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Butler v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 10, 2019

TERVEL BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 20) filed by Defendant Prince George's County, Maryland (the “County”).[1] Having considered the submissions of the parties (ECF Nos. 20, 23 & 24), the Court finds that a hearing is unnecessary. See Loc R. 105.6. For the following reasons the County's Motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Allegations in the Complaint

         The following facts are presented and considered by the Court in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Tervel Butler (“Mr. Butler”), the non-moving party. On February 1, 2010, Mr. Butler was hired by the County as a firefighter and emergency medical technician. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 8.) In June 2010, Mr. Butler filed a written complaint that a fire academy instructor had assaulted him. (Id. ¶ 9.) Mr. Butler asserts that the County “did not appear to take [the] complaint seriously, ” and that beginning with this complaint, “a pattern of employer reprisal began against” him. (Id.) On another occasion, Mr. Butler filed a written complaint that he “overheard a white supervisor using a racial slur while referring to a black firefighter.” (Id. ¶ 10.) During the investigation into Mr. Butler's complaint about the racial slur, Mr. Butler asserts that he “was repeatedly warned to drop the complaint, ” which he refused to do. (Id.)

         On May 30, 2012, Mr. Butler injured his neck and right shoulder “when he collided with an automatic door.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Thereafter, he developed right shoulder tendinitis. He missed approximately two weeks of work to complete physical therapy. Upon returning to work, he resumed “full-duty status.” (Id. ¶ 12.) Nonetheless, “the nature of his injury and [the] amount of lifting” required in his job “led him to repeatedly aggravate the injury.” (Id.)

         On January 7, 2016, Mr. Butler “seriously aggravated his shoulder injury while performing vehicle maintenance at his fire house.” (Id. ¶ 13.) He underwent a second round of physical therapy. (Id.)

         On September 15, 2016, Mr. Butler injured his shoulder again. (Id. ¶ 14.) Upon examination by medical providers, he was “diagnosed with tendinitis, muscle strain, lumbar spinal strain, and thoracic spinal strain.” (Id.). He was ordered to do a third round of physical therapy and was prescribed medication. Mr. Butler took two months off from work. Upon returning to work, he was assigned to light duty for approximately three months. At the conclusion of his light-duty assignment, he returned to full-duty status. (Id.)

         In February 2017, Mr. Butler was injured again. This time, he sustained “neck, shoulder and back injuries while carrying a fire hose into a burning house.” (Id. ¶ 16.) He underwent physical therapy and was initially returned to full-duty status. (Id.) Mr. Butler protested his full-duty assignment and was thereafter “assigned to a light duty . . . but he was assigned a work detail that required him to lift boxes that exceeded weight limits prescribed by his doctor.” (Id.) When Mr. Butler complained about his assignment, he was criticized for not being a “team player.” (Id.) When he asked to be reassigned to another light-duty assignment, he was “written up for going outside of his chain of command, ” and assigned to the warehouse for two months. (Id.)

         Mr. Butler underwent a fitness for duty evaluation on September 7, 2017. (Id. ¶ 17.) He was deemed fully fit for duty with no restrictions and directed to return to work in a full-duty status on September 11, 2017. (Id.) Before returning to full-duty status, Mr. Butler was required to complete the fire academy's re-entry academy. During the training obstacle course element of this academy, Mr. Butler “seriously aggravated his shoulder injury” and asked to be excused from completing the obstacle course. (Id. ¶ 19.) Mr. Butler's request was denied, and he was ordered to complete the obstacle course. After completing the obstacle course, Mr. Butler filed an injury report. As part of his report, Mr. Butler recounted that he had been ordered to complete the obstacle course even after he requested to be excused. In an “attempt to cover up the fact that [he] was ordered back” into the obstacle course, Mr. Butler was “reprimanded for making a false statement and his pay was held for several months.” (Id. ¶ 20.)

         According to Mr. Butler's Complaint, “[f]irefighters are instructed not to work if they feel that they will be a liability to other firefighters or to the larger public.” (Id. ¶ 21.) And “[i]f a firefighter knowingly enters duty status when he knows that he is unable to render safe service to the public or to his fellow firefighters, he is subject to discipline.” (Id.) At some point, when Mr. Butler was assigned to a new fire station, he “immediately told his supervisors that he was a liability to coworkers and to patients.” (Id. ¶ 22.) In response, he was told that he “if he refused to [work] he would be determined to have been absent without leave.” (Id.) Each day at the new fire station, Mr. Butler “would show up for his shift, but he would leave after his request for light duty was denied.” (Id.)

         Mr. Butler alleges that he “endured a pattern of reprisal, ” which included being accused of faking his injury, being cursed at in public, receiving unfavorable assignments, being supervised while he performed physical therapy, and being socially ostracized within the fire department. (Id. ¶ 23.) On November 15, 2017, Mr. Butler had a disciplinary hearing for being absent without leave and was notified that he was being terminated effective November 30, 2017. (Id. ¶ 24.) Mr. Butler's appeal of the decision was successful, and he was reinstated on December 15, 2017. (Id.) On December 20, 2017, Mr. Butler was subject to a second disciplinary hearing for “unwillingness to perform.” (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) He was terminated on January 11, 2018. The termination notice cited three counts of unwillingness to perform (on September 27-29, 2019) as the cause of his termination. (Id. ¶ 26.)

         B. Procedural History

         On March 15, 2018, Mr. Butler filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (ECF No. 20-3.) In the Charge, he alleged that he had been discriminated against based on disability and in retaliation for his complaints about harassment and a hostile work environment. (Id. at 1.) On February 7, 2019, the EEOC issued Mr. Butler a Dismissal and Notice of Rights letter. (ECF No. 20-4.) The right-to-sue notice advised Mr. Butler that if he wished to file a lawsuit based on his Charge of Discrimination, it “must be filed within 90 days” of Mr. Butler's receipt of the notice. (Id. at 1.) Mr. Butler filed his Complaint on May 21, 2019. (ECF No. 1.)

         C. Claims

         In the Complaint, Mr. Butler asserts four claims. In Count One, he alleges that the County discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Count Two, he alleges that the County is liable for intention inflection of emotional distress under Maryland law. In Count Three, he alleges that the County violated the Maryland Health ...


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