Clark v. City of Adamsville
MEMORANDUM OPINION - By separate order, the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART the Citys motion to dismiss. The court will dismiss Mr. Clarks retaliation claims without prejudice, but his ADA disability discrimination claim will remain. Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 12/3/2018. (KEK)
2018 Dec-03 PM 04:01
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CITY OF ADAMSVILLE,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
This disability discrimination and retaliation matter comes before the court
on Defendant City of Adamsville’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Ryon Clark’s
complaint. (Doc. 3).
Mr. Clark, who worked as a police officer for the City, suffered from mental
health issues after a traumatic experience on the job. Mr. Clark brings a claim
under the Americans with Disabilities Act asserting that the City discriminated
against him because of his mental disability by, among other actions, not
approving paid administrative leave when the City permitted him to take time off
from work to recover. He further alleges that the City retaliated against him in
violation of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act after he complained of
disability and gender discrimination.
The court will DENY IN PART and GRANT IN PART the City’s motion to
dismiss because Mr. Clark has sufficiently pled a prima facie case of disability
discrimination based on the City’s failure to approve paid leave, but he has failed
to establish a prima facie case of retaliation.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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). If a complaint fails to
comply with this rule, the court will dismiss the complaint on a defendant’s Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must allege “enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007). And for a complaint to be “plausible on its face,” it must
contain enough “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
When construing a complaint on a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as
true the factual allegations in the complaint. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. But the court
does not accept “labels and conclusions,” a “formulaic recitation of the elements of
a cause of action,” speculation, or statements that “merely create a suspicion [of]
a legally cognizable right of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal
quotations and citations omitted). So, the court will look only at well-pled facts,
and if those facts, accepted as true, state a plausible claim for relief, then the
complaint will survive the motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
The court accepts as true the following facts alleged in Mr. Clark’s
Mr. Clark worked as a police officer for the City. On September 6, 2017,
while executing an arrest warrant with the SWAT team on a suspect charged with
child pornography offenses and assault, Mr. Clark saw a significant amount of
evidence of the suspect’s abuse of a child. The evidence caused Mr. Clark
significant stress, insomnia, and difficulties eating.
The chief of police arranged counseling for Mr. Clark. The chief also told
Mr. Clark that the City would place him on paid administrative leave while he took
time off to recover. After taking some time off from work, Mr. Clark learned that
the City applied vacation days to his time off as opposed to paid administrative
leave. So he inquired with the City’s human resources director, who told him that
only the mayor of the City, not the chief of police, could place him on
administrative leave and that the mayor did not approve paid administrative leave
for mental health issues. But, according to Mr. Clark, the mayor had previously
allowed a female City employee to take paid leave for a personal problem
Mr. Clark wrote a letter to the mayor in which he stated that he felt the City
discriminated against him because of his gender and the type of health condition he
faced—a mental health issue as opposed to physical health—by not placing him on
paid administrative leave.
Then, when Mr. Clark returned to work, the mayor’s office subjected him to
“heightened scrutiny . . . in the form of constant checking-in and knit-picking.”
(Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 33).
On October 13, 2017, somebody informed Mr. Clark that the mayor wanted
him off the SWAT team for a couple weeks because the mayor “was worried about
him ‘relapsing’ when he put on his tactical gear.” (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 35).
Mr. Clark then “began to hear from one of his superiors that disciplinary
action against him up to termination was being planned for him.” (Doc. 1-1 at
¶ 36). Mr. Clark resigned effective March 25, 2018 because of “the discrimination
and retaliation [he] was facing” and because he received “counsel from a trusted
source” that a resignation would not damage his law enforcement career like a
termination would. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-39).
In his complaint, Mr. Clark brings a claim for disability discrimination under
the ADA and claims for retaliation under the ADA and Title VII. The City has
moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that Mr. Clark fails to state a prima facie
case of disability discrimination or retaliation. According to the City, Mr. Clark
does not have a disability as a matter of law and he suffered no adverse
employment action to maintain a discrimination or retaliation claim. (See Doc. 3 at
In analyzing Mr. Clark’s discrimination and retaliation claims, the court
finds that Mr. Clark has sufficiently alleged that he had a disability and that he
suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability, and thus states a
prima facie case of disability discrimination. But the court finds that he has not
alleged an adverse employment action to pursue his retaliation claim.
To state a claim for disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must
establish that (1) he had a disability; (2) he was qualified to perform the essential
functions of his job, either with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) he
was subjected to an adverse employment action because of his disability. Holly v.
Clairson Indus., L.L.C., 492 F.3d 1247, 1255-56 (11th Cir. 2007). Mr. Clark has
sufficiently pled facts to support each of these elements.
Under the first element of his ADA claim, Mr. Clark alleges that he had a
disability because the City regarded him as having a mental impairment. An
individual has a disability under the ADA if he has a “perceived physical or mental
impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major
life activity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A). The City perceived Mr. Clark as having a
mental impairment because it arranged counseling for his mental health issues,
gave him time off, and feared that he would “relapse” if he returned to tactical
operations. Mr. Clark has thus sufficiently pled facts showing that he had a
disability under the ADA.
Under the second element of his ADA claim, Mr. Clark has sufficiently pled,
and the City does not dispute, that he was qualified to perform the essential
functions of a police officer because he worked at his job for two years before and
several months after developing his mental health issues.
And under the third element of his ADA claim, Mr. Clark asserts that the
City deprived him of paid administrative leave because he suffered from a mental
disability. In doing so, Mr. Clark has sufficiently pled that he suffered an adverse
employment action because of his disability.
An adverse employment action under the ADA must “result in some
tangible, negative effect on the plaintiff’s employment.” Lucas v. W.W. Grainger,
Inc., 257 F.3d 1249, 1261 (11th Cir. 2001). And it must effect “‘a significant
change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote,
reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a
significant change in benefits.’” Martin v. Eli Lilly & Co., 702 F. App’x 952, 956
(11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 761
(1998)). Further, the Eleventh Circuit judges the adversity of an employment
action from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position. Doe
v. Dekalb Cty. Sch. Dist., 145 F.3d 1441, 1452 (11th Cir. 1998).
Here, Mr. Clark experienced a tangible impact and significant change in
benefits because, by not receiving paid administrative leave, he did not receive his
pay and had to use his vacation days while on leave. Granted, paid leave, as
opposed to unpaid leave, appears to be a privilege and up to the City’s discretion,
but Mr. Clark alleges that the City routinely approved paid leave for physical
disabilities, and that the human resources director told him that the mayor did not
approve paid leave for mental health issues. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 27, 43). So, even if
paid leave is discretionary, Mr. Clark has sufficiently alleged that the City deprived
him of such a tangible benefit because he had a mental disability, and has thus pled
an adverse employment action because of his disability to round out his prima facie
Because Mr. Clark has sufficiently pled facts to show a prima facie case of
disability discrimination, the court will deny the City’s motion to dismiss his ADA
disability discrimination claim.
Mr. Clark brings retaliation claims under the ADA and Title VII. His
complaint to the mayor of disability discrimination forms the basis for his ADA
claim and his complaint to the mayor of gender discrimination forms the basis for
his Title VII claim. Both claims fail.
To state a prima facie case of retaliation under the ADA or Title VII, a
plaintiff must show (1) that he engaged in statutorily protected expression; (2) an
adverse employment action; and (3) a causal link between the two. Stewart v.
Happy Herman’s Cheshire Bridge, Inc., 117 F.3d 1278, 1287 (11th Cir. 1997).
Unlike his discrimination claim, Mr. Clark has failed to establish an adverse
employment action for his retaliation claims.
Though the City’s failure to approve paid leave is an adverse employment
action for Mr. Clark’s disability discrimination claim, it is not an adverse
employment action for his retaliation claims. He complained about disability and
gender discrimination after the City denied him paid leave, so the failure to
approve paid leave could not possibly relate to Mr. Clark’s complaint to the mayor.
Recognizing this issue, Mr. Clark relies on actions that occurred after he
complained of discrimination. He alleges that the mayor “wanted him off the
SWAT team for a couple more weeks” after he returned to work and that the City
“more closely scrutiniz[ed him] and disciplin[ed] him.” (Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 35, 48).
These allegations fail as speculative and conclusory.
Again, an adverse employment action must “result in some tangible,
negative effect on the plaintiff’s employment.” Lucas, 257 F.3d at 1261. And it
must cause “a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing,
failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a
decision causing a significant change in benefits.” Burlington Indus., 524 U.S. at
761. Even assuming that the allegation that the mayor “wanted him off the SWAT
team for a couple more weeks” means that the City actually took Mr. Clark off the
SWAT team for two weeks, Mr. Clark improperly leaves the court to speculate
how this action negatively affected his employment. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level” to defeat a motion to dismiss).
And his vague allegations of scrutiny and discipline fail for the same reason.
He has not alleged what this scrutiny or discipline entailed, and the court cannot
speculate as to the adversity of such actions. Further, his vague allegation of
“constant checking-in and knit-picking” amounts, at best, to “petty slights” and
“minor annoyances,” against which the ADA and Title VII does not protect. See
Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006).
Mr. Clark has not sufficiently pled an adverse employment action and has
thus failed to state a prima facie case for retaliation under the ADA and Title VII,
so the court will grant the motion to dismiss the retaliation claims.
By separate order, the court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART
the City’s motion to dismiss. The court will dismiss Mr. Clark’s retaliation claims
without prejudice, but his ADA disability discrimination claim will remain.
DONE and ORDERED this 3rd day of December, 2018.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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