GOUGH v. EASTERN MAINE DEVELOPMENT CORP. No. 01-CV-68-B-S.
172 F.Supp.2d 221 (2001)
Alberta P. GOUGH, Plaintiff, v. EASTERN MAINE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.
United States District Court, D. Maine.
November 26, 2001.
Clare Hudson Payne, Thad B. Zmistowski, Eaton, Peabody, Bradford & Veague, Bangor, ME, for Eastern Maine Development Corporation, David A Cole, defendant.
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS
SINGAL, District Judge.
Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to state and federal employment discrimination statutes, alleging that her former employer and supervisor discriminated against her on the basis of her depression and related impairments. Presently before the Court is the supervisor's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (Docket # 3). For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the Defendant's Motion.
The Court may dismiss a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) only if it appears that, even if all of the allegations in the complaint are true, a plaintiff cannot recover based on any viable legal theory. See, e.g., Gonzalez-Morales v. Hernandez-Arencibia,
Between 1990 and April 1999, Plaintiff Alberta Gough worked for Defendant Eastern Maine Development Corporation ("EMDC") as human resource director and office manager. From 1995 to 1999, Defendant David Cole, the acting president and, later, president of EMDC, supervised Gough.
In 1996, Gough disclosed to Cole that she suffered from depression and related impairments and requested that he reasonably accommodate her disability. She asked that he provide timely and direct feedback about her work so that she would be able to maintain a positive attitude and perform her work duties effectively. Initially, he provided the requested accommodation. In April 1998, however, Cole stopped providing the type of feedback Gough had requested. For several months, Cole did not respond to Gough's repeated requests that he reasonably accommodate
Gough filed this action against both Cole and EMDC on April 6, 2001. In Count I of the Complaint, Gough claims that both Defendants violated her rights under the Maine Human Rights Act, 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551 et seq. Counts II and III allege that EMDC violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12001 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., respectively.
On August 16, 2001, Defendant Cole moved to dismiss Count I, the only claim against him individually, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. He argues that the Maine Human Rights Act authorizes claims against a discriminating employer only and not against a supervisor in his individual capacity.
A. Definition of "Employer" in the MHRA
The Maine Human Rights Act ("MHRA") establishes a cause of action to remedy discrimination in various forms. 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551 et seq. Although codified in a single chapter of the Maine statutes, it contains provisions analogous to a variety of federal antidiscrimination statutes. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 12112 (Americans with Disabilities Act); 5 M.R.S.A. § 4572 (MHRA).
The MHRA makes it illegal for "any employer" to discriminate against an individual on the basis of a physical or mental disability. 5 M.R.S.A. § 4572(1)(A). Under the MHRA, an "employer" is
5 M.R.S.A. § 4553(4) (emphasis added). The issue presented by the instant motion is whether the phrase "any person acting in the interest of any employer" subjects the employer's agents to individual liability.
B. State Precedent
Because the Court's jurisdiction over Plaintiff's MHRA claim is supplemental, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367, it must look to the highest court of the state for the proper interpretation of state law. Doty v. Sewall,
As recently as last year, the Maine Law Court expressly declined to rule on whether an employee may hold a supervisor individually liable under the MHRA. Gordan v. Cummings,
C. Federal Precedent
Cases interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") provide relevant federal precedent. The ADA,
Every federal Court of Appeals other than the First Circuit has held that the agent clause in the federal statutes only creates respondeat superior liability in the employer and does not subject the employer's agents themselves to liability. Tomka, 66 F.3d at 1317 (2d Cir.1995) (Title VII); Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.,
The Court previously has used this body of federal caselaw to guide its interpretation of the MHRA. See Singer v. State of Maine,
D. New Evidence that the Law Court Would Rule Otherwise
Plaintiff implores the Court not to rely on Caldwell and Quiron, however. She argues that three changes in the legal landscape that have occurred since the Court decided those cases clearly demonstrate that the Law Court would reach a contrary conclusion if presented with the issue today. The Court must therefore consider whether those three changes, individually or in combination, convincingly demonstrate that the Law Court has changed course since the authorities the Court relied on in Caldwell and Quiron and would now hold that individual liability exists under the MHRA.
First, on April 19, 2000, the Maine Law Court issued an opinion holding that in contrast to the federal statutes, the MHRA does allow for individual liability. Gordan v. Cummings, No. CUM-99-254, 2000 WL 419716 (Me. Apr. 19, 2000), withdrawn,
Although the Law Court's April 19 opinion in Gordan directly addresses the question at issue here, on July 25, 2000, the Law Court withdrew the opinion and substituted a new one. The new opinion states that the issue of individual liability was, in fact, moot at the time of the April
Plaintiff exaggerates the certainty of the Law Court's position, however. The withdrawn opinion was a 3-2 decision, with a vigorous dissenting argument that there was no reason to distinguish the MHRA from federal precedent. Gordan, No. CUM-99-254 at ¶¶ 35-57 (Saufley, J., dissenting). More importantly, whatever its motivation, the Law Court deemed it prudent to withdraw the earlier opinion. This Court respects the Law Court's demonstration that it is not yet prepared to rule on this issue and will not second guess its decision by resurrecting the withdrawn opinion as precedent.
Second, roughly one year after Gordan, a bill was proposed in the Maine state legislature that would have stricken the language "any person acting in the interest of any employer, directly or indirectly" from the MHRA's definition of "employer." L.D. 1599, 120th Leg. (Me.2001). The comment accompanying that proposal stated that the amendment sought "to resolve [the uncertainty created by Gordan] by making it clear that employers are the proper parties to hold accountable for employment discrimination, and that a person other than the employer is not personally liable for discrimination." Id. The Maine House rejected this bill on June 8, 2001, and the Senate followed suit on June 11.
Plaintiff argues that if the amendment was intended to make clear that there is no individual liability under the MHRA, then rejection of that amendment demonstrates that the statute does authorize individual liability. Other explanations of the legislature's decision are equally plausible, however. For example, because the first Gordan opinion was withdrawn, and no Law Court precedent currently authorizes individual liability under the MHRA, a majority of legislators simply may have deemed revision unnecessary. Moreover, the dissenting justice in the Gordan cautioned that misconstruing the MHRA's "any person" clause would "eliminat[e] the statutory basis for agency liability under the Act." Gordan, No. CUM-99-254 at ¶ 51. In light of this admonition, many legislators may have been reluctant to excise the "any person" language for fear of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. In light of these and other competing explanations, the legislature's refusal to change the statute is inconclusive.
Lastly, Plaintiff argues that the Maine Law Court's opinion in DiCentes v. Michaud,
In sum, neither a withdrawn opinion of the Law Court, nor ambiguously motivated legislative inaction, nor an opinion decided on grounds independent of the issue presented here, convinces the Court that the Maine Law Court would hold that individual liability is available under the MHRA. Rather, it remains clear to this Court that it is appropriate to use federal precedent to interpret the MHRA. See, e.g., Bowen, 606 A.2d at 1053. The Court adheres to its previous assessment that individual liability is not available under the MHRA. See, e.g., Quiron, 897 F.Supp. at 21. Defendant Cole is not a proper defendant to this action.
E. Certification to the Law Court
Finally, the Court declines Plaintiff's invitation to certify the question to the Law Court. A federal court may certify an issue of Maine state law to the Law Court when that issue "may be determinative of the cause, and there are no clear controlling precedents in the decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court...." 4 M.R.S.A. § 57. The decision whether to certify lies within the sound discretion of the federal court. Fischer v. Bar Harbor Banking & Trust Co.,
Certification is not necessary here. Federal precedent answers the question presented, Martin, 1997 WL 50469, at *1, and state precedent clearly instructs the Court to follow federal precedent in interpreting the MHRA, see Bowen, 606 A.2d at 1053. Furthermore, based on the allegations in the Complaint, the Court is comfortable that Plaintiff will be able to pursue all her claims fully even if Cole is not a Defendant. The Complaint does not suggest that Cole was acting outside the scope of his employment, nor does it present any independent ground of liability for Defendant EMDC. Therefore, Defendant Cole's liability, even if authorized by the MHRA, would be wholly coextensive with Defendant EMDC's liability, and whether Cole is a proper Defendant or not is not determinative of Plaintiff's claim. Cf. Doe v. Ketterer, No. 00-CV-206-B-S, 2001 WL 40912, at *1 (D.Me. Jan.16, 2001) (declining to certify when the issue would not be determinative of a plaintiff's federal claims).
For the reasons discussed above, the Court GRANTS Defendant Cole's Motion to Dismiss.
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