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Murphy v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 15, 2019




         Robert Murphy alleges that his former employer, the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, failed to accommodate his disabilities, interfered with his right to medical leave, and then fired him in retaliation either for requesting such leave or for his perceived participation in a Title VII proceeding. Murphy brings claims against the District under five statutes: the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-213; the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-54; the D.C. Family Medical Leave Act (“DCFMLA”), D.C. Code §§ 32-501 to -517; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17; and the D.C. Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01 to -1404.04. Pending before the Court is [12] the District's motion to dismiss several of these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.


         I. Facts[1]

         The District of Columbia Department of Corrections (“DOC”) is an agency tasked with operating the D.C. municipal jail system. In 2015, Murphy was a Lieutenant at the DOC, where he had worked for twenty-five years. Am. Compl. [ECF No. 10] ¶ 7. At the time, he suffered from stage five kidney failure, hypertension, and diabetes. Id. ¶ 8. On April 2, 2015, Murphy and his doctor sent the DOC an application for medical leave under the FMLA, id. ¶ 10, which provides that an “eligible employee” suffering from a “serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of [his] position” is “entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period, ” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). The DOC never responded to Murphy's April FMLA application, even after he and his wife “inquired on several occasions as to [its] status.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-13.

         On June 18, 2015, Murphy was hospitalized for a heart attack. Id. ¶ 14. He informed the DOC and reapplied for medical leave. Id. ¶ 15. Murphy never received a response to his second FMLA request, which he filed on June 22, 2015. Id. ¶ 16.

         On the same day, June 22, Murphy's wife “testified in a deposition as a key witness . . . in a well-known [Title VII] sexual-harassment lawsuit” against the DOC. Id. ¶ 17. The lawsuit was “focused on the improper conduct of [Murphy's] immediate supervisor, Major Joseph Pettiford.” Id. ¶18.[2] Pettiford knew that Murphy supported his wife's decision to participate in the lawsuit. Id. ¶ 19. Indeed, based on Murphy's “clear support of his wife's participation, ” Pettiford perceived Murphy himself as “a participant in the [sexual harassment suit].” Id.

         Two days later, on June 24, 2015, Murphy received an advance notice of his termination. Id. ¶ 20. Murphy alleges that Pettiford, through the DOC, fired him in retaliation for “requesting FMLA leave, ” for his “wife's testimony . . . in the sexual harassment lawsuit, ” and because Pettiford “perceived [Murphy] as . . . participa[ting] in the” suit alleging that Pettiford engaged in improper conduct. Id. ¶ 19.

         II. Procedural History

         On August 13, 2015, Murphy filed a “Charge of Discrimination” with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) and the D.C. Office of Human Rights (“OHR”), alleging interference with his medical leave rights as well as termination in retaliation against his wife's testimony in the lawsuit. Charge of Discrimination (“EEOC Charge”), Ex. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss the Am. Compl. in Part [ECF No. 12-1] at 1-2. Murphy received his EEOC “Right to Sue” letter on March 27, 2018.[3] Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

         Murphy alleges various violations of five statutes. Count I alleges that the DOC violated the ADA in two ways: first, by refusing to accommodate Murphy's disability by granting his medical leave requests, and second, by terminating him in retaliation for invoking his right to medical leave. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-28. Counts II and III allege that the same conduct-denial of his leave requests and retaliation for filing those requests-violated the FMLA and DCFMLA, respectively. Id. ¶¶ 29-36. Count IV alleges that the DOC violated Title VII by terminating Murphy in retaliation for his wife's testimony against Pettiford, id. ¶¶ 37-41, and Count V alleges that the same conduct violated the DCHRA, id. ¶¶ 42-46. Murphy seeks, among other things, $500, 000 in actual damages. Id. at 8.

         The District has moved to dismiss Murphy's ADA and DCHRA claims in part, and to dismiss his FMLA, DCFMLA, and Title VII claims in full. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for resolution.


         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A complaint that “pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability” falls short of showing plausible entitlement to relief. Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The Court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Aktieselskabet AF 21. Nov. 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 15 (D.C. Cir. 2008). However, “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement” do not satisfy the pleading standard. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court need not accept legal conclusions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff which are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint. Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. Vilsack, 808 F.3d 905, 913 (D.C. Cir. 2015).


         The District moves to dismiss Murphy's claims under the ADA, FMLA, DCFMLA, Title VII, and the DCHRA. The Court considers each set of claims in turn.

         I.ADA Claims

         Under the ADA, employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability, ” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A), and are prohibited from retaliating against any individual for opposing “any act or practice made unlawful” by the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a).

         In Count I, Murphy alleges three ADA violations. First, he alleges that the DOC failed reasonably to accommodate his disability when it did not respond to his April 2, 2015, FMLA request. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 25. Second, he alleges that the DOC failed to accommodate his disability when it did not respond to his June 22, 2015, FMLA request. Id. ¶¶ 15, 25. Third, he alleges that the DOC violated the ADA when it fired him in retaliation for filing those requests. Id. ¶ 25. The District moves to dismiss only the second and third claims-i.e., the June 22 failure-to-accommodate claim and the retaliation claim-but not the April 2 failure-to-accommodate claim. See Mem. of P. & A. Supp. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss the Am. Compl. in Part (“Def.'s Mot.”) [ECF No. 12] at 4-6.

         A. The June 22 Failure-to-Accommodate Claim

         The Court first considers the June 22 failure-to-accommodate claim. “To state a claim for failure to accommodate, [Murphy] must allege facts sufficient to show that (1) he had a disability within the meaning of the ADA; (2) his employer had notice of his disability; (3) he could perform the essential functions of this position with reasonable accommodation; and (4) his employer refused to make such accommodation.” Floyd v. Lee, ...

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