ellis failed to follow the Letter of
Requirement's procedures on August 16, 2016, one of his
supervisors proposed a two-week suspension for being away
without leave and failing to follow established leave
procedures. Id. at 10, 19. The supervisor reasoned
that Ellis was AWOL because “the FMLA certification was
for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks
and does not cover migraines.” Id. at 10.
Ellis protested that “these symptoms accompany each
other almost always, ” and that, given his migraines,
he “could hardly travel [to his primary-care provider]
without endangering [himself] or others.” Id.
at 9-10. The two-week suspension was ultimately imposed.
Id. at 19-22.
filed a formal complaint with the Navy's Equal Employment
Opportunity Office in 2016, asserting disability
discrimination, retaliation/reprisal, and a hostile work
environment. See Investigative File at ECF pp. 4-7.
In support of his 2016 claims, Ellis cited, inter
alia, “a continued pattern” of
“derisive statements, ridicule[, ] and mockery”
by his supervisors; “harassment in [an] effort to
pressure resignation”; “[c]ontinued harassment .
. . regarding [his] decision to rescind [his] resignation
after exit interviews with NHHC Director Cox and Sharon
Baker”; the March 7, 2016, Letter of Requirement; and
“repeated . . . refusals to consider past medical
documentation & present disability status.”
Id. at ECF p.6. Plaintiff subsequently amended his
complaint with the assistance of EEO counselors, including a
challenge to his suspension for being AWOL. Id. at
ECF pp 16-18.
for a decision in 2017, Ellis requested the appointment of an
administrative-law judge and a right-to-sue letter from the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See ECF No.
10 (Pl. Opp.) at 6; Def. MTD at 7. He ultimately
“resigned involuntarily” on January 19, 2018,
citing “a hostile work environment and retaliation for
his assertion of protected rights.” Compl., ¶ 45.
The EEOC subsequently dismissed Ellis's claims on March
1, 2018, and this suit followed. See Pl. Opp. at 6;
Def. MTD at 7.
claims that the Navy discriminated against Plaintiff because
of his disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.
See Compl., ¶¶ 48-58. More specifically,
Ellis alleges that Defendant failed to provide a reasonable
telework accommodation, “vindictively assigned”
him to a “physically demanding project” that had
to be halted because of safety concerns, “regularly
made discriminatory comments, ” and failed to segregate
his protected medical information. Id., ¶¶
51-57. Count II alleges that the Navy violated Title VII by
retaliating against Plaintiff for engaging in the protected
activity of reporting on his supervisors' alleged
treatment. Id., ¶¶ 59- 70. According to
Ellis, the Letter of Requirement, the suspension for failing
to comply with it, and the alleged constructive discharge all
constituted retaliatory acts. Id., ¶¶ 41,
68-70. Based on the same acts, Count III asserts that the
Secretary retaliated against Plaintiff for using FMLA leave.
Id., ¶¶ 71-82. Finally, Count IV alleges
that the treatment by Plaintiff's supervisors described
above created a hostile work environment. Id.,
now moves to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV. He argues both
that Ellis did not administratively exhaust these three
claims and that he fails to sufficiently allege a hostile