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Wright v. Parker-Hannifin Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia

January 19, 2017

Lisa R. Wright, Plaintiff,
Parker-Hannifin Corporation, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's motion for extension of time to file a motion to amend her complaint. Plaintiff brings several causes of action related to her poor treatment at work and subsequent termination. She alleges these adverse actions were related to a workplace injury she suffered. Specifically, Plaintiff brings claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., as amended; Virginia Code § 65.2-308 (1950), as amended; and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. Defendant has moved to dismiss all claims, arguing that Plaintiff has not administratively exhausted her ADA claim, and that she has failed to adequately plead any of her claims.

         Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her ADA claim. Thus, this Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate its merits and it will be dismissed. Plaintiff has also failed to state a claim under Virginia Code § 65.2-308 because she has not alleged facts making it plausible that she was terminated due to her attempt to obtain workers' compensation. However, Plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim was adequately pled, and it will be allowed to proceed. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff's motion for extension of time to file an amended complaint will be granted, and Plaintiff will have fourteen (14) days in which to petition this Court for leave to amend her complaint.

         I. Statement of the Facts

         Plaintiff was employed by Defendant for over twenty years, from approximately January 20, 1995, to April 4, 2016. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 9). On June 3, 2015, Plaintiff fell and hit her head at work, resulting in a “concussion, severe headaches, neck injury, marked pain and loss of use and functionality of her right arm, and other symptoms.” (Id. at ¶ 10). Subsequently, she had two medical procedures to address her symptoms, in October 2015 and February 2016, that forced her to miss work for approximately two weeks each time. (Id. at ¶ 12). Plaintiff also missed work on several other instances due to her injury, but always provided appropriate documentation of her medical reasons pursuant to the FMLA. (Id. at ¶ 13). Plaintiff also pursued a workers' compensation claim related to her injuries. (Id. at ¶ 14).

         As a result of Plaintiff taking medical leave and seeking workers' compensation, Plaintiff's supervisor, Betty Parrish, began to harass Plaintiff at work, including refusing to accept her legitimate medical excuses. (Id. at ¶ 14). On November 12, 2015, Parrish terminated from her job, but reinstated her two hours later. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 15). Plaintiff submitted a form from one of her health care providers on December 16, 2015, that notified her employer of her need to take intermittent FMLA medical leave. (Id. at ¶ 16). After submitting this form, Plaintiff faced increased harassment and was subjected to wrongful disciplinary write-ups. (Id. at ¶ 17). On April 4, 2016, Plaintiff was terminated from her position again. (Id. at ¶ 18).

         II. Standard of Review

         When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations. See Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir. 2013); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. Discussion

         a. ADA

         A threshold issue is whether Plaintiff has administratively exhausted her ADA claim. This Court lacks jurisdiction to hear her claim if she has not. See Sydnor v. Fairfax Cty., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 593 (4th Cir. 2012). Generally, a claim may be exhausted by first bringing it in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charge prior to asserting it in a lawsuit. See Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000). Defendant claims that Plaintiff has not exhausted her ADA claim because she failed in her EEOC charge to describe an ADA claim or to check the box indicating she wished to bring an ADA claim. Plaintiff argues that her pro se EEOC charge, liberally construed, was reasonably related to her ADA claim, and that the content of her EEOC intake questionnaire makes it clear that she was attempting to bring a claim related to the ADA.

         Plaintiff is correct that her pro se EEOC charge must be construed liberally, and that her failure to check the box indicating she wished to bring an ADA claim is not dispositive on whether she exhausted her claim. See Williams v. Mancom, Inc., 323 F.Supp.2d 693, 695 (E.D. Va. 2004) (“EEOC complaints filed by individuals acting without the assistance of an attorney are not so strictly construed that a failure to check the ‘Retaliation' box on the EEOC charge form is necessarily fatal to the later assertion of a retaliation claim.”). Instead, a claim should be considered exhausted if “a plaintiff's claims in her judicial complaint are reasonably related to her EEOC charge and can be expected to follow from a reasonable administrative investigation.” Smith, 202 F.3d at 247.

         However, Plaintiff's charge and ADA claim were not reasonably related. Even for unrepresented charges, “we are not at liberty to read into administrative charges allegations they do not contain.” Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus., Inc., 711 F.3d 401, 408 (4th Cir. 2013). Here, there is simply a lack of facts implicating an ADA claim or intent by Plaintiff to bring an ADA claim. The only conceivable reference to the ADA in the EEOC charge is the fact that Plaintiff stated that the decision to fire her “result[ed] from my workplace injury in June 2015.” (See dkt.7-1 at 2). However, the charge also describes an entirely different basis for her claim, stating that Plaintiff was terminated “based on retaliation for participating in a protected activity.” Thus, the lone statement that her claim was “resulting” from her workplace injury is insufficient to implicate an ADA claim, particularly when the charge was inconsistent with an ADA claim in multiple other places (failure to check the correct box, statement that her claim was based on retaliation).

         Without any other indication of an ADA claim, the charge and complaint are not “reasonably related, ” and there is no way to “‘ensure[] that the employer is put on notice of the alleged violations' thereby giving it a chance to address the alleged discrimination prior to litigation.” Sydnor, 681 F.3d at 594 (quoting Miles v. Dell, Inc., 429 F.3d 480, 491 (4th Cir. 2005)). See also id. (“The goals of providing notice and an opportunity for an agency response would be undermined, however, if a plaintiff could raise claims in litigation that did not appear in his EEOC charge.”). Further, failure to check the correct box, while not fatal, does factor into evaluating whether a claim is exhausted. See Miles, 429 F.3d at 492 (finding a retaliation claim was not exhausted when the Plaintiff “did not check the retaliation box on her ...

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