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Coghill v. Board of Education Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 17, 2017



          George J. Hazel, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Debbie Coghill ("Plaintiff or "Coghill") brings suit against her former employer, the Board of Education for Prince George's County ("Defendant" or the "School Board"), alleging claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 42 U.S.C. § 12101 el seq.. and hostile work environment and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e el seq. Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 49. A hearing on the Motion was held on March 13. 2017. See Loc. R. 105, 6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background[1]

         Debbie Coghill was first hired by the School Board as a school bus driver on November 19. 2003. ECF No. 53-5 ¶ 1: ECF No. 49-1 at ¶ 0.[2] Coghill was transferred to the position of school bus aide on November 22. 2004. ECF No. 56-2 at 1: I'XT No. 53-5 ¶ 1. Coghill "s disability-based claims relate to her vision. In 2005, Coghill's visual acuity was recorded as 20/400 in the right eye and 20/20 in the left eye.[3] ECF No. 53-3 at 11. A later review of records by eye doctor Dr. Allan D. Jensen indicated that Coghill "was thought to have an orbital pseudotumor." "optic atrophy." and "decreased vision in her right eye." Id.

         On May 28. 2009. while working as a bus aide. Plaintiff was "sitting on the bus and a student pulled up on the seat and stuck [her] in [the] left eye" with a fingernail. ECF No. 53-3 at 10: ECF No. 53-3 at 11. The injury caused recurring redness and irritation and progressive loss of vision in her left eye. Id. at 11. Dr. Todd Goodglick. another eye doctor, later stated that he followed Plaintiff for several years, and that Plaintiff had complete vision loss in her right eye and visual decline in her left eye due to trauma. ECF No. 53-3 at 2. Despite these issues. however. Plaintiff never requested an accommodation for her vision from the School Board. ECF No. 49-2 at 8. Instead, when asking for a different position. Plaintiff only told Union representative Angela Thomas that she did not want to interact with children. ECF No. 49-2 at 3.

         On December 9. 2011. Plaintiff was transferred from her position as a bus aide to a position as an assistant in Food and Nutrition Services. ECF No. 56-3 at 1. Plaintiff alleges that during this time she was "talked to and treated like a child because of her vision." ECF No. 53-5

         ¶ 13. In May 2012. food services supervisor Tawanna Wright allegedly reprimanded Coghill for her frequent absences and described her poor vision as "dangerous and a safety hazard." See ECF No. 53-2 at 2: ECF No. 52-1 ¶ 10. But Coghil! again told Compliance Officer Elizabeth Davis on August 12, 2012 that she did not need accommodations. ECF No. 49-2 at 10-11. On February 13, 2013. Coghill filed a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC"). alleging harassment and discrimination based on race, disability, and retaliation. ECF No. 56-1.[4] Subsequently, between May and June 2013. Plaintiff alleges that she experienced abusive conduct from a co-worker. Donna Killibrew. including two incidents in which Killibrew pushed Coghill. ECF No. 53-5 ¶¶ 14-16.[5]

         On November IS, 2013. while Coghill was working in food services, a large industrial screw was protruding from the door and struck Coghill on the right side of her face near her temple. ECF No. 53-5 ¶ 20-21. As a result of this injury. Plaintiff took medical leave and applied for worker's compensation. Id. ¶ 22: ECF No. 49-3 ¶ 8. She was under "doctor's supervision" between November 2013 and January 2014. ECF No. 53-5 ¶ 22. Plaintiff attempted to go back to work in January 2014. but she became light-headed and dizzy. Id. ¶ 23. She was told not to return to work until January 31, 2014. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff also obtained a doctor's note restricting her from lifting over five pounds, twisting, or bending for two weeks. Id. ¶ 27. When she returned to work on February 3. 2014. Coghill shared this information with her supervisor, but was allegedly sent home because there was no work for her. Id.

         The Workers' Compensation Commission and an Independent Medical Evaluation by Dr. Edward R. Cohen found that Plaintiff had reached "maximum medical improvement" and could return to work as of February 20. 2014. ECF No. 49-3 ¶¶ 9-11. Coghill never challenged these findings. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff did not return to work, however, and on March 5. 2014, Plaintiff received a letter from the School Board informing her that she was not in an approved leave status and to contact the School Board to discuss why she should not be terminated for misconduct or willful neglect of duty. ECF No. 53-5 ¶ 31. A meeting between the School Board. Plaintiff, and a Union representative was held on April 16, 2014. ECF No. 49-5 at 1. The School Board informed Coghill that she would be issued disability leave retroactively for February 28 through April 11, 2014. Id. The School Board also told Plaintiff that her insurance had been reinstated - but. Plaintiff claims, her insurance company had just informed her that her insurance had not been reinstated. ECF No. 53-5 ¶¶ 31: ECF No. 54-1 at 4. Thus. Plaintiff believed the School Board was lying, became upset, and walked out of the meeting. ECF No. 53-5 ¶ 32; ECF No. 54-1 at 4.

         On April 22. 2014. the School Board offered Coghill a placement in the Transition to Work Program. ECF No. 49-4 at 1. Ms. Coghill was to report on April 22. 2014. but she was unhappy with the positions offered to her. ECF No. 49-5 at 1. Specifically, the School Board offered Coghill a position in the Print Shop, but she rejected this position because the chemicals were too strong. ECF No. 53-5 ¶ 34. Plaintiff contends that she visited the Print Shop and ■'experience!d] immediate vision loss from [the] chemical fumes." ECF No. 52 ¶ 23. She was also offered a position in the Records Room, but she declined because the job required her to twist and bend and lift over five pounds, and she could not see the names on the files due to her vision. ECF No. 53-5 *j 34. A representative from Workers" Compensation and Risk Management wrote to Coghill on April 23, 2014. warning her that "failure to report to the Transition to Work Program may jeopardize your work status and benefits with Prince George's County Public Schools." F.CF No. 49-5 at 1.

         Plaintiff subsequently failed to respond to two notices of Loudermill, or due process. hearings[6] on March 5. 2014 and June 17. 2015. ECF No. 49-6 at 1. She was then instructed to contact the Employee and Labor Relations Office by September 8, 2015. but did not do so. Id. Plaintiff was terminated from Prince George's County Public Schools on December 1. 2015. Id.

         B. Procedural History'

         Plaintiff tiled her Amended Complaint with this Court on July 30. 2015. ECF No. 23. Plaintiff alleged violations of: I) the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.. II) the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., III) hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). 42 U.S.C. $ 2000e el seq., and IV) retaliation under Title VII. Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on July 8. 2016. ECF No. 49. After receiving an extension until August 8. 2016. Plaintiff filed her Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 52. on that dale and then tiled a Supplement to her Opposition, ECF No. 53, on August 9. 2016.[7] In her Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff conceded that claims under the FMLA were time-barred. ECF No. 52 at 4: see also ECF No. 49-1 at 15.


         The court "shall grant summary judgment 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(c). A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242. 248 (1986). A genuine issue over a material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. In undertaking this inquiry, the Court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scoll v. Harris. 550 U.S. 372. 378 (2007). But this Court must also abide by its affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from going to trial. Drewitt v. Pratt. 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993).

         The burden is on the moving party to show "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. However, no genuine issue of material fact exists if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his or her case as to which he or she would have the burden of proof." Benton v. Prince George's Cmty. Coll., No. CIV. A. DKC 12-1577, 2013 WL 4501324. at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 21. 2013) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317. 322-23 (1986)). Thus, upon a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party "may not rest upon . . . mere allegations or denials." but rather, "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. ADA Claims

         Plaintiff brings two claims under the ADA. First. Plaintiff claims that Defendant failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation that would allow her to work despite her vision problems. FCF No. 23 at 12. Second. Plaintiff appears to claim that she suffered a hostile work environment based on her disability.[8] Id. In addition to challenging the claims on the merits. Defendants argue that many of Plaintiffs claims are time-barred. See ECF No. 49-1 at 24; ECF No. 56 at 12. The Court will first address the timeliness of Plaintiffs complaint, and will then address the merits of Plaintiff s remaining claims.

         i. Timeliness of Plaintiffs Claims

         Pursuant to Title VII. Plaintiffs generally must file a discrimination charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged unlawful employment practice. See Davis v. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. 985 F.Supp.2d 701. 713 (D. Md. 201 3). This period has been extended to 300 days in Maryland, hi. "The exhaustion requirements and filing procedures for the ADA . . . are identical to those under Title VII." Davis v. Montgomery Cty. Dep't of Transp., JFM-11 -2637. 2012 WL 748392. at *3 (D. Md. Mar. 6. 2012). Here. Coghill tiled her single EEOC charge of discrimination on February 13. 2013. ECF No. 56-1 at 3; see also ECF No. 4-2 at 1. Thus, acts occurring before April 19. 2012. including jobs transfers occurring in 2004 and 2011. are presumptively time-barred.

         Plaintiff attempts to make an argument for equitable tolling of the limitations period in her Opposition, ECF No. 52 at 23. A plaintiff is entitled to equitable tolling '"only if [she] shows (1) that [she] has been pursuing [her] rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in [her] way and prevented timely filing." Frazier v. Donahoe, No. PWG-14-3974. 2016 WL 1045853. at *5 (D. Md. Mar. 15. 2016) (citing Holland v. Florida. 560 U.S. 63 1. 649 (2010)). Plaintiff states first that equitable tolling applies because "the pre-2004 conduct and August 29, 2011 job transfer . . . establish Defendants' advance notice of Plaintiff s visual handicap." hi. Next, she contends that she "was extremely diligent in keeping her union representative informed of Defendant's notices and checking her mail for any correspondence from the EEOC regarding the status of her case, " and thus "[s]he presents sufficient evidence of circumstances beyond her control from filing on time." hi. The Court agrees that events occurring before April 19. 2012 may be admissible for the purpose of establishing notice of the disability and. indeed. Defendant has conceded that they were on notice of Plaintiffs injury. But as it regards claims for which the Defendant may be liable, courts "strictly adhere to these time limits" of filing charges with the requisite agencies, and "rarely allow equitable tolling of limitations periods." Raiford v. Maryland Dep't of Juvenile Sens.. No. CIV.A. DKC 12-3795. 2014 WL 4269076. at *7 (D. Md. Aug. 28. 2014) (citing Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600. 606 (D. Md. 2003)). Coghill has not demonstrated that any extraordinary circumstance stood in her way to prevent timely filing. Accordingly, any claim arising prior to April 19. 2012 is time-barred.[9]

         ii. Failure ...

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