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Stith v. New Jersey Turnpike Authority

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 21, 2017

BRENDA STITH, Plaintiff,

          OPINION [ECF NO.1, 3]


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon the filing of a Complaint and supporting documentation by Plaintiff Brenda Stith (“Plaintiff”) against the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (“Defendant”). In so bringing this action, Plaintiff has sought - and been granted - leave to proceed without prepayment of fees. App. [ECF No. 1-2.]; Order [ECF No. 2]. Having granted Plaintiff in forma pauperis status, the Court now screens the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a part-time toll collector for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. Ex. at 1 [ECF No. 1-1] (“Advisory Notice”). Toward the end of 2008, Plaintiff alleges that she felt she might be suffering from a medical issue. Compl. 3 [ECF No. 3].[1]In January 2009, after undergoing a polysomnography, Plaintiff was diagnosed with “[m]ild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.” Ex. at 9-12 [ECF No. 1-1] (“Polysomnography Report”). At that time, Plaintiff alerted Defendant's medical division of her medical issue. Compl. 3.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that she was suspended on multiple occasions for excessive lateness which she attributes to her sleep apnea. Advisory Notice at 1. Specifically, Plaintiff has provided the Court with an Advisory Notice of Disciplinary Action that documents four suspensions or instances of disciplinary conduct for “excessive lateness.” Id.

         According to that report, Plaintiff was suspended for three days in August 2012, five days in April 2013, ten days in April 2015, and thirty days in September 2015. Id. After her first suspension in August 2012, Plaintiff alleges that she approached Defendant about accessing her records which might explain this lateness, but that it was unhelpful. Ex. at 3 [ECF No. 1-1] (“E.E.O.C. Ltr.”). During the course of several subsequent suspensions, Defendant and union representatives were again unhelpful in allowing Plaintiff to seek accommodation. Id.

         In her initial Complaint, and in addition to providing her medical records to Defendant, Plaintiff notes that she has twice requested accommodation in writing from Defendant: on May 16, 2016 and May 26, 2016. Ltr. at 2 [ECF No. 1]. Plaintiff alleges that she received no response, or that the response was deficient. Id.; see also Ex. at 15 [ECF No. 1-1] (“Def.'s May 20, 2016 Ltr.”) (Defendant's response to May 16, 2016 Letter: “Please be advised that I am not aware of any disability as you allege. Kindly contact the New Jersey Turnpike Authority Medical Section to schedule an appointment to discuss this matter.”). After Plaintiff re-supplied her medical diagnostic information in her May 26, 2016, Ex. at 16 [ECF No. 1-1] (“Pl.'s May 26, 2016 Ltr.”), Plaintiff does not allege that she received a response. However, since filing her Complaint, Plaintiff has informed the Court that she has been told by Defendant that she would not be accommodated. Ltr. [ECF No. 4] (“Pl.'s Feb. 22, 2017 Ltr.”).

         Despite her claim that she has received no response or an unsatisfactory response from Defendant throughout her pursuit of accommodation, other portions of Plaintiff's filings - specifically her letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - suggest that she was earlier offered the accommodation that Defendant “would grant [Plaintiff the ability] to work out of interchange 1 at the end of the New Jersey Turnpike leading to the Delaware memorial bridge[.]” E.E.O.C. Ltr. at 3. However, that accommodation involved Plaintiff losing her seniority at her original station. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that at least one other employees was permitted to arrive late without consequence. Id.

         Subsequently, Plaintiff brought claims of age and disability discrimination before the E.E.O.C. On June 30, 2016, Plaintiff received a letter from the E.E.O.C. indicating it had reviewed her charge and was unable to conclude that “the information establishes a violation of federal law on the part of [Defendant].” Ex. at 17 [ECF NO. 1-1] (“E.E.O.C. Determination”). Plaintiff sought reconsideration of this determination, and was ultimately denied. Ex. at 21 [ECF No. 1-1] (“E.E.O.C. Reconsideration”). Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant “lied with respect to [its] response [to the E.E.O.C.] and stated that [it was] never made aware of [her] disability.” Compl. 3.

         Plaintiff also claims that since she has pursued these claims, and twice visited Defendant's place of business “in an attempt to bring this situation to a resolution, ” she was rebuffed and told she needed “to be seen by the head doctor in the medical division.” Id. 3. Plaintiff claims she met with the “head doctor” on August 31, 2016, and was told that she needed to be seen again by her sleep apnea specialist. Ultimately, Plaintiff claims that she is “not asking for monetary compensation[, ]” but is “simply requesting written accommodation acknowledging my disability so that unnecessary disciplinary actions, unfair suspensions and threats of termination will no longer be an issue.” Compl. 4.


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must preliminarily screen in forma pauperis filings, and must dismiss any filing that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint contain:

(1) [A] short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs ...

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