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Gulakowski v. Barr

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 18, 2019

WILLIAM P. BARR, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Defendant.


          JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jeff Gulakowski, a longtime employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, brings this suit alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. He maintains that the FBI denied him reasonable accommodations for his mental disability, created a hostile work environment, and discriminated and retaliated against him through a series of workplace incidents. The Government now moves for partial dismissal on two grounds. First, it argues that some allegations in support of Plaintiff’s specific claims are time barred; second, it asserts that the pattern of incidents does not constitute a hostile work environment. Concluding that certain allegations are indeed too late, but that Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts — if just barely — to state hostile-work-environment claims, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant’s Motion.

         I. Background

         The Court, as it must at this stage, draws the facts from the First Amended Complaint. See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Gulakowski is a Management and Program Analyst (MAPA) at the FBI, where he has worked since 1987. See Am. Compl., ¶ 14. In 2012, he experienced marital difficulties, began caring for a friend who had suffered a stroke, and struggled with a family member going through anxiety and depression. Id., ¶ 19. As a result, he likewise started suffering from “major depressive disorder and severe anxiety” - a mental disability - which limited his ability to sleep, concentrate, and communicate. Id., ¶¶ 20-22. Still battling his disability in 2017, Gulakowski requested that the FBI accommodate him in the form of “additional time to work on projects and to work at home one day a week.” Id., ¶ 7. The Bureau denied the request. Id. Things only got worse from there. Over the next 18 months, he was demoted, placed on a disciplinary procedure, pressed to cancel a medical appointment, subjected to “demeaning statements” from his supervisor, and denied a timely promotion and further requests for reasonable accommodations. Id., ¶¶ 7, 10.

         Because of these incidents, Gulakowski filed two formal complaints with an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor - in April 2017 and in March 2018. Although the allegations underpinning each complaint differ, he principally asserted in both that the FBI had failed to accommodate his disability, created a hostile work environment, discriminated against him based on his disability, and retaliated against him for engaging in protected activity. Id., ¶¶ 6-7, 9-10.

         Plaintiff then filed this suit against the Attorney General, asserting three counts under the Rehabilitation Act. Count I alleges that Defendant failed to provide reasonable accommodations; Count II claims that it discriminated against and subjected Gulakowski to a hostile work environment because of his disabilities; and Count III alleges that the FBI retaliated against Gulakowski’s complaints by discriminating against him and subjecting him to a hostile work environment. Id., ¶¶ 75-82.

         Defendant has now filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal. The Attorney General seeks dismissal of those portions of Counts II and III that relate to the hostile-work-environment claim. See Mot. at 8–10. He also moves for dismissal of those allegations in Counts I, II, and III that are time barred. Id. at 7–8.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “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) (internal quotation omitted). In weighing a motion to dismiss, a court “may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.” Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The Court “must treat the complaint’s factual allegations as true and must grant [the] plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Sparrow, 216 F.3d at 1113 (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). It need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” or an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Even at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, a court can review “documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint” or “documents upon which the plaintiff’s complaint necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss.” Ward v. D.C. Dep’t of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted); see also Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119, 1133 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“A district court may consider a document that a complaint specifically references without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.”). In this case, Gulakowski did not attach the Record of Investigation (ROI), Record of Consultation (ROC), or Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Affairs (OEEOA) Correspondence Files regarding his EEO complaints to his Amended Complaint. Defendant has included valid excerpts of each with its Motion to Dismiss, see Mot., Exhs. A–C, so the Court may properly consider those undisputed government records, the authenticity of which is not challenged.

         III. Analysis

         In considering Defendant’s Partial Motion to Dismiss, the Court begins with the hostile-work-environment claims, as pled in Counts II and III. It will then analyze whether the allegations in any counts are untimely.

         A. Hostile Work Environment

         The Rehabilitation Act bars the Government from discriminating against its employees with respect to, among other things, their “terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of that person’s disability. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 794(a), (d) (incorporating standard ...

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