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Hawkins v. Chao

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 6, 2017

SANDRA HAWKINS, Plaintiff
v.
ELAINE CHAO, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES K. BREDAR CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiff is a former employee of the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), having worked at the Baltimore Flight Standards District Office (“FSDO”) as an Aviation Safety Inspector. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 21-22, ECF No. 16.) Plaintiff brought this lawsuit in November of 2016 against her former employer, naming the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation as Defendant, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff amended her complaint on May 22, 2017, and on July 3 Defendant brought a motion styled as a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment, (Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 20). Plaintiff has responded (ECF No. 25), Defendant has replied (ECF No. 30), and the issues are fully briefed. There is no need for a hearing to resolve the matter. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). Plaintiff did not properly exhaust her administrative remedies and therefore Defendant's motion, construed as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), will be granted by accompanying order.

         I. Nature of the Motion and Legal Standard

         The Defendant styled her motion as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) or in the alternative as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. The proper vehicle for presenting Defendant's exhaustion arguments is a motion under Rule 12(b)(1) challenging subject matter jurisdiction. See Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003). The Court will therefore consider Defendant's motion as a motion to dismiss under that provision. See Neal v. Residential Credit Solutions, Inc., Civ. No. 11-3707, 2012 WL 1453597 *1 (D. Md. April 24, 2012) (considering a motion presented under Rule 12(b)(6) as a motion presented under Rule 12(b)(1)).

         As this is properly considered a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, “the court may look beyond the pleadings and the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Khoury, 268 F.Supp.2d at 606 (internal quotation marks omitted). Defendant raises a factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, and therefore it is permissible for a district court to “consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. U.S., 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982)).[1] The burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff. Adams 697 F.2d at 1219. “The court must presume that all factual allegations in the complaint are true and make all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” Khoury, 268 F.Supp.2d at 606.

         II. Facts and Procedural Background

         There are many facts alleged in Plaintiff's fifty-page complaint, but the dispositive issue in this case relates to exhaustion and therefore the following summary will focus primarily on the events that have bearing on whether Plaintiff properly exhausted her administrative remedies.

         Plaintiff began working for the Baltimore FSDO as an Inspector in September 2006. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) Shortly thereafter Plaintiff began to experience the ill effects of the “frat house” culture at this male-dominated workplace. (See Id. ¶ 23.) Over the course of the next five years, Plaintiff was subjected to a wide variety of mistreatment, ranging from the rudeness of coworkers, to being refused opportunities to advance her career through training, to being the subject of trumped up sexual harassment allegations, to being physically molested. (See Id. ¶¶ 28, 29, 36, 46-47, 90-91, 102-105, 186-193, 248.) In November 2010, Plaintiff filed a Whistleblower Complaint “regarding air carrier issues and the hostile working environment to which she was constantly exposed.” (Id. ¶ 210.) According to the EEOC, in December 2010 Plaintiff “presented a claim of hostile work environment for the period [of] September 2006 to March 2011.” (FAD Compl. No. 2012-24373-FAA-03 9, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 3, ECF No. 20-4.) Plaintiff was notified by the EEOC of her right to file a formal complaint, but never pursued the matter. Id.

         Still, she faced retaliation from her co-workers and supervisors for making these complaints, and continued to experience discriminatory and abusive behavior during the next year. In May 2011, as a result of treatment she had received over the years, Plaintiff found herself unable to come into work due to various conditions including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 301-302.)

         In November of 2011 Plaintiff was still “formally employed” by the FAA, and she believed that she needed to renew her security badge. (Id. ¶ 308; see Decl. of Sandra Hawkins ¶ 24, Response to Mot. Dismiss Ex. 2, ECF No. 25-2.) The disposition of Defendant's motion hinges on the events surrounding Plaintiff's attempt to renew her badge, and whether she timely reported those events, so the Court will take some time to explain these events in detail.

         Plaintiff had a security badge that allowed her access to the Baltimore Washington International Airport (“BWI”) for work and she believed she had to renew that badge by November 24, 2011. (Decl. of Sandra Hawkins ¶ 24.) To do this, Plaintiff had to go to the Maryland Aviation Administration Security Information Display Area office at BWI (“BWI Security”). On November 10, 2011, Plaintiff drove to BWI Security to renew her security badge. (Id.) On that day, she realized that she needed a renewal form, signed by her supervisor, Mr. Crampton. (See id.) Plaintiff contacted the FSDO and spoke with Dana Hackett, an FSDO employee, about obtaining this form. (Id.)

         The substance of this conversation is somewhat disputed. Basically, Plaintiff asserts that Ms. Hackett promised that she would send BWI Security a letter “allowing [Plaintiff] to renew [her] badge.” (Id.) According to Ms. Hackett, Plaintiff called asking about the renewal form and how to obtain a new BWI employee parking pass. (See Rec. of Tel. Call, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 4, ECF No. 20-5.) According to Ms. Hackett, Ms. Hackett responded that she could send BWI Security a letter explaining that Plaintiff was on sick leave and could not renew the pass before November 24, but Plaintiff would have to come into the office and speak with Mr. Crampton to get the renewal form signed and to get her parking pass sorted out. (Id.) Plaintiff denies that she ever asked for a parking pass. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 309.)

         On November 16, 2011, Mr. Crampton sent a letter to BWI Security in which he explained that Plaintiff was on medical leave and therefore would not be renewing her badge on time, and asked that BWI Security waive any penalty associated with the non-renewal of her badge in November. (Letter to Barbara May, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 5, ECF No. 20-6.) On November 17, Mr. Crampton sent a memorandum to Plaintiff, by certified mail, stating that he was “aware of [Plaintiff's] request to renew [her] . . . [security] badge and Baltimore Airport parking permit.” (Memorandum to Sandra Hawkins, Mot. Dismiss Ex. 7, ECF No. 20-8.) Mr. Crampton further explained in this memorandum that the security badge and parking permit are issued and managed by the Maryland Aviation Administration (“MAA”) and are designed for people who have to perform work at the airport. (Id.) Therefore, because Plaintiff was on leave and was “not expected to return to duty until January 15, 2012” she could not “conduct official business” and could not renew her badge until after January 15, 2012. (Id.)

         Despite this memorandum addressed to Plaintiff and sent by certified mail, Plaintiff claims that she did not hear anything about her efforts to receive a security badge until December 7, 2011. (Am. Compl. ¶ 309.) On that day, Plaintiff claims that she became aware of three things. First, she “learned, ” from unidentified sources, that she had “received a formal reprimand for allegedly attempting to obtain a parking pass, ” something Plaintiff claims she never attempted to do. (Id.) Second, Plaintiff heard from her attorney that “the Baltimore FSDO had failed to send a letter supporting the issuance of the new [security] badge.” (Decl. of Sandra Hawkins ¶ 25.) Finally, Plaintiff found out from her attorney that “due to Baltimore FSDO's continued refusal to assist [her], [Plaintiff] would have to attend a hearing regarding [her] failure to timely request a new badge.” (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff has provided the Court no record of a “formal reprimand” ...


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