Hoelzer v. The Bd. of Governors of the Univ. of N.C., 1:20CV1072

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtLORETTA C. BIGGS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesMARTHA HOELZER and all similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff, v. THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date31 March 2022
Docket Number1:20CV1072

MARTHA HOELZER and all similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff,
v.

THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, et al., Defendants.

No. 1:20CV1072

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 31, 2022


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LORETTA C. BIGGS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Martha Hoelzer brings this action for wrongful termination, among other claims, under Title I of the American Against Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants, The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina (“UNC Board”), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC-CH”); and five administrators: Raymond Farrow, Barbara J. Stephenson, Daniel Lebold, David Routh, and Debbie Dibbert, (collectively, “Individual Defendants”). (ECF No. 4 ¶¶ 1-3, 6-12, 136-154.) Individual Defendants are being sued in both their individual and official capacities. Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, (ECF No. 14); and Plaintiff's motions: (1) Motion to Amend the Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 17); and (2) Consent Motion to Extend Time to File Motion Under

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Local Rule 23.1(b) to Certify Class, (ECF No. 21).

For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Amended Complaint will be denied, and Plaintiff's Consent Motion to Extend Time to File Motion Under Local Rule 23.1(b) to Certify Class will be granted in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a former employee of Defendant UNC-CH, worked for the university off and on from 2002 until her termination on February 22, 2019. (ECF No. 4 ¶¶ 20, 135.) While working as a part-time researcher at UNC in 2002, Plaintiff was involved in a car accident which resulted in Plaintiff suffering significant injuries including a concussion and spending several weeks in the hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.) “UNC-CH accepted responsibility and liability for [Plaintiff's] injuries under its worker compensation program and provided her with benefits thereunder.” (Id. ¶ 23.)

Plaintiff returned to work at UNC-CH in August 2005 and worked approximately 9 months, before leaving UNC-CH to work elsewhere. (Id. ¶ 24.) In May 2010, Plaintiff returned to UNC-CH for a full-time position in the Alumni Relations and Development department at the Kenan Flagler Business School. (Id. ¶ 25.) In addition, and of particular significance here, in December 2015, Plaintiff sought a new position with UNC Global Organization (“UNC Global”) as a development officer. While waiting to hear about the new position, she began experiencing concussion symptoms as a result of injuring her head in her home. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 28.) The next day, she received medical treatment and was formally diagnosed with a concussion. (Id. ¶ 29.) She began FMLA leave the same day. (Id. ¶ 30.)

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On May 31, 2016, Plaintiff was informed that she received the UNC Global development position, and on August 29, 2016, began her new role as a full-time employee at UNC Global. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 52.) At that time, Plaintiff was informed that “she was exempt from the protections of the State Human Resources Act.” (Id. ¶ 52). Further, while in her new role, Plaintiff continued to suffer symptoms related to her earlier concussions and “was continuing to receive treatment for both her concussion and her original worker's compensation injury.” (Id. ¶ 54.) Despite her health issues, in June 2017, Plaintiff received an overall positive review during her year-end review. (Id. ¶ 69.) Likewise, on January 22, 2018, Plaintiff received another positive mid-year review from her supervisor, Defendant Lebold. (Id. ¶ 81.)

Less than a month after her mid-year review, Plaintiff was involved in another car accident, and two days later, she was diagnosed with a third concussion. (Id. ¶¶ 84-85.) Following the accident, from February 14, 2018 until April 4, 2018, Plaintiff was out on continuous full-time FMLA leave due to her concussion. (Id. ¶ 87.) While out on leave, Plaintiff “provided UNC-CH with a doctor's note requesting reasonable accommodations for her concussion.” (Id. ¶ 90.) The next day, Plaintiff filled out and submitted a work accommodation form, and the day after that she “submitted a self-identification of disability.” (Id. ¶¶ 91-92.) Plaintiff returned to work on April 5, 2018. (Id. ¶ 93.) Upon returning to work, Plaintiff was only allowed to work part-time for four hours a day excluding breaks, while remaining on FMLA the other four hours. (Id.) She worked this schedule from April 5, 2018 until June 4, 2018. (Id. ¶ 96.) On June 5 and June 6, 2018, Plaintiff's schedule changed and she “worked two 6-hour days, taking 2 hours of FMLA on each of those days, ” before returning to work full-time the next day, and only taking FMLA leave intermittently for

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medical appointments. (Id. ¶¶ 107, 109.)

On June 8, 2018, Plaintiff met with Defendant Lebold for her year-end review. (Id. ¶ 110.) During this meeting, Lebold informed her that “she was not meeting expectations for the job, that he understood she was working hard, but perhaps the current role was not the best fit.” (Id. ¶ 111.) He also told her that “the job was not going to change.” (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Lebold did not explain how she was failing to meet expectations. (Id. ¶ 113.) In response, Plaintiff informed Lebold that “she was still suffering from a brain injury and that she needed some assistance in performing the duties of her position.” (Id.) Plaintiff's negative review from Lebold resulted in her being placed on the Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) on December 14, 2018. (Id. ¶ 124.) Throughout her time at UNC Global, “Plaintiff never received any written warnings or counseling sessions.” (Id. ¶ 125.)

Plaintiff later “inquired about the possibility of finding another position at [UNC-CH] that would be more accommodating of her brain injury and FMLA needs.” (Id. ¶ 117.) To address the concerns raised by Plaintiff, the “ADA office provided [her] with a professional organizer.” (Id. ¶ 127.) “The ADA office did not, however, discuss a job change with Plaintiff or indicate that other positions within UNC-CH might be available.” (Id.) On February 12, 2019, Plaintiff was informed by the ADA office “that her department had denied a request to allow her to move to positions within her department and that as a result, she could look for positions in other departments with UNC-CH.” (Id. ¶ 133.) The next day, Lebold sent Plaintiff a request for a meeting with HR on February 22, 2019. (Id. ¶ 134.) During the February 22, 2019 meeting, Plaintiff was informed “that she was an ‘at will' employee and that her employment was ending.” (Id. ¶ 135.) Plaintiff “filed a Charge with the Equal

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Employment Opportunity Commission alleging violations of Title VII and . . . the ADA by Defendant.” (Id. ¶ 14.) On September 3, 2020, she was “issued a right to sue letter.” (Id.)

II. DEDENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Defendants bring this Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction, and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (ECF No. 14.)

A. Standard of Review

1. Rule 12(b)(1)

Under Rule 12(b)(1), a party may seek dismissal based on the court's “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue that relates to the court's power to hear a case and must be decided before a determination on the merits of the case. Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 479- 80 (4th Cir. 2005). A motion under Rule 12(b)(1) raises the question of “whether [the plaintiff] has a right to be in the district court at all and whether the court has the power to hear and dispose of [the] claim.” Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012). The burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). Furthermore, when evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court should grant the motion “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

Though “not a true limit on the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts, the Eleventh Amendment is a block on the exercise of that jurisdiction.” Roach v. W.Va. Reg'l Jail

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& Corr. Facility Auth., 74 F.3d 46, 48 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation omitted); accord Fent v. Okla. Water Res. Bd., 235 F.3d 553, 559 (10th Cir. 2000) (stating that Eleventh Amendment immunity “constitutes a bar to the exercise of federal subject matter jurisdiction”). Once asserted by the state, such immunity becomes a threshold issue that must be resolved before the court can address any of a plaintiff's claims. See Constantine, 411 F.3d at 482 (“Given the States' unique dignitary interest in avoiding suit, it is no less important to resolve Eleventh Amendment immunity questions as soon as possible after the State asserts its immunity.” (citation and footnote omitted)).

2. Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint, ” including whether it meets the pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). See Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), thereby “giv[ing] the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,...

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