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Brothers v. STVT-AAI Education, Inc.

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

August 22, 2019

AMY BROTHERS, Plaintiff,
v.
STVT-AAI EDUCATION, INC., d/b/a ANCORA EDUCATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TERRENCE W. BOYLE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for partial dismissal. [DE 15]. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion for partial dismissal [DE 15] is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         In May 2000, plaintiff began working in the admissions office of Miller-Motte College, one of the "for-profit post-secondary and career schools in the Southeast United States" now operated by defendant Ancora Education ("Ancora"). [DE 13, ¶¶ 5, 10]. In 2015, plaintiff was promoted to "Senior Admissions Representative." Id. ¶ 12.

         In October 2017, plaintiff was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Id. ¶ 17. She informed her supervisor, admissions director Adam Merritt, of her diagnosis and her need to take medical leave. Id. ¶ 18. In November 2017, plaintiff requested and received 12 weeks of medical leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Id. ¶ 19. While plaintiff was undergoing treatment, in January 2018, Miller-Motte College, formerly operated by Delta Educational Systems, Inc., was acquired by defendant Ancora. Id. ¶ 20.

         In late January 2018, near the end of plaintiffs 12-week medical leave, Mr. Merritt allegedly informed plaintiff that, if she required additional medical leave, she would have to first work an 8-hour day before submitting another request for leave. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff did so, submitting another request for medical leave in late January. Id. ¶ 38. She then continued to receive medical treatment throughout February and March. Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff never received a response to her second medical leave request but assumed her request had been granted. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff was hospitalized with an infection associated with her cancer in "the first two weeks of April 2018." Id. ¶ 43. At that time, Mr. Merritt communicated with plaintiff via text message and asked how she was doing. Id. ¶ 44.

         On April 19, 2018, "within days of Plaintiff s release from the hospital," Mr. Merritt and one of defendant Ancora's executives directors, Ms. Erin Easton, called plaintiff and informed her that she was being terminated. Id. ¶ 45. Mr. Merritt and Ms. Easton allegedly informed plaintiff that she was being terminated because her "FMLA leave was up." Id. ¶ 47. A few days later, plaintiff received a letter from Ancora's vice president of human resources informing her that her "protected time off allowance ha[d] expired" and terminating her employment effective April 20, 2018. Id. ¶ 50. Plaintiff alleges that, after receiving the termination letter, she called Mr. Merritt, who told her that she could return to her position at Miller-Motte College once she was healthy enough to do so. Id. ¶ 52. But, in "late August or early September 2018," plaintiff met with Ms. Easton and Mr. Merritt and informed them that she was ready to return to work, only to be told by Ms. Easton that Ancora would not rehire her. Id. ¶¶ 58-60.

         Plaintiff contends that she was "able and prepared to return to work, and to perform the essential functions of her Senior Admissions Representative job[, ] in early May 2018." Id. ¶ 55. In October 2018, plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that "she was denied a reasonable accommodation for her disability and was unlawfully discharged because of her disability in violation of the [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)]." Id. ¶ 61. The EEOC issued plaintiff a right-to-sue letter in November 2018. Id. ¶ 62.

         Plaintiff initiated this action in February 2019. [DE 1]. Plaintiff alleges (1) that defendant unlawfully retaliated against her for taking medical leave under the FMLA, (2) that she was denied a reasonable accommodation for her disability under the ADA, and (3) that she was unlawfully terminated because of her disability under the ADA. Id. ¶¶ 64-105.

         Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiffs ADA claims under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that the only accommodation that plaintiff was seeking was indefinite leave and, as a matter of law, indefinite leave is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. [DE 15]. Plaintiff has responded in opposition to dismissal of her ADA claims. [DE 20].

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiffs ADA claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). A complaint must state a claim for relief that is facially plausible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility means that the court can "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged," as merely reciting the elements of a cause of action with the support of conclusory statements does not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court need not accept the plaintiffs legal conclusions drawn from the facts, nor need it accept unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments. Philips v. Pitt County Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); Philips, 572 F.3d at 180. In the event of a conflict between the allegations in the complaint and an incorporated external document, the external document controls. See, e.g., Fayetteville Inv 'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991) ("[I]n the event of conflict between the bare allegations of the complaint and any exhibit... the exhibit prevails."); Danger field v. WAVY Broad, LLC, 228 F.Supp.3d 696, 703 (E.D. Va. 2017) ("[W]hen an external document that is incorporated into the complaint conflicts with Plaintiffs allegations, the external document controls.").

         Defendant argues that plaintiffs ADA claims must be dismissed because the "reasonable accommodation" that plaintiff requests is an indefinite leave of absence and, as a matter of law, indefinite leave does not constitute a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Plaintiff specifically requests "the reasonable accommodation of unpaid leave beyond her FMLA medical leave entitlement," and contends that the "reasonableness of additional unpaid leave as an accommodation is further ...


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