Sillah v. Burwell et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paula Xinis on 3/22/2017. (jf3s, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No. PX 16-1441
SYLVIA BURWELL, et al.,
Pending in this employment discrimination case is a motion for partial dismissal of the
amended complaint filed by Defendant Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. (“Leidos”), ECF No.
15, a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, or in the alternative, for summary judgment filed
by Defendant Sylvia Burwell (“Burwell”), ECF No. 25, and Plaintiff Fantah Sillah’s (“Plaintiff”)
emergency “motion to convert portions of Defendant Burwell’s motion to dismiss into a motion
for summary judgment and to deny the motion, without prejudice until the completion of
discovery,” ECF No. 28, incorporated by reference into Plaintiff’s response to Defendant
Burwell’s motion, ECF No. 30. The issues have been fully briefed, and the parties were granted a
hearing on the matter, which took place on March 17, 2017. See ECF No. 45. For the reasons
stated below, Defendant Leidos’ Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART,
Defendant Burwell’s Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, and Plaintiff’s
Motion is GRANTED.
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff worked for Leidos and the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) as a Patient
Care Coordinator in the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in
Bethesda, Maryland between February 2012 and August 2015. ECF No. 14 at 4. Plaintiff is a
black female who qualified as a person with a disability because of her high-risk pregnancy. ECF
No. 14 at 4. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases is an
institute within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the “Agency”). ECF No.
25-3 at 1. Leidos is a Maryland corporation and contracts with the federal government to provide
support services. ECF No. 25-4 at 1.
In December 2014, Plaintiff experienced complications of her first pregnancy that led to
the loss of her child, surgeries and a protracted recovery for which she used lengthy approved
leave in late 2014 and early 2015. ECF No. 14 at 7. On April 20, 2015, Leidos issued Plaintiff’s
performance appraisal based entirely on feedback provided by NIH staff and rated Plaintiff as
“Generally Meets Expectations.” ECF No. 14 at 7.
In early June 2015, Leidos and NIH learned that Plaintiff was pregnant again. ECF No.
14 at 7. On June 24, 2015, shortly after learning of Plaintiff’s second pregnancy, Leidos placed
Plaintiff on a 60-day Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). ECF No. 14 at 7. Plaintiff was told
she was placed on a PIP because she was not in the practice of updating her voicemail or finding
coverage for her duties when she was away from the office. ECF No. 14 at 8. Plaintiff alleges
that her supervisors also held her to higher standards than her white colleagues. According to
Unless otherwise noted, the facts here are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the
Plaintiff, none of Plaintiff’s white and/or nonpregnant colleagues were subjected to the same
requirements. ECF No. 14 at 8.
On July 6, 2015, Plaintiff provided her NIH and Leidos first-line supervisors with a
doctor’s note stating that Plaintiff would need to take leave from July 7, 2015 through July 15,
2015 to accommodate a surgery related to her pregnancy. ECF No. 14 at 8. Upon her return on
July 14, 2015, Plaintiff provided her Leidos supervisors with another doctor’s note which
cautioned that Plaintiff should avoid walking and excessive climbing of stairs. ECF No. 14 at 8.
Then, on August 12, 2015, Plaintiff provided her Leidos supervisors a third doctor’s note
explaining that Plaintiff was restricted to desk duty and that she should not be walking or using
the stairs at work because of her high-risk pregnancy. ECF No. 14 at 8.
At the request of Plaintiff, Plaintiff met with her Leidos and NIH supervisors on August
18, 2015. ECF No. 14 at 8. During the meeting, Plaintiff advised Leidos and NIH of her highrisk pregnancy due to an incompetent cervix. ECF No. 14 at 9. Plaintiff asked that she be limited
to working at her desk and excused from picking up and delivering blood samples from the lab
each Thursday on an hourly basis. ECF No. 14 at 9. In response, one of Plaintiff’s Leidos
supervisors, Cheryl Talar-Williams, treated her request for a reasonable accommodation with
derision and rejected it. ECF No. 14 at 9. Ms. Talar-Williams also ridiculed Plaintiff’s suggestion
that NIH couriers perform the blood runs for her. ECF No. 14 at 9. Plaintiff then informed Ms.
Talar-Williams that, in light of Ms. Talar-Williams’ response, Plaintiff would be lodging a
complaint with the NIH Equal Employment Opportunity Office (“EEO”). ECF No. 14 at 9.
On August 19, 2015, Plaintiff contacted both the NIH Ombudsman and EEO office. ECF
No. 14 at 9; ECF No. 21-10 at 1. Six days later, on August 25, 2016, NIH and Leidos told
Plaintiff that she had failed the PIP and she was terminated her from both her NIH and Leidos
positions. ECF No. 14 at 9. Because Leidos announced Plaintiff’s termination, Plaintiff instead
resigned. ECF No. 14 at 10.
B. Procedural History
1. Defendant Leidos
On September 2, 2015, Plaintiff initially filed an intake form with the Montgomery
County Office of Human Rights (“MCOHR”), alleging Leidos discriminated against her by
placing Plaintiff on a PIP, failing to accommodate her doctor’s recommendations, and
terminating her employment. ECF No. 21-2 at 3. Plaintiff checked the boxes for “sex/gender,”
“race,” “disability/physical,” and “family responsibility” as the bases for these discrimination
claims. ECF No. 21-2 at 2. On December 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint of Alleged
Discrimination (“MCOHR Complaint”) against Leidos with the MCOHR. ECF No. 15-2. In the
MCOHR Complaint, Plaintiff recounts the timeline of her pregnancy, her placement on a PIP,
her requests for restricting her physical activity, the August 18, 2015 meeting with her
supervisors, and Leidos’ response to her request. ECF No. 15-2 at 2. Plaintiff expressly alleged
that Defendant “denied me a reasonable accommodation and terminated my employment based
on my sex, [sic] and marital status.” ECF No. 15-2 at 2. MCOHR cross-filed Plaintiff’s MCOHR
Complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2 The EEOC issued a right-tosue letter for Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Leidos on August 8, 2016. ECF No. 43-1.
“In ‘deferral states,’ or states with a certified Fair Employment Practice Agency (“FEPA”), [the
exhaustion] process begins when a claimant files a charge of discrimination with either the state FEPA . .
. or with the EEOC.” Perez Cordero v. Wal-Mart PR, Inc., 235 F. Supp. 2d 95, 100 (D.P.R. 2002), as
amended (Dec. 9, 2002). The Montgomery County Office of Human Rights (MCOHR) is a Fair
Employment Practices Agency (FEPA), and it maintains a work-sharing agreement with the EEOC. See
29 C.F.R. § 1601.74; U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, State and Local Agencies, (last
accessed Mar. 8, 2017), https://www.eeoc.gov/field/baltimore/fepa.cfm.
2. Defendant Burwell (The Agency)
Plaintiff contacted the Agency’s EEO office on August 28, 2015. ECF No. 25-2 at 20. On
September 25, 2015, the Agency issued Plaintiff a Notice of Right to File Formal Complaint.
ECF No. 25-2 at 27. On October 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed her formal complaint of discrimination
(“EEOC Charge”) within the fifteen-day window instructed by the Notice of Right to File. ECF
No. 25-2 at 15; see also ECF No. 25-2 at 32 (Agency’s Notice of Receipt). The Agency provided
Plaintiff with a letter acknowledging receipt of the formal filing and noting that “[u]nless an
amendment is submitted or there is an agreement in writing to extend the time period, the
investigation of your client’s complaint must be completed within 180 days.” ECF No. 25-2 at
30. The letter of receipt also stated that, “in the absence of an amended complaint or agreed-upon
extension, your client also has the right to file a civil action within 180 days of filing this
complaint, if no appeal has been filed or final action taken.” Id. at 31. On December 22, 2015,
the Agency then sent a letter informing Plaintiff that it had accepted her claim of discrimination
for investigation. ECF No. 25-2 at 32. The Agency identified Plaintiff’s claim as discrimination
on the bases of her race (Black), sex (female) and disability (physical) when “on August 25,
2015, Complainant was terminated from her contract position as a Patient Care Coordinator II.
Complainant alleges that she was terminated by her supervisors upon learning of her high risk
pregnancy.” Id. The notice further instructed Plaintiff that “if you believe that the claim is not
correctly identified, you must notify this office in writing within seven (7) calendar days after
receipt of this letter as to why you believe the claim is not correctly identified.” Id.
Eighty-six days later, on March 17, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel emailed the Agency’s EEO
office requesting an amendment to her EEOC Charge to add a claim of retaliation. ECF No. 25-2
at 36; ECF No. 30-3 at 1. Plaintiff explained that her original claim had been incorrectly
identified, and Plaintiff had raised the retaliation claim in her formal complaint. Id. The Agency
did not respond. Plaintiff emailed the Agency again on April 4, 2016, requesting the status of her
amendment to her complaint, ECF No. 25-2 at 38, and on April 21, 2016 requesting that the
amendment be acknowledged in writing. ECF No. 25-2 at 36. And again, the Agency did not
On April 11, 2016, 182 days after the filing of Plaintiff’s EEOC Charge, Plaintiff signed
a form entitled “Notice of Extension,” which states that the Agency may investigate her
complaint for an additional period up to 90 days. ECF No. 25-2 at 35. On May 13, 2016, twentytwo days later, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court. ECF No. 1. On May 16, 2016, Plaintiff
informed the EEO investigator that she had filed a complaint in this Court. ECF No. 25-2 at 42.
Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on June 21, 2016. ECF No. 14.
Against both Defendants, Plaintiff asserts claims of (1) sex/pregnancy discrimination
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Maryland Human Relations
Act, Md. Code, State Government, §§ 20-606, 20-1013, 20-1202, and the Montgomery County
Human Rights Act, Montgomery County Code 27-9; (2) disability discrimination under the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 701–797 (the “Rehabilitation Act”), the Maryland
Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act; and (3) retaliation under
Title VII, the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, the Maryland Human Relations Act, and the
Montgomery County Human Rights Act (collectively Count IV). 3 Against Defendant Leidos,
At the motions hearing held on March 17, 2016, Plaintiff withdrew her claims of race-based retaliation
under Section 1981 and Title VII.
Plaintiff alleges claims of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. 4 And against Defendant
Burwell, Plaintiff asserts claims of race discrimination under Title VII, the Maryland Human
Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act.
Plaintiff claims that she was held to standards “that were more strict than her colleagues
who were either white or not pregnant.” ECF No. 14 at 8. Plaintiff also claims that the Agency
“acted derisively” when she requested an accommodation due to her high-risk pregnancy, and in
response, Plaintiff contacted the EEO Office. ECF No. 14 at 9. Plaintiff alleges that she was
ultimately terminated as a result of discrimination based on her sex (pregnancy), disability, and
race. Plaintiff claims that this same conduct constitutes a failure to accommodate claim under the
Rehabilitation Act and ADA and a retaliation claim in violation of Title VII, the Rehabilitation
Act, and the ADA.
A. Defendant Leidos’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Defendant Leidos first argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over some
or all of Plaintiff’s claims against it for failure to exhaust her administrative remedies. For this
reason, Defendant Leidos contends Plaintiff’s disability discrimination, race discrimination, and
retaliation claims must be dismissed. 5
1. Administrative Exhaustion Requirements
Before a plaintiff may file suit in federal court under Title VII, she must first exhaust her
administrative remedies. Medlock v. Rumsfeld, 336 F. Supp. 2d 452, 462 (D. Md. 2002) (citing
At the motions hearing held on March 17, 2016, Plaintiff withdrew her claim of race discrimination
under Title VII against Defendant Leidos, solely pursuing her claim of race discrimination under 42
U.S.C. § 1981.
Defendant Leidos withdrew its argument for dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title VII sex/pregnancy
discrimination claim. ECF Nos. 36, 38.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e–16(c); Brown v. General Serv. Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 832 (1976); Zografov v.
V.A. Medical Center, 779 F.2d 967, 968–69 (4th Cir. 1985)); Smith v. First Union Nat’l Bank,
202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000); Sydnor v. Fairfax Cty., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 593 (4th Cir.
2012). Plaintiff’s ADA, Rehabilitation Act, Maryland Human Relations Act, and Montgomery
County Human Rights Act claims are governed by the exhaustion requirements and filing
procedures applicable to Title VII claims against federal employers. Lewis v. MV Transp., Inc.,
2012 WL 4518541, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 28, 2012) (“Under the ADA, the exhaustion
requirements and filing procedures are identical to those applicable to claims under Title VII.”);
Kim v. Potter, No. DKC 09-2973, 2010 WL 2253656, at *4 (D. Md. June 2, 2010), aff’d, 416 F.
App’x 297 (4th Cir. 2011) (Rehabilitation Act claims governed by the exhaustion requirements
and filing procedures applicable to Title VII claims); Moore v. Sprint Communications Co., No.
RDB–11–00290, 2012 WL 4480696 (D. Md. Sept. 27, 2012) (“Title 20’s administrative
requirements are akin to those of Title VII.”) (citing Cuffee v. Verizon Commc’ns Inc., 755 F.
Supp. 2d 672, 678 (D. Md. 2010)); Whittaker v. David’s Beautiful People, Inc., No. DKC 142483, 2016 WL 429963, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 4, 2016) (“Maryland courts construe . . . claims
[under the Montgomery County Human Rights Act] similarly to those made under Title VII.”);
cf. Anderson v. Discovery Commc’ns, LLC, 814 F. Supp. 2d 562, 569 (D. Md. 2011), aff’d, 517
F. App’x 190 (4th Cir. 2013), as amended (May 3, 2013) (“As a general matter, Maryland courts
rely on ADA case law for guidance when interpreting the MCHRA.”) (citing Ridgely v.
Montgomery Cnty., 164 Md. App. 214, 883 A.2d 182, 193 (2005)). 6 Failure to exhaust “deprives
For Plaintiff’s claims of disability discrimination, because Maryland has applied the Montgomery
County Human Rights Act and Maryland Human Relations Act by looking to ADA case law, it is
appropriate to consider those claims of disability discrimination together. See Anderson v. Discovery
Commc’ns, LLC, 517 F. App’x 190, 193 n.3 (4th Cir. 2013), as amended (May 3, 2013) (citing Ridgely v.
Montgomery Cnty., 883 A.2d 182, 193 (2005)) (Montgomery County Human Rights Act); accord Lewis
v. Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore, No. SAG-12-298, 2012 WL 5193820, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 18, 2012),
the federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.” Kim, 2010 WL 2253656, at *4;
accord Jones v. Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Davis v. North
Carolina Dep’t of Corr., 48 F.3d 134, 138–40 (4th Cir. 1995)); Melendez v. Sebelius, 611 F.
App’x 762, 764 (4th Cir. 2015).
Importantly, the scope of the plaintiff’s federal causes of action is circumscribed by the
contents of the formal administrative complaint as identified and investigated by the EEOC or its
County counterpart. Jones v. Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Claims in a judicial complaint then may be advanced in this Court
where they are “reasonably related” to the administrative charge and “can be expected to follow
from a reasonable administrative investigation.” Sydnor v. Fairfax Cty., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 594
(4th Cir. 2012). See also McCray v. Maryland Dep’t of Transportation, 662 F. App’x 221, 223
(4th Cir. 2016); Jones v. Southpeak Interactive Corp. of Del., 777 F.3d 658, 669 (4th Cir.
2015); Calvert Group, Ltd., 551 F.3d at 300; Evans v. Tech. Applications & Servs. Co., 80 F.3d
954, 963 (4th Cir. 1996). “The touchstone for exhaustion is whether plaintiff’s administrative
and judicial claims are ‘reasonably related,’ . . . not precisely the same . . . .” Id. at 595 ((citation
omitted); accord Johnson v. SecTek, Inc., No. ELH-13-3798, 2015 WL 502963, at *4 (D. Md.
Feb. 4, 2015).
aff’d, 533 F. App’x 270 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Md. Comm’n on Human Relations v. Mayor & City
Council, 86 Md. App. 167, 586 A.2d 37, 40 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1991)) (Maryland Human Relations
Act’s reasonable accommodation requirement modeled after the Rehabilitation Act). For Plaintiff’s
claims of race, sex, and pregnancy discrimination, Plaintiff’s claims under the Montgomery County
Human Rights Act and Maryland Human Relations Act will be analyzed with her claims under Title VII.
McGruder v. Epilepsy Found. of Am., Inc., No. 11-CV-02310-AW, 2012 WL 832800, at *3 (D. Md. Mar.
9, 2012) (citing Chappell v. S. Md. Hosp., 320 Md. 483, 578 A.2d 766 (1990)) (Maryland Human
Relations Act); Idris v. Ratner Co./Creative Hairdressers, No. TDC-14-1425, 2014 WL 5382633, at *3
(D. Md. Oct. 21, 2014) (citing Haas v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 914 A.2d 735, 756 (Md. 2007))
(Montgomery County Human Rights Act).
Where a complainant alleges a basis for discrimination for the first time in federal court,
the claim cannot proceed for failure to exhaust. See Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md., Inc., 288 F.3d 124,
132–33 (4th Cir. 2002) (plaintiff failed to exhaust claim for sex discrimination because EEOC
charge alleged only racial discrimination); Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d at 301 (plaintiff failed to
exhaust claim for race, age, or sex discrimination because EEOC charge only alleges retaliation).
Generally, “a plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies where a charge of
discrimination references ‘different time frames, actors, and discriminatory conduct’ than the
allegations found in a complaint.” Wright v. Kent Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., No. ELH-12-3593,
2014 WL 301026, at *11 (D. Md. Jan. 24, 2014) (quoting Chacko v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d
505, 506 (4th Cir. 2005)). By contrast, a plaintiff satisfies the exhaustion requirement when
“both the EEOC charge and the complaint included claims of retaliation by the same actor, but
involved different retaliatory conduct,” Sydnor, 681 F.3d at 594 (citing Smith, 202 F.3d at 248),
or when the administrative charge and formal litigation concerned “discriminat[ion] in
promotions” but involved different aspects of the “promotional system.” Chisholm v. U.S. Postal
Serv., 665 F.2d 482, 491 (4th Cir. 1981).
2. Plaintiff’s Disability Discrimination Claims against Defendant Leidos 7
Defendant Leidos asserts that Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claims under the ADA,
Rehabilitation Act, Maryland Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights
Act (collectively, the “disability discrimination claims”) exceed the scope of those preserved in
her MCOHR Complaint, thus depriving this Court of subject matter jurisdiction as to those
newly asserted grounds for relief. The Court is not persuaded.
Plaintiff can bring a Rehabilitation Act claim against Defendant Leidos, a private entity, if it receives
federal funding. Paulone v. City of Frederick, 787 F. Supp. 2d 360, 371 (D. Md. 2011) (“[T]o show a
violation of the Rehabilitation Act by a state, local, or private entity, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the
“program or activity” at issue receives federal funding.”).
Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claims as alleged in her MCOHR Complaint are
reasonably related to the exhausted sex and marital status claims since all claims arise out of
alleged wrongful termination and denial of “reasonable accommodations” due to plaintiff’s
pregnancy and its complications. In Plaintiff’s initial intake form with the Maryland Commission
on Civil Rights, she notes “sex/gender,” “race,” “family responsibilities,” and
“disability/physical” as her basis for discrimination. ECF No. 21-2 at 2. In Plaintiff’s MCOHR
Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that she informed her supervisor “that [her] pregnancy was high risk
and [she] needed to limit [her] physical activity at work and limit [herself to ‘desk duty.’ ” ECF
No. 15-2 at 2. The MCOHR Complaint further alleges that she communicated her doctor’s
instructions to her supervisor and she received no response. ECF No. 15-2 at 2. The MCOHR
Complaint concludes: “The Respondent denied me a reasonable accommodation and terminated
my employment based on my sex, [sic] and marital status.” ECF No. 15-2 at 2.
Plaintiff has alleged the type of discrimination (denial of a reasonable accommodation)
and the basis of the disability (high-risk pregnancy) in both her MCOHR Complaint and her
Amended Complaint in this Court. Moreover, both the MCOHR Complaint and the Amended
Complaint reference the same “time frames, actors, and discriminatory conduct.” Chacko v.
Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 506 (4th Cir. 2005). “Plaintiff’s allegations regarding
discrimination on the basis of pregnancy are sufficiently intertwined with her allegations of
discrimination on the basis of disability such that investigation of the former would reasonably
and naturally give rise to charges under the latter.” Bray v. Town of Wake Forest, No. 5:14-CV276-FL, 2015 WL 1534515, at *10 (E.D.N.C. Apr. 6, 2015) (even where plaintiff left unchecked
a box marked “DISABILITY,” “[t]he facts alleged in the formal Charge of Discrimination, while
scant, [were] reasonably related to the facts alleged in plaintiff’s ADA claim. Reasonable
investigation of this charge would have inquired into the reasons for plaintiff’s termination, the
nature of the Town’s light duty policy, and whether plaintiff should have qualified for that light
duty policy”); see also Kucharski v. Cort Furniture Rental, 536 F. Supp. 2d 196, 201 (D. Conn.
2007) (“the disability claims are reasonably related to the exhausted Title VII/CFEPA claims
since both claims arise out of alleged wrongful termination due to plaintiff’s pregnancy and its
complications”), rev’d on other grounds, 594 F. Supp. 2d 207 (D. Conn. 2008); Cvern v. Enter.
Sol. Providers, Inc., 2001 WL 533723, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 18, 2001) (“Because the EEOC
claim reported discrimination based on pregnancy and related complications, the disability claim
arises out of the same conduct as the discrimination claim and fell within the reasonable scope of
the EEOC investigation.”); cf. Chambers v. Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, No. 97 C 5715,
1997 WL 666507, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 1997) (plaintiff failed to exhaust her disability claim
when she only mentioned pregnancy discrimination without giving any indication of a
pregnancy-related disability or failure to provide reasonable accommodations in her charge of
Defendant’s reliance on Cooper v. Dolgencorp, Inc., No. CIV-07-192-M, 2008 WL
938599 (W.D. Okla. Apr. 4, 2008) is misplaced. In Cooper, the court found that plaintiff failed
to exhaust because she both failed to “check the disability box when asked the type of
discrimination she was claiming” but also “left blank the question on her EEOC General Intake
Questionnaire asking whether she has or was perceived to have a disability.” Cooper v.
Dolgencorp, Inc., No. CIV-07-192-M, 2008 WL 938599, at *2 (W.D. Okla. Apr. 4, 2008). Thus,
the Cooper court found the EEOC lacked the requisite of plaintiff’s disability to investigate the
claims. Here, Plaintiff checked “disability” on her intake form and alleged facts in her MCOHR
Complaint specifically surrounding the denial of her accommodation. Accordingly, Plaintiff
adequately exhausted her remedies regarding her disability discrimination claims.
3. Plaintiff’s Retaliation Claims against Defendant Leidos
Plaintiff brings claims of retaliation against Leidos under both Title VII and the ADA. 8
Defendant Leidos argues that the narrative portion of Plaintiff’s MCOHR Complaint lacked any
discussion related to ADA retaliation, and thus Plaintiff’s claims are barred by her failure to
exhaust. 9 The Court disagrees. Plaintiff’s MCOHR Complaint includes facts reasonably related
to a claim of retaliation under the ADA with regard to disability-based discrimination due to her
To bring a claim of retaliation under the ADA, “a plaintiff must show that: (1) she
engaged in a protected activity; (2) her employer acted adversely against her; and (3) her
protected activity was causally connected to her employer’s adverse action.” Rhoads v. F.D.I.C.,
257 F.3d 373, 392 (4th Cir. 2001). The ADA’s retaliation provision states that “[n]o person shall
discriminate against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice
made unlawful by this chapter or because such individual made a charge, testified, assisted, or
participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this chapter.” 42
U.S.C. § 12203(a) (emphasis added).
The MCOHR Complaint alleges that Plaintiff requested an accommodation by informing
her Leidos supervisor of her doctor’s instructions and limitations around August 12, 2015. ECF
No. 21-4. The MCOHR Complaint further alleges that on August 18, 2015, Plaintiff was called
“[W]hether suit is filed against a federally-funded entity under the Rehabilitation Act or against a private
employer under the ADA, the substantive standards for determining liability are the same.” Myers v.
Hose, 50 F.3d 278, 281 (4th Cir. 1995); accord Flood v. Univ. of Maryland Med. Sys. Corp., No. GLR12-2100, 2014 WL 7363237, at *7 (D. Md. Dec. 23, 2014).
At oral argument, Defendant Leidos withdrew their argument that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her
pregnancy-related retaliation claim under Title VII.
to a meeting with “Leidos and NIH officials” where they “treated [her] doctor’s instructions and
limitations with derision.” ECF No. 21-4. Then, as detailed in the MCOHR Complaint, on
August 25, 2015, Plaintiff was fired. ECF No. 21-4.
Plaintiff’s request for an accommodation is a protected activity under the ADA.
Haulbrook v. Michelin N. Am., 252 F.3d 696, 706 (4th Cir. 2001) (requesting an accommodation
is a protected activity under the ADA). Plaintiff’s MCOHR Complaint further alleges that she
was terminated contemporaneously with confronting her employer regarding the denial of
reasonable accommodations for her disability. As such, Plaintiff alleged the “who, what, when,
and where” of her disability-based retaliation claim sufficient to allow for a reasonable
investigation. See Chacko v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 506 (4th Cir. 2005); accord Parkinson
v. Anne Arundel Med. Ctr., Inc., 214 F. Supp. 2d 511, 517 n.9 (D. Md. 2002), aff’d sub nom.
Parkinson v. Anne Arundel Med. Ctr., 79 F. App’x 602 (4th Cir. 2003) (“Although plaintiff did
not check the retaliation box on his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge of
discrimination, his attached narrative was similar to his complaint in this case and could have led
the EEOC to investigate a retaliation claim.”). Thus, Plaintiff’s ADA retaliation claim survives
4. Plaintiff’s Title VII Race Discrimination Claims against Defendant Leidos
Plaintiff’s claims of race discrimination against Defendant Leidos, however, must be
dismissed. Plaintiff included “race” as one of the bases of discrimination when she submitted her
inquiry to MCOHR. But the MCOHR Complaint is completely silent regarding any alleged race
discrimination. See Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md., Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 132–33 (4th Cir. 2002) (plaintiff
failed to exhaust claim for sex discrimination because EEOC Charge alleged only racial
discrimination). Consequently, Plaintiff’s factual allegations in her MCOHR Complaint limited
the administrative investigation to discrimination based on sex, disability, and marital status.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims against Defendant Leidos in violation of Title
VII, the Maryland Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act, are
B. Defendant Leidos’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim
Defendant Leidos also moves to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims of disability discrimination
and retaliation under the ADA pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). 10
When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept the well-pled
allegations of the complaint as true” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived
therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474
(4th Cir. 1997). “Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially
aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being
made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition
of inappropriate complaints.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). “The
mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not
sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d
435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The factual
allegations of a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level
on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). “To satisfy this
standard, a plaintiff need not ‘forecast’ evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim.
However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those elements.” Walters, 684
As confirmed during the motions hearing, Defendant Leidos does not make a similar Rule 12(b)(6)
challenge to Plaintiff’s Title VII sex/pregnancy discrimination claim.
F.3d at 439 (citation omitted). “Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a
complaint that the right to relief is ‘probable,’ the complaint must advance the plaintiff's claim
‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
In the context of employment discrimination claims, “a plaintiff is not required to plead
facts that constitute a prima facie case” to survive a motion to dismiss. Coleman v. Md. Ct. of
Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506,
510-15 (2002)). For example, “plaintiff is not required to include allegations—such as the
existence of a similarly situated comparator—that would establish a prima facie case of
discrimination under the ‘indirect’ method of proof.” Carlson v. CSX Transp., Inc., 758 F.3d
819, 827 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511–12 (2002)).
However, her “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
1. Section 1981 Claims
Defendant Leidos argues that Plaintiff’s conclusory allegation regarding race
discrimination are insufficient to make out a cognizable claim. ECF No. 15 at 16. A claim under
42 U.S.C. § 1981 is cognizeable when a plaintiff’s rights to make and enforce contracts,
including employment contracts, are violated based on her race. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a); Miller
v. Kramon & Graham, P.A., No. GJH-15-1081, 2016 WL 4379229, at *4 (D. Md. Aug. 16,
2016) (citing Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 165 F.3d 1015, 1018-19 (4th Cir. 1999)). Under §
1981, “make and enforce contracts” includes “the making, performance, modification, and
termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms and conditions of
the contractual relationship.” 42 U.S. C. § 1981(b). Such claims may lie even in an at-will
employment relationship. Miller, 2016 WL 4379229, at *4 (citing Spriggs, 165 F.3d at 1018–
In the employment context, courts analyze claims of racial discrimination brought under
§ 1981 consistent with those brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Gairola v.
Va. Dept. of Gen. Serv., 753 F.2d 1281, 1285 (4th Cir. 1985). Accord Bowling v. Humanim, Inc.,
No. JKB-16-3298, 2017 WL 713862, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 22, 2017). 11 Thus, to survive a motion
to dismiss, a complaint under § 1981 must allege facts allowing for a reasonable inference that
an employer treated the complaining employee adversely because of the complainant’s race.
McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Dep’t of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th
Plaintiff is not required as a matter of law to aver in her complaint that similarly situated
employees who were treated more favorably (e.g. comparators) to succeed on a discrimination
claim, Bryant v. Aiken Reg’l Med. Ctrs., Inc., 333 F.3d 536, 545 (4th Cir. 2003); cf. Moss v.
Pasquotank Cty., No. 2:10-CV-56-BR, 2012 WL 2325846, at *8 (E.D.N.C. June 19, 2012)
(analysis of the similarly situated employees unnecessary where plaintiff provides other facts
giving rise to an inference of discrimination). However, once a plaintiff bases her allegations
entirely upon a comparison to an employee from a non-protected class, she “must demonstrate
that the comparator was ‘similarly situated’ in all relevant respects.” Johnson v. Baltimore City
Police Dep’t, No. ELH-12-2519, 2014 WL 1281602, at *19 (D. Md. Mar. 27, 2014) (citing
Sawyers v. United Parcel Serv., 946 F. Supp. 2d 432, 442 n.10 (D. Md. 2013), aff’d, 576 F.
Unlike race-based Title VII claims, however, a plaintiff need not exhaust administrative remedies under
§ 1981. See Qualls v. Giant Food, Inc., 187 F. Supp. 2d 530, 534 (D. Md. 2002), aff’d sub nom. Skipper
v. Giant Food Inc., 68 F. App’x 393 (4th Cir. 2003). Accordingly, this Court must reach Defendant
Leidos’ argument for dismissal of Plaintiff’s § 1981 claims under Rule 12(b)(6) even though Plaintiff’s
Title VII race-based claims have been dismissed on failure-to-exhaust grounds.
App’x 199 (4th Cir. 2014)). “Such a showing would include evidence that the employees ‘dealt
with the same supervisor, [were] subject to the same standards and . . . engaged in the same
conduct without such differentiating or mitigating circumstances that would distinguish their
conduct or the employer's treatment of them for it.’” Haywood v. Locke, 387 F. App’x 355, 359
(4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Mitchell v. Toledo Hospital, 964 F.2d 577, 583 (6th Cir. 1992)). See
also Humphries v. CBOCS W., Inc., 474 F.3d 387, 405 (7th Cir. 2007) (“[T]he purpose of the
similarly situated requirement is to eliminate confounding variables, such as differing roles,
performance histories, or decision-making personnel . . . .”), aff’d, 553 U.S. 442 (2008).
Even “[i]dentifying one comparator  who was treated more favorably may satisfy the 
test.” Carter v. Maryland Aviation Admin., No. CIV. CCB-04-3065, 2005 WL 1075328, at *4
n.1 (D. Md. May 6, 2005). And in a disparate discipline case, a plaintiff “need not plead precise
comparability with respect to fellow employees who were treated more favorably to survive a
motion to dismiss.” Roberts v. Coffey, No. CIV.A. DKC 10-3359, 2012 WL 2000353, at *4 n.11
(D. Md. June 4, 2012) (citing Alexander v. City of Greensboro, 762 F. Supp. 2d 764, 796
(M.D.N.C. 2011) (noting, in the context of disparate discipline, that “precise equivalence . . .
between employees” is unnecessary “to plead an inferential case” (citing Moore v. City of
Charlotte, N.C., 754 F.2d 1100, 1107 (4th Cir. 1985)))).
Here, Plaintiff’s claims regarding race-based disparate treatment are insufficiently
pleaded to survive dismissal. Plaintiff broadly asserts that she was held to more onerous and
rigorous standards at work than “her colleagues who were either white or not pregnant” because
they were not disciplined or placed on PIPs. ECF No. 14 at 8; see also ECF No. 14 at 11
(“Caucasian employees whose performance was comparable to that of Plaintiff were not placed
on a PIP and terminated.”). But Plaintiff fails to plead sufficient facts showing the more
favorably treated co-workers were true comparators in that the co-workers held the same
position, performed the same work, and were supervised by the same individuals as Plaintiff. See
e.g., Johnson v. Baltimore City Police Dep’t, No. CIV.A. ELH-12-2519, 2014 WL 1281602, at
*20 (D. Md. Mar. 27, 2014); Mumpower v. City of Bristol, Va., No. 1:13CV00074, 2014 WL
992095, at *2 (W.D. Va. Mar. 14, 2014); see also Acosta v. Ingerman & Horwitz, L.L.C., No.
CIV. WDQ-14-1605, 2015 WL 795108, at *4 (D. Md. Feb. 24, 2015) (denying motion where
similarly situated employees sufficiently plead); Taylor v. Millennium Corp., No. 1:15-CV-1046,
2016 WL 927185, at *7 (E.D. Va. Mar. 4, 2016) (same). Put differently, bare allegations that
white colleagues were treated more favorably amounts to little more than speculation that the
adverse treatment of Plaintiff was race-based. See Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, 626
F.3d 187, 191 (4th Cir. 2010), aff’d sub nom. Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, 566
U.S. 30 (2012) (Dismissing a claim where “the complaint fails to establish a plausible basis for
believing Broccolina and Coleman were actually similarly situated or that race was the true basis
for Coleman’s termination.”). Without more, Plaintiff’s claims do not plausibly aver that she was
terminated on account of her race. Accordingly, the Court dismisses Count III of the Complaint
without prejudice to refile an amended complaint supporting her § 1981 claims.
2. ADA Claims of Retaliation against Defendant Leidos
Defendant Leidos argues briefly in a footnote, and without any legal support, that
Plaintiff’s ADA retaliation claim must be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to allege that she
engaged in protected activity related to an alleged disability. ECF No. 15-1 at 17. The Court
disagrees. As previously detailed, Plaintiff alleges that she requested an accommodation for her
disability and was terminated shortly after. Plaintiff’s request for an accommodation is a
protected activity under the ADA. Haulbrook v. Michelin N. Am., 252 F.3d 696, 706 (4th Cir.
2001). Thus, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a retaliation claim under the ADA.
C. Defendant Burwell’s Motion to Dismiss 12
Defendant Burwell asserts that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint should be dismissed in its
entirety because Plaintiff filed her action in this Court prior to the expiration of the 90-day
agreed upon extension. In the alternative, Defendant Burwell contends that Plaintiff’s retaliation
claims must be dismissed as they were untimely amended in her EEOC Charge, and her claims
regarding the Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) as untimely raised with her EEO
1. Untimely Filing in Federal Court
42 U.S.C. § 2000e–16(c) permits a complainant to file in district court once 180 days
have elapsed from the date of filing the initial administrative charge of discrimination. 13 42
U.S.C. § 2000e–16(c) (“after one hundred and eighty days from the filing of the initial charge
with the department [or] agency . . . an employee or applicant for employment, if aggrieved by
the final disposition of his complaint, or by the failure to take final action on his complaint, may
file a civil action as provided in section 2000e-5 of this title, in which civil action the head of the
department, agency, or unit, as appropriate, shall be the defendant.”). See also 29 C.F.R. §
1614.407 (“A complainant who has filed an individual complaint, an agent who has filed a class
The Amended Complaint styles Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim as “in violation of the ADA
and/or the Rehab Act.” ECF No. 14 at 10. Plaintiff cannot bring an ADA directly against the Agency. See
42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(B)(i) (specifically excluding the federal government from the ADA’s coverage).
The Rehabilitation Act “is the exclusive means by which a plaintiff may raise claims against federal
agencies relating to handicap discrimination.” Brown v. Henderson, 6 F. App’x 155, 156 (4th Cir. 2001)
(quoting Spence v. Straw, 54 F.3d 196, 197 (3d Cir. 1995)). Plaintiff’s ADA claim is therefore dismissed.
Where a plaintiff files prematurely, before the passage of 180 days after filing the initial charge, courts
are split as to whether this defect can be cured. See Glidden v. Furgal, No. CA 3:08-1532-JFA-PJG, 2009
WL 4893924, at *5 (D.S.C. Feb. 20, 2009) (discussing the split), report and recommendation adopted,
No. CA 308-1532-JFA-PJG, 2009 WL 632315 (D.S.C. Mar. 11, 2009), vacated (Mar. 17, 2009) (plaintiff
produced EEOC right-to-sue letter in motion for reconsideration pleadings).
complaint or a claimant who has filed a claim for individual relief pursuant to a class complaint
is authorized under title VII, the ADEA and the Rehabilitation Act to file a civil action in an
appropriate United States District Court: . . . (b) After 180 days from the date of filing an
individual or class complaint if an appeal has not been filed and final action has not been taken . .
Where a plaintiff files her complaint in federal court before the right to file has vested,
the challenge is properly considered an attack on this Court’s jurisdiction pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Thanh Tan Nguyen v. Donahoe, No. 13-CV800-AW, 2013 WL 3730681, at *2 (D. Md. July 12, 2013) (“failing to wait for 180 days after
filing his EEO complaint before filing suit in this Court” considered under Rule 12(b)(1)); Avery
v. Astrue, No. WDQ-11-2612, 2012 WL 1554646, at *3 (D. Md. Apr. 27, 2012) (“Because he
did not wait 180 days or for a decision on his appeal, the Court must dismiss this action for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction.”); cf. Puryear v. Shrader, No. PJM 11-3640, 2013 WL 1833262, at
*2 (D. Md. Apr. 30, 2013), aff’d, 541 F. App’x 242 (4th Cir. 2013) (finding “because 180 days
had not yet elapsed when she filed suit, the Court did not have jurisdiction over these claims
when the suit was filed”) (emphasis added).
The federal agency against which the complaint has been filed is required to “complete
its investigation within 180 days of the date of filing of an individual complaint.” 29 C.F.R. §
1614.108(e). But “[b]y written agreement within [that] time period, the complainant and the
respondent agency may voluntarily extend the time period [for the investigation] for not more
than an additional 90 days.” 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108(e) (emphasis added). The signed Notice,
therefore, may relieve the Agency from default judgement “as a sanction for the agency’s failure
to complete an investigation within the 180–day period specified at 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108(e).”
Royal v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, EEOC Request No. 0520080052, 2009 WL 3163287, *1
(Sept. 25, 2009). See also Mallik v. Sebelius, 964 F. Supp. 2d 531, 537 (D. Md. 2013)
(discussing the administrative-level sanctions for unsatisfactory Agency investigations found
proper in Talahongva–Adams v. Dep’t of the Interior, EEOC Appeal No. 0120081694, 2010 WL
2253800 (May 28, 2010) and Reading v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, EEOC Appeal No.
07A40125, 2006 WL 2992420 (Oct. 12, 2006)). But here, it does little to upset Plaintiff’s right to
sue in this Court.
Plaintiff filed a formal administrative complaint of discrimination with the Agency on
October 12, 2015. ECF No. 25-2 at 15; see also ECF No. 25-2 at 32 (Agency’s Notice of
Receipt). The Agency’s 180-day deadline to complete the investigation of the complaint ran on
April 9, 2016. 14 Two days prior, the Agency investigator emailed Plaintiff’s counsel “requesting
that [Plaintiff] sign and return the attached extension ASAP.” ECF No. 46-2. Plaintiff returned
the “Notice of Extension,” dated April 11, 2016 and signed only by Plaintiff. The Notice merely
states that: “I agree to extend the [complaint processing and/or investigative] time frame for the
above referenced complaint up to 90 days. I understand that this extension does not
automatically mean that it would require the full 90 days.” ECF No. 25-2 at 35. Plaintiff then
filed this civil action on May 13, 2016, before the 90-day extension expired. Despite the filing a
complaint in federal court, the Agency completed its investigation on June 15, 2016. ECF No.
25-2 at 2.
Defendant Burwell contends that Plaintiff’s signed Notice of Extension, when read with
the December 22, 2015 claims acceptance letter—a document provided three months prior to the
Defendant Burwell writes, “The Agency’s 180 day deadline to complete the investigation of the
complaint was scheduled to run on April 11, 2016. ECF No. 25-1 at 21.” That is incorrect. One hundred
and eighty days after October 12, 2015 is April 9, 2016.
Notice of Extension—provided sufficient notice to Plaintiff that the 90-day extension would bar
Plaintiff from filing a civil action in this Court for an additional 90 days. The December 22
claims acceptance letter states that “the regulations require the Agency to complete its
investigation of this complaint within 180 calendar days from the date on which the individual
complaint was filed except when a complainant and the agency voluntarily agree, in writing, to
extend the time period by up to an additional ninety (90) calendar days, or where a complaint is
amended.” ECF No. 25-2 at 33. Defendant Burwell asserts that the letter of receipt provides
Plaintiff with sufficient notice that the Notice of Extension implicitly contained a waiver of
Plaintiff’s statutory right to sue after 180 days. ECF No. 35 at 5. 15
Even assuming the Agency provided Plaintiff with sufficient notice of the effects of the
Notice of Extension, the Notice of Extension itself was untimely executed, two days after the
180-day investigatory period ended. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s statutory right to file in this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–16(c) vested on April 9, 2016, prior to execution of the
agreement. Importantly, Defendant provides this Court no authority for how a two-line Notice—
executed only for the purpose of extending the investigation time for “up to 90 days”—divests
Plaintiff of a right that vested two days before and that must be strictly construed and vigorously
honored. See Irwin v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 94 (1990) (citing Library of
Congress v. Shaw, 478 U.S. 310 (1986)) (“§ 2000e–16(c) is a condition to the waiver of
sovereign immunity and thus must be strictly construed.”). Cf. Harris v. United States, 919 F.
Supp. 343 (S.D. Cal. 1996) (dismissing complaint where plaintiff consent to a 90-day extension
Defendant Burwell also argues that “the Agency was deprived of the opportunity to conclude its
investigation within the time frame agreed to by Plaintiff. The Agency was forced to abbreviate and
terminate the investigation because of Plaintiff’s failure to cooperate.” ECF No. 25-1 at 5. This argument
has no merit. The Agency completed its record of investigation on June 15, 2016, with no mention of an
abbreviated investigation period, contradicting Defendant Burwell’s claim that the investigation was
abbreviated or terminated.
within the 180-day period for agency review and then elected to terminate her complaint
following the completion of the investigation).
Moreover, permitting Plaintiff’s suit is consistent with the purpose of the 180-day
requirement. The 180-day time limit provides “prompt access to the courts in discrimination
disputes, a purpose that is so important that the administrative process will be given only a finite
time to deal alone with a given dispute.” Payne v. Locke, 766 F. Supp. 2d 245, 249 (D.D.C.
2011) (emphasis added) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Accordingly, once the 180
days vests, the Plaintiff may exercise her right to bring her grievance to this Court. Indeed, after
the 180-day period, the Plaintiff may simply not participate in the administrative investigation
process and instead leave the fate of her claims to the federal courts to decide. See Payne, 766 F.
Supp. 2d at 250 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Laudadio v. Johanns, 677 F. Supp. 2d 590, 602
(E.D.N.Y. 2010)); see also Wilson v. Pena, 79 F.3d 154, 166 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (“Once a
complainant files a complaint or appeal and cooperates with the agency or EEOC for 180 days,
he is not required to take any further action to exhaust his administrative remedies.”); Brown v.
Tomlinson, 462 F. Supp. 2d 16, 21 (D.D.C. 2006) (“Failure to cooperate or dilatory behavior at
that point [after 180 days from the filing of the complaint] in the administrative proceedings
alone should not result in the loss of the right to file suit in district court.”). Plaintiff’s federal
action, therefore, will remain in this Court.
2. Retaliation Claims against Defendant Burwell
Defendant Burwell next contends Plaintiff’s Title VII pregnancy-based retaliation claims
against the Agency must be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to timely amend the EEO Charge
to include this claim. Timely amendment of the EEOC Charge is properly considered under Rule
12(b)(1) as it goes to the scope of Plaintiff’s exhausted claims. Henderson v. Town of Hope
Mills, No. 5:13-CV-635-FL, 2013 WL 5954816, at *3 (E.D.N.C. Nov. 6, 2013), aff’d, 594 F.
App’x 195 (4th Cir. 2015) (due to untimely amendment of EEOC charge, “the court lacks
jurisdiction to hear his retaliation claim”). Cf. Miles v. Dell, Inc., 429 F.3d 480, 492 (4th Cir.
2005) (citing Sloop v. Mem’l Mission Hosp., Inc., 198 F.3d 147, 149 (4th Cir. 1999) (due to
improper amendment of initial charge considered failure to exhaust administrative remedies
circuit court vacated judgment on the merits of the claim).
Plaintiff contends that the retaliation claim was part of the verified charge and the
complaint initially lodged with the EEO and so the claim was exhausted. With regard to
retaliation for opposing discriminatory employment practices based on sex and disability, the
Court agrees. When Plaintiff first filed her formal complaint with the EEO, she noted (by
checking appropriate boxes) that she had been discriminated based on race, sex and disability
specifically “high risk pregnancy.” Plaintiff also maintained a retaliation claim, specifically
stating in the retaliation section of the form that: “Complainant disclosed she was in a high risk
pregnancy and needed accommodation. Complainant was then terminated on August 25, 2015.”
In another section of the form where Plaintiff was asked to “best describe” her complaint,
Plaintiff stated that she was terminated after she advised her NIH supervisors that “she was in a
high risk pregnancy and needed an accommodation to reduce the amount of walking she was
required to perform”; that she was placed on a performance improvement plan “immediately
after she told coworkers that she was pregnant and she began showing” and was terminated at the
end of PIP after requesting accommodation for her pregnancy; and finally that she was
terminated from her contract position with Leidos at the request of NIH after requesting a further
accommodation for her pregnancy on August 12, 2015. ECF No. 30-1 at 3.
In response, on December 22, 2015, the Agency then issued Plaintiff a letter identifying
the verified charge as follows:
In your client’s complaint, Ms. Sillah alleges she was
discriminated against on the bases of her race (Black), sex (female)
and disability (physical) when:
1. On August 25, 2015, Complainant was terminated from her
contract position as a Patient Care Coordinator II. Complainant
alleges that she was terminated by her supervisors upon
learning of her high risk pregnancy.
ECF No. 20-2.
The EEO investigator then specifically explored Plaintiff’s retaliation claims. The
investigator asked Plaintiff to “identify the EEO activities that you engaged in that resulted in
the reprisal action at issue in this complaint.” ECF No. 25-2 at 54 (Plaintiff’s Affidavit, Feb. 19,
2016). The investigator further asked how the individuals responsible for the retaliation “would
have known of this prior EEO activity at the time of the treatment at issue in this current
complaint.” Id. In response, Plaintiff explains that after informing Ms. Talar-Williams of her
high-risk pregnancy and her intent to complain to the EEO, she was terminated. Id.
Clearly Plaintiff’s EEO complaint, the verified charge and the subsequent investigation
all contemplated Plaintiff’s Title VII retaliation claim on the basis of sex. The verified charge
includes Plaintiff’s protected activity of informing her supervisors of her high risk pregnancy;
the adverse action of termination, and the temporal and causal connection between the two. The
investigation further explores whether Plaintiff’s additional protected activity of complaining to
the EEO factored into terminating Plaintiff as further evidence in support of Plaintiff’s retaliation
claim. See Wilkinson v. Rumsfeld, 100 F. App’x 155, 158 (4th Cir. 2004) (finding a claim
administratively exhausted where “the agency itself investigated the type of activities that the
District Court refused to consider”); Rock v. McHugh, 819 F. Supp. 2d 456, 472 (D. Md. 2011)
(finding a claim properly exhausted where the fruits of the fact investigation revealed a claim of
disability discrimination); Westmoreland v. Prince George’s Cty., Md., No. 09-CV-2453 AW,
2010 WL 3369169, at *5 (D. Md. Aug. 23, 2010) (citing E.E.O.C. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 532 F.2d
359, 365 (4th Cir. 1976)) (finding claim exhausted where the investigation revealed evidence of
discrimination on other grounds not alleged in the administrative complaint). Plaintiff’s Title VII
pregnancy and disability retaliation claims, therefore, survive dismissal.
3. Untimely Contact with the EEO Office Barring PIP Claims
Defendants next assert that Plaintiff’s claims regarding placement on a PIP are barred by
Plaintiff’s late contact with the EEO office. Plaintiff concedes, however, that being placed on a
PIP is not itself actionable under Title VII. ECF No. 30 at 13 (citing Jensen-Graf v. Chesapeake
Employers’ Ins. Co., 616 F. App’x 596, 598 (4th Cir. 2015) (plaintiff failed to state a claim
because PIP did not involve lower pay, demotion, non-selection, or significantly different
responsibilities); Wooten v. Gruenberg, 2016 WL 1364043, at *6 (E.D. Va. Apr. 4, 2016) (PIP
not an adverse employment action); Verrier v. Sebelius, 2010 WL 1222740, at *10 (D. Md. Mar.
23, 2010) (PIP was not actionable because it “did not alter any aspect of [plaintiff’s] career)).
Rather, Plaintiff’s allegations regarding placement on a PIP may provide further background or
evidentiary support for her other claims. Cf. Evans, 80 F.3d at 962 (“Charges filed outside [the
required] time frame are barred, but a discriminatory allegation may still constitute relevant
background evidence for valid claims.”); Newby v. Whitman, 340 F. Supp. 2d 637, 647
(M.D.N.C. 2004) (applying Evans to a time-barred incident with a supervisor).
D. Defendant Burwell’s Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment
Purportedly seeking dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), Defendant Burwell’s
motion attacks the viability of the asserted claims in the Amended Complaint. Defendant
Burwell frames her motion as a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative motion for summary
judgment; however in addressing the merits of Plaintiff’s claims, Defendant’s challenges are not
confined to the four corners of the Amended Complaint. See Helfand v. W.P.I.P., Inc., 165 F.
Supp. 3d 392, 397 n.6 (D. Md. 2016). Instead Defendant Burwell relies on the record of
investigation, attached as an exhibit to the motion, and argues the merits of what “the evidence
reveals,” thereby urging this Court to treat her motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment
in her favor. See e.g., ECF No. 25-1 at 26.
At the outset, the Court notes that Defendant Burwell clarified at the March 17, 2016,
motions hearing that she too deems dismissal of Plaintiff’s race discrimination claims warranted
under Rule 12(b)(6) for the same deficiencies in pleading as raised by Leidos. Accordingly, for
the same reasons articulated above, the Court grants this motion with leave for Plaintiff to amend
her complaint as to her race-based discrimination claims under Title VII and § 1981.
Plaintiff also concedes that she cannot pursue punitive damages against Defendant
Burwell as a matter of law, and she only seeks punitive damages against Defendant Leidos, a
private employer. ECF No. 30 at 18 (citing ECF No. 14 at 13 (seeking “punitive damages as
permitted by law”)). Accordingly, Defendant Burwell’s motion to dismiss as to the claim for
punitive damages is granted.
To the extent Defendant Burwell seeks summary judgment of Plaintiff’s remaining
claims, the Court will deny the request. A district judge retains “complete discretion to
determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is
offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion,
or to reject it or simply not consider it.” Strothers v. City of Laurel, Md., 118 F. Supp. 3d 852,
860 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and
Procedure § 1366 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.)); accord Sager v. Hous. Comm’n of Anne Arundel
Cty., 855 F. Supp. 2d 524, 542 (D. Md. 2012). This discretion “should be exercised with great
caution and attention to the parties’ procedural rights.” Id. In general, courts are guided by
whether consideration of extraneous material “is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action,”
and “whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure” is
No formal discovery has been taken in this action. Ordinarily, “[a] district court should
refuse to grant summary judgment when an opposing party needs additional time to complete
discovery and properly respond to the motion.” Nat’l Coal. for Students with Disabilities Educ.
& Legal Def. Fund v. Scales, 150 F. Supp. 2d 845, 848 (D. Md. 2001) (citing HealthSouth
Rehabilitation Hosp. v. American Nat. Red Cross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1009 (4th Cir. 1996)). Where,
as here, additional discovery ought in fairness to be taken prior to resolution of summary
judgment motions, a plaintiff must submit an affidavit demonstrating why certain discovery is
necessary. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d); Pine Ridge Coal Co. v. Local 8377, United Mine Workers
of America, 187 F.3d 415 (4th Cir. 1999). Here, Plaintiff has satisfied Rule 56(d) regarding the
need for additional discovery to be taken prior to the resolution of Defendant Burwell’s summary
judgment motion, and so Defendant Burwell’s motion is denied.
For the reasons discussed above, Defendant Leidos’ Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in
part because (1) Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to her claim
of race discrimination under Title VII, the Maryland Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery
County Human Rights Act; and (2) Plaintiff failed to adequately plead race discrimination under
§ 1981. Plaintiff will be given 14 days to amend her § 1981 claim consistent with this opinion.
The remainder of Defendant Leidos’ Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. As a result, the following
claims against Leidos are properly before this Court and have been adequately plead:
(1) sex/pregnancy discrimination under Title VII, the Maryland Human Relations Act, and the
Montgomery County Human Rights Act; (2) disability discrimination under the ADA,
Rehabiltation Act, the Maryland Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human
Rights Act; and (4) retaliation under the ADA, Rehabiltation Act, the Maryland Human
Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act related to disability and under
Title VII related to sex/pregnancy.
For the reasons discussed above, Defendant Burwell’s Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED
in part because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead race discrimination under Title VII, the
Maryland Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act. Plaintiff will
be given 14 days to amend her Title VII and § 1981 race discrimination claims consistent with
this opinion. The remainder of Defendant Burwell’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. As a result,
the following claims are properly before this Court and have been adequately plead against
Defendant Burwell: (1) sex/pregnancy discrimination under Title VII, the Maryland Human
Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act; (2) disability discrimination
under the Rehabiltation Act, the Maryland Human Relations Act, and the Montgomery County
Human Rights Act; and (4) retaliation under the ADA, Rehabiltation Act, the Maryland Human
Relations Act, and the Montgomery County Human Rights Act related to disability and under
Title VII related to sex/pregnancy.
A separate order will follow.
United States District Judge
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