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Woodward v. Elizabethtown Community and Technical College

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, at Louisville

July 21, 2015

ANGELA M. WOODWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
ELIZABETHTOWN COMMUNITY AND TECHNICAL COLLEGE, ET AL. Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES R. SIMPSON, III, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Elizabethtown Community and Technical College ("ECTC"), Tom Davenport, and Diane Owsley's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (DN 8). Defendants contend that the Complaint (DN 1-1) of Plaintiff Angela M. Woodward, pro se, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because sovereign immunity and insufficient factual allegations preclude recovery. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss (DN 8) will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

In June 2007, Plaintiff started a job with ECTC as a workforce liaison. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 9.) Two years into her employment, Plaintiff received a diagnosis of breast cancer. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 10.) She then underwent a radical mastectomy on her right side, together with the insertion of a breast expander. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 10.) Plaintiff attended an appointment each week for six to eight weeks after the surgery. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 10.) During the appointments, the breast expander was incrementally filled with fluid to create space for a permanent implant. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 10.)

Plaintiff claims to have asserted her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA" or "Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., in requesting that her work schedule be modified to accommodate those post-surgery appointments. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 11.) To avoid burdensome paperwork, Plaintiff's supervisor, Davenport, allegedly refused the schedule modification and told her to use vacation days for the appointments. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 11.) Plaintiff further alleges that Davenport began a "campaign of harassment" following her request for FMLA leave. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 12.) Plaintiff ultimately filed a formal workplace complaint against Davenport for alleged interference with her FMLA rights, "bullying[, ] and aggressive behavior." (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 12.)

In August 2012, Plaintiff discovered a tumor in her left breast. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 13.) The next month, a biopsy confirmed that the new tumor was cancerous. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 13.) Plaintiff obtained the appropriate forms for FMLA leave and forwarded them to her physician. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 14.) She scheduled her second mastectomy for November 8, 2012, planning to return to work two-and-a-half weeks after the surgery. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 14.) But, on November 5, Davenport and the human resources director terminated Plaintiff's employment with ECTC. (Compl., DN 1-1, ¶ 15.)

Plaintiff commenced this action in Hardin County Circuit Court. (Compl., DN 1-1.) She claims violations of her FMLA rights and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Compl., DN 1-1, Cts. I-II.) Defendants then removed the case to this Court. (Notice or Removal, DN 1.) They invoke the Court's federal question jurisdiction based on the FMLA claims and its supplemental jurisdiction to hear the state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Notice of Removal, DN 1, ¶¶ 5-6.) Defendants now move for the dismissal of all claims under Rule 12(b)(6), raising sovereign immunity and pointing to factual allegations they argue are insufficient as a matter of law (DN 8).

II. STANDARD

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Though "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" it demands "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. The factual allegations in the complaint must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

When considering such a motion, the court may examine the complaint and its exhibits, public records, items appearing in the record of the case, and documents incorporated by reference into the complaint and central to the claims. Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). The court must view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Rondigo, L.L.C. v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 680 (6th Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

III. DISCUSSION

A. FMLA Claims

The FMLA entitles an eligible employee to twelve work weeks of unpaid leave per year. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). An employee may take FMLA leave for a number of reasons, including self care based on "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." Id. § 2612(a)(1)(D). The FMLA declares it unlawful for any employer "to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided [by the Act], " id § 2615(a)(1), or "to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful by [the Act], " id. § 2615(a)(2). The statute allows for the maintenance of a private action seeking damages or equitable relief "against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction." Id. § 2617(a)(2).

Here, Plaintiff claims that Defendants interfered with the exercise of her rights under the FMLA's self-care provision by preventing her from taking leave in connection with the treatment of her breast cancer. She further claims that Defendants discharged her in retaliation for asserting her rights to self-care leave. In pursuing those claims, Plaintiff attempts to impose liability on ECTC, as well as Davenport and Owsley ...


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