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Crawford v. Georgia Department of Transportation

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

April 19, 2017

CATRICE CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (GDOT), Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUTFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Janet F. King's Non-Final Report and Recommendation [9] (“R&R”). The R&R recommends that the Court dismiss all of Plaintiff Catrice Crawford's (“Plaintiff”) claims, except her claims under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2612, et seq. (“FMLA”) arising after August 1, 2013. Also before the Court are Defendant Georgia Department of Transportation's (“GDOT”) Objections to the R&R [11].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that her employment with GDOT began on April 15, 2005. (Compl. [1.2] ¶ 2.I.a). Over the next few years, Plaintiff received promotions and increases in her salary. (Id. ¶ 2.I.a-b). Plaintiff alleges that, after she filed an “In-House Grievance” on January 14, 2013, based on “unfair treatment, unlawful discrimination, and . . . managers . . . erroneously applying GDOT policies and procedures[, ]” her “work environment shifted for the worse.” (Id. ¶ 2.I.c). Plaintiff alleges that she suffered three “rounds” of retaliation, the first of which occurred between March 4, 2013, and May 6, 2013. During this time, Plaintiff alleges her supervisors issued performance and disciplinary write-ups, conducted intimidating meetings, and altered her work assignments. (Id. ¶ 2.II). This conduct, Plaintiff alleges, violated the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act, O.C.G.A. § 45-19-20, et seq. (“FEPA”), the Code of Ethics for Government Service, and the Governor's Executive Order of January 10, 2011. (Id.). The alleged retaliation and harassment also included “denying training, an unnecessary coaching write-up, [and] denying [Plaintiff] qualified leave of absence.” (Id. ¶ 2.IV). Plaintiff alleges this conduct violated the FMLA and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206 et seq. (“EPA”). (Id.).

         On March 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging race discrimination and retaliation. (Id. ¶ 2.III.; [3.1] (“First EEOC Charge”)). Plaintiff alleges that a “second round of retaliation and harassment” occurred from May 6, 2013, through August 2, 2013. This second round involved her supervisors allegedly “denying/approving training, taking a qualified leave of absence, demotion, computer sabotage, and write-ups.” (Id. ¶ 2.V).

         The third and final round “of a more aggressive form of retaliation” took place from August 5, 2013, through September 12, 2013, when Plaintiff was terminated from her employment. The alleged retaliation involved GDOT using its “policies and procedures sick leave policy against [her] absence, ” “den[ying] and ignor[ing] reasonable accommodations for FMLA for [her] oncologist, daughters [sic] medical condition and back injury, ” excluding her attendance at meetings and issuing “performance evaluation accusations.” (Id. ¶ 2.VI). Plaintiff alleges that, from August 5, 2013, through August 19, 2013, she requested FMLA leave due to a back injury, and, on August 21, 2013, leave was denied. She also alleges GDOT denied a health accommodation for Plaintiff to care for her daughter, violating the FMLA. (Id. ¶ 2.VI.a). Plaintiff alleges that, on September 10, 2013, she was directed to move her office and was denied assistance to do so, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”). (Id. ¶ 2.VI.b).

         After Plaintiff was terminated, on April 11, 2014, she filed a second EEOC charge of discrimination. ([3.2] (“Second EEOC Charge”)). In it, Plaintiff alleged the following: (1) discrimination based on her race and sex, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), (2) retaliation, pursuant to Title VII, due to her complaints of discrimination that resulted in disciplinary write-ups, changes in job duties, work assignments and projects, denial of overtime and promotions, demotion, and denial of reasonable accommodation, and (3) violation of the ADA and denial of medical leave. (Id.).

         On August 7, 2014, the EEOC issued right to sue letters on the First EEOC Charge and the Second EEOC Charge. ([3.3], [3.4]) (“Right to Sue Letters”)). In both letters, Plaintiff was advised that, with respect to her Title VII and ADA claims, “Your lawsuit must be filed WITHIN 90 DAYS of your receipt of this notice; or your right to sue based on this charge will be lost.” (Id. (emphasis in original)). With respect to Plaintiff's EPA claim, she was advised that such “suits must be filed in federal or state court within 2 years (3 years for willful violations) of the alleged EPA underpayment.” (Id.).

         B. Procedural History

         On September 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the State Court of Fulton County, Georgia, asserting claims under Title VII, the ADA, the EPA, the FMLA, and the FEPA. On October 13, 2016, GDOT removed this action to this Court. ([1]). On October 18, 2016, GDOT filed its Motion to Dismiss [3], arguing: (1) Plaintiff's Title VII claims are untimely; (2) her FMLA claims fail to state a claim; (3) her ADA claims are untimely and barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (4) Plaintiff failed to state a claim under the EPA and, even if she had, her claim is barred by the statute of limitations; and (5) Plaintiff's FEPA claim should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         On February 1, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued her thorough R&R. The Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiff's Title VII, EPA, and ADA claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitation, and she recommends the Court grant GDOT's Motion to Dismiss these claims. The Magistrate Judge recommends the Court grant GDOT's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's FEPA claims, because Plaintiff has not alleged that she exhausted her FEPA administrative remedies. As to Plaintiff's FMLA claim, the Magistrate Judge, noting that the longer three-year statute of limitations applies to claims of willful violations of the FMLA, recommends that the Court grant Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint, because her allegations suggest, but do not explicitly state, that GDOT's violations were willful. The Magistrate Judge found that, if the three-year limitations period applies, Plaintiff's FMLA claim is not barred by the statute of limitations.

         With respect to GDOT's argument that Eleventh Amendment immunity bars Plaintiff's FMLA claim, the Magistrate Judge found that GDOT's removal of this action to federal court waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity claim. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge recommends the Court dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims, except her FMLA claim. She recommends the Court allow Plaintiff to amend her Complaint with respect to claims based on FMLA leave after August 1, 2013.

         On February 15, 2017, GDOT filed its Objections. GDOT objects only to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation with respect to Eleventh Amendment immunity on Plaintiff's FMLA claim. GDOT argues that the Court should apply Anderson v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga., 822 F.Supp.2d 1342 (N.D.Ga. 2011) (“Anderson II”), and grant GDOT's Motion to Dismiss the ...


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