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Chan v. Children's National Medical Center

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 18, 2019

AMOS CHAN CHAN JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CHILDREN'S NATIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Amos Chan Chan, Jr., alleges that Defendant Children’s National Medical Center (“CNMC”) failed to pay him proper wages, retaliated against him because he engaged in a protected activity, and further created a retaliatory hostile work environment.

         Before the Court is CNMC’s [23] Partial Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim. CNMC makes several arguments in support of its Partial Motion to Dismiss. First, CNMC argues that the D.C. Wage Payment Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) do not provide a cause of action for Chan Chan’s claims in Counts I and II. Second, CNMC contends that, except for Chan Chan’s claim based on actions post-dating October 18, 2017, most notably his termination, his retaliation claim in Count III is time-barred. Lastly, CNMC claims that Chan Chan has failed to allege sufficient facts in support of his retaliatory hostile work environment claim.

         Upon consideration of the briefing,[1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART CNMC’s Partial Motion to Dismiss. The Court concludes that the D.C. Wage Payment Act and the FLSA do not provide causes of action for Chan Chan’s claims in Counts I and II of the Amended Complaint. The Court further concludes that Chan Chan conceded that his claims under Count III are time-barred, except for any retaliation claim premised on actions post-dating October 18, 2017. However, the Court finds that Count IV of Chan Chan’s Amended Complaint withstands CNMC’s Partial Motion to Dismiss because he alleges sufficient facts to support his retaliatory hostile work environment claim. Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES Counts I, II, and III of the Amended Complaint, except for Chan Chan’s retaliation claim under Count III based on actions occurring after October 18, 2017.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For the purposes of this Partial Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts as true the well-pled allegations in Chan Chan’s Amended Complaint. The Court does “not accept as true, however, the plaintiff’s legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in the United States, 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

         Chan Chan began working for CNMC in November 2009. Am. Compl. ¶ 5. In July 2014, he was transferred to the Environmental Services Department as a Floor Technician. Id. ¶ 6. One of his supervisors was Mavis Appleby. Id. ¶ 7. As a Floor Technician, his job duties primarily included waxing, shampooing, buffing, stripping, and recoating floors. Id. ¶ 6.

         As part of his floor finishing duties, Chan Chan worked with hazardous chemicals without being provided any personal protective equipment. Id. ¶ 8. After CNMC switched to using these hazardous chemicals, he experienced adverse symptoms, which he reported to his supervisor Mavis Appleby. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. His supervisor provided him with goggles, but this did not alleviate his symptoms. Id. ¶ 11. She also reported these issues to upper management, yet CNMC took no action. Id. At one point, Chan Chan was told by supervisors to go to the emergency room, where he alerted poison control, but CNMC still undertook no preventative measures. Id. ¶ 12. Upper management further refused to accommodate his request for personal protective equipment. Id. ¶ 13. Chan Chan ultimately contacted the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), which issued a Citation and Notification of Penalty to CNMC on November 5, 2015 for failing to train employees on how to properly use these hazardous chemicals and failing to provide personal protective equipment. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         While these events were occurring, Chan Chan felt that he was being discriminated against based on his Liberian national origin. Id. ¶ 16. For example, he was frequently called the “African.” Id. ¶ 17. In August 2014, September 2014, August 2015, September 2015, and October 2015, he complained to Human Resources about “harassive and discriminatory” treatment from his supervisors; he also contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on September 30, 2015, to request an investigation into his “retaliatory supervisor.”[2] Id. ¶¶ 18-19, 23.

         Following Chan Chan’s communications to OSHA and the EEOC, Chan Chan was demoted in December 2015. Id. ¶ 20. He was tasked with new duties, including trash and housekeeping duties, power washing, and cleaning patient rooms that had blood and other bodily fluids. Id. Some of his new duties usually had two people assigned to handle them, but Chan Chan was assigned to complete these tasks on his own. Id. ¶ 21.

         In addition to his duties changing, Chan Chan experienced “ridicule, insult,” and pervasive negative treatment that left him “afraid to go to work” and caused “emotional distress.” Id. ¶ 25. His supervisor, Appleby, “issued and signed off on” numerous corrective actions against Chan Chan in March 2015, May 2015, July 2015, August 2015, January 2016, February 2016, and March 2016. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. Such corrective actions can result in “immediate suspension or termination.” Id. ¶ 23. Moreover, Chan Chan was denied “overtime pay” and “opportunities to work overtime” until he was terminated. Id. ¶ 22.

         Chan Chan complained about his demotion and discriminatory treatment, including to the union, and “followed up with complaints” in April 2017 and on September 21, 2017 about the disparate treatment that he received. Id. ¶¶ 26-28. He was then terminated on October 24, 2017. Id. ¶ 29. Chan Chan further alleges that while he was employed, he was paid at $18.50 an hour, but should have been paid $19.63 per hour according to his “own records.” Id. ¶ 30.

         Based on the facts alleged in this suit, Chan Chan states four claims for relief in his Amended Complaint: (1) unpaid wages under District of Columbia Code sections 32-1301 through 32-1303; (2) unpaid wages under the FLSA; (3) retaliation under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”); and (4) retaliatory hostile work environment under the DCHRA.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         CNMC moves to partially dismiss Chan Chan’s Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules require that a complaint include “‘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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

         Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, 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.” Id. Instead, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 556, 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]’-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         CNMC moves to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV of the Amended Complaint in their entirety, and moves to dismiss Count III of the Amended Complaint except as to any retaliation claim under the DCHRA based on actions that post-date October 18, 2017, including Chan Chan’s October 24, 2017 termination. The Court finds grounds to dismiss Counts I and II in their entirety and Count III, except for Chan Chan’s retaliation claim based on actions post-dating October 18, 2017. However, the Court finds that Count IV of the Amended Complaint has pled sufficient facts to support Chan Chan’s retaliatory hostile work environment claim.

         A. Chan Chan’s claim for unpaid wages is not cognizable under the D.C. Wage Payment Act.

         Chan Chan claims that CNMC failed to pay him proper wages until he was terminated, and when he was terminated, based on his records that he should have been paid $19.63 per hour instead of $18.50 an hour. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30–33. In response, CNMC argues that the provisions of the D.C. Wage Payment Act relied upon by Chan Chan do not provide a cause of action for Chan Chan’s claim. See Def.’s Mot. at 4–5. The Court agrees that the D.C. Wage Payment Act does not create a cause of action for wage disputes like this one, where there are no sufficiently pled minimum wage or unpaid overtime claims.

         District of Columbia Code sections 32-1301 through 32-1303, the sections that Chan Chan relies upon in his Amended Complaint, are part of the D.C. Wage Payment Act, which governs the payment and collection of wages. See D.C. Code §§ 32-1301–12 (subchapter I of Chapter 13, which is titled “Payment and Collection of Wages”). Section 32-1301 provides definitions. Id. § 32-1301. Section 32-1303 governs “[p]ayment of wages [earned] upon discharge or resignation of [an] employee and upon suspension of work” in addition to the “employer’s liability for failure to make such [a] payment.” Id. § 32-1303. Section 32-1302 covers “[w]hen wages must be paid” and relevant exceptions. Id. § 32-1302. In particular, it provides the when and how of wage payments:

An employer shall pay all wages earned to his or her employees on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer and at least twice during each calendar month; except, that all bona fide administrative, executive, and professional employees . . . shall be paid at least once per month; provided, however, that an interval of not more than 10 working days may elapse between the end of the pay period covered and the regular payday designated by the employer, except where a different period is specified in a collective agreement between an employer and a bona fide labor organization; provided further, that where, by contract or custom, an employer has paid wages at least once each calendar month, he may ...

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