United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. Hazel, United States District Judge.
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
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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 ¶¶
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
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.
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.
subsequently failed to respond to two notices of
Loudermill, or due process. hearings 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.
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. 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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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.
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. 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.
Timeliness of Plaintiffs Claims
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
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