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Company defeats interference claim

Where a former employee asserted a claim for interference under the Rehabilitation Act, but she failed to plead facts showing any discriminatory intent by her employer, her claim was dismissed.

Background

Michele Pitts-Brown’s second amended complaint, or SAC, against her former employer, Renal Treatment Centers-Mid Atlantic Inc. asserts claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss.

Failure to accommodate

Defendant argues that plaintiff’s allegations in the SAC exceed the allegations in plaintiff’s charge and submission to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Defendant contends that, in those submissions, plaintiff only requested the modification to plaintiff’s “size and color of her computer screen.” Therefore, defendant contends that plaintiff’s requests for “magnification equipment or lighting” are not properly before this court.

Defendant essentially argues that plaintiff needs to use the same words as in her EEOC charge to survive this motion. The court disagrees. Clearly the “magnification equipment or lighting” claims in this suit are reasonably related to requests to modify the size and the color of her computer screen

Defendant also argues that plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case for failure to accommodate. Defendant argues that plaintiff’s own allegations demonstrate that defendant engaged in the interactive process of identifying a reasonable accommodation, and that defendant provided her with accommodations.

Plaintiff’s allegations reveal that defendant provided her with the accommodation only in part. Although defendant was entitled to “reasonably accommodate [plaintiff] without providing the exact accommodation that the employee requested,” “[a]n ineffective accommodation is not a reasonable accommodation.” The question of whether this accommodation was reasonable is one of fact for the jury that the court cannot resolve at this stage of litigation.

Failure to transfer

Defendant argues that plaintiff’s requests prior to May 1, 2019, are untimely. The court agrees. Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to show that plaintiff asked for a transfer to a vacant position or that defendant failed to transfer her to a vacant position after May 1, 2019. Accordingly, defendant’s motion to dismiss Count Two is granted based on plaintiff’s untimely request to transfer.

Rehabilitation Act

Defendant argues that plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case for the interference claim she brings under the Rehabilitation Act. Defendant challenges whether plaintiff has pleaded facts making it plausible that they “coerced, threatened, intimidated, or interfered on account of her protected activity” or that they “were motivated by an intent to discriminate.”

In guidance promulgated in 2016, the EEOC stated that fixed leave policies that do not allow exceptions for any reason constitutes interference with disability rights under the ADA. Here, plaintiff asserts that defendant had a policy or practice of limiting medical leaves of absence to a fixed period.

Further on June 4, 2021, defendant allegedly advised plaintiff that employment was terminated because it was defendant’s policy to only allow a fixed amount of leave. Finally, defendant interfered with plaintiff’s right to take a longer leave of absence when it terminated plaintiff’s employment on June 4, 2021, because she had exceeded the aforementioned fixed period of leave to which defendant limited its employees.

However, plaintiff’s claim nonetheless fails because she fails to allege any discriminatory intent. Although plaintiff points to the allegations that defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment because she had exceeded defendant’s fixed period of leave policy and the allegations that defendant denied granting a transfer to a vacant job that existing during the relevant period as reasons to infer discriminatory intent, these allegations do not raise a reasonable inference of discrimination. Accordingly, defendant’s motion to dismiss Count Three is granted.

Defendant’s motion to dismiss granted in part, denied in part.

Pitts-Brown v. Renal Treatment Centers-Mid Atlantic Inc., Case No. 2:21-cv-232, Nov. 15, 2022. EDVA at Norfolk (Jackson). VLW 022-3-518. 17 pp.