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Kuehu v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii.

August 23, 2016

DONNA KUEHU, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., a foreign profit corporation; JOHN DOES 1-10; JANE DOES 1-10; DOE CORPORATIONS 1-10; DOE PARTNERSHIPS 1-10; DOE UNINCORPORATED ORGANIZATIONS 1-10; and DOE GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR PARTIAL DISMISSAL OF COMPLAINT

          Alan C. Kay Sr. United States District Judge

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendant United Airlines, Inc.’s Motion for Partial Dismissal of Complaint Filed December 22, 2015. ECF No. 7.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 22, 2015, Plaintiff Donna Kuehu (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against Defendant United Airlines, Inc. (“Defendant”) in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit, State of Hawaii. Compl., ECF No. 1-2. On May 4, 2016, Defendant removed the case to federal court based on the fact that the Complaint alleges claims arising under federal law and that there is diversity of citizenship between the parties. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges both federal and state law claims of disability discrimination and retaliation, as well as a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Compl. ¶¶ 107-22, 162-64.

         On May 11, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal of Complaint Filed December 22, 2015, along with a Memorandum in Support of Motion (“Motion”), seeking to dismiss certain claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (“ADAAA”) and Hawaii Revised Statute § 378-2 as time-barred; to dismiss Plaintiff’s IIED claim due to its being barred by the applicable statute of limitations and the exclusivity provision of Hawaii’s workers’ compensation law; and to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages as to her discrimination claim brought under the ADAAA, as well as her claims for both punitive and compensatory damages for her retaliation claim brought under the ADAAA. Motion at 2.

         Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion (“Opposition”) on August 1, 2016, ECF No. 21, and Defendant filed a Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion (“Reply”) on August 8, 2016, ECF No. 24.

         The Court held a hearing regarding Defendant’s Motion on August 22, 2016.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On August 28, 1989, Plaintiff accepted a position with Defendant as a Reservations Sales and Service Representative in its Honolulu call center, which was located in downtown Honolulu. Compl. ¶ 13. Around September 2000, Defendant relocated the call center to a warehouse building located at Honolulu International Airport. Id. ¶¶ 16, 18. The Complaint alleges that while working at the new building, Plaintiff was “exposed to chronic events of reported ‘rotten egg sewer gas odor’ and ‘plumbing and sewage problems’, noxious/toxic substances, gases and/or biological pathogens including bacteria, viruses and fungus microorganisms over an extended period of time.” Id. ¶ 19.

         In May 2001, Plaintiff became totally disabled as a result of a pre-existing condition of chronic lumbalgia (lower back pain). Id. ¶ 21; Opposition at 2. She therefore took a leave of absence from work from May 30, 2001 through June 11, 2001. Compl. ¶ 21; Opposition at 2.

         On August 22, 2005, Plaintiff was exposed to “uncontrolled harmful conditions” at the call center and was evacuated by the Hazardous Material Unit of the Honolulu Fire Department. Compl. ¶ 25. The next day, Plaintiff’s physician advised her that she was being exposed to hydrogen sulfide in the form of sewage backup, and certified sick leave for Plaintiff from August 22, 2005 to August 29, 2005. Id. ¶¶ 29-31. Plaintiff also filed a workers’ compensation claim in connection with the August 22 incident. Id. ¶ 31.

         On or around January 25, 2006, following an incident in Defendant’s building involving the release of a noxious/toxic substance, Plaintiff’s physician assessed her as medically unable to work. Id. ¶ 35-37. The next day, Defendant placed Plaintiff on extended illness status. Id. ¶ 38. Plaintiff also appears to have filed another workers’ compensation claim for the January 25 incident. Id. ¶ 38, 42.

         On October 2, 2009, after meeting with her medical providers, Plaintiff provided Defendant with a release to return to work and a request for a reasonable accommodation. Id. ¶ 66. On October 26, 2009, pursuant to a request by a physician in Defendant’s medical department, Plaintiff’s physician provided a further explanation of conditions and recommendations for Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 73. On October 30, 2009, Defendant’s physician completed an “Assessment of Functional Capabilities” for Plaintiff as part of a “post-accident/illness assessment of suitability for return to work.” Id. The physician assessed Plaintiff with “long-term functional limitations, ” and restricted her from working in the call center building or for longer than 20 hours per week. Id.

         Plaintiff contends that throughout October and into November 2009 she attempted to schedule a meeting with Defendant’s human resources manager, Denise Peterson, to discuss the appropriate process for Plaintiff’s reasonable accommodation request. Id. ¶¶ 67-72, 74-75, 78-80. This meeting was not held until November 16, 2009. Id. ¶¶ 80, 82. During the meeting, Peterson offered Plaintiff a return to work at the call center building, where she could work 30 hours per week with a paper mask. Id. ¶ 80. Plaintiff did not accept the position because it did not comport with the physicians’ recommendations. Id. ¶¶ 80-81.

         Meanwhile, while waiting to hear back on her request for a reasonable accommodation, Plaintiff had applied to an open job posting for a regular part-time position as a customer service representative in Kona, Hawaii. Id. ¶ 74. Following her November 16 reasonable accommodation meeting, Plaintiff also applied for positions in Chicago, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Id. ¶ 83.

         On December 9, 2009, Plaintiff was contacted regarding the position in Kona by a manager from Sourceright Solutions, a third-party contractor Defendant used to assist in its hiring processes. Id. ¶¶ 84-85. Plaintiff attended a job testing, group interview, and one-on-one interview for the position on December 17, 2009. Id. ¶ 88. She received a phone call on January 7, 2010 informing her that she had not been selected for the position in Kona, and learned that she received a “very poor assessment rating” and failed her group interview. Id. ¶¶ 92, 94. Plaintiff was told that she had passed the “written part” of the interview process, but that “her response to ‘teamwork’ [] was not acceptable.” Id. ¶ 95. On January 12, 2010, Plaintiff received a phone call from Peterson informing her that she had been terminated from her position at the company, effective January 8, 2010. Id. ¶ 99.

         On January 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (“HCRC”), alleging both discrimination based on her disability and retaliation by Defendant.[1] Id. ¶ 102. On September 26, 2015, Plaintiff received from the EEOC a right-to-sue letter dated September 23, 2015. Id. ¶ 105. She received a right-to-sue letter from the HCRC on December 17, 2015. Id. ¶ 106. Plaintiff thereafter filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit, State of Hawaii, on December 22, 2015.

         STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes the Court to dismiss a complaint that fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The Court may dismiss a complaint either because it lacks a cognizable legal theory or because it lacks sufficient factual allegations to support a cognizable legal theory. Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1242 (9th Cir. 2011).

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sateriale v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 697 F.3d 777, 783 (9th Cir. 2012). The Court may not dismiss a ‚Äúcomplaint containing allegations that, if proven, present a winning case . . . no matter how unlikely such winning outcome ...


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