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Allen v. City of Raleigh

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

March 4, 2014

NATHAN P. ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF RALEIGH, Defendant.

ORDER

JAMES C. DEVER, III, Chief District Judge.

Nathan P. Allen ("Allen" or "plaintiff, ) seeks relief under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 ("ADEA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act (as amended), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 ("ADA"), and North Carolina law. See Compl. [D.E. 1-1]. On August 26, 2013, the City of Raleigh ("City" or "defendant") moved to dismiss Allen's complaint. See [D.E. 6]; Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (6). The City also filed a memorandum in support. See [D.E. 7]. On September 5, 2013, Allen responded in opposition. See [D.E. 8]. On September 19, 2013, the City replied. See [D.E. 9]. As explained below, the City's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

I.

Allen is a fifty-two-year-old employee of the City's Public Utilities Department. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 14. He has worked for the City for more than twenty-four years and has held three titles during his tenure: "Water Meter Reader, " "Senior Meter Reader, " and "Water Meter Mechanic." Id . ¶¶ 15-16, 18, 27. While working as a Water Meter Reader in 2000 or 2001, Allen was injured in a work-related accident and received a 40% permanent partial disability ("PPD") in his worker's compensation case. Id . ¶¶ 6-7. Although Allen's injury limited his ability to lift and perform manual tasks, it did not affect his ability to perform his duties as a Water Meter Reader. Id . ¶¶ 10, 17. Allen continued to work as a Water Meter Reader for many years, until the City promoted him to Senior Meter Reader. Id . ¶ 18. Allen's injury did not impact his ability to perform his duties as a Senior Meter Reader. Id . ¶¶ 22-23. The City has known of Allen's injury since the time of the accident, and continues to pay for Allen's medical treatment. Id . ¶¶ 12-13.

On December 4, 2012, the City reclassified Allen's position-along with the positions of two other Senior Meter Readers-to Water Meter Mechanic. Id . ¶ 27; see id. Ex. A.[1] When Allen's supervisor informed him of his new job title and the duties it entailed, Allen expressed concern that given his injury and medical restrictions, he would be unable to do the job. Id . ¶ 29. His supervisor responded that Allen "better hope he could perform all duties required of him under the re-classification or else he would find himself doing something that he would not like." Id . ¶ 30. Allen's worker's compensation physician subsequently confirmed that Allen could not perform the essential functions of a Water Meter Mechanic, even with a reasonable accommodation. Id . ¶ 62; see id. Ex. A. The City allowed Allen to continue performing the essential functions of a Senior Meter Reader while working under his new title. Id . ¶ 39; see id. Ex. A.

On February 22, 2013, Allen filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). See id. Ex. A. On April 11, 2013, the City "took the position that" Allen should take a leave of absence without pay until the charge of discrimination was resolved. Id . ¶ 35. On April 25, 2013, Allen's superintendent told Allen that he needed to take "additional leave" without pay pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Id . ¶ 38.

On June 21, 2013, Allen filed a complaint against the City in Franklin County Superior Court, alleging failure to accommodate, disability discrimination, and unlawful retaliation under the ADA, age discrimination under the ADEA, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under North Carolina law. Compl. ¶¶ 58-110. On July 19, 2013, the City removed the action to this court. See [D.E. 1]. On August 26, 2013, the City moved to dismiss Allen's complaint. See [D.E. 6]; Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (6).

II.

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(l) tests subject-matter jurisdiction, which is the court's "statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't , 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1989) (emphasis omitted); see Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood. Inc. , 669 F.3d 448, 453 (4th Cir. 2012). "[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing its existence." Steel Co. , 523 U.S. at 104; see, e.g., Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co. , 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999); Richmond. Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States , 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See, e.g., Evans , 166 F.3d at 647.

Before filing suit under the ADA or the ADEA, a plaintiff must exhaust his administrative remedies by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. See Sydnor v. Fairfax Cnty. , 681 F.3d 591, 593 (4th Cir. 2012); Jones v. Calvert Group. Ltd. , 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009). A plaintiffs failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprives the court of subject-matter jurisdiction over any unexhausted claims. See, e.g., Jones , 551 F.3d at 300-01.

A plaintiffs EEOC charge determines the scope of his right to file suit. In order to ensure that the plaintiffs employer has notice of the plaintiffs allegations and that the EEOC has an opportunity to resolve the parties' dispute, a plaintiff cannot raise claims in litigation that did not appear in his EEOC charge. See Sydnor , 681 F.3d at 593. However, because laypersons, rather than lawyers, often complete EEOC charges, the administrative charge "does not strictly limit" a plaintiffs subsequent civil suit. Id . at 594 (quotation omitted). Instead, the court must construe the charge liberally, Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus., Inc. , 711 F.3d 401, 408 (4th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted), and allow the plaintiff to advance claims in litigation that "are reasonably related to [his] EEOC charge and can be expected to follow from a reasonable administrative investigation." Sydnor , 681 F.3d at 594 (quotation omitted).

The City argues that this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Allen's ADA and ADEA claims because Allen's complaint exceeds the scope of his EEOC charge [Compl. Ex. A]. Specifically, the City contends that Allen's EEOC charge did not provide sufficient notice of Allen's failure-to-accommodate claim or of the specific allegations underlying his disability- and age-discrimination claims. See [D.E. 7] 8-12; [D.E. 9] 1-2. The City also challenges the court's subject-matter jurisdiction over Allen's unlawful-retaliation claim to the extent that Allen bases it on a conversation with his supervisor regarding his alleged medical limitations, rather than a complaint about his supervisor's behavior. See [D.E. 9] 4-5. Relatedly, the City argues that because Allen's EEOC charge listed December 4, 2012-the date the City reclassified Allen's position-as the "earliest" and "latest" date of discrimination, the court cannot consider other allegedly retaliatory actions occurring after that date, namely, the City's alleged suggestion that Allen take leave from work without pay on April 11, 2013, and April 25, 2013. See [D.E. 7] 12-13; [D.E. 9] 2-4; cf. Compl. ¶¶ 35, 38.[2]

Allen's EEOC charge sufficiently put the EEOC and the City on notice of his failure-to-accommodate claim. Although his charge does not allege that he requested, and that the City denied him, a reasonable accommodation, it contains facts that would-and did-prompt an investigation of this claim. Allen states that he had worked as a Senior Meter Reader until the City reclassified his position to a Water Meter Mechanic, that "there is no accommodation that [would] allow [him] to perform [the] duties" of his new position, and that the City had allowed him to continue performing the duties of his previous position. Compl. Ex. A. In response to Allen's EEOC charge, the City stated that it had reasonably accommodated Allen's alleged disability by allowing him to perform the duties of a Senior Meter Reader. Id., 39. Accordingly, the City "was on notice from the beginning that it was accused of not providing a disabled plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation." Sydnor , 681 F.3d at 595. Moreover, because the primary accommodation Allen proposes-allowing him to retain the title Senior Meter Reader while performing the duties of that position - "flow[s] logically" from the text of the charge, the City "should not have been caught off guard" when Allen eventually raised it. Id . at 596; see Compl. ¶¶ 41, 63-64. Because Allen exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to his failure-to-accommodate claim, the court denies the City's motion to dismiss that claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Sydnor , 681 F.3d at 597; Collins v. Franklin Cnty. , 861 F.Supp.2d 670, 675-76 (E.D. N.C. 2012); Bannister v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P. , 843 F.Supp.2d 610, 617-18 (E.D. N.C. 2012).

Similarly, Allen's charge sufficiently put the EEOC and the City on notice of his disability-and age-discrimination claims. Allen checked the "disability" and "age" boxes on his charge form, and the text of the charge mentions both disability and age discrimination. Compl. Ex. A; see Jones , 551 F.3d at 301; Miles v. Dell. Inc. , 429 F.3d 480, 492 (4th Cir. 2005); Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md., Inc. , 288 F.3d 124, 132-33 (4th Cir. 2002); Sloop v. Mem'l Mission Hosp., Inc. , 198 F.3d 147, 149 (4th Cir. 1999); Dennis v. Cnty. of Fairfax , 55 F.3d 151, 156 (4th Cir. 1995). "[U]ntrained parties [need not] provide a detailed essay to the EEOC in order to exhaust their administrative ...


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