Monday, October 4, 2010

D.C. Court Clarifies Pleading Requirements in Employment Cases

In Rouse v. John Berry, Civil Action No. 06-2088, Judge Richard W. Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Office of Personnel Management Director’s (“OPM Director”) and Long Term Care Partners’ (“LTC Partners”) motions to dismiss a complaint brought under § 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, arguing that the plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts that demonstrate that the administration of the plan was a subterfuge for discrimination. The plaintiff, who has paraplegia and uses a wheelchair, alleged that the defendants unlawfully discriminated against him because of his disability when they rejected his Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (“FLTCIP”) application due to his wheelchair use.

This case is significant for its interpretation of the heightened pleading standards of Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009) in the context of an employment discrimination case. Citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 534 (2002), Judge Roberts noted that in a fairly straightforward employment discrimination complaint, plaintiffs traditionally have not been subject to a heightened pleading standard. Importantly, he pointed out that Twombly explicitly disavowed any retreat from Swierkiewicz, and that Iqbal did not discuss, much less disavow it. Judge Roberts sided with the plaintiff and his counsel, Jim Bailey, of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, holding that “because Rouse has pled facts demonstrating that he has suffered an adverse employment event because of his disability, he has established a claim under § 501 even without establishing that the administration of the benefits plan is a subterfuge for discrimination.”