Courtney-Pope v. Bd. of Educ. of Carroll Cnty., Civil Action No. ELH-16-4055

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtEllen L. Hollander United States District Judge
Decision Date17 September 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-16-4055


Civil Action No. ELH-16-4055


September 17, 2019


In this employment discrimination case, plaintiff Lydia Courtney-Pope, a self-represented school teacher, filed suit against her former employer, the Board of Education of Carroll County (the "Board"), asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("FEPA"), Md. Code (2014 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), § 20-601 et seq. of the State Government Article ("S.G."); and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). In particular, plaintiff alleges that the Board failed to make reasonable accommodations for her disability of post-traumatic stress disorder, in violation of the ADA (Count One); discriminated against her on the basis of her disability, in violation of the ADA (Count Three) and the FEPA (Count Four); interfered with her medical leave, in violation of the FMLA (Count Five); and retaliated against her for taking medical leave, in violation of the FMLA (Count Six). Id. at 18-33.1

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The Board has filed a post-discovery motion for summary judgment (ECF 64), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 64-1) (collectively, the "Motion") and numerous exhibits. Plaintiff filed a combined opposition to the Motion and a cross motion for summary judgment ("Cross Motion"), along with numerous exhibits. See ECF 69.2 The Board's reply is at ECF 80. Plaintiff's reply is at ECF 86, with additional exhibits.

The motions have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary to resolve them. See Local Rule 105(6) (D. Md. 2018).3 For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Board's Motion in part and deny it in part, and I shall deny plaintiff's Cross-Motion.

I. Factual Background4

From 2005 to 2014, plaintiff was a chorus and dance teacher at South Carroll High School ("SCHS" or the "School") in Carroll County, Maryland. ECF 74, Ex. 1; ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July 13, 2018 Dep.) at 6, Tr. 40:15-18. In addition to teaching, plaintiff coordinated twice-yearly choral concerts, participated in festivals, prepared students for choral and dance concerts, and assisted with additional fundraising concerts. ECF 64-10 at 5-6, Tr. 39-40. Plaintiff was well liked by

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students and parents alike, and received exemplary evaluations and honors from school administrators. ECF 74, Exs. 2, 4, 6.

Plaintiff's employment was governed by a "Master Agreement" between the Board and the Carroll County Education Association. ECF 74, Ex. 36C. School Principal Jeffrey Hopkins and SCHS Assistant Principal Meghan Humbert-Brown5 were two of plaintiff's supervisors. ECF 74, Ex. 6.

In 2011, plaintiff developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). It was due, among other reasons, to certain trauma that she had experienced arising out of marital difficulties. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Pl.'s Affidavit, ¶¶ 5-10; ECF 64-2 (Hopkins Affidavit), ¶ 3 . In or about the summer of 2014, plaintiff was diagnosed with PTSD by her doctor, which constitutes a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Id. As a result of her PTSD, plaintiff experienced "hyper-vigilance, ... flashbacks, exhaustion due to medication and inability to sleep, sensitivity to sounds and crowds, anxiety (racing heart and feeling of no breath) under stress, conflation of trauma and when under duress, dissociation." ECF 74, Ex. 43.

At the beginning of the 2014 school year, plaintiff informed Brown and Hopkins of her diagnosis and requested several accommodations. ECF 1, ¶ 25; ECF 74, Ex. 43, Plaintiff's Affidavit, ¶¶ 12-16. In her Complaint, plaintiff identifies three accommodations that she requested: (1) to leave at the end of the day, without staying past her contractual leave time; (2) to walk or run on the School's track during her preparation periods to help "decompress"; and (3) to take leave when needed, after proper notification, to attend therapy and counseling sessions to manage and treat her PTSD. ECF 1, ¶ 26; ECF 69 at 10-11.

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Plaintiff does not allege that any of those requests were denied. Id. However, she asserts that defendant's employees were "cold, insensitive, and callous," and she complains that they never "engage[d] her in an interactive process to [] discuss her disability . . . and how SCHS could accommodate" her. ECF 1, ¶¶ 32-33. Nevertheless, plaintiff notes an "accommodation conversation" she had with Brown on August 25, 2014, "within 5 minutes, after the bell had rung, on the first day of school, in the hallway outside [plaintiff's] classroom, as new students were filing into [her] classroom." ECF 74, Ex. 43.

In September 2014, plaintiff requested twelve weeks of intermittent FMLA leave. ECF 74, Ex. 8. On September 23, 2014, plaintiff notified Brown and Hopkins about her FMLA application. ECF 74, Ex. 9. In plaintiff's FMLA application, her doctor stated that, "due to emotional lability and mood instability, employee may be unable to interact effectively with students or co-workers at times." ECF 74, Ex. 8 at 2. Her doctor also stated that plaintiff "may have trouble maintaining her regular work schedule on occasions as she goes through treatment." Id. at 4. On October 1, 2014, plaintiff's FMLA request was approved, permitting plaintiff to take up to sixty days of FMLA leave in the twelve-month period from September 22, 2014 to September 22, 2015. ECF 74, Ex. 12.

In her Affidavit, plaintiff indicates that, at the outset of the school year in August or September 2014, at her "SLO meeting,"6 she met with Ms. Brown and disclosed her PTSD and its cause. ECF 74, Ex. 43 (Plaintiff's Affidavit), ¶ 12. She requested a waiver of the required professional development projects that caused her further anxiety by requiring her to stay after

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school and give up her preparatory periods. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Plaintiff's Affidavit, ¶¶ 15, 16; see also ECF 69 at 9 n.10. Plaintiff avers that she was "over-candid" with Ms. Brown about her PTSD, and Ms. Brown was "uncharacteristically combative." ECF 74, Ex. 43, ¶¶ 14, 15.

Plaintiff claims that, based on Ms. Brown's response, she "appealed" to Hopkins, but he refused plaintiff's request "to waive further professional developments," saying that "'it wouldn't be fair'" to other teachers. Id. ¶ 16. In contrast, Hopkins testified that, at the start of the school year, he and plaintiff had "talked" about plaintiff's request for "family medical leave." ECF 64-11 at 22, Tr. 25. And, Hopkins claimed that "there was never an issue of [plaintiff] not being able to take her leave." Id. at 21, Tr. 74.

According to plaintiff, beginning in October 2014, she was mistreated as a result of using her FMLA leave. On October 10, 2014, after plaintiff had taken FMLA leave for the day, Brown reported to Hopkins that plaintiff was absent and had failed to leave regular or emergency lesson plans for her substitute, even though plaintiff had indeed left the lesson plans in the classroom and had sent both Brown and another teacher an email with the plans that morning. ECF 74, Ex. 17, Ex. 18; ECF 74, Ex. 43, Administrative Hearing Tr. of Mar. 12, 2015, and Mar. 13, 2015 (hereinafter, "Hearing Tr.") at 403-05; ECF 64-11 (Hearing Tr.) at 1077; ECF 64-10 (Pl.'s July 13, 2018 Dep.), at 19-25, Tr. 80-86. Nonetheless, Brown demanded ten extra lesson plans from plaintiff for the days for which she took leave, although other teachers were not required to provide such plans. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at 407; ECF 64-10 at 19-25; see also ECF 74, Ex. 39B,

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¶ 5; Ex. 40, ¶ 5 (affidavits from two teachers who attest they were never required to prepare emergency lesson plans, despite absences).

Plaintiff suffered an anxiety attack on October 15, 2014, as a result of her PTSD, triggered by her classroom relocation and a verbal altercation with another employee. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at 416-418. Plaintiff asked Brown for a substitute teacher to cover her classes for the rest of the day. Id. at 418-19. According to plaintiff, Brown responded, "What do you want me to do, pull a sub out of thin air?" Id. at 419. Brown did, however, find a substitute for plaintiff. Id. at 420.

On October 20 and 22, 2014, plaintiff used FMLA leave to take full-day absences. ECF 1, ¶ 89. On October 21 and 23, 2014, plaintiff met with Hopkins to discuss the lesson plan issue from October 10 and other matters. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Mar. 12, 2015 Hearing Tr. at 413; ECF 69 at 19; ECF 64 at 9. Plaintiff avers that, during the October 21 meeting, Hopkins yelled at her for not completing the ten additional lesson plans, and refused to listen to her explanations. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Pl.'s Affidavit, ¶ 32. According to plaintiff, during the October 23 meeting, Hopkins again did not listen to her explanations, and refused her accommodations, stating "there is a limit." Id. ¶¶ 4, 33.8 Hopkins sent a letter to plaintiff memorializing these meetings, but plaintiff refused to sign it because of its alleged inaccuracies. ECF 74, Ex. 43, Hearing Tr. at 413; ECF 64-18. On November 17, 2014 and December 1, 2014, plaintiff used only 45 minutes of leave, yet she claims her salary was docked each time for half a day. ECF 1, ¶¶ 90, 91; see ECF 74, Ex. 23.

On or about November 14, 2014, Hopkins entered plaintiff's locked office with a substitute teacher while plaintiff was absent. ECF 64-2, ¶ 8; ECF 69 at 19-20; see also ECF 74, Ex. 37, ¶¶

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4-8; Ex. 40, ¶ 24. He "observed pills laying out in the open on [plaintiff's] desk." ECF 64-2, ¶ 8. Hopkins took the pills to the school nurse, "[k]nowing that [plaintiff's] students were often observed in her office with or without her present." Id. The school nurse confirmed the pills were vitamins. But, Hopkins spoke with plaintiff upon her return "about the importance of not leaving pills in places...

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