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Stevenson v. Dot Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 12, 2018



          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Michael Stevenson filed this action alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA) by his former employer, DOT Transportation, Inc. ("DOT") Specifically, he asserts he was terminated because of his age and in spite of his requests for reasonable accommodation of his disabilities. DOT has filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 8.) 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.


         Mr. Stevenson was hired by DOT as an Assistant Transportation Manager on December 17, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 20, ECF No. 1.) He identifies three disabilities of which DOT was allegedly aware: a bladder condition disclosed on a questionnaire when he was initially hired, a back injury obtained on the job that he disclosed in July 2010, [2] and an infection contracted in June 2011 that worsened the incontinence he suffered from his bladder condition. (Id. ¶¶ 22-34.) Mr. Stevenson states that DOT denied knowledge of any disabilities in a letter to the EEOC dated October 21, 2014. (M¶ 37.)

         Mr. Stevenson claims his performance was satisfactory and resulted in a promotion to Transportation Manager on an unspecified date. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) In early 2012, Mr. Stevenson informed his supervisor that he intended to retire in 2016. (Id. ¶ 42.) Later that year, another driver informed Mr. Stevenson of an alleged plot to "force him out of DOT since announcing his intent to retire." (Id. ¶ 44-45.) In November 2012 two memos were issued by Mr. Stevenson's supervisor that Mr. Stevenson claims indicate his job performance was satisfactory. (Id. ¶¶48-51.) In early 2013, another memo was issued informing Mr. Stevenson that his compensation would be reduced beginning in 2014, but would remain unchanged in 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 57-61.) In March 2013 DOT hired Dave Hess as a new Transportation Manager. Mr. Stevenson was responsible for onboarding him. (Id. ¶¶ 63-64.)

         On July 22, 2013, Mr. Stevenson was demoted to Transportation Supervisor and his wages were reduced. (Id. ¶ 69.) Mr. Stevenson was 57 years old, and his replacement was 37 years old. (Id. ¶ 70.) Mr. Stevenson complained to his supervisor and human resources about his demotion and reduction in pay. (Id. ¶ 72.) On September 6, 2013, Mr. Stevenson was informed by his supervisor that he "would need to be gone by the end of 2013" without further explanation. (Id. ¶¶ 74-75.) Mr. Stevenson was terminated on January 14, 2014. (Id. ¶ 76.)

         Mr. Stevenson filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging violations of the ADA and the ADEA on August 13, 2014. (Id. ¶ 10.) After an investigation, the EEOC dismissed Mr. Stevenson's complaint on April 28, 2017. (Id. ¶ 13.) Mr. Stevenson timely filed his complaint initiating this suit on July 25, 2017. (Id. at 15.) On December 15, 2017, DOT filed a motion to dismiss. Mr. Stevenson filed a response in opposition on January 2, 2018, and DOT filed a reply on January 19, 2018.


         When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true," and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). "Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). "The mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not 'forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those elements." Walters, 684 F.3d at 439 (citation omitted). "Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to relief is 'probable,' the Complaint must advance the plaintiffs claim 'across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         1. Age Discrimination

         The ADEA prohibits an employer from "discharging] any individual or otherwise discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). Where, as in this case, there is no direct evidence of discrimination, such claims are analyzed under the three-pronged burden-shifting framework set forth by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under this framework, a plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case of discrimination. See Lettieri v. Equant Inc., 478 F.3d 640, 646 (4th Cir. 2007). The prima facie case, however, is not a pleading requirement. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510 (2002); see also McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015). Instead, the plaintiffs complaint must state a plausible claim for relief under the ADEA-i.e., in this case, that DOT fired Stevenson because of his age. McCleary-Evans, 780 F.3d at 585.

         "[W]hen legitimately considered on its own accord, one's experience or seniority is typically not a basis for age discrimination under the ADEA[.]" Davenport v. Anne Arundel County Bd. of Educ, 998 F.Supp.2d 428, 434 (D.Md. 2014) "[T]here is no disparate treatment under the ADEA when the factor motivating the employer is some feature other than the employee's age." Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 609 (1993) "The ADEA is not violated when 'the motivating factor is correlated with age, as pension status typically is.' The same analysis applies to an employee who is fired because his salary is too high, because salary, like pension status, is often linked to seniority." Blistein v. St. John's College, 860 F.Supp. 256, 264 (D. Md. 1994) (quoting Hazen Paper Co., 507 U.S. at 611 (1993)).

         Mr. Stevenson has failed to state a claim for age discrimination. He was terminated and his replacement was younger than him, but he has failed to identify any connection between his firing and his age. Instead, he identifies an alleged plot to force him out owing to his informing his supervisor of his planned retirement. Like pension status and high salary, planned retirement in itself is not a basis for age discrimination, even if it may be correlated to one's age. See Blistein, 860 F.Supp. at 264. Mr. Stevenson claims that DOT's "stated reasons for [its] conduct were not the true reasons, but instead were pretext." but offers no support of this assertion.' (Compl. ¶ 103.) Therefore, this claim will be dismissed.

         2. Failure to Accommodate and ...

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