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Walker-Pittman v. Maryland Department of Transportation

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 29, 2015

ADRIENNE WALKER-PITTMAN
v.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, MARYLAND TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Adrienne Walker-Pittman brings suit for employment discrimination against her former employers, the Maryland Department of Transportation ("MDOT") and the Maryland Transit Administration ("MTA"), a unit within the MDOT (collectively "defendants"). On October 1, 2009, state budget cuts abolished Walker-Pittman's position with the MTA. On January 27, 2014, Walker-Pittman filed this suit. (Complaint, ECF No. 1). Her original complaint contained eleven causes of action alleging violations of various state and federal civil rights laws relating to her termination and prior employment with defendants. Id. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 5). Walker-Pittman filed a response in opposition, in which she conceded that several of her claims were barred by sovereign immunity and the statute of limitations. (ECF No. 14). Defendants then filed a reply. (ECF No. 15). For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss the remaining claims will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Adrienne Walker-Pittman is a fifty-year-old African-American woman residing in Baltimore County. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 3). Walker-Pittman first became employed by the Maryland Aviation Administration ("MAA") within MDOT in August 1990. ( Id. at ¶ 6). From that time until January 27, 1996, Walker-Pittman worked as the Assistant Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations for the Maryland Aviation Administration ("MAA"). Id. In this role, Walker-Pittman was the spokesperson for the Baltimore Washington International Airport. Id.

On January 27, 1996, Walker-Pittman was involved in an automobile accident and sustained serious injuries. ( Id. at ¶ 7). Her left leg was amputated above the knee and she experienced severe head trauma. Id. She was in a coma for fifteen days and was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Id. As a result of the accident, Walker-Pittman was physically fragile and had difficulty with her memory and attention, as well as her ability to process information and complete tasks. ( Id. at ¶ 8).

Walker-Pittman was absent from work for over a year following the accident. ( Id. at ¶ 7). She returned on or about February 3, 1997. Id. Initially, a job coach was employed to assist her with the return and transition her to a position "consistent with her new capabilities." ( Id. at ¶ 9). This coach ceased performing services in April. Id. Walker-Pittman was not satisfied that he had "complete[d] an effective analysis for the employer of what available positions might be matched with... [her] capabilities to provide her the opportunity to perform productive work." Id.

Over the next twelve years, Walker-Pittman continued to serve as an employee of the MDOT. She was employed by the MAA from the time of her return until 1999, ( id. at ¶ 10), when she was transferred to the customer service division of the MTA, another division within MDOT. ( Id. at ¶ 11). She was assigned to the MTA offices in Baltimore, where she worked in the Office of Certification, screening applications for handicap mobility services. Id. During this time, Walker-Pittman continued to have the same title[1] and receive the same pay as she did prior to her accident; however, her work responsibilities were significantly different. Id.

In 2007, Walker-Pittman was again reassigned, this time to a different MTA office in Baltimore. ( Id. at ¶ 11). In her new position, Walker-Pittman "spent her time digitally scanning documents." Id. According to Walker-Pittman, during the entire period of her employment following her accident, "no effort was made [to]... place... [her] in a position that matched her experience with her physical and mental limitations and capabilities." Id.

On March 3, 2009, Walker-Pittman received a negative performance review for the first time. ( Id. at ¶ 12-13). Her evaluation was completed by her then-supervisor, Richard Scolli. ( Id. at ¶ 12). In it, Scolli specified that Walker-Pittman needed to complete an improvement plan for categories in which she fell "below" or "far below" the standard, which included "work habits" and "job quality." ( Id. at ¶ 13). Walker-Pittman states that prior to this review, she had "quietly" expressed concerns about the "incongruity" between her job description and her work assignments. ( Id. at ¶ 14). She made these objections more assertively after this review but did not receive a response. Id.

In September 2009, Walker-Pittman learned that her position would be abolished on October 1, 2009 due to budget cuts. ( Id. at ¶ 15). At this time, Walker-Pittman was fifty years old. Id. She learned that other African-American women in her age group had also received news that their positions would be eliminated. Id. Walker-Pittman filled out an intake questionnaire with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on January 5, 2010, (ECF No. 5-7) and filed a charge of discrimination on July 16, 2010. (ECF No. 5-8). She received a notification of right to sue on November 3, 2013. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 16). On January 27, 2014, Walker-Pittman filed this suit. (ECF No. 1).

In her complaint, Walker-Pittman brings three counts against defendants, each of which contains several causes of action. Count one alleges race and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII, age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 ("ADEA"), and unlawful employment practices in violation of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA"), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-606. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 18-25). Count two includes claims for unreasonable failure to accommodate a disability in violation of Title I of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and unlawful employment practices in violation of the MFEPA. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 26-32). Count three asserts claims for unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the MFEPA. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 33-39).

After the complaint was filed, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Walker-Pittman then filed a response in opposition.[2] In this response, Walker-Pittman conceded that sovereign immunity bars her claims under the ADEA and Title 1 of the ADA (ECF No. 14 at 14) and that her claims under the Maryland Code and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are untimely. ( Id. at 19-20). Accordingly, these claims will be dismissed. Walker-Pittman states her intention to raise a new claim alleging a violation of Title II of the ADA. ( Id. at 14 n.4). This potential claim and her claims for gender discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII will be considered below.

STANDARD

"[T]he purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). When ruling on such a motion, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). "Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir.2009).

To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint "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)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and alterations omitted). The plaintiff's obligation thus is to set forth sufficiently the "grounds of his entitlement to relief, " offering "more than labels and conclusions." Id. (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). It is not sufficient that the well-pled facts create "the mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Rather, to withstand 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, " meaning the court could draw "the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678.

ANALYSIS

1. Title VII ...


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