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Washington-Morris v. Bucks County Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2018

LORETTA WASHINGTON-MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
BUCKS COUNTY TRANSP., INC. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GENE E.K. PRATTER United States District Judge

         These parties are immersed in a procedural quagmire. The dispute involves alleged discrimination and retaliation that took place over the course of three years. It also invokes questions of timeliness and exhaustion of administrative remedies. As an added wrinkle, the plaintiff, Loretta Washington-Morris, filed two complaints with the EEOC about the supposed discriminatory conduct but only filed suit after receiving her right-to-sue letter as to her second EEOC complaint. The defendants seek to partially dismiss the amended complaint.

         For the reasons discussed in this Memorandum, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part. The Court concludes that Ms. Washington-Morris has alleged discrete discriminatory acts (as opposed to one continuous violation), and that she was therefore required to file timely EEOC complaints as to each discriminatory event. Thus, Ms. Washington-Morris' amended complaint only recounts two instances of discrimination that are timely. The first occurred in January 2016 when Bucks County Transport allegedly required Ms. Washington-Morris to come to work during inclement weather while similarly situated white employees were allowed to work from home. The second incident of discrimination occurred in June 2016 when Ms. Washington-Morris attempted to return to work after being on leave for carpal tunnel surgery. The Court also concludes that Ms. Washington-Morris exhausted her administrative remedies as to her disability discrimination and retaliation claims.

         Background

         Loretta Washington-Morris is an African-American woman who started working for Bucks County Transport in 2012 as a driver. For the whole time she was employed at Bucks, Ms. Washington-Morris also had another job that Bucks accommodated in her schedule. Bucks is a private, non-profit organization that provides shared ride transportation services to people with disabilities. Ms. Washington-Morris obtained full-time status as a scheduler in January 2014.

         Around that time, Ms. Washington-Morris learned that she needed to have surgery on her foot to alleviate pain from a heel spur. She requested time off for surgery and Bucks asked that she reschedule her surgery so that Bucks could train a replacement. One day after her surgery, Bucks asked Ms. Washington-Morris to complete scheduling work from home, which she did. Bucks then asked Ms. Washington-Morris to return to the office before her leave ended. She again complied . . . despite the fact that she was in a cast and on crutches. As she recounts events, Ms. Washington-Morris struggled to get to the second floor of the office building and fell several times in winter weather conditions. In contrast, white co-workers were allowed to work from home during inclement weather.

         Just over a year later, in February 2015, Bucks' doctor diagnosed Ms. Washington-Morris as legally blind. Ms. Washington-Morris suffers from amblyopia, a medical condition she has had since birth that affects the vision in her left eye. As a result of the diagnosis, Bucks told her that she could no longer be a driver and stopped allowing her to use a company car to commute to and from work. Another employee whose driving privileges were revoked due to a disability was still allowed to use a company car. The day after Ms. Washington-Morris lost her company car privileges, James Raymond, the Bucks Chief Financial Officer and one of Ms. Washington-Morris' supervisors, joked about her vision.

         Ms. Washington-Morris did not experience any performance issues at work until she began working with Melissa Barnett, the Bristol Terminal Manager and another supervisor. It is not clear from the amended complaint when the two began working together. Ms. Barnett reprimanded Ms. Washington-Morris when drivers were late to pick up passengers and stopped allowing her to schedule certain drivers at particular times. Ms. Washington-Morris felt that these acts were discriminatory because she was the only African-American scheduler and the only person targeted by Ms. Barnett.

         As a result of Ms. Barnett's treatment, Ms. Washington-Morris began meeting regularly with Mr. Raymond in April 2015. At one of these meetings in late May, she told Mr. Raymond that Ms. Barnett lied. Mr. Raymond became upset with her and refused to continue their regular meetings. He told Ms. Washington-Morris, for the first time, that Ms. Barnett was her supervisor. Ms. Washington-Morris was so upset from this interaction that she called her doctor to get her blood pressure checked. She was worried that the “stress from Defendant Barnett's discriminatory conduct was having an effect on her health.” Compl. ¶ 51.

         The next day, on May 28, Mr. Raymond and Ellen Melson, a Terminal Manager and also a supervisor, asked Ms. Washington-Morris to consider taking a position in the reservations department. The defendants told Ms. Washington-Morris that she could return to scheduling if she did not like reservations and she agreed to try the position. Ultimately, she preferred scheduling but was told that the scheduling positions were full when she asked to return.

         On July 30, 2015, Ms. Washington-Morris filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging only race discrimination.[1] Two and a half months later, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter, which gave Ms. Washington-Morris 90 days to file suit. She never filed.

         During inclement weather in January 2016, Bucks again required Ms. Washington-Morris to go into the office even though, according to Ms. Washington-Morris, other, similarly situated white employees were allowed to work from home. Around this time, Ms. Barnett and her daughters, who were also employed at Bucks, continued to make false allegations about Ms. Washington-Morris by stating that she (Ms. Washington-Morris) refused to relay information about passengers to dispatch.

         On April 20, 2016, Ms. Washington-Morris filed a second complaint with the EEOC and the PHRC alleging discrimination and retaliation based on her race and disabilities.

         In June 2016, Ms. Washington-Morris needed carpal tunnel surgery. After the surgery, Bucks required Ms. Washington-Morris to return to work but only offered her hours that conflicted with her other job. She felt that Bucks' offer was an act of retaliation for filing complaints of discrimination and retaliation.

         The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter based on the second EEOC complaint on May 17, 2017. Ms. Washington-Morris filed this suit on August 11. She alleges that she has suffered psychological trauma and lost income.

         Procedural History

         In her amended complaint, Ms. Washington-Morris brings claims against Bucks County Transport, Inc., Ellen Melson, Melissa Barnett, and James Raymond. She brings claims solely against Bucks for discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She brings claims against all the defendants for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 as well as discrimination and retaliation under the PHRA.

         The defendants moved to partially dismiss the amended complaint and the Court heard oral argument. The defendants seek to dismiss all of the claims except for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

         Legal Standard

         I. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, “to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '” the plaintiff must provide “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) (citation omitted) (alteration in original).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Specifically, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The question is not whether the claimant “will ultimately prevail . . . but whether his complaint [is] sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold.” Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, assessment of the sufficiency of a complaint is “a context-dependent exercise” ...


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