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Dabas v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 13, 2018

SURESH DABAS
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN

          MEMORANDUM

          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Suresh Dabas, an employee of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), filed this action against Megan J. Brennan in her official capacity as Postmaster General of USPS. He alleges discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and retaliation in violation of both Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”). The defendant has moved to dismiss Mr. Dabas's complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The issues in this case have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Dabas identifies as Asian and Indian. (Dabas Aff. ¶ 1, ECF No. 14-2.) He has been employed by the United States Postal Service since April 1991, and became a Custodial Laborer in 1996. (Id; Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1) He claims his performance has been satisfactory and he has received performance awards. (Dabas Aff. ¶ 2.) Mr. Dabas suffered from two heart attacks while he was working in 2010 and 2011, and states that his supervisors have been aware that he had right side weakness due to a stroke in 2003. (Id. ¶ 3-4.) He has made reference to Equal Employment Opportunity complaints he filed prior to the incidents giving rise to this action, but has provided only minimal details relating to these complaints. (See Id. ¶ 6; Mem. Opp. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss ¶ 7-10, ECF No. 14-1.) From 1996 to 2003, he worked at the Eastern Shore Processing and Distribution Facility. From 2003 to 2012, he worked at the Easton Post Office. In December 2012, he was transferred to the Eastern Shore facility. After filing an EEO complaint on December 22, 2012, he was transferred back to the Easton Post Office in January 2013. (Id. ¶ 8; Compl. ¶16.) Mr. Dabas claims his supervisor, Charles F. Geschwilm, engaged in “a pattern of harassment, micro-management, and singling [him] out for observations and corrections” that was not applied to other custodians after he returned to the Easton Post Office in January 2013. (Dabas Aff. ¶ 8-9.)

         On September 10, 2013, Mr. Geschwilm instructed him to trim hedges outside of the post office. (Id. ¶ 10.) Mr. Dabas did not trim the hedges; he claims he was not given a deadline by which to complete the work. (Id.) On September 19, 2013, Mr. Geschwilm issued a Letter of Warning indicating that Mr. Dabas failed to “meet the requirements of [his] position in the area of performance” because he did not trim the hedges by the deadline of September 13, 2013. (Ex. B, Sept. 19, 2013 Letter of Warning at 1, ECF No. 14-5.) Mr. Dabas did not sign the letter, as he contests whether he was given a deadline by which to complete the work. (Dabas Aff. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff contacted the USPS Equal Employment Opportunity Office (“EEO”) about discriminatory harassment by Mr. Geschwilm after this incident. See Compl. ¶ 27; Ex. F, USPS EEO Acceptance for Investigation, ECF No. 11-5.) The Letter of Warning was reduced to an “official discussion” on November 20, 2013. (Grievance Settlement, ECF No. 11-4.) Nonetheless, Mr. Dabas continued to pursue his EEO complaint, filing an official complaint on December 7, 2013. (USPS EEO Acceptance for Investigation, Jan. 10, 2014, ECF No. 11-5.)

         On July 16, 2014, Mr. Dabas was once again instructed to trim the hedges outside the post office. (Ex. J, Aug. 12, 2014 Letter of Warning at 1, ECF No. 14-13.) Mr. Dabas claims that he was told to mow the lawn by Dan Wood, the Postmaster of Easton Post Office, and was not permitted to take a break or get a drink of water on July 17, 2014. He perceived this as harassment, and contacted the EEO on July 25, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 31.)

         On July 25, 2014, the hedges still had not been trimmed. (Ex. J at 1.) On July 30, 2014, Mr. Dabas provided a note from a doctor describing right hand weakness that made it difficult for Mr. Dabas to mow grass and trim hedges. (Ex. J at 1; Dabas Aff. ¶ 12.) On July 30, 2014, Mr. Dabas was provided with single-handed pruning clippers so that he could trim the hedges, and subsequently was provided with electric trimmers. (Id.; Dabas Aff. ¶ 14-15.) Mr. Dabas did not complete the hedge trimming as requested. (Ex. J at 1.) On August 12, 2014, Mr. Geschwilm issued another Letter of Warning regarding Mr. Dabas's failure to trim the hedges as requested. (Id.) Mr. Dabas refused to sign the letter, alleging a failure to provide medical accommodations. (Dabas Aff. ¶ 13.)

         On September 19, 2014, Mr. Dabas was suspended for seven days as a result of the Letter of Warning and failure to report for work as scheduled.[1] On November 3, 2014, Mr. Dabas filed an official EEO complaint. (EEO Acceptance of Investigation, Dec. 31, 2014 at 1, ECF No. 11-11.) His suspension was rescinded on November 5, 2014 for “procedural defects” with its issuance. (Corrected Tr. Prehearing Conference, May 16, 2016 at 23:6-9.) Mr. Dabas appears to have contested the issues accepted for investigation, but was informed that he would have the “opportunity to clarify and expound on the background incidents [he] identified.” (EEO Letter to Mr. Dabas, Jan. 12, 2015, ECF No. 11-12.) Mr. Dabas's EEO complaints were consolidated, and his motion to amend his complaint to include an ADA discrimination claim was denied on May 28, 2015. (Order at 1, ECF No. 11-6.) The claims that remained in the consolidated case were for discrimination based on race and national origin under Title VII and retaliation related to the 2013 warning letter, and retaliation under Title VII related to the 2014 warning letter. (Id. at 1-3.) The administrative judge ultimately ruled against Mr. Dabas on all of these claims. (Corrected Tr. Prehearing Conference, May 16, 2016 at 54-55; Bench Decision, July 19, 2016 at 18, ECF No. 11-14.)

         Mr. Dabas filed this complaint on February 10, 2017. The defendant filed this motion to dismiss, or for summary judgment, on July 18, 2017. (ECF No. 11.) Mr. Dabas filed his response in opposition on August 30, 2017. (ECF No. 14.) The defendant filed its reply on October 11, 2017. (ECF No. 17.)

         JURISDICTION

         The defendant seeks to dismiss Mr. Dabas's ADA claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because he allegedly failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Under the ADA, “a plaintiff must exhaust his administrative remedies by filing a charge with the EEOC before pursuing a suit in federal court, ” Sydnor v. Fairfax Cty., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 593 (4th Cir. 2012), and failure to exhaust administrative remedies on an ADA claim deprives this court of subject matter jurisdiction over that claim, see Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300-01 (4th Cir. 2009).[2] “A plaintiff's EEOC charge defines the scope of her subsequent right to institute a civil suit.” Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000); see also Evans v. Techs. Apps. & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962-63 (4th Cir. 1996). “In determining what claims a plaintiff properly alleged before the EEOC, we may look only to the charge filed with that agency, ” but those claims “must be construed with utmost liberality.” Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc., 711 F.3d 401, 408 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Alvarado v. Bd. Of Trs. Of Montgomery Cmty. Coll., 848 F.2d 457, 460 (4th Cir. 1988)). The scope of a plaintiff's complaint is limited to those claims that are “reasonably related” to the EEOC charge and that could be expected to follow from a “reasonable administrative investigation.” Smith, 202 F.3d at 247-48.

         Mr. Dabas moved to add an ADA discrimination claim to his race and national origin discrimination claims before the EEOC. The Administrative Judge denied this motion, so the merits of Mr. Dabas's ADA discrimination claim were not ruled on at the administrative stage. In his complaint, he filed a count of retaliation under the ADA, not the discrimination claim he sought to add to the EEOC complaint. The race and national origin complaints arose from the same hedge trimming incidents that are central to the ADA retaliation claim. These incidents necessitated investigation into Mr. Dabas's medical restrictions at the time of these incidents; indeed, his medical status and related restrictions and accommodations are inextricably tied to his claims of race and national origin discrimination. Additionally, the EEOC did investigate his claim of retaliation under Title VII, which is legally similar to such a claim made under the ADA. The ADA retaliation claim brought in litigation is reasonably related to those investigated by the EEOC, such that the central facts could, and likely were, adequately investigated by the responsible agency. See Smith, 202 F.3d at 247-48; Evans, 80 F.3d at 963. As the EEOC investigation was sufficient regarding this ADA claim, the court finds it has subject matter jurisdiction over that claim, though it will be denied for the reasons that follow.

         STANDARD

         Where the parties present matters outside of the pleadings and the court considers those matters, as here, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); Gadsby by Gadsby v. Grasmick, 109 F.3d 940, 949 (4th Cir. 1997); Paukstis v. Kenwood Golf & Country Club, Inc., 241 F.Supp.2d 551, 556 (D. Md. 2003). “There are two requirements for a proper Rule 12(d) conversion.” Greater Baltimore Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2013). First, all parties must “be given some indication by the court that it is treating the 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment, ” which can be satisfied when a party is “aware that material outside the pleadings is before the court.” Gay v. Wall, 761 F.2d 175, 177 (4th Cir. 1985); see also Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998) (commenting that a court has no obligation “to ...


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