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Wilson v. Montgomery College Board of Trustees

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 10, 2018

JOY WILSON, Plaintiff,


          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         Montgomery Community College (the “College”) hired Plaintiff Joy Wilson as a Program Coordinator in July 1998 and terminated her employment on May 19, 2016. Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 13, 29, 35, ECF No. 51-1.[1] Believing that her termination, as well as her supervisors' treatment of her leading up to her termination, was discriminatory and retaliatory, Wilson filed a charge of discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”) and then this lawsuit against the College and Montgomery College Foundation, Inc. (the “Foundation”). Compl., ECF No. 2. She alleged discrimination and retaliation in violation of Montgomery County Code §§ 27-6 and 27-19 (“County Code”). Id. Over the course of three amendments, ECF Nos. 24, 30, 51-1, in response to as many motions to dismiss, ECF Nos. 10, 29, 48, [2] Wilson eliminated the College and added Montgomery College Board of Trustees (the “Board”) as a Defendant and added claims for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 - 12213; the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 et seq., and a claim for retaliation in violation of the ADA.

         Wilson's Second Amended Complaint introduced federal claims and, on that basis, the Board, the College, and the Foundation removed the case to this Court. ECF No. 1. After they asserted that Wilson failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Local Government Tort Claims Act, Defs.' Second Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 48, Wilson filed her Third Amended Complaint, ECF No. 51-1, as well as a “Motion for Good Cause [to Waive Required Notice] Pursuant to the Local Government Tort Claims Act of Maryland [‘LGTCA'].” ECF No. 54. The Board filed a Motion to Dismiss Third Amended Complaint, ECF No. 55, as well as an Opposition to Wilson's Motion for Good Cause, ECF No. 56, and a Memorandum in support of both filings, ECF No. 55-2. Wilson filed a Reply with regard to her Motion for Good Cause, ECF No. 58, and the parties fully briefed the Motion to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 57, 59, 59-1. A hearing is not necessary to resolve these pending motions. See Loc. R. 105.6. Because, even after three amendments, Wilson still fails to state a claim for discrimination, her discrimination claims will be dismissed with prejudice. While she has stated a claim for retaliation, she has not shown good cause for failing to comply with the LGTCA notice requirement. Accordingly, her Motion for Good Cause is denied and her County Code retaliation claim will be dismissed with prejudice, but her ADA retaliation claim-and only that claim-will proceed. Further, because the Board is the only proper Defendant, the claims against the College and the Foundation will be dismissed, and this case will proceed against the Board only.

         Proper Defendant

         Wilson originally sued the College and the Foundation, then eliminated the College and added the Board. In her request to file the Third Amended Complaint, Wilson stated that “the amended complaint will remove Montgomery Community College and the 501(c)(3) Montgomery College Foundation, Inc., to avoid complex federalism and other issues.” ECF No. 50. And, in her Motion to Amend, Wilson stated that the Third Amended Complaint would “concede that Montgomery College is not a substantive defendant for purposes of suit apart from the Board of Directors.” ECF No. 51. Her Third Amended Complaint states:

Defendant, Board of Trustees of Montgomery College, is the legal governing body of Montgomery College, Plaintiff's employer at all relevant times. Defendant, Montgomery College Foundation, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with principal offices in Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland. Defendant is an employer and, at all relevant times, employed Plaintiff.

         Third Am. Compl. ¶ 3. But, she refers to “Defendant” in the singular throughout her pleading and does not bring any allegations against the Foundation.

         The Board argues that the College and the Foundation “are no longer named in the Third Amended Complaint and should be dismissed.” Board Mem. 1 n.1. In her Opposition, Wilson does not dispute that argument, and, as in her Third Amended Complaint, she refers to “Defendant” in the singular throughout her brief. Accordingly, Wilson has abandoned her claims against the Foundation and the College. See Whittaker v. David's Beautiful People, Inc., No. DKC-14-2483, 2016 WL 429963, at *3 n.3 (D. Md. Feb. 4, 2016); Sewell v. Strayer Univ., 956 F.Supp.2d 658, 669 n.9 (D. Md. 2013); Ferdinand-Davenport v. Children's Guild, 742 F.Supp.2d 772, 777 & 783 (D. Md. 2010). Further, the College is not subject to suit. See Alvarado v. Bd. of Trs. of Montgomery Cmty. Coll., 848 F.2d 457, 460 (4th Cir. 1988) (noting that “the board of trustees is identical with the college itself for purposes of [employment discrimination] suits, ” and that “‘[e]ach board of trustees may sue and be sued, '” whereas “[n]o such provision is included in the statutes to empower the college itself to sue or be sued, ” and concluding that a suit is “properly filed . . . against the board of trustees, ” but if suit is brought against the college instead, amendment would be appropriate” (quoting Md. Code Ann., Educ. § 16-203(k))). Wilson's serial amendments have muddied up the water regarding the identity of the persons or entity that are subject to suit. Clarity is required. The only proper party is the Board. All others previously named by Wilson are dismissed.

         While the Board is the only possible Defendant, it obviously acts through its agents and, where Wilson attributes acts to an individual, I will describe that individual by name. In other instances, she is entirely silent regarding the actor's identity, referring only to “Defendant.” To avoid confusion, I will note where the actor's identity is unknown.


         Wilson claims that she has a disability that “includes emotional and other impairments including, but not limited to, severe emotional stress reactions, and Plaintiff has been diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder, Left Amblyopia, and Dry Eyes Syndrome.” Third Am. Compl. ¶ 14. She alleges that her “impairments substantially affect the life activity of seeing, communicating, interacting, and working.” Id. She claims that in May 2014, she “asked that Defendant change her desk location as an accommodation due to her psychological impairment, ” and “Defendant, ” despite its awareness of her disability, denied her request on October 27, 2014; she does not identify the individual or individuals to whom she made her request or who denied the request. Id. ¶¶ 15-16.

         Wilson also claims that in November 2014, after her “immediate supervisor, Tracee Matthias, demanded receipts for purchases from a vendor, ” and she told her supervisor that “the receipts were on Plaintiff's desk, ” Matthias criticized the way Wilson spoke to her, “stated that Plaintiff acted like a character on the ‘Housewives of Atlanta, ” and “threatened to write Plaintiff up.” Id. ¶¶ 17, 19. Then, “Matthias added that she did not want to walk in the Plaintiff's shoes, does not have time to babysit, and does not care how Plaintiff felt, ” which caused Wilson to have “a strong emotional reaction related to her impairment.” Id. ¶ 19. Wilson “prepared a Non Bargaining Staff Grievance Form regarding the November 12, 2014, incident.” Id. ¶ 20.

         In conclusory language, Plaintiff alleges that she “was isolated, ignored, harassed, and bullied at various times by Defendant, ” again without naming any individual actors, “after her initial request for accommodations” and “was subject to a pervasively hostile work environment and long term harassment based on her disability, including comments by Matthias and Dorothy Umans [Wilson's manager] dismissing her concerns and reproaching her for her emotional reactions.” Id. ¶¶ 21, 23. She “filed an EEO Complaint with the Defendant's Human Resources Department on February 13, 2015.” Id. ¶ 8. Wilson also claims that she “received a harshly critical performance review for Fiscal Year 2015 after June 30, 2015, from Defendant [through an unidentified actor], prepared by Dorothy Umans, Plaintiff's Manager.” Id. ¶ 23.

         According to Wilson, she requested an accommodation again in January 2016 and “was again denied her accommodation request on or about January 19, 2016.” She then “suffered constant threats, excessive supervision, and false accusations about work performance.” Id. ¶¶ 25-26, 45. She claims that “Defendant, ” again without identifying a specific actor, “engaged in long term harassment for the duration of employment, and created and maintained a hostile work environment.” Id. ¶ 26. She alleges that she was placed on administrative leave on February 17, 2016, which she views as “either a constructive discharge or adverse employment action or both.” Id. ¶ 27. Wilson filed a complaint with the MCCR on May 13, 2016, “alleging failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, long term harassment, hostile work environment, and unlawful discharge.” Id. ¶ 28. The Board terminated her employment on May 19, 2016, while she was still on administrative leave. Id. ¶ 29.

         Failure to State a Claim

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In the context of employment discrimination, a plaintiff “need not allege specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination.” Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 764-65 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 510-11 (2002)). Nonetheless, “Swierkiewicz [does not] remov[e] the burden of a plaintiff to allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of her claim.” Id. (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002)). Thus, 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), and must state “a plausible claim for relief, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rule 12(b)(6)'s purpose “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.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012) (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)).

         Wilson brings six claims, four for disability discrimination and two for retaliation. The disability discrimination claims include a claim for discrimination in violation of the Montgomery County Code (Count I), a § 1983 claim for discrimination (Count III), a claim for discrimination in violation of the ADA (Count IV), and a claim for discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act (Count VI). The retaliation claims include a claim for retaliation in violation of the County Code (Count II) and a claim for retaliation in violation of the ADA (Count V). I will address Wilson's § 1983 claim first, followed by her claims of disability discrimination in violation of the County Code, ADA, and Rehabilitation Act. I then will consider her ADA retaliation claim, followed by her County Code retaliation claim.

         Section 1983 Claim for Discrimination (Count III)

         Wilson's allegations of discrimination under § 1983 and Rehabilitation Act claims are the same. Compare Third Am. Compl ¶¶ 56-65 (§ 1983 discrimination claim), with Id. ¶¶ 67-76 (ADA discrimination claim). Thus, because “the Rehabilitation Act's ‘comprehensive remedial schemes . . . bar identical claims made pursuant to section 1983 involving the same predicate incidents of discrimination, '” her § 1983 claim must be dismissed. See Gatling v. Carter, No. PX 15-3723, 2017 WL 480756, at *6 (D. Md. Feb. 6, 2017) (quoting Peter B. v. Sanford, No. 10-767-RBH, 2010 WL 5684397, at *5 (D.S.C. Dec. 6, 2010), report and recommendation adopted, No. 10-CV-767, 2011 WL 347019 (D.S.C. Feb. 1, 2011) (“Various circuit courts of appeals have agreed that the comprehensive remedial schemes of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act bar identical claims made pursuant to Sections 1983 involving the same predicate incidents of discrimination.”)).

         Disability Discrimination in Violation of the County Code, ADA, and ...

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