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Edwards v. Montgomery College

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 9, 2018

KAMALA EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COLLEGE and PRESIDENT AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES, MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kamala Edwards has filed this civil action against Defendants Montgomery College and the President and Board of Trustees of Montgomery County Community College, alleging that Defendants failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations and retaliated against her for engaging in protected equal employment opportunity (“EEO”) activity while she worked as an English professor at Montgomery College, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111-12117 (2012), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 794 (2012), and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-606 (LexisNexis 2014).

         Now pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to Edwards, the non-moving party:

         I. Requests for Reasonable Accommodations

         Dr. Kamala Edwards began her work as a professor at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland in 1989. On or about September 17, 2002, Edwards fell in an elevator on Montgomery College's Rockville Campus, tearing her patella. Edwards's torn patella, combined with her rheumatoid arthritis, limited her ability to walk long distances. Thus, from that time forward, Edwards routinely requested a reasonable accommodation that all of her classes be scheduled in the same building. Until 2013, Defendants substantially complied with that request. Then, from 2013 to 2017, on four separate occasions, Defendants scheduled her classes in different buildings or in classrooms in the same building that were far apart. Each of these incidents relates to one or more counts in the Amended Complaint.

         A. Count I

         In February 2013, Edwards received her class schedule and noted that one of her classes was scheduled in the “SB” Building while the other was scheduled in the Humanities Building. Am. Compl. ¶ 19, ECF No. 11. Edwards requested that all of her classes be moved into the Humanities Building, but Defendants failed to grant that request. As a result of having to walk between buildings for her classes, Edwards fell and injured her knee on May 28, 2013 while walking up a ramp to the SB Building.

         B. Count II

         In August 2014, when Edwards had recovered from her fall and was prepared to return to work, she submitted a doctor's note that stated, “Please allow patient to park near office - limited walking - all classes in same Bldg.” Am. Compl. ¶ 51, ECF No. 11; Doctor's Note at 1, Compl. Ex. 5, ECF No. 1-5. Before classes began, all of Edwards's classes were scheduled in the same building, but her classroom assignments were arranged such that she had to walk over 500 feet to get from one class to the next. Edwards requested that all of her classes be scheduled in the same room, but Defendants did not change her schedule. In October 2014, Edwards met with Elizabeth Benton, the chair of the English Department, to discuss the matter. Rather than comply with her request, Benton and Human Resources Specialist Lori Stegeman suggested that she update her doctor's note to reflect that all of her classes need to be in the same room and offered to provide her with a wheelchair or a scooter.

         C. Count III

         In January 2015, Edwards's teaching schedule again included a class in the SB Building while the rest of her classes were in the Humanities Building. The Humanities Building classes were scheduled on different floors. Edwards emailed Stegeman requesting that Defendants comply with her accommodation request. Stegeman wrote back that the English Department was doing its best to accommodate Edwards, and that if she needed a more specific accommodation, she should update her doctor's note.

         D. Counts IV and V

         Finally, in January 2017, Edwards received her class schedule for the spring semester. Although all of her classes on any given day would be in classrooms on the same floor of the Humanities Building, she would be required to walk the full length of the hallway between classes. On January 23, 2017, Edwards emailed Benton, Stegeman, and Rodney Redmond, the Dean of English and Reading, to request that all of her classes be scheduled in the same or adjoining rooms. Redmond replied that her requested accommodation had been met and that she would need a new doctor's note if she needed a more specific accommodation. On February 3, 2017, Edwards then wrote to Robert Roop, the Interim Chief Human Resources Officer, to complain about the failure to grant her requested accommodation and noted that requests for classroom changes made by other English professors without disabilities had been granted. She also noted that her classrooms either did not have a chair for her or had chairs and stools that were defective or hazardous. No. changes were made to her schedule, and no additional or replacement chairs were provided.

         II. Procedural History

         On or about December 17, 2014, following the August 2014 incident, Edwards filed an internal EEO complaint, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability, age, race, national origin, and sex, as well as reprisal. Pursuant to Montgomery College's EEO policy, the complaint was investigated through an independent third party, HR ANEW. On July 29, 2015, Edwards was informed that her claim was not sustained. Edwards appealed the decision and received notice on September 5, 2015 that her appeal had been denied.

         On or about November 23, 2015, Edwards filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), Baltimore Field Office. Her complaint was processed on February 2, 2016, and her formal charge was filed on May 16, 2016. On January 26, 2017, Edwards contacted the EEOC Baltimore Field Office to update her investigator about the January 2017 incident. She physically visited the Baltimore Field Office in April 2017 to follow up on her complaint. On April 27, 2017, Defendants filed their position statement with the EEOC. Edwards also filed a position statement and a rebuttal, and the parties participated in a fact-finding conference on August 14, 2017 at which Edwards was represented by counsel. On September 29, 2017, Edwards received notice of her right to file suit in federal court. She filed her original Complaint in this case on December 26, 2017.

         In her Amended Complaint, Edwards asserts five counts: (I) disability discrimination under Title I of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the MFEPA based on the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in May 2013; (II) disability discrimination under the same statutory provisions based on the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in August 2014; (III) disability discrimination under the same statutory provisions based on the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in January 2015; (IV) unlawful retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act, based on the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in January 2017; and (V) disability discrimination under the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and MFEPA based on the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in January 2017.

         DISCUSSION

         In its Motion to Dismiss, Defendants assert six separate arguments: (1) the ADA claims in Counts I-V are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution; (2) Counts I-III are time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations; (3) the ADA claims in Counts IV and V must be dismissed because Edwards failed to exhaust administrative remedies; (4) the MFEPA claims in Counts I-V must be dismissed because Edwards failed to plead compliance with the notice provisions of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”), Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-304 (LexisNexis 2013); (5) Counts I-V fail to state a claim of disability discrimination or retaliation, as applicable; and (6) any claim against the President of Montgomery College must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         In Edwards's memorandum in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, she acknowledges that the Montgomery College President is an improper defendant and clarifies that the sole Defendant in this case is “Montgomery County Community College.” Opp'n Mot. Dismiss at 1 n.1, ECF. No. 13-1. Edwards also concedes that all causes of action brought under Counts I and II, as well as the MFEPA claim asserted in Count III, are barred by the statute of limitations. Id. at 11 n.4, 13 n.5. She further concedes that the ADA claims in Counts IV and V are barred by her failure to exhaust administrative remedies and acknowledges that any claim for damages pursuant to her ADA claim in Count III is barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. at 13 n.6, 14. Thus, the Court need only ...


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