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Bowen v. State, Department of Public safty and correctional services

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 12, 2018

LORI BOWEN, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On May 28, 2013, Plaintiff Lori Bowen (“Plaintiff” or “Bowen”), an Asian female, resigned from her position as a Parole and Probation Agent with Defendant State of Maryland, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”). A month and a half later, she amended her previous Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to add that she was constructively discharged. Almost three years later, on April 14, 2016, the EEOC notified Bowen that it had found reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., had occurred. Subsequently, on March 15, 2017, she received a Notice of Right to Sue from the U.S. Department of Justice. Three months later, on June 7, 2017, Bowen initiated suit in this Court against DPSCS and Stephen T. Moyer (“Moyer”) (collectively, “Defendants”), in his official capacity as Secretary of DPSCS, alleging violations of the ADA as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Four months later, Bowen filed an Amended Complaint alleging additional violations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 709, et seq.

         Currently pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.[1] (ECF No. 15.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). As explained below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED as to Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act and Title VII claims and Counts III-VI are DISMISSED. Further, Plaintiff's claims under Count VII for hostile work environment under the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII are also DISMISSED. However, as to Plaintiff's ADA claims, while she is barred under the Eleventh Amendment from seeking monetary damages against Defendants under the ADA, at this stage she has plausibly alleged claims under the ADA for the prospective injunctive relief of reinstatement to her former position. Accordingly, the Motion is DENIED as to Bowen's claims for prospective injunctive relief under Counts I, II, and VII, and Plaintiff may proceed to seek reinstatement under the ADA for her claims of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). In April of 2004, Plaintiff Bowen, an Asian female, was hired as a Parole and Probation Agent by the State of Maryland, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”). (Am. Compl., ECF No. 9 at ¶ 8.) Stephen Moyer is the Secretary of DPSCS. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Beginning in late 2010 or early 2011, Bowen had trouble climbing stairs and standing, sitting, or walking for more than fifteen minutes due to a previous injury on the job. (Id. at ¶ 10.) At various times throughout her employment, she was on approved leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C §§ 2601 et seq. (“FMLA”).[3] (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         Bowen asserts that due to her disability, [4] in April and June of 2012, she requested accommodations to work part time, work remotely from home, and/or work on light duty. (Id. at ¶ 14.) On June 19, 2012, her requests to work part time or remotely were denied. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Bowen then asserts that on June 21, due to her request and her doctor's advice that she be placed on light duty, she was sent home without pay. (Id. at ¶ 16.) She was informed that there is no “light duty” for her position, and she could not return to work until her doctor released her from light duty status. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Around this time, a coworker's request to donate leave to Bowen through the “Employee-to-Employee Leave Donation Program” was also denied. (Id. at ¶ 33.) Plaintiff appealed the denial, however, and on or around August 6, 2012, the donated leave request was approved. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-37.) Accordingly, Plaintiff resumed working on August 7, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 40.)

         On August 14, 2012, Bowen's request for the light duty accommodation was denied. (Id. at ¶ 19.) She asserts that DPSCS “maintains a formal or informal policy of immediately denying part time and light duty work prior to engaging in the interactive process under the ADA.” (Id. at ¶ 20.) She further asserts that she was denied her accommodations while two Caucasian and non-disabled employees in her office were permitted to work part time or on light duty. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-52.) Shortly after this second request was denied, Bowen was charged with a disciplinary infraction, and later in August of 2012, reassigned to another unit under the supervision of Shena Castain. (Id. at ¶ 38.) During her time working under Castain, Plaintiff asserts that she was the subject of several discriminatory and retaliatory acts, including Castain raising her voice at Bowen, excluding her from an employee appreciation event, and instructing an Agent Assistant to not help Bowen enter certain DPSCS documents. (Id. at ¶¶ 45-49.) She also alleges that during her employment, she was falsely charged with a disciplinary infraction, required to attend mitigation conferences, and received reprimands. On November 11, 2012, Bowen filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, asserting that she “was subjected to discrimination based on race, color, retaliation and disability.” (Id. at ¶¶ 79-80.)

         In February of 2013, Bowen requested FMLA leave for various dates in March to attend medical appointments. (Id. at ¶ 60.) After initially being told that her leave had expired, the leave was ultimately approved intermittently for a right hand/forearm condition from February 8, 2013 through May 17, 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 56-62, 67.) She also asserts that during this time some of her leave requests were denied. (Id. at ¶¶ 68-69.) On March 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed an Amended Charge with the EEOC, adding allegations that her transfer was evidence of discrimination and retaliation, and further asserting that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment and denied FMLA leave since filing the Original Charge. (Id. at ¶ 84.) After subsequent requests to be transferred, on May 28, 2013, Bowen asserts that she resigned due to her “intolerable conditions.” (Id. at ¶ 131.)

         A month and a half later, on July 11, 2013, Bowen filed a Second Amended Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, adding that she was constructively discharged. (Id. at ¶ 86.) Almost three years later, on April 14, 2016, the EEOC issued Bowen a Cause Finding, finding that there was reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act had occurred. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 93.) Notably, Plaintiff does not assert that the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that she had been discriminated based on her race, which she had also alleged in her EEOC Charges. Subsequently, on March 15, 2017, Bowen received a Notice of Right to Sue letter from the U.S. Department of Justice. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Three months later, on June 7, 2017, Bowen initiated suit in this Court against DPSCS and Moyer alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Four months later, Bowen filed an Amended Complaint alleging additional violations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 709, et seq. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 9.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

         Defendants assert that some of Plaintiff's claims are barred because Defendants are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. This Court treats motions to dismiss based on the Eleventh Amendment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Beckham v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 569 F.Supp.2d 542 (D. Md. 2008) (“[A]lthough Eleventh Amendment immunity is not a ‘true limit' on this Court's subject matter jurisdiction, . . . the Court concludes that it is more appropriate to consider this argument under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) because it ultimately challenges this Court's ability to exercise its Article III power.”); see also Cook v. Springfield Hospital Center, No. ELH-16-2024, 2016 WL 6124676, at *6 (D. Md. Oct. 19, 2016).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a court's authority to hear the matter brought by a complaint. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. Demetres v. East West Const., Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015); Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). A challenge to jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed either as a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).

         II. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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). 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). While a complaint need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” it must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff cannot rely on bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         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); Hall v. DirectTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). However, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from those facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Americans with Disabilities Act Claims

         Bowen brings three claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. Congress enacted the ADA “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities, ” 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1), and “to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” § 12101(b)(2); see also Magness v. Harford County, No. ELH-16-2970, 2018 WL 1505792, at *9 (D. Md. Mar. 27, 2018). Specifically, Bowen claims that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her disability in violation of Title I of the ADA (Count I) and retaliated against her for requesting reasonable accommodations and engaging in protected activities in violation of Title V of the ADA (Count II).[5] For these alleged violations, she seeks both monetary damages and prospective injunctive relief in the form of an order of reinstatement to her position as a Parole and Probation Agent with DPSCS. Defendants argue that her ADA claims are barred under the Eleventh Amendment.

         Before addressing Defendants' Eleventh Amendment argument, this Court notes that the Amended Complaint does not identify Bowen's disability. Rather, after asserting that she suffered a work injury that left her with trouble standing, sitting, or walking for fifteen minutes or more, she summarily alleges that she “was a qualified individual with a disability and caregiver under the American with Disabilities Act.” (Am. Compl., ECF No. 9 at ¶¶ 10, 12.) This Court also notes, however, that the EEOC issued Bowen a finding that there was reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the ADA had occurred. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Accordingly, at this stage in the proceedings, Bowen has plausibly alleged that she has a qualifying disability under the ADA.

         The Eleventh Amendment provides that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. The United States Supreme Court has extended Eleventh Amendment Immunity to suits by citizens against their own states, explaining that “[t]he ultimate guarantee of the Eleventh Amendment is that non-consenting States may not be sued by private individuals in federal court.” Board of Trustees of Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 362, 121 S.Ct. 955 (2001). The Eleventh Amendment also extends to suits against agents and instrumentalities of the state. Cash v. Granville Cnty. Bd. of Ed., 242 F.3d 219, 222 (4th Cir. 2001). In Lee-Thomas v. Prince George's Cnty. Pub. Sch., 666 F.3d 244 (4th Cir. 2012), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit summarized two exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity which are of import here:

First, Congress may abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity when it both unequivocally intends to do so and acts pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority. Bd. of Trustees of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001). . . . Second, the Eleventh Amendment permits suits for prospective injunctive relief against state officials acting ...

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