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Hayes v. Maryland Transit Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 6, 2018

FAYE BEATRICE HAYES, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Faye Beatrice Hayes (“Plaintiff” or “Hayes”) brings this pro se action against Defendants the State of Maryland, the Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”) and several MTA employees in their individual and official capacities (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112, et seq.; the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.; the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't, § 20-602 (equal opportunity policy statement), 20-606 (employment discrimination), 20-607 (unlawful compensation), [1] 20-702 (fair housing);[2] and conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Currently pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17); Plaintiff's Motions to Strike Affidavit of James C. Newton, Sr. (ECF No. 22) and Affidavit of Bart P. Plano (ECF No. 23); and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Sur-reply (ECF No. 28). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).

         As further explained below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) is GRANTED. Specifically, Summary Judgment is ENTERED in favor of Defendants with respect to Hayes' ADA, FMLA, Title VII, and MFEPA retaliation claims. All of Hayes' remaining claims are DISMISSED. Plaintiff's Motions to Strike Affidavit of James C. Newton, Sr. (ECF No. 22) and Affidavit of Bart P. Plano (ECF No. 23) are DENIED. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Sur-reply (ECF No. 28) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded facts in a complaint and construce[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat' Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 801 F.3d 412, 422 (4th Cir. 2015)). Further, as a pro se Plaintiff, this Court has “liberally construed” Hayes' pleadings and held them to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Alley v. Yadkin County Sheriff Dept., No. 17-1249, 698 Fed.Appx. 141, 2017 WL 4415771 (4th Cir. Oct. 5, 2017).

         On July 27, 1994 Hayes began working at the MTA as a Bus Operator; she became a Bus Supervisor in September 2005.[3] (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3, ECF No. 14.) She alleges that she suffers from an “invisible disability” stemming from an incident that occurred prior to her employment with the MTA which severely limits her ability to engage in daily activities. (Id. at ¶ 4.) The incident required several surgeries and other medical procedures and forced her to take a leave of absence from work, ending in December 2016. (Id. at ¶ 30, 33.) Since then, Hayes' physical condition caused her to have sporadic, unforeseeable absences from work. (Id. at ¶ 51.) Hayes Complaint catalogues several alleged incidents of discrimination and rights violations related to her disability and need for intermittent leave.

         Request for Accommodation

         Upon returning to work in December 2014 following a series of medical evaluations, Hayes requested an ergonomic chair as an accommodation for her disability. (Id. at ¶ 33-34.) On February 27, 2016 Hayes asked MTA representative Bart Plano for assistance obtaining the chair. (Id. at ¶ 35.) On March 1, 2016, the MTA provided Hayes with a catalog of chairs and allowed her indicate which chair she preferred. (Id. at ¶ 35.) On September 7, 2016, the chair arrived. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Hayes complains that a co-worker sat in her ergonomic chair at a mandatory staff meeting without her permission. (Id. at ¶¶ 55-59.)

         Scheduling Issues

         Hayes alleges that her requests for time off were handled in a discriminatory manner. On July 5, 2016, Terri Gorman, Chief Controller, permitted Hayes to trade days off with another employee. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Subsequently, Hayes was no longer permitted to trade days off with other employees. (Id. at ¶ 40.) At the same time, Ms. Gorman altered company policy governing days off to allow another employee, David Powell, to obtain nine days off to coach his baseball team. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-44.) In about September 2016, Hayes sought to change her shift so that she could arrive at 6:00 am rather than 4:00 am. (Id. at ¶ 53.) Rather than grant this request outright, Gorman directed her to swap her work hours with another employee whose shift began at 6:00 am. (Id. at ¶ 54.) Hayes also complains that she was the only employee on her shift scheduled to work on Thanksgiving Day 2016. (Id. at ¶ 73.)

         On December 9, 2016, Powell emailed employees and explained that the MTA would no longer schedule shifts according to employee seniority as it had done in the past. (Id. at ¶ 113.) As a result, other employees with lesser seniority than Hayes were able to takes weekends off, while her days off from work fell on Wednesdays and Thursdays. (Id. at ¶¶ 114-15.)

         Medical Leave

         Hayes' Complaint opines on several instances of alleged FMLA interference. On April 13, 2016, Hayes' request for FMLA leave was denied. (Id. at ¶ 48.) Shortly thereafter, she received approval to take FMLA leave through April 21, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 49.) On September 21, 2016 Gorman implemented a new policy requiring employees to provide two-hours' notice of their requests for FMLA leave. (Id. at ¶ 50.) In response, Hayes provided a note from her surgeon to support her request to be allowed to provide notice of her leave within one hour of her shift. (Id. at ¶ 51.) Gorman did not grant this request. (Id. at ¶ 52.)

         Hayes sought leave from work on the evening of Saturday, November 12, 2016, because of her medical condition. (Id. at ¶ 81.) Her employer granted her leave and others worked in her stead. (Id. at ¶¶ 83-84.) When she returned on November 15, 2016, James C. Newton, Sr., Terri Gorman, and David Powell held a meeting with Hayes. (Id. at ¶ 86.) At that meeting, Newton asked if she had called out of work the previous Saturday, and explained that he had reason to believe that she had attended an event while she claimed to be on medical leave. (Id. at ¶¶ 87-88.) This greatly upset Hayes: her heart rate increased, her breath quickened, and her muscles tightened. (Id. at ¶ 89.) In her car, she experienced an “emotional, mental breakdown.” (Id. at ¶ 91.) She drove to Concentra Medical Center for treatment, but was unable to obtain medical care. (Id. at ¶¶ 92-93.)

         Internal Complaints

         Following these incidents, Hayes alleges that she made several internal complaints to various MTA employees. On November 16, 2016, she complained to Senior Executive Sean Adgerson and Bart P. Plano about “unlawful employment action.” (Id. at ¶ 10.) In response, Adgerson explained that he “knew all about the chair.” (Id.) The next day, Hayes attempted to contact MTA Administrator Paul Comfort to register another complaint, but her comments were re-routed to Adgerson and Plano. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Hayes made additional attempts to contact Comfort via email in November and December. (Id. at ¶ 13.) On December 14, 2016, Hayes contacted Senior Executive Peter Tollini to discuss her complaints and warned him that she intended to file charges with the EEOC. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Tollini replied that he “saw the Facebook post.” (Id.)

         Employment Termination

         After her November 15, 2016 meeting with MTA management, Hayes had difficultly returning to work. On November 17, 2016 she attended an appointment with her doctor who issued her a “work slip” with a return date of December 1, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 16.) On January 4, 2017, Hayes attended another medical appointment and obtained another work slip with a return date of February 2, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

         On November 23, 2016 Hayes was scheduled to attend a “mitigating circumstances conference” to discuss allegations against her for inappropriately using FMLA leave and making false statements to management. (Id. at ¶¶ 95-96.) Hayes did not see email correspondence concerning this call until November 27, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 94.) Shortly thereafter, Hayes was informed that she had been accused of lying about the circumstances of her leave from work on November 12, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 98.) Specifically, her employer claimed that a Facebook picture showed her attending the Park Heights Reunion at the Pimlico Race Track that evening. (Id. at ¶ 110.)

         Based on these allegations, Hayes was suspended without pay for five days from December 14, 2016 to December 20, 2016. (Id. at ¶¶ 111-12.) On December 22, 2016 Hayes filed an initial Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Aff. of Bart P. Plano at ¶ 7, ECF No. 17-2.) On February 3, 2017 Bart Plano, MTA Lead EEOC Compliance Officer, received notice of this Charge. (Def.'s Ex. 1, Attach. 1, ECF No. 17-3.) Hayes also submitted a “Disciplinary Action Appeal Form” to challenge her suspension. (Def.'s Ex. 1, Attach. 3, ECF No. 17-5; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 112, 126.) On this form, Hayes wrote that she “did not attend the reunion, I only dropped someone off” and alleged that she was being retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. (ECF No. 17-5.) Subsequently, Hayes received a letter from her employer dated January 13, 2017 captioned “Notification of Resignation without Notice.” (Def.'s Ex. 1, Attach. 4, ECF No. 17-6; Compl. ¶¶ 25, 128.) The letter explained that she had effectively resigned by failing to contact her employer for five consecutive days about her leave of absence. (Def.'s Ex. 1, Attach. 4; Compl. ¶ 127.)

         On January 26, 2017 Hayes filed an Amended Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. (Aff. of Bart P. Plano at ¶ 7; Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) The EEOC issued her a right to sue letter on December 16, 2017.[4] (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) On March 8, 2018 Hayes filed this lawsuit. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 17.)

         Standard of Review

         I. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

         Defendants assert that some of Plaintiff's claims are barred because Defendants are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. This Court treats motions to dismiss based on the Eleventh Amendment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Beckham v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 569 F.Supp.2d 542 (D. Md. 2008) (“[A]lthough Eleventh Amendment immunity is not a ‘true limit' on this Court's subject matter jurisdiction, . . . the Court concludes that it is more appropriate to consider this argument under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) because it ultimately challenges this ...


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