Friday, May 1–Federal Judge Dismisses Elements Of WCDC Lawsuit

BERLIN – A federal judge last month made an informal ruling on some aspects of the lawsuit filed by a former Worcester County Developmental Center (WCDC) employee against the agency in February, agreeing to grant to defendant’s motion to dismiss the case in part and deny the motion in part.

Former WCDC employee Jometta Johnson, through her attorney, in February filed suit against the agency and two of her supervisors alleging race discrimination, retaliation, assault and battery and other charges including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations. According to the complaint, Johnson was fired last September after an alleged final act of discrimination and retaliation b her supervisors.

The complaint filed in February lists as defendants the WCDC; Johnson’s former supervisor Sally Borzager, who was allegedly at the forefront of the problem; and human resources manager Nicole Dobelstein. Johnson is seeking an undisclosed amount in compensatory and punitive awards as well as injunctive relief.

In March, attorneys for the defendants filed a formal answer to Johnson’s complaint seeking a motion for summary judgment, or in the alternative, a complete dismissal of the case. The formal response, submitted on behalf of the defendants by Baltimore attorneys Edward Ranier and Eric Steiner, addresses each count listed in the complaint and cites reasons why the case should be dismissed.

Last month, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz issued a memo to counsel on both sides outlining his reason for granting the defense’s motion to dismiss in some aspects of the case and denying the motion to dismiss in certain other aspects. In one count of the complaint, Johnson alleges a charge of intrusion upon seclusion, a legal term that essentially alleges her supervisors violated her privacy by contacting her doctor to clarify his note concerning the type of footwear she should be allowed to wear at work because of a chronic foot condition. The formal answer does not deny Johnson’s supervisors contacted her doctor without her knowledge or permission to clarify the meaning of the note regarding footwear, but seeks to dismiss the charge because it asserts the defendants as employers had the right to contact the doctor.

In his informal letter to both sides filed last month, Motz agreed the WCDC and its staffers had the right to contact Johnson’s doctor about his ambiguous note and effectively granted to motion to dismiss that aspect of the case.

“In my judgment, an employer’s contact with an employee’s physician for the limited purpose of clarifying an ambiguous note submitted to the employer by the physician is not so egregious as to be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” the letter reads.

In yet another aspect of the case ruled on informally by the judge last week, Johnson’s attorneys in the complaint allege the actions of the WCDC and the staffers named in the suit violated Johnson’s rights under the ADA. According to the suit, Johnson claimed the defendants discriminated against her in violation of the ADA because of her chronic foot problem. In their motion to dismiss the case, defense attorneys contend the ADA violation aspect of the case is not valid because Johnson did not exhaust all other available remedies before bringing suit. In his memo last week, the judge agreed Johnson did not follow the usual procedure for an ADA violation claim, but did not dismiss that aspect of the case.

“As contended by defendants, plaintiff may not have exhausted her administrative remedies as to the claim under the Americans with Disabilities act asserted in Count II,” the letter reads. “However, I will deny the motion as to that count, without prejudice to the defendants.”

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