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Ott v. Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 22, 2017

RENNAE ELIZABETH OTT, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Rennae Elizabeth Ott (“plaintiff” or “Ott”) brings this action against her former employer, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“defendant” or “DPSCS”), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 709, et seq. (ECF No. 1.) Specifically, Ott alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and wrongfully terminated on account of her post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) disability. She also alleges that DPSCS failed to accommodate her disability and that she was retaliated against for opposing DPSCS's discriminatory treatment.

         Currently pending before this Court is DPSCS's Motion to Dismiss and, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defendant's Motion”). (ECF No. 9.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9) is GRANTED based on the applicable two-year statute of limitations on disability employment discrimination claims under Maryland law. See Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-1013(a)(3); Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 568 (4th Cir. 2017).

         BACKGROUND

         In reviewing a Motion to Dismiss, this Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint” and must “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted).

         Plaintiff Rennae Ott was an employee at the Easton, Maryland office of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) from June 4, 2008 until March 6, 2014. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 7, 59.) Ms. Ott worked as a parole and probation agent and received positive evaluations and was promoted during her tenure at DPSCS. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) In 2010, Ott developed post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) after learning that her daughter was one of over one hundred children who had been sexually abused by Dr. Earl Bradley, her daughter's pediatrician. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-12.) Despite her PTSD, Ott continued to work for DPSCS as a parole and probation agent. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-17.)

         When certain of Ott's co-workers learned of the horrific abuse which Ott's daughter had suffered, they inexplicably and rudely began to taunt Ott, triggering Ott's PTSD and causing her significant anxiety. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 17-33.) Ott's co-workers then began to mock her on account of her PTSD, leading Ott to file a complaint with DPSCS's Office of Equal Opportunity (“OEO”). (Id. at ¶¶ 34-36.) On July 12, 2013, the OEO found probable cause that Ott had been harassed on the basis of her disability. (Id. at ¶ 40.) As her PTSD had worsened, she was granted a medical leave of absence beginning on July 15, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 42.)

         Although Ott no longer appeared for work after July 15, 2013, over the ensuing eight months, she underwent a series of medical and mental health evaluations, apparently at the request of DPSCS, in order to determine her fitness to return to work. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 46-56.) In addition, Ott met with DPSCS officials in order to request a transfer to another DPSCS office where she would not be under the supervision of Mr. Killmon, her supervisor, who had ignored the abuse by her co-workers and who had taken adverse employment actions against her based on her OEO complaint. (Id. at ¶¶ 56-59.) When DPSCS refused to accommodate Ott's request, she resigned on March 6, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 59.)

         On December 14, 2013, while still on medical leave, Ott filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 3; ECF No. 15-1 at 3-4.) Following its investigation, on August 13, 2015, the EEOC issued its Determination that there was reasonable cause to believe Ms. Ott was subjected to harassment by DPSCS on account of her disability and that DPSCS retaliated against her for engaging in protected activity under the ADA. (Id.) Ott did not file suit at that time. One month later, on September 17, 2015, the EEOC referred Ott's Charge of Discrimination to the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. (Id.) After nearly one year, on July 26, 2016, the Civil Rights Division declined to file suit on Ott's behalf and issued her a Notice of Right to Sue. (Id.) Over two months later, on October 10, 2016, Ott filed her Complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 1.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The 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); see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). The sufficiency of a complaint is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint'” and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015).

         A defendant invoking the statute of limitations asserts an affirmative defense under Rule 8(c). It is well-established that courts generally do not “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir.1999). However, “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007). See Semenova v. Maryland Transit Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Plaintiff's Claims Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Are ...


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