Squires v. Gallaudet Univ., Civil Action 20-1348 (ABJ)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtAMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge
PartiesANIBELKA HENRIQUEZ SQUIRES, Plaintiff, v. GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action 20-1348 (ABJ)
Decision Date27 September 2021

ANIBELKA HENRIQUEZ SQUIRES, Plaintiff,
v.

GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 20-1348 (ABJ)

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 27, 2021


MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Anibelka Henriquez Squires has filed a twelve-count complaint against her former employer, Gallaudet University, arising out of her employment as an Academic-Career Advisor from 2016 to 2018. Plaintiff, who is Latina and hard-of-hearing, has brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, the D.C. Human Rights Act, and the D.C. Accrued Safe and Sick Leave Act, alleging that she was subjected to race and disability discrimination, retaliation, a hostile work environment, and interference with her statutory rights.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which is fully briefed. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments and the entire record herein, the Court will grant defendant's motion to dismiss all of plaintiff's claims, except her claim under the D.C. Accrued Safe and Sick Leave Act. Because all the federal claims will be dismissed, the Court declines to exercise jurisdiction over the D.C. Accrued Safe and Sick Leave Act.

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BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a Latina woman and a member of the deaf community who has worked for defendant Gallaudet in various positions since October 2002, including in its Department of Public Safety, as the Lead Teacher through Gallaudet at Kendall Demonstration Elementary, as well as a Senior Admissions Counselor. See 2d Am. Compl. [Dkt. #1-1] (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 8-9.[1]

In November 2016, plaintiff was elected as Gallaudet Staff Council Chair (“GSC”), a volunteer position in which she worked closely with the university president to represent staff campus-wide. Compl. ¶ 11. She held the GSC position from January 2017 to June 2018. Id.

On November 21, 2016, plaintiff was transferred to defendant's Academic Advising Department to work as an Academic-Career Advisor under the supervision of Kathleen O'Brien. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 14. There, she complains, she “was immediately responsible for a caseload of ‘red-flagged' advisees, indicating the students had poor attendance, were unresponsive, and required ongoing follow-ups.” Id. ¶ 16. She received these advisees at the direction of O'Brien, who asked each advisor to identify at least thirty to thirty-five red-flagged advisees for assignment to plaintiff. Id. ¶ 17.

Plaintiff was the only hard-of-hearing and Latina advisor working in the Academic Advising Department. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff explains in her complaint that she “is considered medically ‘deaf' by sound detection ability, but with an assisted device such as a hearing aid, she

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is considered ‘hard-of-hearing, '” and she did not require an interpreter for many one-on-one advising meetings with hearing parents. Id. None of the other advisors, including her supervisor, had the auditory or articulation ability that plaintiff did, and they were considered medically deaf. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. This differentiation - the fact that plaintiff had abilities that others at the school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing lacked - is the basis for plaintiff's claims that she was discriminated against on the basis of a disability.

I.August 2017 Request to Attend Social Justice Conference as GSC

The complaint suggests that plaintiff and her supervisor got off to a rocky start and never recovered. On August 4, 2017, plaintiff received an invitation through the GSC to attend and co-present at a social justice conference out-of-state, and she asked O'Brien for leave from the Academic Advising Department to attend. Compl. ¶ 18. As plaintiff puts it, O'Brien denied the request “ostensibly because it fell within the [department's] ‘black-out' dates for course registration, during which Advisors could not take time off.” Id. ¶ 19. After her supervisor denied the request, plaintiff emailed the university president on August 15, 2017. Id. ¶ 21. The President, Associate Provost, Associate Dean of Academic and Career Success, and plaintiff's supervisor reconsidered the decision, and on August 18, they approved the request to take leave to attend the conference. Id. ¶ 22.

Plaintiff includes the initial denial of the request in her list of grievances even though it was reversed. She alleges that other advisors “including Jessica Duhon, were given opportunities to participate in events, such as attendance at the Admissions Review Committee, whereas Plaintiff was denied the opportunity to go to the social justice conference, and other events, including the Open House booth from Admissions, the Admissions Review Committee, Latinos in DC Conference, and an Academic Advisors conference in Delaware.” Id. ¶ 20. The complaint does

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not specify whether the other events took place during black-out dates or whether other advisors were granted or denied permission to attend any of the events she mentioned other than the Admissions Review Committee. See id.

II. November 2017 First Performance Evaluation

On November 14, 2017, plaintiff met with her supervisor and EEO Director Sharrell McCaskill for her first performance review as an Academic-Career Advisor, for the period of November 21, 2016 to September 30, 2017. Compl. ¶ 23. Under the section of the review concerning “interpersonal skills and commitment, ” her supervisor indicated that plaintiff's attitude “needs improvement.” Id. ¶ 24. According to the complaint, plaintiff had never previously received that comment in any performance evaluation review throughout her tenure at the university. Id. ¶ 25. When plaintiff asked for examples of when she displayed an undesirable attitude, her supervisor cited the appeal to the university president regarding the social justice conference but could not identify any others. Id. ¶ 26. Neither plaintiff's overall evaluation score for that performance review nor a copy of the evaluation itself has been provided to the Court, so the effect of the “needs improvement” assessment in this one category on plaintiff's evaluation is unclear.

On December 4, 2017, plaintiff appealed her performance evaluation. Compl. ¶ 27. The complaint does not state the outcome of that appeal. See Id. Throughout December 2017, she exchanged letters with her supervisor, who then recounted other interactions in which plaintiff had displayed a negative attitude. Id. ¶ 28. In response, plaintiff asserted that those exchanges were being misconstrued. Id.

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III. January 2018 Reprimand Letters

On January 18, 2018, plaintiff received her first letter of reprimand. Compl. ¶ 31. She states that it was “for non-compliance . . . for leaving the room of a welcome lunch, despite having only left the room for 10 minutes to take a short break.” Id. ¶¶ 30-31. On January 22, 2018, she received an addendum to the January 18 reprimand letter based on an incident when, as plaintiff describes it, “a walk-in advisee came at 4:15 p.m., though Plaintiff stopped seeing advisees at 4:00 p.m., to use the restroom and go to a university council meeting, as Plaintiff had not received a lunch break that day.” Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiff alleges that “[a]nother advisor, Jessica Duhon, stopped seeing advisees at 4:00 p.m. the following day” and that other colleagues were not questioned when they stopped work around 4:15 p.m., used the restroom, or left a few minutes early. Id. ¶¶ 32-33.

The complaint alleges that “plaintiff was repeatedly informally reprimanded for arriving late and/or leaving early within five minutes of her arrival/departure time/return from lunch break, ” and she felt as if her supervisor was constantly monitoring her movements. Compl. ¶ 34. She rarely took lunch breaks outside of the office, and when she did, she says, she would return within thirty minutes, while her colleagues, including Jessica Duhon, would return ten to fifteen minutes late without being reprimanded. Id. ¶¶ 35-36.

On January 22, 2018, plaintiff received another reprimand, accusing her of abusing or misusing the sick leave policy during black-out dates and stating that her monthly use of sick leave was a cause for concern. Compl. ¶ 37. This “sick-leave reprimand came despite the [department's] knowledge that Plaintiff routinely took sick leave twice a month.” Id. ¶ 38. As a result of this reprimand, plaintiff was required to submit a doctor's note every time she took sick leave, even though the department's policy required a note only if an employee took more than three

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consecutive sick days. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff had never taken more than two days off in a row, but she alleges that other advisors, including Jessica Duhon, “were out of the office as often or more often than Plaintiff” but were not accused of abusing the sick leave policy or required to submit doctors' notes for every absence. Id. ¶¶ 40-41.

On January 22, 2018, plaintiff emailed EEO Director McCaskill and Associate Dean for Academic and Career Success Thelma Schroeder to express concerns for her safety around O'Brien and to address the reprimand letters. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 42. The complaint does not indicate whether plaintiff received a response to the email. See Id. ¶ 42.

IV. FMLA Leave January 23, 2018-March 18, 2018 and Return

Following three reprimands in one week and her supervisor's “ongoing hostility, ” plaintiff saw her doctor on January 23, 2018 for “sleep disturbance, anxiety, and lack of appetite, ” and was subsequently granted Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave from January 23 to March 18, 2018. Compl. ¶¶ 43-44. While on leave, plaintiff appealed the January 18 reprimand, the January 22 addendum, and the January 22 reprimand. Id. ¶ 45. The complaint does not state the outcome of those challenges. See id.

Plaintiff alleges that after she returned...

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