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Barone v. Judicial Branch

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 16, 2018

ANNE MARIE BARONE, Plaintiff,
v.
JUDICIAL BRANCH, STATE OF CONNECTICUT, GLORIA ALBERT, and LINDA COON Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Anne Marie Barone (“Plaintiff”) sued her employer, the Judicial Branch for the State of Connecticut (“Judicial Branch”) and two Judicial Branch employees who supervised Ms. Barone, Gloria Albert and Linda Coon. Ms. Barone alleges that Defendants discriminated against her in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Rehabilitation Act (“Rehab Act”), and violated her constitutional rights. Currently pending before the Court are Defendants' two motions to dismiss, ECF No. 16 and 25, and Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint, ECF Nos. 24.

         For the reasons stated below, the motion to amend, ECF No. 24, is GRANTED and the first motion to dismiss, ECF No. 16, is DENIED as moot. Defendants' second motion to dismiss, ECF No. 25, is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Ms. Barone, a Connecticut resident, alleges that she worked for Defendant Judicial Branch as a court monitor from April, 2000, until February 22, 2016.[1] See Second Amend. Compl. (“Am. Compl.”) ¶ 8, ECF No. 24-1. Defendants Albert and Coon both served as Ms. Barone's supervisors while she was employed by Judicial Branch. Id. ¶ 13.

         A. Factual Background

         Ms. Barone alleges that, during the course of her employment, she developed ulcerative colitis and was diagnosed with “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, ” a learning disability. Id. ¶ 9. She claims that, as a result of these conditions, Defendants perceived Ms. Barone to be disabled, and she sought reasonable accommodations beginning in 2013. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Defendant Albert denied Ms. Barone's request, and Ms. Barone filed a complaint in May 2014 with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), challenging the denial.

         One month after the filing of the CHRO complaint, Defendant Coon became Ms. Barone's new supervisor. Id. ¶ 11. Ms Barone alleges that Defendant Coon “harassed and intimated [sic] the plaintiff to the point of exhaustion, requiring the plaintiff to gout [sic] again on medical leave in 2014.” Id. Ms. Barone alleges that when she returned, she was again denied a request for an accommodation of her disabilities. Id.

         Ms. Barone alleges that Defendants Albert and Coon never believed that she was disabled, but instead considered her to be a “malingerer” and “developed animosity and malice toward” her. Id. ¶ 13. She claims that, as a result of this malice, they “engaged in an intentional campaign to harass, intimidate and ultimately discharge the plaintiff” from employment. Id. Defendants Albert and Coon, Ms. Barone alleges, then proceeded to discipline her for pretextual reasons, including for “using foul language” and “stealing time, ” even though she claims other employees who behaved in similar ways faced no discipline. Id. ¶ 14. They also allegedly gave Ms. Barone negative performance reviews beginning in 2014 and denied her a raise in 2015. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         On January 25, 2016, Ms. Barone allegedly filed a second CHRO complaint against the Judicial Branch, of which she claims both Defendants Albert and Coon were aware. Id. ¶ 19. Less than one month later, Defendant Albert notified Ms. Barone that her employment was terminated. Id. ¶ 20.

         Ms. Barone claims that, as a result of Defendants' actions, she “lost her employment, together with the wages and other tangible benefits of state service; she also suffered emotional stress and fear about her future employment prospects, together with the loss of those statutory and constitutional rights herein described.” Id. ¶ 21. This lawsuit followed.

         B. Procedural History

         Ms. Barone filed the initial Complaint in this lawsuit on April 18, 2017. See Compl., ECF No. 1. Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint two months later. See Defs. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 16.

         On July 24, 2017, Ms. Barone moved for permission to file an Amended Complaint. See Pl. Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 24. She argued that “amendment will simplify the litigation and narrow the litigation” in response to the Defendants' first motion to dismiss. Id. at 1. The Second Amendment Complaint, which Ms. Barone attached to the motion, would address “most, if not all, of the Defendants' claims . . . by specifying which claims pertain to which Defendants.” Id. at 2.

         The Second Amended Complaint alleges violations of “Title II” of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et. seq., “Section 504” of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. The complaint appears to allege violations of the ADA and Rehab Act against Judicial Branch. Additionally, it alleges Defendants Coons and Albert violated the ADA and Rehab Act, and are liable for violating Ms. Barone's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The amended complaint states that Defendants Albert and Coon are “sued in [their] individual capacit[ies] only, ” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6, and, for the purposes of the ADA claims and the Rehabilitation Act claims Defendants are sued in their official capacities. Id. ¶¶ 7-8.

         Defendants now move to dismiss, in part, the Second Amended Complaint. They state that they do not oppose the motion to amend the complaint. See Def. Mot. to Dismiss Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 15; Defs. Mem. in Support, ECF No. 25-1 (“The defendants do not object to this Court granting the amendment request but, as set forth in greater detail below, renew their motion to dismiss in part on grounds similar to those raised previously.”). Instead, they move to dismiss Plaintiff's ADA Title II claims against the Judicial Department and any official capacity defendant, arguing that Title I serves as the exclusive ADA remedy. Id.

         Defendants also move to dismiss the Rehabilitation Act claims against the official capacity defendants, arguing that the Judicial Department was the proper defendant. Id. Finally, Defendants move to dismiss claims alleged against Defendants Albert and Coon brought under § 1983 in their individual capacity. Defendants argue that “Plaintiff alleges no facts whatsoever in support of her First Amendment § 1983 claim, thus almost by definition it fails to state a claim and must be dismissed pursuant to F.R.C.P 12(b)(6).” Id. at 6. The § 1983 equal protection claims fail, they argue, because disability is not a suspect classification and claims “premised upon substantive rights provided by the ADA” are not “actionable under Section 1983.” Id. at 7 (quoting Eskenazi-McGibney v. Connetquot Cent. Sch. Dist., 84 F.Supp.3d 221, 235-36 (E.D.N.Y. 2015)).

         On September 27, 2017, Defendants filed a reply noting Ms. Barone's failure to respond to the second motion to dismiss. See Def. Rep. at 1, ECF No. 28. Defendants argued that “[t]he unopposed Motion to Dismiss may be granted pursuant to Local Rule 7(a)(1) . . . .” Id.

         Ms. Barone then moved to file an out of time brief on October 2, 2017. Pl. Mot. for Leave to File, ECF No. 29.[2] She does not contest the motion to dismiss the ADA claims, the claims as to Defendants Albert and Coon under the Rehabilitation Act, and the § 1983 equal protection claims. Pl. Opp. at 1, ECF No. 30.

         She does, however, argue that the motion should be denied with respect to her First Amendment claims. Id. at 2. She argues that she “pled detailed pattern [sic] of harassment, pre-textual discipline and ultimately dismissal, all inspired, at least in part, by the individually named defendants' animus against her for filing a CHRO complaint.” Id. She also argues she alleged a “pattern and practice of harassment and intimidation.” Id. Therefore, “[t]hese facts place the defendants on notice that they are facing a claim of retaliating against the plaintiff for seeking relief in a quasi-judicial forum in derogation of her First Amendment right to do so.” Id. at 3.

         The Court held oral argument on February 21, 2018. See Minute Entry, ECF No. 35. It also granted Defendants' request for supplemental briefing. Order, ECF No. 34. Defendants filed a supplemental brief on March 6, 2018. See Defs. Suppl. Br., ECF No. 36. In it, they argued for the first time that Ms. Barone had failed to allege speech on a matter of public concern and therefore failed to allege she engaged in speech protected under the First Amendment. Id. at 3-6. They also argued, again for the first time, that the individual Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 11.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. ...


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