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Battle v. City of Alexandria

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

April 14, 2015

MISTI BATTLE, Plaintiff,


JAMES C. CACHERIS, District Judge.

This action, brought under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., is before the Court on Defendant City of Alexandria's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Dkt. 5.] For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion in part.

I. Background

At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court must read the complaint as a whole, construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

On December 4, 2004, Defendant City of Alexandria ("Defendant") hired Plaintiff Misti Battle ("Plaintiff") as a "Police Officer I." (Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 8.) Over six years later, in January of 2011, Plaintiff was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and placed on a twelve-month probationary period pursuant to Defendant's Administrative Regulation 6-8. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) For the first six months, Plaintiff received favorable performance reviews from her supervisor, Lieutenant Bartlett. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

In June of 2011, Plaintiff started working the night shift under the supervision of Lieutenant Shirl Mammarella ("Lt. Mammarella"). (Compl. ¶ 13.) On August 11, 2011, Plaintiff informed Lt. Mammarella that she needed to take a period of leave from work to care for her husband as he received emergency[1] medical treatment for a hernia. (Id. at ¶ 14.) On August 19, 2011, Lt. Mammarella met with Plaintiff and "told her that her leave balances were too low for someone with her amount of time on.'" (Id. at ¶ 17.) At that time, Plaintiff had accumulated approximately 40-50 hours of annual leave, 100 hours of sick leave, and a minimal amount of compensatory time. (Id.) Nonetheless, Plaintiff confirmed her intention to take leave during her husband's treatment, and made arrangements for other officers to cover her normal shifts. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.)

Defendant never informed Plaintiff or provided her notice of her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Id. at ¶ 22.) From August 21, 2011 through September 1, 2011, Plaintiff was on leave from work. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Under Defendant's Administrative Regulation 6-18, "[w]hile on full-time FMLA leave, City employees are not eligible, nor can they be required, to work overtime assignments...." While on leave, however, Plaintiff worked many overtime shifts because she did not know of her right to take FMLA leave. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff worked overtime during her period of leave "to minimize the disruption to other officers' schedules... and because [she] believed she was required to work the shifts she had signed-up for." (Id. at ¶ 37.) Working overtime shifts while caring for her husband caused Plaintiff undue stress and anxiety. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

On September 2, 2011, Plaintiff returned to work and assumed her duties as a Sergeant. (Compl. ¶ 23.) On September 7, 2011, Lt. Mammarella rated Plaintiff as "Below Requirements" for "Reliability" and "Responsibility" in her nine-month progress review, and noted that Plaintiff's leave balances were "seriously low, " even though Plaintiff's leave balances were still positive with 19 hours of annual leave, 19 hours of sick leave, and less than one hour of compensatory time. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Specifically, Lt. Mammarella criticized Plaintiff for using leave, stating:

[Plaintiff's] routine absences have impacted her ratings in nearly every category. When asked, she offered no explanation for her deterioration of performance. Sergeant Battle needs to take her assignment as a sergeant seriously and make it her highest priority in order to improve. She needs to be present during normal work hours for her officers. She needs to increase her leave balances....

(Id. at ¶ 26.) Despite these concerns, Lt. Mammarella approved every leave request submitted by Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 27.) On November 17, 2011, Lt. Mammarella verbally reprimanded Plaintiff for low leave balances and informed Plaintiff that she intended to recommend a 90-day extension of her probationary period, which she memorialized in a written memorandum to the Chief of Police on November 30, 2011. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.)

On December 14, 2011, Plaintiff was demoted to the position of Police Officer II because of the "Below Requirements" ratings from Lt. Mammarella due to Plaintiff's low leave balances. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) For the first six months following her demotion, Defendant informed Plaintiff that she was on probation and that she could not apply for the Sergeant position again because she had not successfully completed her last period of probation. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-50.) On November 8, 2012, Plaintiff was elevated, but not promoted, to the position of Police Officer III and given a pay increase, retroactive to September of 2012. (Id. at ¶ 53.) On May 5, 2014, Plaintiff was promoted to Sergeant, her current position. (Id. at ¶ 54.)

On December 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint under the FMLA alleging two counts: (1) interference with the exercise of her FMLA rights under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1), and (2) retaliation for exercising her FMLA rights under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). (Compl. ¶¶ 56-98, 99-108.) On February 26, 2015, Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, with a memorandum in support. (Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. 5]; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 6].) Plaintiff filed an opposition memorandum (Pl.'s Opp'n [Dkt. 10]), to which Defendant replied (Def.'s Reply [Dkt. 11]). The Court heard oral argument of counsel on April 9, 2015 and took the matter under advisement. Thus, the motion is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

A court reviewing a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must accept well-pleaded allegations as true, and must construe all allegations in favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. United States, 30 F.3d 518, 522 (4th Cir. 1994). However, the court need not accept as true legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679-81 (2009). Therefore, a pleading that offers only a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007). Nor ...

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