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Courtney-Pope v. Board of Education of Carroll County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 19, 2018

LYDIA COURTNEY-POPE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF CARROLL COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Lydia Courtney-Pope, a school teacher, filed suit on December 21, 2016, against defendant Board of Education of Carroll County (the “Board”), her former employer. ECF 1 (Complaint). Plaintiff, who is self-represented, alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”); the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code (2014 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), § 20-606 of the State Government Article (“S.G.”); and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (“FMLA”). ECF 1. Jurisdiction is predicated on 28 U.S.C. § 1331, on the basis of federal questions. ECF 1, ¶ 7.

         In particular, plaintiff alleges that defendant failed to make reasonable accommodations for plaintiffs disability (Counts One and Two, under federal and state law); discriminated against her on the basis of her disability (Counts Three and Four, under federal and state law); interfered with her medical leave (Count Five, under federal law); and retaliated against her for taking medical leave (Count Six, under federal law). ECF 1, at 18-33.

         Defendant has filed a combined motion to dismiss as to Count Two of plaintiffs Complaint, for failure to state a claim, and a pre-discovery motion for summary judgment with respect to the remaining counts. ECF 6. The motions are supported by a memorandum (ECF 6- 1) (collectively, the “Motions”) and 29 exhibits. Plaintiff opposes the Motions. ECF 9 (“Opposition”). Defendant replied. ECF 10 (“Reply”).

         Without seeking leave of Court, plaintiff filed a surreply. ECF 11. Defendant moved to strike the surreply. ECF 12 (“Motion to Strike”). Nearly three months later, plaintiff filed a “supplemental surreply request” (ECF 14, “Motion for Supplemental Surreply”), with lengthy exhibits. Defendant moved to strike this surreply, as well. ECF 16 (“Second Motion to Strike”).

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the pending motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the motion to dismiss Count Two; deny the motion for summary judgment, as premature; deny the Motion to Strike; deny the Motion for Supplemental Surreply; and deny, as moot, the Second Motion to Strike.

         I. Factual Background [1]

         Plaintiff alleges that from 2005 to 2014, she was a dance and chorus teacher at South Carroll High School (“SCHS” or the “School”) in Carroll County, Maryland. ECF 1, ¶ 1. For the first nine years of her employment, from 2005 through August 2014, plaintiff asserts that she “met or exceeded her employment expectations and never received a complaint concerning her work performance, teaching style, or interactions with SCHS' faculty, staff, or parents.” Id. ¶ 14.

         In the summer of 2014, plaintiff states that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), which constitutes a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Id. ¶¶ 20-24. At the beginning of the 2014 school year, plaintiff informed two of her supervisors of her diagnosis and requested several accommodations. Id. 25-26. Plaintiff mentions three such accommodations that she requested, and she does not allege that any of those requests were denied. Id. ¶ 26. However, plaintiff asserts that defendant's employees were “cold, insensitive, and callous, ” and she complains that they never “engage[d] her in an interactive process to [] discuss her disability . . . and how SCHS could accommodate” her. Id. ¶¶ 32-33.

         In September 2014, plaintiff requested twelve weeks of intermittent FMLA leave, and her request was granted. Id. ¶¶ 42, 44. But, plaintiff contends that she was mistreated as a result of using her FMLA leave. For example, plaintiff claims that on several occasions she only used 45 minutes of leave, yet her salary was docked for half a day. Id. ¶¶ 49, 90, 91. Plaintiff also asserts that she was treated worse than other employees with comparable disabilities who needed comparable accommodations but did not use FMLA leave. Id. ¶¶ 52-56. And, according to plaintiff, she was instructed to prepare ten extra lesson plans for the days for which she took leave, although other teachers were not required to do so. Id. ¶¶ 71-73.

         Further, plaintiff alleges that the Board deterred her from using FMLA leave. Id. ¶¶ 84-87. She continued to use intermittent leave, but plaintiff states that on December 19, 2014, she was told that she must either resign or be fired. Id. ¶ 94. On December 22, 2014, plaintiff claims she was “let go immediately, ” and the next day her benefits were cancelled. Id. ¶¶ 95-96.

         After plaintiff was removed from the School, a hearing was held before the Board, pursuant to Md. Code (2014 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), § 6-202(a)(3) of the Education Article (“Educ.”). See ECF 10 at 8; ECF 6-5 (transcript of termination hearing). After the hearing in March 2015, the hearing examiner recommended plaintiff's termination. ECF 6-26 at 53. In August 2015, the Board agreed with the hearing examiner's decision. ECF 6-27 at 10.[2]

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”) on February 3, 2015, and amended it on April 20, 2015. ECF 6-25. The charge was also filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). See ECF 6-30. On August 11, 2016, the MCCR issued a finding of “No Probable Cause to believe that [defendant] discriminated against [plaintiff] because of her . . . disability.” ECF 6-29 at 12. On October 26, 2016, the EEOC adopted the findings of the MCCR and closed its file on the charge. ECF 6-30 at 1. This suit followed on December 21, 2016. ECF 1.

         II. Surreplies and Motions to Strike

         Following the briefing of the Motions, plaintiff filed a surreply. ECF 11. However, she did not seek leave of court, as required by Local Rule 105.2(a). Defendant filed a Motion to Strike, citing Local Rule 105.2(a). ECF 12. Plaintiff did not respond to the Motion to Strike.

         About three months later, plaintiff filed a “Supplemental Surreply Request in Response to Defense's Memorandum to Reply to Plaintiffs' [sic] Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment.” ECF 14. The contents of that filing are largely unrelated to the earlier briefs concerning defendant's Motions. Plaintiff also submitted a binder of exhibits, including affidavits of several former Carroll County teachers concerning their experiences in the Carroll County schools and with plaintiff.[3] Plaintiff states that the binder constitutes her “informal discovery” and “unassailably prove[s] the need for formal discovery by Plaintiff.” Id. at 2. Defendant moved to strike the supplemental surreply. ECF 16. Plaintiff did not respond.

         Local Rule 105.2(a) provides that a party is not permitted to file a surreply without permission of the court. The filing of a surreply “is within the Court's discretion, see Local Rule 105.2(a), but they are generally disfavored.” EEOC v. Freeman, 961 F.Supp.2d 783, 801 (D. Md. 2013), aff'd in part, 778 F.3d 463 (4th Cir. 2015); see also, e.g., Chubb & Son v. C & C Complete Servs., LLC, 919 F.Supp.2d 666, 679 (D. Md. 2013). A surreply may be permitted when the party seeking to file the surreply “would be unable to contest matters presented to the court for the first time” in the opposing party's reply. Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 22 F.Supp.3d 519, 529 (D. Md. 2014) (quotations and citations omitted). However, a surreply is not generally permitted where the reply is merely responsive to an issue raised in the opposition. See Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 605-06 (D. Md. 2003).

         It is clear that plaintiff did not follow Local Rule 105.2(a). She did not seek leave to file her first surreply, and although the second surreply is styled as a “Supplemental Surreply Request, ” the body of that filing appears to be the surreply itself. However, plaintiff is pro se, and “a document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, (2007) (citation omitted); see also Macena v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Servs., TDC-14-3464, 2015 WL 6738923, at *1 (D. Md. Nov. 2, 2015). For this reason, I shall construe plaintiffs surreplies as motions for leave to file a surreply, and I shall consider them accordingly.

         Plaintiffs first surreply appears to respond to new arguments raised in defendant's Reply. ECF 11 at 6-7. In particular, the Board argued extensively in its Reply that summary judgment prior to discovery was appropriate because plaintiff had an opportunity for discovery during her termination hearing. ECF 10 at 8-14. Although defendant likely raised this argument in response to plaintiffs contention in her Opposition that summary judgment was premature (ECF 9 at 20), plaintiff should be permitted to challenge defendant's assertions as to the prior opportunity for discovery. Therefore, I shall consider plaintiff's first surreply. See ECF 11. As a result, I shall deny defendant's Motion to Strike. See ECF 12.

         However, plaintiffs Supplemental Surreply is not responsive to any new arguments raised in defendant's Reply. Therefore, I shall deny leave for plaintiff to file a supplemental surreply. Accordingly, I shall ...


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