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Keigney-Rodriguez v. President and Fellows of Harvard College

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 7, 2017

PATRICIA KEIGNEY-RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE d/b/a HARVARD UNIVERSITY HEALTH SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Patricia Keigney-Rodriguez initiated this action against the President and Fellows of Harvard College, doing business as Harvard University Health and Human Services, alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (“ADA”). [ECF No. 1] (“Compl.”).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following allegations, as set forth in the complaint, are taken as true for the purposes of the motion to dismiss. U.S. ex rel. Hutcheson v. Blackstone Med., Inc., 647 F.3d 377, 383 (1st Cir. 2011).

         Plaintiff was employed as an allergy nurse at Harvard University Health Services (“HUHS”) from August 24, 2009 to March 15, 2016. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 38. In December 2012, Plaintiff advised HUHS that she needed to take time off from work due to her Adult Deficit Disorder, which had worsened around that time and affected her ability to concentrate at home and work due to debilitating panic attacks. Id. ¶¶ 10-11, 13-14. HUHS approved Plaintiff's request, and Plaintiff took three leaves of absence in total. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. After returning from approved leave, Plaintiff claims that her supervisors targeted her with multiple disciplinary actions, that her performance evaluation was “negatively impacted, ” and that her supervisors issued an unjust verbal warning against her. Id. ¶¶ 19-20, 23. Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that her supervisors crafted new practices and procedures that changed her employment conditions to make satisfactory completion of duties virtually impossible. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. After she completed the HUHS reasonable accommodation form, Plaintiff says she was treated differently because she availed herself of accommodations made available to disabled individuals. Id. ¶¶ 24, 30.

         Plaintiff alleges that she attempted to use HUHS's dispute resolution process during her employment at HUHS, but that it seemed designed to only protect HUHS. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that she met with HUHS's Omnibus person, Lydia Cummings, on numerous occasions to discuss the ongoing issues with her supervisors. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. Ms. Cummings shared a book on workplace bullying with Plaintiff, and, according to Plaintiff, Ms. Cummings stated, “This is what is happening to you.” Id. ¶¶ 36-37.

         Plaintiff eventually signed a separation agreement[1] on February 25, 2016, and her employment with HUHS ended on March 15, 2016. Id. ¶ 38; [ECF No. 11 Ex. A ¶ 5] (“S.A.”). The separation agreement, in relevant part, afforded Plaintiff “special benefits, ” such as a lump sum payment, outplacement services, and a letter of reference, and encouraged Plaintiff to seek the advice of an attorney before signing. S.A. ¶¶ 4, 6-7. In “exchange for the special benefits” Plaintiff “discharge[d] Harvard . . . from any and all claims . . . arising under . . . the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.” Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff contends that she had no options available when Defendant presented the separation agreement to her and that the separation agreement attempted to circumvent Defendant's obligation under the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation. Compl. ¶¶ 39-41. Plaintiff does not allege that she did not receive the benefits of the agreement but instead contends that HUHS has never sufficiently addressed her ADA requests for accommodation and relief from retaliation. Id. ¶ 42.

         Plaintiff claims she has exhausted the administrative remedies available to her. Id. ¶ 50. On March 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action. Id.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, analyze those facts in the light most hospitable to the plaintiff's theory, and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. Hutcheson, 647 F.3d at 383. Although detailed factual allegations are not required, a pleading must set forth “more than labels and conclusions.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To avoid dismissal, a complaint must set forth “factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.” Gagliardi v. Sullivan, 513 F.3d 301, 305 (1st Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Further, the facts alleged, when taken together, must be sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “[T]he court must determine whether the . . . factual content allows a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that the Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because (1) Plaintiff released her claims against Defendant, including all claims pled in the Complaint, when she executed the separation agreement and release, and (2) Plaintiff ratified the separation agreement and release by accepting the benefits provided thereunder. [ECF No. 11]. Plaintiff contends that the separation agreement should be excluded from the Rule 12(b)(6) review because it is not central or integral to Plaintiff's claims of ADA violations and retaliation. [ECF No. 13]. The key question is whether this Court can properly consider the separation agreement and release in its determination on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and, if so, whether Plaintiff's claims are barred by the separation agreement.

         A. Consideration of the Separation Agreement and Release

         In general, “[i]f, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) . . . matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The courts, however, “have made narrow exceptions for documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties; for official public records; for documents central to plaintiffs' claim; or for documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint.” Hogan v. E. Enters./Bos. Gas, 165 F.Supp.2d 55, 58 (D. Mass. 2001); see also Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, 772 F.3d 63, 74 (1st Cir. 2014). “[W]hen ‘a complaint's factual allegations are expressly linked to-and admittedly dependent upon-a document (the authenticity of which is not challenged), ' then the court can review it upon a motion to dismiss.” Alt. Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 34 (1st Cir. 2001) (quoting Beddall v. State St. Bank & Trust Co., 137 F.3d 12, 17 (1st Cir. 1998)). “Although ‘there is no requirement that the pleader attach a copy of the writing on which his action or defense is based[, ] . . . when plaintiff fails to ...


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