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Starkey v. Colquitt County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

November 25, 2014



HUGH LAWSON, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are the Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (Doc. 4) by Defendant Colquitt County Board of Commissioners ("Board of Commissioners") and the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 18) by the Board of Commissioners, Defendant Colquitt County, Georgia ("Colquitt County"), and Defendant Lynn Purvis, Clerk of Court, Colquitt County, Georgia ("Purvis") (collectively "Defendants"). In light of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 9) and Defendants' motion to dismiss it, [1] the Board of Commissioners' first motion to dismiss is moot. The motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Legal Standard

To avoid dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim is plausible if its factual allegations allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . The plausibility standard "calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of the defendant's liability. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept "all well-pleaded facts... as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1273 n. 1 (11th Cir. 1999). However, this tenet does not apply to legal conclusions in the complaint. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. "[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of fact, or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal." Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). A court must dismiss the complaint if, "on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action." Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing Executive 100, Inc. v. Martin County, 992 F.2d 1536, 1539 (11th Cir. 1991) and Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed.2d 939 (1946)).

II. Factual Background

On January 29, 2007, Plaintiff Deanna Starkey ("Plaintiff") was hired by Carolynn Marshall ("Marshall"), who was at that time the clerk of the superior, state, and juvenile courts for Colquitt County, Georgia. Marshall was Plaintiff's supervisor during the entirety of her employment. Plaintiff suffers from Crohn's disease. On multiple occasions, Plaintiff approached Marshall to explain the effects of the disease and request that, if she were tardy to work, she be allowed to make up the time later rather than be disciplined. Instead of granting the request, Marshall reprimanded Plaintiff when she was tardy. (Ex. 5 to Plaintiff's Response to the Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 23; Amended Complaint, ¶¶7-8).

On September 8, 2009, Marshall provided a memorandum to Plaintiff and other employees informing them that, after three absences, they would need a doctor's excuse for any additional absence from work. Plaintiff again tried to explain to Marshall that the symptoms of Crohn's disease, including diarrhea, could appear unexpectedly and that she needed some flexibility in her work schedule and in complying with Marshall's demands. The supervisor refused to let Plaintiff make up the time she missed from work and never offered her leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").[2] However, Marshall did not require other employees to provide doctor's excuses for their absences, and she permitted them to work during lunch breaks to compensate for their being late to work. (Id. at ¶¶9-11).

On September 11, 2009, Plaintiff was absent part of the work day while visiting her doctor. When Plaintiff returned to work, Marshall confronted her and asked what the doctor had said. After Plaintiff said the doctor needed to run more tests, Marshall replied, "For what? So that he can tell you you've got Crohn's disease?" Plaintiff explained that the tests would indicate what stage her disease was in and if it were worsening. (Id. at ¶12).

Plaintiff's doctor wrote a letter to Marshall explaining Plaintiff's disease and its symptoms. When Plaintiff gave Marshall the letter, the supervisor angrily said, "Oh, is your doctor going to write me a letter?" After reading some of the letter, Marshall told Plaintiff, "I know all about Crohn's Disease. At this point, I wish you'd just have surgery, let them cut your intestines out or whatever, and come on back to work in two weeks. Deana, I just don't know how much more of this I can take!" (Id. at ¶13).

Plaintiff reported Marshall's reaction to the letter to Kathy Willis ("Willis"), the human resources director for Colquitt County. Willis told Plaintiff that the human resources department could not discipline Marshall because she was a publicly elected official. Willis told Plaintiff to file a grievance against Marshall with the Department of Labor. In October 2009, Plaintiff again complained to Willis of Marshall's treatment. Plaintiff also reported that Marshall was falsifying her time records and docking her pay in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.[3] (Id. at ¶¶14-15).

On November 24, 2009, Marshall wrote a memorandum to Plaintiff reprimanding her and threatening termination if she were tardy to work one more time. Marshall also discussed Plaintiff's medical information with Terry McMullen, another county employee. On December 2, 2009, [4] Marshall told McMullen that "the ax is about to fall" and that Plaintiff "sure has a nice house. I would hate to see her lose it." (Id. at ¶¶16-17).

Marshall's actions exacerbated Plaintiff's medical condition. On December 4, 2009, Plaintiff requested intermittent leave under the FMLA, which Marshall tried to block. Nevertheless, Plaintiff used FMLA leave from February 15-18, 2010. When Plaintiff returned to work on February 19, Marshall fired her. (Id. at ¶¶18-19).

On August 10, 2010, Plaintiff faxed an intake questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") asserting that she had been subjected to employment discrimination on the basis of her disability and that she had suffered retaliation. Plaintiff listed the Colquitt County Board of Commissioners as her employer and described Marshall as the individual who had treated her unlawfully. On the questionnaire, Plaintiff provided the address for the Board of Commissioners, its approximate number of employees, and her own name, address, and phone number. She did not sign the questionnaire under an oath or affirmation as to the veracity of the information she provided. (EEOC Intake Questionnaire, Ex. 1 to Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 23). On December 26, 2010, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against the Board of Commissioners. Her charge stated ...

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