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Mitchell v. American Airlines Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 8, 2018

Charity Mitchell, Plaintiff,
American Airlines, Inc. Defendants.


          David G. Campbell United States District Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiff Charity Mitchell has filed a Third Amended Complaint against Defendant American Airlines, Inc. alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and breach of contract. Doc. 41. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Doc. 45. The motion is fully briefed. Docs. 47, 48. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.[1]

         I. Background.

         Plaintiff, who suffers from a physical impairment that requires her to use a “colostomy apparatus” and “medicines, ” began working for Defendant as a customer service employee in Phoenix, Arizona in November 2010. Doc. 41 ¶¶ 1-3. In order to get to her work station, Plaintiff was required to pass through TSA security screening. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiff's impairment required that a female TSA agent be available to search her personal items and under her clothing. Id. ¶ 3. But because a female TSA agent was not always readily available, Plaintiff was late to her work station on several occasions. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. Plaintiff alleges she was harassed and disciplined for being late. Id. ¶¶ 3-5.

         In January 2011, Plaintiff met with her supervisor, Steve Olson, regarding her impairment and trouble getting through TSA security. Id. ¶ 4. During the meeting, Mr. Olson informed Plaintiff that it was just a matter of time before she would no longer be employed with the company and that perhaps she did not fit in at the Phoenix station. Id. In March 2011, Plaintiff discussed the difficulties she was experiencing with a human resources representative. Id. ¶ 9. Mr. Olson responded that Plaintiff should consider alternatives to her employment. Id. Plaintiff was ultimately terminated. Plaintiff alleges that these encounters and comments, and her termination, were a direct result of her impairment and associated personal needs while working. Id. ¶ 5; Doc. 47 at 2.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A successful motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) must show either that the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or fails to allege facts sufficient to support its theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A complaint that sets forth a cognizable legal theory will survive a motion to dismiss as long as it contains “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, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         When a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, factual allegations, “however inartfully pleaded, ” are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The rule of liberal construction of pleadings is “particularly important in civil rights cases.” Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992).

         III. ADA Discrimination Claim.

         Construing Plaintiff's pleadings liberally, the Court understands Plaintiff to be raising a claim of disability discrimination under Title I of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, et seq. ADA discrimination claims are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, which requires an employee to carry the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. See Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44 (2003). If the employee meets this burden, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate “a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason” for the employee's discharge. Id. at 50. To establish a prima facie case, Plaintiff must show that: (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she is otherwise qualified, meaning with or without reasonable accommodation she is able to perform the essential functions of her job; and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability. Samper v. Providence St. Vincent Med. Ctr., 675 F.3d 1233, 1237 (9th Cir. 2012); 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a), (b)(5)(A).

         A. Disabled Within the Meaning of the Act.

         The ADA defines a “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). According to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), the definition of disability is “construed in favor of broad coverage” of individuals asserting claims under the Act. Id. § 12102(4)(A); Rohr v. Salt River Project Agric. Improvement & Power Dist., 555 F.3d 850, 853 (9th Cir. 2009). Further, the ADAAA implementing regulations provide that the “question of whether an individual meets the definition of disability under [the ADA] should not demand extensive analysis.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.1(c)(4).

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to assert that she suffers from a disability because she has not alleged that her colostomy apparatus and related medications substantially limit a major life activity. Doc. 45 at 5. But the ADA expressly lists the operation of the “digestive” and “bowel” systems as major bodily functions that qualify as major life activities. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A)-(B). Plaintiff's allegation that she must use an apparatus to eliminate waste through a surgical opening in her abdomen reasonably alleges that she has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. As one court relevantly explained:

[I]t is apparent that Plaintiff's colostomy severely limits the operation of his bowel and digestive functions - portions of these systems were removed from his body and he now eliminates waste through an opening in his abdomen. That it takes Plaintiff “a few minutes longer than the average person” to use the restroom is not dispositive of whether Plaintiff is disabled. If that were the case, a wheelchair user that needed just ...

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