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Hazel v. Caldwell County Schools

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

July 6, 2018

CAROL HAZEL Plaintiff,
v.
CALDWELL COUNTY SCHOOLS, CALDWELL COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION; Defendants.

          ORDER

          Graham C. Mullen United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 16) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part, denied in part.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Carol Hazel (“Plaintiff”) initiated this claim against Caldwell County Schools and Caldwell County Board of Education (“Defendants”) alleging (1) disability discrimination in violation of the ADA, (2) retaliation in violation of the ADA, and (3) wrongful discharge in violation of the public policy of North Carolina. Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her third claim for wrongful discharge.

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was employed by Caldwell County Schools as an Exceptional Children's Teacher (“EC Teacher”). As an EC Teacher, Plaintiff instructed students with disabilities, maintained IEPs, and provided guidance and education to her students. Plaintiff suffers from hearing loss and regularly wears a hearing aid in each ear. Despite the hearing aids, Plaintiff suffers from significant hearing loss when substantial background noise is present and in larger and open areas. This hearing loss impacts her ability to hear and understand speakers.

         Plaintiff alleges that her hearing disability can be reasonably accommodated with the aid of various devices. Specifically, Plaintiff claims to have successfully managed the disability in the past with devices such as an FM Listening System and a Sound Neckloop.

         Plaintiff alleges that she provided information concerning her disability and the accommodations she required at the time of her hiring. She followed up approximately one month later, sending reports of her hearing loss and prior recommendations for accommodations to the appropriate parties. These parties included the principal, the director for students with disabilities, and the audiologist for Caldwell County Schools. Shortly after her request in September, Defendant arranged for an audiologist to observe Plaintiff in the classroom. Despite that observation, no one ever followed up with Plaintiff concerning her disability. In late January, the audiologist again observed Plaintiff in the classroom.

         On February 22, 2016, at the direction of her doctor, Plaintiff took one week's leave from work. Plaintiff alleges that this leave was due to symptoms stemming from the stress caused by months of teaching without the aids she requested, and from her supervisor's unwillingness to assist her or otherwise engage in the interactive process. On February 29, 2016, Plaintiff met with a representative with human resources (“HR”). During that meeting, an HR representative allegedly told Plaintiff that her only option was retirement. Plaintiff subsequently retired.

         Plaintiff filed suit on June 29, 2017, alleging that Defendants failed to accommodate her disability and forced her into an involuntary retirement.

         II. DISCUSSION

         a. Standard of Review

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A complaint must contain “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). This plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). 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.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Conclusory allegations or legal conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.

         b. Caldwell County Schools

         Plaintiff brought this suit against both Caldwell County Schools, a school district, and the Caldwell County Board of Education. Under North Carolina law, however, the local board of education-not the local school district-is the entity with legal capacity to sue and be sued. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-40; see also Miller v. Henderson, 322 S.E.2d 594, 598 ( N.C. Ct. App. 1984). Because the Caldwell County Board ...


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