Wilson v. City of Gaithersburg

Citation121 F.Supp.3d 478
Decision Date03 August 2015
Docket NumberCase No. PWG–14–2317.
Parties Mark J. WILSON, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF GAITHERSBURG, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Mark J. Wilson, N. Potomac, MD, pro se.

Matthew Douglas Peter, Local Government Insurance Trust, Hanover, MD, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

Plaintiff Mark J. Wilson filed suit, pro se, against Defendant City of Gaithersburg ("the City"), alleging that he was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112 –12213, when he was terminated for requesting an accommodation for his disability. Compl., ECF No. 1; see Civil Cover Sheet § VI, ECF No. 1–2. Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's hostile work environment and failure to accommodate claims for failure to state a claim and for summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claim, ECF No. 11.1 Def.'s Mem. 1. Because Plaintiff has stated a claim for failure to accommodate but not hostile work environment, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. Because Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to that claim.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

For the purposes of resolving the City's motion to dismiss, I accept as true the following facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir.2011). Plaintiff worked as a Project Manager in the Facilities Management Division of the City's Department of Public Works and Engineering ("DPW") for eight years. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5, ECF No. 1. He "has several disabilities," including "ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]," for which he takes an "antidepressant" that has caused him to take "several days to recover" from "a perceived threat or attack," during which time his "work and health at home" were affected and he experienced "bouts of anxiety and depression." Id. ¶¶ 27–28. Thus, when Plaintiff's supervisor, Peter Geiling, "threaten[ed] others and rant[ed] in Wilson['s] presence in Winter and Spring 2009 and again in Spring 2010, these "several episodes ... rattle[d] Wilson." Id. ¶¶ 20–21. He "confronted his Boss in writing" in 2009 and then "file[d] a work place compliant [sic]" in Spring 2010. Id. On May 6, 2010, Wilson received "a letter from the [City] Attorney stating that the City's third party investigator had ruled that Wilson's boss's behavior toward Wilson several months ago did not create a hostile work environment, but was characterized as just Geiling's ‘management style.’ " Id. ¶ 2.

Wilson was informed on May 7, 2010 that he was terminated, but would be paid through June 30, 2010. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5, 7. The City informed him that DPW "did not need him as a project manager in the Facility Department and would use his wages to create a new position in the Engineering Services Department for a project manager working with storm water infrastructure." Id. ¶ 5. Yet, as Plaintiff reads them, the City's budget records "state that Wilson['s] position was not eliminated after Wilson was terminated in May 2010," and "the new Project Manager position for working with storm water infrastructure did not exist after Wilson's termination and the next year after that." Id. ¶¶ 13–14.

For purposes of Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claim, I consider the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the nonmovant, drawing all justifiable inferences in that party's favor.

Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 585–86, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 174 L.Ed.2d 490 (2009) ; George & Co., LLC v. Imagination Entm't Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 391–92 (4th Cir.2009). Although the events described above are undisputed, the documentary evidence establishes a different timeframe for the relevant events: Plaintiff voiced complaints about his supervisor's behavior on January 7, 2011 and February 7, 2011. James Arnoult Aff. ¶¶ 14–15, Def.'s Mem. Ex. 1, ECF No. 11–3 (affidavit of Director of the Department of Public Works and Engineering for the City); Jan. 7, 2011 Ltr. from Steven B. Israel, M.D., Def.'s Mem. Ex. 2, ECF No. 11–4 (stating that Plaintiff needed "to take time off" for "an exacerbation of his illness"); Feb. 7, 2011 Work–Related Illness Report, Def.'s Mem. Ex. 4, ECF No. 11–6. The City notified Plaintiff on May 4, 2011 that it had hired an outside attorney to investigate Plaintiff's allegations of a hostile work environment and concluded, based on the attorney's report, that Plaintiff simply described a "management style" and not a hostile work environment for which the City needed to take corrective action. May 4, 2011 Mem. to Wilson, Def.'s Mem. Ex. 5, ECF No. 14–1. The City informed Plaintiff on May 10, 2011 that his employment would end that day, although he would be paid through the end of June 2011. May 10, 2011 Mem. to Wilson, Def.'s Mem. Ex. 6, ECF No. 11–7; see Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 9, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. F, ECF No. 15–8 (referring to May 7, 2011 notice of dismissal).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), this Court may dismiss a claim or complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Tucker v. Specialized Loan Servicing, LLC, 83 F.Supp.3d 635, 647–48, 2015 WL 452285, at *8 (D.Md. Feb. 3, 2015). In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Rule 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Specifically, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief," as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice," Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678–79, 129 S.Ct. 1937. See Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB–12–237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D.Md. Dec. 13, 2012) (discussing standard from Iqbal and 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and his Complaint is to be construed liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972). However, liberal construction does not absolve Plaintiff from pleading a plausible claim. See Holsey v. Collins, 90 F.R.D. 122, 128 (D.Md.1981) (citing Inmates v. Owens, 561 F.2d 560, 562–63 (4th Cir.1977) ).

It is neither unfair nor unreasonable to require a pleader to put his complaint in an intelligible, coherent, and manageable form, and his failure to do so may warrant dismissal. District courts are not required to be mind readers, or to conjure questions not squarely presented to them.

Harris v. Angliker, 955 F.2d 41, 1992 WL 21375, at *1 (4th Cir.1992) (per curiam) (internal citations omitted).

Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations ... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c)(1)(A) ; see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir.2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). When considering cross-motions for summary judgment, "the court must view each motion in a light most favorable to the non-movant." Linzer v. Sebelius, No. AW–07–597, 2009 WL 2778269, at *4 (D.Md. Aug. 28, 2009) ; see Mellen v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355, 363 (4th Cir.2003).

III. DISCUSSION
A. Hostile Work Environment

Defendant urges dismissal of Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim for "failure to adequately allege the existence of a disability"; failure to allege at all "that Mr. Wilson himself was subjected to unwelcome harassment"; and failure to show that the "workplace environment was both subjectively and objectively hostile." Def.'s Mem. 10–11. It does not appear in Plaintiff's Complaint that he seeks to bring a claim for hostile work environment, yet it bears mention that Plaintiff states in his Opposition that "the actions of his supervisor Pete Geiling" created "a hostile environment." Pl.'s Opp'n 14. Plaintiff defines "hostile environment" as " ‘an environment unfavorable to health or well-being.’ " Id. (quoting Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 20).

Yet, hostile environment in the context of ADA claims is a term of art. To state a claim for hostile work environment, Plaintiff must allege

(1) he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) he was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on his disability; (4) the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) some factual basis exists to impute liability for the harassment to the employer."

Fox v. Gen. Motors Corp., 247 F.3d 169, 177 (4th Cir.2001). Plaintiff does not allege that he "was subjected to unwelcome harassment." See id. Rather, he claims that his supervisor "threaten[ed] others and rant[ed] in Wilson['s] presence," which "rattle[d] Wilson," and at one time "rattled Wilson so much that his Doctor issued a two week medical leave and proscribed [sic] medication to restore Wilson's mental health back." Compl. ¶¶ 20–22 (emphasis added). He "confronted his Boss in writing about it, and told him to stop this behavior...

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