United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
KARA A. WHITE, Plaintiff,
VIRGINIA BOARD FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILTIES, et al., Defendants.
A. GIBNEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
White claims that the Virginia Board for People with
Disabilities ("the Board"), Heidi Lawyer, and Penni
Sweetenburg-Lee failed to promote her and then fired her
because of her disability in violation of the Rehabilitation
Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act
("ADA"). She also says that the defendants
retaliated against her because she advocated for people with
disabilities. The defendants have moved to dismiss
White's amended complaint for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.
the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over White's
ADA claims and she has stated plausible claims for relief
under the ADA, the Court will deny the defendants' motion
to dismiss as to White's ADA claims. The Court will also
deny the motion as to White's retaliation claim under the
Rehabilitation Act, but will grant the motion as to her
claims for failure to promote and wrongful termination under
the Rehabilitation Act.
FACTS ALLEGED IN THE AMENDED COMPLAINT
who has cerebral palsy, worked part-time for the Board from
2007 until February, 2018. She handled three training
programs for people with disabilities, including the Partners
in Policy ("PIP") program. White's annual
evaluations showed that she met or exceeded the Board's
July, 2017, White emailed the Board's staff, asking them
to use size 18-point font for all documents. Lawyer, the
Board's Executive Director, responded that most people do
not need 18-point font and that big font makes documents too
long. Lawyer also told White that she should address her
concerns with the communications director. White explained
that the Board should have large prints on file because
participants of the PIP program request larger font sizes
every year. Lawyer responded that White should not instruct
staff and that she should address further concerns with her
supervisor, Sweetenberg-Lee. Sweetenburg-Lee also responded,
thanking staff for their "responses and reprimands"
and stating that she was "aghast" by White's
email. (Am. Compl. ¶ 53.)
August, 2017, White applied for a full-time training and
alumni coordinator position with the Board. Sweetenberg-Lee
and two others interviewed White for the position. On
September 3, Sweetenberg-Lee told White that she did not get
the position, but that the Board could "facilitate
[White] moving on to somewhere else." (Id.
¶ 61.) Instead, the defendants promoted Ronita Wilson,
who does not have a disability. Wilson had two years of
experience working at the Board, while White had over ten
years of experience.
August 25, White learned that the Board planned to distribute
a liability waiver to PIP participants, which she believed
would discourage people with disabilities from attending PIP
sessions. White told Sweetenberg-Lee that she believed the
waiver discriminated against people with disabilities. On
September 6, White expressed her concerns to Teri Morgan, a
former employee of the Board, who contacted Lawyer. The next
day, Lawyer sent an email to White and Sweetenberg-Lee,
reprimanding White for ignoring the chain of command. White
complained to Lawyer and Sweetenberg-Lee that they had
insulted and disrespected her.
September 12, Sweetenberg-Lee told White to stop attending
meetings with the Board's directors. Several weeks later,
Sweetenberg-Lee asked White to start sending daily updates
and weekly reports to Sweetenberg-Lee, to respond to all
emails in writing, and not to make any recommendations or
send any emails without Sweetenberg-Lee's approval.
White's November, 2017 performance evaluation,
Sweetenberg-Lee praised White for her "knowledge of
disability issues and her extraordinary responsiveness,"
but said that she expected White to respond to all emails in
writing. (Id. If 80.) On December 7, White asked
Sweetenberg-Lee not to demean her in front of others.
Sweetenberg-Lee responded, "I am sorry you felt
demeaned, but I am sure it will not happen again, since you
will be following this directive." (Id. |f 82.)
On February 22, 2018, Lawyer fired White, citing her
"unsatisfactory job performance." (Id.
amended complaint alleges that the defendants failed to
promote her and fired her because of her disability in
violation of the Rehabilitation Act (Count One) and the ADA
(Count Two). White also claims that the defendants retaliated
against her for her advocacy for people with disabilities in
violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. The
defendants have moved to dismiss White's Rehabilitation
Act and ADA claims for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6) and her ADA claim for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1).