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Betts v. Montgomery College

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 16, 2013

JACQUELYN AVIS BETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Doc. No. 28. The Court has reviewed the motion papers and concludes that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion will be GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff in this matter is Jacquelyn Avis Betts, formerly employed by Defendant Montgomery College as a Media Technology Specialist. Defendants are Montgomery College, Montgomery College Board of Trustees, Montgomery County, and several employees of Montgomery College, including Vivian M. Lawyer, Sarah Miller Espinosa, Jacia T. Smith, Rowena D'Souza, Yanira Ruiz, Victoria Duggan, Patricia Holland, Douglas M. Griffith, Bernard Allen, Lee H. France, Maureen Elder, Wallace Knapp, and Lynda von Bargen. Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se in this action, filed suit against Defendants on December 28, 2012, alleging a variety of claims related to her leave of absence in 2009 and eventual termination in 2010. Doc. No. 1. After Defendants answered the original Complaint, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend her Complaint on May 10, 2013. See Doc. No. 24. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint provides additional detail to her damages claims, Doc. No. 10-1, and appears to incorporate by reference the factual allegations of her original Complaint. In analyzing Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, the Court will consider Plaintiff's factual allegations from both documents, including the exhibits attached to the original Complaint.[1]

Plaintiff's dispute with Defendants appears to have its origin on June 15, 2009, when she submitted a "Self Appraisal" to Lee France, her supervisor at Montgomery College, as part of her 2009 Performance Review. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 7. Plaintiff, who was assigned to the east side of campus, stated in the Self Appraisal that she could perform better if she had better access to certain resources located on the west side of campus. Id. Plaintiff's July 16, 2009 Performance Review noted that one of her objectives for the following year was to relocate to the Health Science building on the west side of campus. Id.; Doc. No. 1-7 at 8. Plaintiff claims that France attempted to coerce her into agreeing with the Review and maintains that the relocation objective was placed in the Review to (1) "place me back with my resources to avoid a potential lawsuit for retaliation because I had been illegally separated from my resources for two years, " and (2) "to set me up for a wrongful termination by putting a written command in place without the training prerequisite so that it could later be claimed that I was insubordinate for not relocating...." Doc. No. 1 ¶ 7. Plaintiff alleges that the College denied her the requisite training because she might learn the secret that the College had been hiding, specifically, that its Smart Instructor workstations were not responsive despite the College's reputation as the most technologically advanced community college in the nation. Id. ¶¶ 7, 11; see also Doc. No. 1-6. Plaintiff claims that on August 13, 2009, she formally disagreed with the processing of her Performance Review. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 8. According to Plaintiff, Patricia Holland subsequently forged Sarah Miller Espinosa's signature on her Performance Review, apparently as a means of concealing the "true motivation" for Plaintiff's ultimate termination. Id. ¶ 12.

On September 8, 2009, Plaintiff informed France and Rowena D'Souza that she would be taking medical leave. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges that as of that date, the College had illegal policies which permitted placement of employees' medical histories in their personnel files. Id. She asserts that Vivian Lawyer, the Chief Human Resources Officer, illegally accessed Plaintiff's medical history, including the fact that Plaintiff had voluntarily seen a psychiatrist in the past, as a basis for her eventual termination. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that individual Defendants engaged in "evil and malicious plots" which would deprive her of her leave entitlement and set her up for wrongful termination. Id. ¶ 10. These actions included (1) padding her personnel file with false claims of behavioral problems; (2) inducing Plaintiff into violent outbursts which would appear to justify Defendants' request for a psychiatric examination; and (3) making life so unbearable that she would quit. Plaintiff cites a September 24, 2009 confrontation with France in which he argued and made accusations regarding Plaintiff's failure to relocate to the Health Science building. Id. Following this confrontation, Plaintiff e-mailed France on September 28, 2009 to address his accusations. Id.; Doc. No. 1-3. Plaintiff subsequently met with France and his supervisor, Campus IT Manager Bernard Allen, and during this meeting Plaintiff was "ambushed with lies and false accusations" which caused her to defecate on herself. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 10.

On September 30, 2009, Allen left a document on Plaintiff's desk which purported to be the minutes from the September 28 meeting. Id. That document recounted the issues discussed at the meeting and included several resolutions relating to Plaintiff's relocation, future training, and the poor communication between her and France. See Doc. No. 1-8. Plaintiff asserts that this document was forged and maintains that Allen attempted to coerce her into signing off on the document. Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 10, 12. Plaintiff also alleges that Allen posted accusations of her behavioral issues on the College's Media Resources Box, which could be viewed by numerous employees. Id. ¶ 10.

On or about September 28, 2009, Plaintiff sent Vivian Lawyer a letter regarding her supervisor. Id. ¶ 14. The College claims that this letter was dated October 7, 2009.[2] Id. Plaintiff does not attach the October 7 letter as an exhibit, but it is described in several of the exhibits attached to her pleadings. According to those exhibits, Plaintiff's letter stated that France "wanted to do [Plaintiff] harm; has an obsession to get her; and insinuated that he may attempt to murder her." Doc. No. 1-15. Plaintiff does not dispute in her pleadings or in her motion papers that this was the substance of the October 7 letter. Plaintiff also alleges that the letter "requested a transfer to another campus due to legitimate concerns about [her] safety." Doc. No. 1 ¶ 17.

Due to foot surgery, Plaintiff went on medical leave from Montgomery College beginning October 21, 2009. Id. ¶ 13. On November 13, 2009, Plaintiff received two letters from Lawyer. The first letter noted the serious yet unsubstantiated allegations Plaintiff made against France in her October 7 letter, and informed Plaintiff that an investigation by the Office of Human Resources would be required given the nature and severity of the allegations. Doc. No. 1-9. Lawyer explained that pursuant to the College's Policies and Procedures, Plaintiff would be required to visit a physician for an evaluation of her fitness for duty prior to returning to the workplace.[3] Id. The College also scheduled a meeting between Plaintiff and Director of Employee Engagement Sarah Miller Espinosa for December 2, 2009, and set up a medical appointment for Plaintiff with Dr. Susan Feister for December 3, 2009. Id. With respect to the medical appointment, Lawyer stated that Plaintiff would have to provide consent for release of the doctor's report to the College. Id. Lawyer's letter also advised Plaintiff that she could not return to work until College staff had met with her to discuss the matter in greater detail. Id. In the second letter dated November 13, 2009, Lawyer informed Plaintiff that she was to be placed on paid administrative leave effective the following day for unacceptable job performance and that she would remain on leave during the pendency of the investigation. Id.

On November 19, 2009, Lawyer sent another letter to Plaintiff stating that it superseded the November 13, 2009 letters due to certain errors. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 19; Doc. No. 1-18. The new letter noted that Plaintiff would be placed on paid administrative leave following the expiration of her medical leave. Id. The November 19 letter reiterated that the College would conduct an investigation and require Plaintiff to attend a medical appointment and consent to the release of information as part of the investigation related to her complaints about France. Id.

On December 1, 2009, Plaintiff went to a doctor's office for the purpose of "secur[ing] [her] release." Id. ¶ 20. The doctor wrote a note in support of Plaintiff's request for an extension of medical leave until December 28, 2009, and told Plaintiff that he would fax this information to Rowena D'Souza at the College. Id. Later that day, Yanira Ruiz, Espinosa's administrative assistant, sent Plaintiff an e-mail requesting her presence at a December 9 meeting with Espinosa related to the investigation.[4] Id. ¶ 21; Doc. No. 1-19. Plaintiff responded to Ruiz that her disability leave had been extended through December 28. Id. Plaintiff subsequently sought verification of the College's receipt of her extension, and D'Souza replied that her doctor's note was received. Doc. No. 1-20. In two separate e-mails dated December 1, D'Souza told Plaintiff that she was expected to attend the December 2 appointment with Dr. Feister and that Plaintiff was required to sign the form consenting to the release of information to the College. Id.

On December 2, 2009, Ruiz and D'Souza left three voicemails for Plaintiff regarding the appointment with Dr. Feister and the pending investigation. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 23. The same day, Lawyer sent Plaintiff another letter stating that Plaintiff had failed to show for the appointment with Dr. Feister and had yet to sign the form consenting to the release of information to the College. Id. ¶ 24; Doc. No. 1-21. The letter also informed Plaintiff that continued insubordination would lead to disciplinary action, including possible termination. Id. The letter confirmed receipt of Plaintiff's request for extended medical leave, but noted that such a request had not yet been approved. Id. Lawyer also told Plaintiff that the College would set up another appointment with Dr. Feister. Id. [5]

The College ultimately granted Plaintiff's request for an extension of medical leave until December 28, 2009. Doc. No. 1 ¶ 14; Doc. No. 1-15. However, following the expiration of her medical leave, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Id. On January 5, 2010, Plaintiff e-mailed Lawyer and D'Souza to inform them that she was "released to return to work." Doc. No. 1 ¶ 14; Doc. No. 1-11. Espinosa responded to Plaintiff's e-mail eighteen minutes later, informing her that she was still on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, that she was required to attend a meeting on January 6 and to bring the fully executed medical release form, and that she would be considered insubordinate and absent without leave if she failed to comply with these directives. Doc. No. 1-12. Later that ...


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