United States District Court, D. Arizona
HONORABLE ROSLYN O. SILVER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT
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.
support of her FMLA and ADA claims, Plaintiff's Third
Amended Complaint alleges the following:
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.)
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
accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
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)).