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Hobson v. Shanahan

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 11, 2019

PATRICK M. SHANAHAN Acting Secretary, Department of Defense[1]

          Honorable William L. Campbell, Jr., District Judge.



         By Order entered December 18, 2017 (Docket Entry No. 8), this pro se action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for pretrial proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(a)(and (B), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Court.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 46), to which Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition. See Docket Entry Nos. 48-50, 52, and 54. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned respectfully recommends that the motion be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Faye Rennell Hobson (“Plaintiff”) is a resident of Clarksville, Tennessee and a former employee of the United States Department of Defense Education Activity (“DoDEA”), an agency within the Department of Defense (“DoD”). Plaintiff began working as a teacher with the DoDEA in 2002, and held several different teaching jobs within the DoDEA over the course of the next decade and a half. Some of the jobs were within the United States at the Fort Campbell Military Installation (“Fort Campbell”) and some were overseas in Germany and Guam, and, most recently, in South Korea. Although Plaintiff was employed overseas for several years, her husband is a veteran who retired from Fort Campbell and Plaintiff's desire was for employment in the Fort Campbell area. Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, Plaintiff was reassigned from South Korea to a high school teaching position at the Fort Knox, Kentucky Army Base (“Ft. Knox”), where she began teaching in August 2016.

         Plaintiff's stay at Ft. Knox was short lived, however, and she resigned from her employment, effective October 14, 2016.[2] Believing that she had suffered from discriminatory and retaliatory treatment, Plaintiff filed two administrative complaints of employment discrimination with the DoDEA's Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Office (“DMEO”). In her first complaint, No. DE-FY16-144/2017-CONF-008 (“Administrative Complaint #144"), filed on October 21, 2016, she complained that she was subjected to discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities (injured right hand, osteoarthritis, and anxiety disorder), race (African-American), and retaliation for prior EEO activity. Specifically, she alleged that: (1) she was wrongfully denied her preferred requested reasonable accommodation of a reassignment to a teaching position at the Ft. Campbell Middle School; (2) she was wrongfully denied 58 out of 88 graduate credits from her Masters pay grade, which decreased her salary; and, (3) her pay was wrongfully reduced beginning on September 17, 2016, because of debt tickets that had been lodged against her by the DoD.[3]

         In her second complaint, No. DE-FY17-003/2017-CONF-014 (“Administrative Complaint #003"), filed on November 15, 2016, she reasserted the bulk of her prior complaint, added an allegation that she had been constructively discharged from the Ft. Knox teaching position, and linked discrimination on account of her disability, race, and prior EEO activity to the alleged constructive discharge.[4]

         By separate letters dated January 4, 2017, [5] Plaintiff was notified that her administrative complaints were accepted but would be transferred to the Washington Headquarters Services Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Programs (“WHS”) for further processing because of conflicts of interest within the DMEO. Plaintiff was specifically advised that Administrative Complaint #003 was accepted separately from Administrative Complaint #114 as a “mixed case” complaint because Administrative Complaint #003 alleged both a claim of constructive discharge, which is an employment action appealable to the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”), and a claim of unlawful employment discrimination related to the constructive discharge.[6]

         Both administrative complaints then wound their way through the administrative process. A Report of Investigation (“ROI”) on Administrative Complaint #114 was provided to Plaintiff on June 20, 2017, and the DoDEA issued a Final Agency Decision (“FAD”) that Plaintiff was not unlawfully discriminated against based on her disabilities or race, or in reprisal for prior EEO activity.[7] Plaintiff asserts that she received the FAD on October 27, 2017.

         With respect to Administrative Complaint #003, Plaintiff elected to initiate an appeal to the MSPB on April 7, 2017, [8] since she had not received a FAD within 120 days of filing of the administrative complaint, [9] as was her right in a mixed case complaint under 29 C.F.R. § 1614.302(d)(1)(i) and 5 C.F.R. § 1201.154(b)(2). On August 7, 2017, the appeal was dismissed by the MSPB administrative law judge (“ALJ”) for lack of jurisdiction upon an initial decision that Plaintiff's resignation was not involuntary and that the MSPB had no jurisdiction over the allegations of discrimination and retaliation related to the resignation.[10] The ALJ's initial decision became final on September 11, 2017, after Plaintiff did not file a petition with the MSPB for review of the initial decision .[11]

         During the pendency of the MSPB appeal, Plaintiff's allegations of unlawful discrimination and retaliation were nonetheless investigated by the DoDEA, but a FAD for Administrative Complaint #003 was not received by Plaintiff until November 25, 2017.[12] In the FAD, the DoDEA found that Plaintiff was not subjected to a constructive discharge because of her disability or race, or in retaliation for prior EEO activity.[13]

         Having failed to obtain administrative relief, Plaintiff then filed this pro se lawsuit against the Secretary of the United States Department of Defense (“Defendant”), on November 27, 2017.[14]See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1). Plaintiff brings claims of unlawful employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (“ADA”). Id. at 1 and 4-5. Although Plaintiff also states that she brings her lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) and that jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for state laws claim, id. at 1 and 2, she does not specifically set out counts for relief under Section 1981 or state law, as she does for her claims under Title VII and the ADA. As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, an award of back pay, and an order that Defendant re-employ her. Id. at 5.

         In her complaint, Plaintiff contends that she is pursuing the issues that were part of Administrative Complaint #144, which she sets out as:

whether plaintiff was subject to discrimination based on her disabilities (physical: injured right hand and osteoarthritis, hypertension, palpitations, chronic renal insufficiency, reflux diseases, iron deficiency anemia, hyperlipidemia, impaired fasting glucose, and Anxiety ...

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