Mitchell v. Brennan, Case No. 2:18-cv-1385

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
Writing for the CourtCHIEF JUDGE EDMUND A. SARGUS, JR.
PartiesTASHANA MITCHELL, Plaintiff, v. MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Defendant.
Docket NumberCase No. 2:18-cv-1385
Decision Date29 July 2019

MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Defendant.

Case No. 2:18-cv-1385


July 29, 2019

Magistrate Judge Chelsey M. Vascura


This matter is before the Court for consideration of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13), Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 15), and Defendant's Reply Brief (ECF No. 17). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. (ECF No. 13).


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Tashana Mitchell ("Plaintiff") brought this suit against Defendant Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General ("Defendant"), alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. ("FMLA"); the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq.; and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq. ("Title VII").1 Plaintiff is a resident of Ohio. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 9). Plaintiff has been employed by the United States Postal

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Service ("USPS") since 2013, and began working in her current Custodial Services position at the Columbus, Ohio location in June 2016. (Id. ¶ 6).

On December 7, 2016, Plaintiff informed Defendant that, beginning that day, she would be taking intermittent FMLA leave to care of her disabled daughter. (Id. ¶ 6). Plaintiff alleges that on at least ten occasions in 2017, she requested and was denied promotional opportunities for 204B supervisory positions, Facilitator Training, and Safety Captain Training. (Id. ¶ 7). Plaintiff claims that Defendant cited Plaintiff's numerous absences and "excessive" use of FMLA as the reason for the denials. (Id.) Additionally, Plaintiff claims that her supervisor suggested that Plaintiff's use of FMLA was seen as "exaggerating" her daughter's condition and stated: "[y]ou have to be here." (Id.). On November 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") (No. 1C-0002-18), asserting that she was denied opportunities for upward job mobility due to FMLA-protected absences. (Id. ¶ 9).

Plaintiff contends that, as a result of filing her EEO complaint, facility managers "began to mentally and physically harass and intimidate her" by regularly following Plaintiff around while she performed her duties, and making repeated comments about her "excessive" use of FMLA. (Id. ¶ 10). Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that after filing her first EEO complaint, she was denied a promotional training opportunity for which a person of less seniority was selected. (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff then filed a second complaint with the EEO (No. 1C-415-0089-18), asserting that management made rude comments about Plaintiff's work ethic, threatened her with physical violence, and made repeated comments about her "excessive" use of FMLA in response to Plaintiff's FMLA absences and association with a disabled person. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11).

On October 22, 2018, Plaintiff's second EEO complaint was dismissed as redundant to the subject matter of her first EEO complaint. (Id. ¶ 14). On October 25, 2018, Plaintiff received a

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Final Agency Decision on her first EEO complaint giving her the option to file a lawsuit in district court on the facts of the EEO complaint. (Id. ¶ 13).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed suit on November 7, 2018, claiming that Defendant violated the FMLA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (Id. ¶ 27). On May 1, 2019, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 9). On June 5, 2019, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff responded (ECF No. 15), and Defendant replied (ECF No. 17). Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is ripe for review.


To determine whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must: (1) accept the factual allegations contained in the pleadings as true, and (2) determine whether the factual allegations present any plausible claim. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (clarifying the plausibility standard articulated in Twombly). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The factual allegations of a pleading "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . ." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Consequently, a complaint will not be dismissed pursuant to rule 12(b)(6) unless there is no law to support the claims made, the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim, or there is an insurmountable bar on the face of the complaint.

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Defendant contends that Plaintiff's allegations under the FMLA, the Rehabilitation Act, Title VII, and "any other legal theory" should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Mot. to Dismiss at 5). The Court will consider the sufficiency of Plaintiff's FMLA, Rehabilitation Act, and Title VII claims in turn.

A. Is it Factually Plausible that Defendant Violated the FMLA?

It is "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under" the FMLA. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). "[I]nterfering with" the exercise of an employee's rights under the FMLA includes "discouraging an employee from using [FMLA] leave." Arban v. W. Pub. Corp., 345 F.3d 390, 402 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(b)). The FMLA also prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee by using her "FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions, or disciplinary actions . . ." 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c). Thus, an employer cannot interfere with an employee's FMLA rights or retaliate against an employee for taking FMLA leave. Hunter v. Valley View Loc. Schools, 579 F.3d 688, 690 (6th Cir. 2009).

Defendant contends that Plaintiff's allegations regarding violations of the FMLA are insufficiently pled and should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6). (Mot. to Dismiss at 8). First, Defendant points out that "Plaintiff does not state under what theory the USPS allegedly violated her FMLA rights." (Id. at 7). Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint does not include a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief as required by the basic federal pleading standards under Rule 8(a). (Id.). Second, Defendant avers that Plaintiff's pleadings are too broad and conclusory to support a plausible FMLA claim. (Id. at 8). Plaintiff disagrees, arguing "[t]here is no doubt that [she] pled facts that

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could easily lead one to the conclusion that [Defendant] denied her the benefits to which she was entitled under the FMLA and/or used her FMLA leave time as a negative factor leading to adverse action." (Opp'n at 3) (citing Wysong v. Dow Chemical Co., 503 F.3d 441, 447 (6th Cir. 2007)).

1. Interference

Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1), it is unlawful for an employer "to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under [the FMLA statute]." To demonstrate a prima facie case, Plaintiff must show: (1) she is an eligible employee, (2) the defendant is a covered employer, (3) the employee was entitled to leave under the FMLA, (4) the employee gave the employer notice of her intention to take leave, and (5) the employer denied the employee FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. Cavin v. Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc., 346 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir. 2003). "In the context of an interference claim, there is no need for Plaintiff to show evidence of any particular employer motive or intent." Harrison v. Proctor & Gamble Distributing, LLC, 290 F. Supp. 3d 723, 741 (S.D. Ohio 2017) (citing Wallner v. Hilliard, 590 Fed. App'x, 546, 550 (6th Cir. 2014)). The Court's inquiry is "simply whether the employer provided its employee the entitlements set forth in the FMLA." Id. (citing Arban v. West Publication Corp., 345 F.3d 390, 401 (6th Cir. 2003)).

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint adequately establishes the first four elements of an FMLA interference claim. Plaintiff alleges she has been employed by USPS for at least 12 months. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5). In addition, Plaintiff asserts that "[f]or any and all instances of the granting of, or the taking o[f], intermittent FMLA leave to care for her daughter during 2017 and 2018, Plaintiff had worked at least 1,250 hours in the prior twelve (12) months." (Id. ¶ 16). Consequently, Plaintiff plausibly alleges that she is an eligible employee pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(B). Moreover,

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the parties do not debate that: (1) Defendant is a covered employer, (2) Plaintiff is entitled to FMLA leave on account of her daughter's disability, and (3) Plaintiff provided notice of her intention to take FMLA leave,

Consequently, the question before the Court is whether Plaintiff pleaded adequate facts to satisfy the fifth FMLA interference element—whether Defendant denied Plaintiff FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. Defendant contends that Plaintiff's allegations do not satisfy the fifth prong because she was never denied FMLA leave. (Mot. to Dismiss at 8). Defendant relies on Seeger v. Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co., LLC, in which the Sixth Circuit held that where a plaintiff received all the FMLA leave to which she was entitled, her claim should be confined to a retaliation theory. 681 F.3d 274, 283 (6th Cir. 2012) (see also Arban, 345 F.3d at 401; Culpepper v. BlueCross BlueShield of Tenn., Inc., 321 Fed. App'x 491, 496 (6th Cir. 2009)).

Plaintiff argues that Defendant used FMLA leave as a...

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