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Evans v. Maryland State Highway Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 1, 2018

BETH A. EVANS, Plaintiff



         Beth A. Evans (“Plaintiff”) brought this action for employment discrimination against the Maryland State Highway Administration (“SHA”) and Pamela Jenkins-Dobson, the Civil Rights Manager of the SHA. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, filed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 56. (ECF No. 6.) The issues have been briefed (ECF Nos. 6-1, 11), and no hearing is required, see Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons explained below, the motion will be reviewed under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Overview[1]

         Plaintiff began working for Horizon Goodwill Industries (“Goodwill”) in September 2012. (Compl., ECF No. 1 at 9; ECF No. 1-5.) She initially worked as a sorter in their warehouse and then, one year later, was offered a position as the custodian on Goodwill's contract for janitorial services at the Maryland State Highway Administration. (Compl. at 9.) Plaintiff accepted the offer and began working at the SHA on September 12, 2013, where she had supervisors from both the SHA and Goodwill. (Id. at 9-10; ECF No. 1-5 at 1.)

         Plaintiff did not report any issues during the first two years of her time at the SHA. In August 2015, however, Plaintiff began reporting workplace issues to Cindy Weaver, the Goodwill employee responsible for overseeing Goodwill's contract at the SHA. (Id. at 9-10.) Specifically, in August and September of 2015, Plaintiff told Weaver that she was experiencing “harassment” and having “issues” at the SHA. (Id. at 9-10.) Later, on November 22, 2015, Plaintiff reported to Weaver that she was having issues with Shannon Cannon, her supervisor at the SHA, and was exposed to “constant sexual remarks.” (Id. at 11-12.) In response to these complaints, Weaver told Plaintiff that there was nothing she could do. (Id. at 10-12.)

         Plaintiff continued to experience workplace issues the following year. On February 5, 2016, Plaintiff fractured her ankle at work. (Id. at 12.) When Plaintiff returned to work after her recovery, she informed Weaver and Cannon that she needed to take additional breaks throughout the day to rest her ankle. (Id.) Although they approved this request, both Weaver and Cannon complained about Plaintiff's additional breaks. (Id.) In addition, not long after Plaintiff returned to work, two male employees had an inappropriate conversation in her presence. (ECF No. 1-5 at 7.)[2] Specifically, while she was at lunch on April 20, 2016, the men spoke about a small house in the woods where they would take girls and engage in sexual acts. (Id.) Plaintiff asked them to stop but they just laughed. (Id.)

         In turn, Plaintiff's reports of workplace issues continued. (Id. at 13, 14.) In May of 2016, Plaintiff told Weaver that “things are getting bad, ” and that she cries and shakes before work and during her lunch breaks. (Id.) Plaintiff also complained to Sally Christensen, an employee in the Human Resources Department of Goodwill, about the way she was being treated by Weaver and about the fact that nothing had been done about the issues Plaintiff previously reported. (Id. at 13.) Though Christensen said that she would set up a time to talk with Plaintiff about her concerns, she never did. (Id.)

         On June 29, 2016, Weaver and her supervisor, Lori Livingston, visited the Plaintiff's job site to conduct an evaluation. (Id. at 15.) Livingston informed Plaintiff that she had received several emails from Cannon and another SHA employee, Eric Minnich, about Plaintiff's poor job performance. (Id.) Then, during the evaluation, Plaintiff was deducted points for a variety of things, including using improper chemicals and sidestepping the chain of command. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed an intake questionnaire with the EEOC on July 5, 2016, in which she reported that she was being subjected to sexual harassment and disability discrimination. (ECF No. 1-5.) One month later, on August 11, 2016, Livingston and Weaver called Plaintiff in for a meeting and informed her that she was being discharged. (Compl. at 16.) They told her that SHA employees Cannon and Minnich asked that Plaintiff not return to SHA due to her lack of work ethics. (Id.) Plaintiff was particularly surprised by this news because, two days earlier, Plaintiff received a bonus for her exceptional work. (Id.) Plaintiff asked Weaver and Livingston if she could return to work in the warehouse at Goodwill, but they said she was not qualified and that no other positions were available. (Id.)

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a formal EEOC charge in which she alleged that she experienced continuing discrimination based on sex, disability, and retaliation at the SHA in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified, as amended, at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act, codified, as amended, at 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq. (“ADA”). (ECF No. 1-3 at 1.) After conducting an investigation, the EEOC was unable to conclude that Plaintiff had been discriminated against in violation of either statute. (ECF No. 1-6.) The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue letter on December 21, 2017, [3] which Plaintiff alleges she received on January 10, 2018.[4] (See Compl. at 6, ECF No. 1-6 at 1.)

         Plaintiff filed the instant suit on April 4, 2018. (Compl. at 1.) Liberally construed, Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendants for failure to accommodate her disability (Count I)[5] in violation of the ADA; sexual harassment (Count II) in violation of Title VII; and retaliation (Count III) in violation of Title VII. (See id. at 4.) Plaintiff seeks monetary relief and a written apology. (Compl. at 7.) Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment on June 7, 2018 (ECF No. 6), which Plaintiff opposed (ECF No. 11). The matter is ripe for decision.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject-matter jurisdiction. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982); see also Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (noting challenge may be either facial, i.e., complaint fails to allege facts upon which subject-matter jurisdiction can be based, or factual, i.e., jurisdictional allegations of complaint are not true); Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (“When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenge is raised to the factual basis for subject matter jurisdiction, the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction is on the plaintiff.”).

         While Rule 12(b)(1) is directed toward threshold jurisdictional defects, Rule 12(b)(6) is implicated when the plaintiff fails to state a plausible claim for relief. In analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must view all well-pleaded allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “[A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable[.]” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). Even so, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         Defendants move in the alternative for summary judgment, in support of which they proffer several documents. “A motion styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, ” Sager v. Hous. Comm'n, 855 F.Supp.2d 524, 542 (D. Md. 2012), which provides that “[i]f, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) . . . matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) (emphasis added). “Nevertheless, a district judge has ‘complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings . . . or to reject it or simply not consider it.'” Sager, 855 F.Supp.2d at 542 (quoting 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1366 (3d ed. 2004)). Where, as here, the Court has not yet entered a scheduling order and Plaintiff has had no opportunity whatsoever to undertake any discovery, the Court is loath to force Plaintiff into a summary-judgment posture. Cf. Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (“Generally speaking, ‘summary judgment [must] be refused where the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to his opposition.'” (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 n.5 (1986)); Minter v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 593 F.Supp.2d 788, 792 (D. Md. 2009) (“As a general rule, summary judgment is not appropriate prior to the completion of discovery.”). Accordingly, the Court will decline to exercise its discretion under Rule 12(d) and will instead evaluate Defendants' Motion pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), excising the supplemental exhibits from its consideration.

         While federal courts must liberally construe a pro se litigant's claims, this requirement “does not transform the court into an advocate.” United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2012). The Fourth Circuit has noted that “[w]hile pro se complaints may ‘represent the work of an untutored hand requiring special judicial solicitude,' a district court is not required to recognize ‘obscure or extravagant claims defying the most concerted efforts to unravel them.'” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985)).

         III. Analysis

         a. Claims Against Defendant Pamela Jenkins-Dobson

          Plaintiff filed the instant suit against the SHA and Pamela Jenkins-Dobson, the Civil Rights Manager of the SHA. (Compl. at 2-3.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against Jenkins-Dobson must be dismissed because she is not an employer under Title VII or the ADA. (Mot. Dismiss Mem. Supp., ECF No. 6-1 at 7.) The Court agrees.

         Plaintiff does not specify whether she brings these claims against Jenkins-Dobson in her individual or official capacity; indeed, she does not mention Jenkins-Dobson anywhere other than the caption of her Complaint. However, because Jenkins-Dobson is named in the Complaint as the Civil Rights Manager of the SHA, the Court infers that the claims are asserted against her in her official capacity. As such, the claims are really claims against the SHA, who is already a defendant to these counts.[6]See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (noting governmental entity is “real party in interest” in official capacity suit); Nivens v. Gilchrist, 444 F.3d 237, 249 (4th Cir. 2006) (holding that claim for monetary damages against public official in his official capacity is, in effect, one against governmental entity employing the official); Bradley v. Balt. Police Dep't, Civ. No. JKB-11-1799, 2012 WL 4321738, *2 (D. Md. Sept. 19, 2012) (dismissing claims against individual defendants because “[e]ven if he had sued these three people in their official capacities, it would be ...

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