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Davis v. Kentucky Community and Technical College System

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

April 18, 2018

ROBIN DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
KENTUCKY COMMUNITY AND TECHNICAL COLLEGE SYSTEM d/b/a BLUEGRASS COMMUNITY AND TECHNICAL COLLEGE, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Partial Dismissal submitted by Defendant Kentucky Community and Technical College System (“KCTCS”) d/b/a/ Bluegrass Community and Technical College (“BCTC”). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendant's partial motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act and remands all remaining claims to the Fayette Circuit Court.

         I. Background

         Defendant KCTCS is a statewide network of colleges, made up of over seventy campuses. Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1-2. Plaintiff Robin Davis, a resident of London, Kentucky, has been employed as a statistics teacher for KCTCS at its BCTC campus since 2000. Compl. ¶ 3. She is disabled, suffering from Panic and Anxiety Disorder. Compl. ¶ 9. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Davis's Panic and Anxiety Disorder symptoms intensified and BCTC ultimately accommodated her by creating online courses so that her students would not have their classes canceled. Compl. ¶ 23. In December 2014, Davis requested that she be permitted to teach exclusively online, but her request was denied by the Dean of Academics. Compl. ¶¶ 33-34. Davis submitted a Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) request in Fall 2015 which the college granted. Compl. ¶ 36-38. For the Spring 2016 semester, Davis again used FMLA accommodations, but also submitted Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) paperwork to the college and discussed her need for further accommodation with BCTC administrators. Compl. ¶¶ 39-44. However, they could not come to an agreement on further accommodations. Compl. ¶¶ 45-48. Davis again submitted FMLA paperwork for the Fall 2016 semester, which the college accepted. Compl. ¶ 54. In August 2016, Davis filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC) complaining that BCTC failed to provide her with necessary accommodations. Compl. ¶ 55. In October 2016, however, Davis was demoted to a lecturer position, which included a reduction in pay. Compl. ¶ 56. In summer 2017, Davis was informed that she would not be able to teach summer classes, as she had previously done, because she was unable to be physically present on campus to serve as a proctor. Compl. ¶¶ 64-69. Instead, because of her FMLA use in the spring semester, she would be required to teach online summer classes for no additional pay. Compl. ¶ 70. Shortly after the EEOC issued Davis a Notice of Right to Sue on June 1, 2017, BCTC informed her that she would not be permitted to teach online classes as a form of accommodation and that she would be terminated if she did not report to campus to teach in-person classes during the fall 2017 semester. Compl. ¶¶ 73-75.

         Davis commenced this action in Fayette Circuit Court on August 8, 2017 asserting a number of claims. First, she claims that KCTCS failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. Ch. 344, et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. Second, she claims that KCTCS violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2615, by interfering with her use of FMLA leave. Third, she claims that, in violation of the Kentucky Wage and Hour Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. § 337.060, KCTCS illegally withheld her pay. And fourth, Davis asserts that KCTCS violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. § 344.280, the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12203, the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2615, and the Kentucky Wage and Hour Act, Ky Rev. Stat. § 337.990. She also seeks injunctive relief under the ADA, FMLA, and Kentucky Civil Rights Act, and punitive damages. KCTCS removed this matter to this Court on August 21, 2017, (DE 1), and subsequently filed a motion for partial dismissal based on sovereign and governmental immunity, (DE 4). Davis has filed a response in opposition and KCTCS has filed a reply. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) may attack the claim of jurisdiction on its face or it can attack the factual basis for jurisdiction. Golden v. Gorno Bros., Inc., 410 F.3d 879, 881 (6th Cir. 2005). A facial attack on jurisdiction “questions merely the sufficiency of the pleading” and therefore this Court must “take[] the allegations in the complaint as true, which is a similar safeguard employed under 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss.” Gentek Bldg. Products, Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 491 F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990)).[1] The burden of proving jurisdiction in order to survive a motion to dismiss lies on the plaintiff. Nichols v. Muskingum College, 318 F.3d 674, 677 (6th Cir. 2003).

         III. Analysis

         KCTCS argues that Davis's claims based on the ADA and FMLA are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. While KCTCS concedes that the Commonwealth has waived its immunity under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, it contends that governmental immunity bars Davis's Kentucky Wage and Hour Act claims. Finally, KCTCS argues that Davis's claim for punitive damages must also be dismissed because her only actionable claim arises under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, which does not authorize recovery of punitive damages. These arguments are addressed below.

         A. ADA and FMLA

         1. Money Damages

         The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” The Supreme Court has clarified that sovereign immunity “is demarcated not by the text of the Amendment alone but by fundamental postulates implicit in the constitutional design.” Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 729 (1999). It is well settled that sovereign immunity extends to suits brought by a citizen against the State in which he or she resides. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890). Eleventh Amendment immunity shields both states and their agencies from suit. See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (holding that claims against the Alabama Board of Corrections, a state agency, were barred by the Eleventh Amendment).

         In her complaint, Davis alleges that KCTCS is a non-profit corporation rather than an agency of the state. Compl. ¶ 2. This assertion is contradicted by state statutes of which this Court is required to take judicial notice. See Godboldo v. Cty. of Wayne, 686 Fed.Appx. 335, 340 (6th Cir. 2017) (“As we have previously held, we ‘are required to take judicial notice of the statute and case law of each of the states.'”) (quoting Schultz v. Tecumseh Prods., 310 F.2d 426, 433 (6th Cir. 1962)). KCTCS was created by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1997, Ky Rev. Stat. § 164.580(1), and as such is an agency of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, see Martin v. Univ. of Louisville, 541 F.2d 1171, 1174 (6th Cir. 1976) (finding the University of Louisville was a state institution for Eleventh Amendment purposes).

         In her response brief, Davis appears to concede that KCTCS is an agency of the state protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity. She instead argues that the Commonwealth has waived such immunity with regard to ADA and FMLA claims brought by KCTCS employees.[2] Waiver of a state's Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity protection may only be found where it is “stated ‘by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from the text as (will) leave no room for any other reasonable ...


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