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Josiah v. Advanced Behavioral Health, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 30, 2018



          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination case is Defendant Advanced Behavioral Health, Inc.'s motion to dismiss, or alternatively for summary judgment, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 56 respectively. See ECF No. 4. The matter has been fully briefed, and the Court now rules because no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons below, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the Complaint and accepted as true for purposes of this motion. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). From 2012 through her termination in 2017, Plaintiff Marissa Josiah (“Josiah”) worked for Advanced Behavioral Health, Inc. (“ABH”), an outpatient mental health center with locations in Baltimore, Greenbelt, and Frederick, Maryland, with its principal place of business in Gaithersburg, Maryland. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 8-9, 16. Josiah is a certified trauma therapist with a Master's Degree in Counseling from Loyola University in Maryland, and is currently working on obtaining her Ph.D. in the same field. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 11-12. Josiah also belongs to the National Honors Society for Psychology, the American Counseling Association, and the National Board of Certified Counselors. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 13.

         Josiah began her career in 2006 as the lead foster care therapist for Catholic Charities. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 14. Then in 2007, Josiah moved to Sheppard Pratt Hospital, where she worked as a therapist until ABH hired her in 2012. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 14-16. During her tenure at ABH, Josiah received several promotions. By 2015, Josiah was promoted to Regional Director and thereafter Assistant Clinic Director. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 22. In June 2015, ABH began training Josiah for the position of Program Director. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 24. If Josiah had become Program Director, she would have received a roughly $40, 000 annual increase in compensation. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 28.

         Throughout Josiah's tenure at ABH, Director Stephen Green (“Green”) made inappropriate comments about African-Americans in Josiah's presence, and specifically targeted African-American women for adverse treatment. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 20. For example, Green complained that white people should have more babies, rather than African American women, and referred to an African-American employee as “Sista.” ECF No. 1 at ¶ 20. Similarly, ABH's Executive Director, Karen Ropp (“Ropp”), complained that the high turnover in administrative staff was because the staff members were poor, pregnant, and having children out of wedlock. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 21. Ropp also told Josiah that Ropp had worked while pregnant, and both Ropp and Green made clear to Josiah that the use of maternity leave was disfavored. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 20-21.

         Josiah was married in September 2015. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 25. In May 2016, a month before Josiah's promotion to Program Director was to take effect, Green and Ropp informed Josiah that she would not become Program Director after all. The reason given for the change was that Josiah's recent marriage led Ropp and Green to anticipate that Josiah would soon begin having children. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 27. Even though Josiah was denied the promotion and commensurate pay increase, ABH nonetheless required Josiah to perform the Program Director's job duties, and reported Josiah to be the Program Director to the state of Maryland. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 28-29.

         Denying Josiah the Program Director position was the first in a series of adverse employment actions ABH took against her. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 30. In July 2016, ABH changed its fee structure in a way that disparately impacted Josiah as compared to other Regional Directors, and as a result, she suffered a $20, 000 reduction in annual pay. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 33-34. The same month, ABH assigned a new employee to report to Josiah pursuant to the “TNI@Schools Program, ” and because of this assignment, ABH deducted from Josiah's salary a portion of the new employee's salary. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 37. When Josiah complained, ABH removed her from this program, replaced Josiah with a Caucasian woman, and did not deduct the cost of the new hire from the Caucasian woman's pay, as ABH had done to Josiah. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 39-40.

         In December 2016, ABH assigned Josiah two “Assistant Area Directors, ” again a portion of whose salary was deducted from Josiah's salary, and even though the new hires were actually supervised by Green. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 46. Josiah was the only Regional Director who personally bore some of the cost associated with employing two Assistant Area Directors. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 41-46.

         In January 2017, Josiah informed ABH that she was pregnant and due in May of 2018. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 47. Green asked Josiah whether she was going to name her baby “Mercedes” like other African-American women. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 20. At the time, ABH did not have a formal leave policy for Regional Directors, and so customarily Regional Directors took time off as each saw fit. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 48-49. On February 21, 2017 ABH announced a new paid time off policy, which Ropp stated was crafted expressly for Josiah. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 50. Under the new policy, ABH gave Josiah only nine days of maternity leave. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 51. Further, in late February 2017, Josiah received a performance evaluation which noted five areas that needed improvement. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 52.

         On March 17, 2017, Josiah filed her Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), in which she alleged that ABH had discriminated against her on account of her race and sex. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 53; ECF No. 4-2. On March 29, 2017, Josiah informed ABH that she had filed an EEOC Charge. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 53. ABH, in response, began scrutinizing her work more closely than other employees, manufacturing performance problems, and issuing baseless reprimands. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 54. Josiah had never been disciplined prior to filing the EEOC Charge. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 54.

         On April 21, 2017, ABH put Josiah on a performance improvement plan (“PIP”). ECF No. 1 at ¶ 54. In a meeting purportedly about Josiah's PIP, Ropp asked Josiah about the EEOC Charge, which Josiah refused to discuss without her attorney. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 55. Five days after the PIP meeting, on April 26, 2017, ABH issued Josiah a written warning about her job performance. This written warning was the first written reprimand Josiah had received in her five years with ABH. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 58. On April 27, Josiah received another written warning. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 60-61, 77. The conduct alleged in both written warnings was, according to Josiah, completely fabricated. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 59, 61.

         Josiah grew increasingly fearful that her stress at work could adversely affect her pregnancy, and so she began her maternity leave early, on April 27, 2017. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 62. Josiah returned from maternity leave about three months later, on July 25, 2017, and was immediately suspended for failing to respond to a text while on maternity leave. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 64. ABH asked Josiah to return all company equipment while on suspension. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 65. Josiah, in response, went to an ABH office to disconnect her cell phone, at which time Green, Ropp and a representative from the Human Resources Department entered the room, shut the door, and refused to reopen it, causing Josiah to fear for her safety. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 65. A little over a week later, on August 2, 2017, ABH terminated Josiah. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 66.

         On September 28, 2017, the EEOC issued Josiah a right to sue letter. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 2. Josiah filed her Complaint in this Court on January 2, 2018, alleging violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a), and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. See ECF No. 1. Josiah seeks damages for her emotional anguish, pain and suffering, injury to her professional standing and reputation, as well as stress-related complications during the labor and delivery of her daughter. ECF ...

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