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Merrill-Smith v. La Frontera Arizona Empact SPC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 5, 2018

Carolyn Merrill-Smith, Plaintiff,
v.
La Frontera Arizona Empact SPC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE ROSLYN O. SILVER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Carolyn Merrill-Smith (“Plaintiff”) worked as a social worker for Defendant La Frontera Arizona Empact SPC (“Frontera”). Plaintiff alleges her coworkers suspected she was abusing her stepdaughters, and began to harass and spread rumors about her. Plaintiff alleges her health and work performance suffered as a result. Due to her medical condition, Plaintiff allegedly requested and went on undefined leave for five months, starting in August 2013. Plaintiff alleges that she continued to request additional medical and/or FMLA leave, which Frontera denied. Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) alleges Frontera's actions violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Frontera moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff has alleged a viable FMLA claim and the motion is denied as to this claim. However, the Court agrees that Plaintiff's ADA claim is not supported by sufficient factual allegations and grants Frontera's motion to dismiss the ADA claim.

         BACKGROUND

         In support of her FMLA and ADA claims, Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint alleges the following:

         Plaintiff worked at the Tempe office of Frontera, a nonprofit organization that offers counseling, including for suicide and trauma. Plaintiff has worked at Frontera for 17 years in various positions. At the time of the events at issue, Plaintiff was a Hotline Therapist and was in the process of applying to be a Licensed Master Social Worker.

         Since approximately 2000, Plaintiff has suffered from hypothyroidism and a genetic nerve condition. Her medical condition worsens in stressful situations and causes hyperventilation, tremors, difficulty in managing emotions, headaches, sleeping difficulties, dream trauma, weight increase, decreased energy, depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff's medical condition was known to her employer and coworkers.

         In January 2012, Plaintiff married and became the stepmother of her husband's two daughters from a prior relationship. These stepdaughters had allegedly been abused by their biological mother and their own boyfriends. Plaintiff asked Frontera if her stepdaughters could obtain counseling services through Frontera. Despite Frontera's policy against providing counseling services to employees' family members, it agreed to provide counseling to Plaintiff's stepdaughters. Approximately two months later, Plaintiff's stepdaughters still had not initiated counseling through Frontera, so Plaintiff again inquired Frontera about counseling for them.

         Plaintiff alleges her coworkers began to wrongly suspect Plaintiff of abusing her stepdaughters. In addition, Plaintiff's stepdaughters and their mother allegedly made efforts to discredit Plaintiff: one stepdaughter planted a white powdery substance in Plaintiff's car, and the stepdaughters' mother initiated several investigations into Plaintiff, conducted by Frontera, Child Protective Services, and the local sheriff's office. Due to these false allegations and rumors, Plaintiff's coworkers allegedly began to harass Plaintiff to the point of creating a “toxic” work environment. As a result, Plaintiff's health and work performance suffered and continued to deteriorate.

         In August 2013, Plaintiff asked her supervisor at Frontera for “medical leave” because her medical condition had made it “impossible to do her job.” Plaintiff also asked for, as an alternative to medical leave, a transfer to another department at Frontera. Plaintiff alleges she was denied both. In addition, Plaintiff was told that Frontera does not give medical leave and instead places employees in a “pool” program, which allows employees to take time off without pay. The “pool” program, however, allegedly requires employees to work a minimum of two shifts per month “regardless of the need for leave.” While Plaintiff was in the “pool” for five months, she “continued to ask” Frontera for more time off for “medical leave and/or compassionate or FMLA leave.” Frontera denied all requests for leave other than “pool” time. When Plaintiff did not return to work after five months in the “pool” and was denied additional leave, she was terminated by Frontera in January 2014.

         Plaintiff sued Frontera on April 25, 2016, alleging numerous violations. (Doc. 2). Frontera moved to dismiss. (Doc. 6). The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims but granted Plaintiff limited leave to amend her FMLA and ADA claims. (Doc. 12). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, reasserting her FMLA and ADA claims. (Doc. 15.) Frontera moved to dismiss again, arguing Plaintiff's claims were either time-barred or not supported by sufficient factual allegations. (Doc. 17.) The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims and denied her request for punitive damages, but granted Plaintiff one final opportunity to amend her FMLA and ADA claims. (Doc. 24.) Frontera moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, arguing once again that Plaintiff's claims are not supported by sufficient factual allegations. (Doc. 30.)

         ANALYSIS

         To survive a motion to dismiss, Plaintiff's 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, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Additionally, this Court liberally construes pleadings for pro se plaintiffs. See Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987) (“The Supreme Court has instructed the federal courts to liberally construe the ‘inartful pleading' of pro se litigants.”) (citing Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam)).

         I. ...


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