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Murphy v. County of New Hanover

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

July 18, 2019

DANTE MURPHY, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF NEW HANOVER, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint[1] for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (DE 34). The issues raised have been fully briefed, and in this posture are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion is denied.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff initiated this action on December 1, 2017. On May 24, 2018, plaintiff filed his first amended complaint, asserting several claims against defendant under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq .; the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (“CRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1981; the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act (“NCEEPA”), N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 143-422.1 et seq.; and North Carolina public policy. Defendant filed its first motion to dismiss on July 27, 2018, arguing that plaintiff's first amended complaint must be dismissed in its entirety for failure to state a claim. The court granted the motion, dismissing plaintiff's first amended complaint without prejudice and allowing plaintiff 21 days to file a second amended complaint correcting the deficiencies noted in the court's order. Plaintiff then filed his second amended complaint on January 24, 2019, alleging only that defendant failed to accommodate his disability in violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112. Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss, again asserting plaintiff fails to state a claim.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         On July 5, 2016, plaintiff was hired by defendant as a social worker in the foster care unit at New Hanover County Department of Social Services (“NHCDSS”) (Compl. ¶ 8). As a social worker, one of plaintiff's primary tasks was to reunify families, which he did in several instances. (Id. ¶ 10). Before working for defendant, plaintiff was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), which substantially limited his ability to concentrate, think, interact with others, work, and sleep. (Id. ¶ 11).

         Unlike his previous employer, plaintiff's position with defendant required him to work solely during business hours in a cubical setting amongst other social workers. (Id. ¶ 12; see id. ¶ 7). Due to the distraction of his work setting, plaintiff found it difficult to perform all of his duties, including timely completion of necessary paperwork. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14). Plaintiff's supervisors held feedback sessions with him to discuss his performance deficiencies. (Id. ¶ 13). Plaintiff attempted to alleviate some of the distraction of the work setting by working partially from home, but was advised that working from home was against company policy. (Id. ¶ 15). Plaintiff later learned that defendant allowed other employees to work from home. (Id. ¶ 18).

         In the meantime, on or about August 29, 2016, plaintiff emailed Mark Francolini (“Francolini”), defendant's chief human resources officer, informing him of his disability and requesting an accommodation. (Id. ¶ 16). Francolini advised plaintiff to follow up with Ms. Knips (“Knips”). (Id. ¶ 19). On September 2, 2019, plaintiff met with Knips to discuss possible accommodations. (Id. ¶ 20). After a couple of delays, plaintiff received a reasonable accommodation request packet on October 4, 2016. (See id. ¶¶ 20-24).

         On October 5, 2016, plaintiff suggested to his supervisors that he be transferred to an after-hours position in child protective services as an accommodation, in part because there is less distraction in that position. (Id. ¶ 25). The role was similar to the one he had with his former employer. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 27). Defendant advised that the position he referenced required the applicant to have a master's degree in social work. (Id. ¶ 26). Plaintiff requested the education requirement be waived, but defendant refused. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28).

         On or about October 18, 2016, defendant provided accommodations for plaintiff's ADHD, moving plaintiff to an different office shared with another coworker and issuing a noise cancelling headset. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30). However, plaintiff's office was small, with about 18 inches separating him from his coworker, and the headset provided to plaintiff did not fit properly. (Id. ¶ 31). Plaintiff informed defendant that the provided accommodations were ineffective but received no response. (See id. ¶ 36). On December 6, 2016, plaintiff was terminated because of the performance deficiencies addressed during prior feedback sessions with his supervisors. (Id. ¶ 37).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In evaluating whether a claim is stated, “[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” but does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         B. Analysis

         The ADA makes it unlawful to “discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). To “discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability” includes “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). To state a claim for failure to accommodate under the ADA, plaintiff must allege “(1) that he was an individual who had a disability within the meaning of the statute; (2) that the [employer] had notice of his disability; (3) that with reasonable accommodation he could ...


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