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Lemma v. Hispanic National Bar Association

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 27, 2019

MATHIAS LEMMA, Plaintiff,
v.
HISPANIC NATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Mathias Lemma, proceeding pro se, commenced this suit on November 28, 2017, alleging that his former employer, the Hispanic National Bar Association (“HNBA”), discriminated against him “based on [his] disability.” See Dkt. 1 at 1. The HNBA moves to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, moves for summary judgment. Dkt. 19 at 1. Because the Court concludes that the HNBA is not a “covered entity” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the HNBA on Lemma's ADA claim, and because Lemma elected to pursue administrative remedies under the D.C. Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), the Court will dismiss his DCHRA claim for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The HNBA moved to dismiss this suit once before, both for the reasons it gives in the motion now before the Court and for insufficient service of process under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5). See Dkt. 4 at 1. The Court granted that motion, without prejudice, on the ground that Lemma failed to effect service of process. See Dkt. 9 at 1. In doing so, the Court explained the factual contours of the case, see Dkt. 9 at 1-3, and therefore will only briefly recount the relevant facts here. In December 2015, Lemma was hired as a bookkeeper and accountant for the HNBA. Dkt. 1 at 1. Lemma says that, on March 10, 2016, he told the HNBA's Executive Director that he has a heart condition, “hoping that she” would accommodate his disability by relieving him of responsibility for any “heavy lifting[].” Id. at 3. According to Lemma, the Executive Director responded only by noting that Lemma “did not tell [her about his heart condition] before.” Id. Lemma alleges that he was called to the Executive Director's office the next day and fired without explanation. Id.

         On June 1, 2016, Lemma filed an administrative complaint against the HNBA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the D.C. Office of Human Rights (“DCOHR”), alleging a violation of the ADA. See Dkt. 19-3 at 9. Although the charge of discrimination was presented in the first instance to the EEOC, it listed both the EEOC and DCOHR. See Id. In any event, charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC in the District of Columbia are “automatically cross-filed with the” DCOHR “pursuant to a ‘worksharing agreement' between the two agencies.” Ellis v. Georgetown Univ. Hosp., 631 F.Supp.2d 71, 78 (D.D.C. 2009); see also Slate v. Pub. Def. Serv. for the District of Columbia, 31 F.Supp.3d 277, 294 (D.D.C. 2014). On July 8, 2016, the EEOC notified the HNBA of the charge and requested that the association submit a response by August 5, 2016. Dkt. 19-3 at 2, 6. Prior to that deadline, the HNBA notified the EEOC that it is not a “covered entity” within the meaning of the ADA because it has fewer than 15 employees. Dkt. 19-4 at 2 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)). The EEOC agreed and notified Lemma that it was transferring the matter to the DCOHR “for processing” because the EEOC does not have “jurisdiction over Respondents with less than 15 employees.” Dkt. 19-5 at 2.

         The DCOHR then conducted an investigation and issued a detailed “letter of determination” on July 18, 2017, finding “no probable cause to believe that [the HNBA] discriminated against [Lemma] on the basis of his disability (heart condition) by failing to accommodate him” and “no probable cause to believe that [the HNBA] retaliated against [Lemma] for requesting a reasonable accommodation.” Dkt. 19-6 at 3. Lemma timely sought reconsideration of that determination, and, after reviewing the record, the DCOHR affirmed its prior “no probable cause” findings. Dkt. 4-8 at 4. At the same time, the DCOHR informed Lemma of his right to petition the D.C. Superior Court for review of the agency's final decision within three years. Id. at 5. Shortly thereafter, the EEOC “adopted the findings” of the DCOHR and issued a right to sue letter. Dkt. 4-9 at 2.

         On November 28, 2017, Lemma filed this action, alleging that the HNBA “terminated [him] based on [his] heart condition, ” thereby “subject[ing] [him] to discrimination” and “breach[ing]” his “human rights.” Dkt. 1 at 1, 4. Lemma requests “over $125, 000” in damages. Id. at 4. In response to the complaint, the HNBA moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, for insufficient process, and for failure to state a claim, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. See Dkt. 4 at 1. The Court dismissed the case without prejudice for insufficient process, see Dkt. 9 at 1, after which Lemma effected service by agreement with the HNBA, see Dkt. 10 at 1. The HNBA has renewed its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and for lack of jurisdiction, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. See Dkt. 19 at 1.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The HNBA's motion implicates three distinct legal standards:

         First, a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the Court's jurisdiction to hear the claim and may raise a “facial” or “factual” challenge to the Court's jurisdiction. A facial challenge asks whether the plaintiff has pleaded facts sufficient to establish the court's jurisdiction, while a factual challenge asks the court to “consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992). A facial challenge, in other words, is confined to the four corners of the complaint, while a factual challenge permits the court to look beyond the complaint to satisfy itself that it has jurisdiction to hear the suit. Whether a motion to dismiss is facial or factual, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the court has subject-matter jurisdiction. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). “[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss” for lack of jurisdiction, however, “the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see also Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979).

         Second, to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the “grounds” of “entitle[ment] to relief, ” a plaintiff must furnish “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. Instead, the complaint's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (citations omitted). Hence, while “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely, '” id. at 556 (citation omitted), the “threshold requirement” of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) is “that the ‘plain statement' possess enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Finally, summary judgment is appropriately granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Although Lemma's complaint is not a model of clarity, courts must construe pro se pleadings “liberally” and must hold pro se pleadings “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted). Construed in this light, the complaint is best read to allege a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., [1] although it might also be read to allege a violation ...


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