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ARMSTRONG v. RENO

September 14, 2001

JEFFREY ARMSTRONG PLAINTIFF,
V.
JANET RENO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jeffrey Armstrong brought this action alleging that his former employer, the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") discriminated against him on the basis of his race and disability, created a hostile working environment, failed to provide reasonable accommodation for his disability, and retaliated against him for filing Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. ("Rehabilitation Act") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII").

Pending before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. Defendant argues the followings: first, that many of plaintiffs allegations are barred because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies; second, plaintiffs race and disability discrimination and retaliation claims fail because plaintiff has not proven that he suffered an adverse employment action; third, plaintiffs remaining discrimination claims fail because he can not overcome defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory rationale for defendant's actions; fourth, plaintiffs reasonable accommodation claim fails because he did in fact receive the requested accommodation once DEA was informed of the plaintiffs medical need; and fifth, plaintiffs hostile work environment claim fails because plaintiff was "hypersensitive" and cannot prove the existence of objectively hostile or abusive conditions.

Upon consideration of the defendant's motion, the opposition and reply thereto, as well as relevant statutory and case law, defendant's motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

I. Plaintiffs DEA Employment History

Plaintiff Jeffrey Armstrong, a 38-year-old African-American male, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1979 and remained active for eight years. He was honorably discharged in 1987 following a service-incurred injury to his knees that required surgical repair. Doctors have assessed his disability at a rating of 30% or more. Plaintiffs injury impairs his knees, back, and neck and affects his ability to walk and stand. Specifically, plaintiff experiences pain and numbness in his knees because of nerve damage, for which he takes muscle relaxants and pain killers. Because of his disability, plaintiff has had handicapped license tags on his car since 1989. Pl.'s Mem. of P & A in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter "Pl.'s Opp'n") at 2-3.

Plaintiff claims that his disability impacts his ability to do certain types of work. After his discharge from the Air Force, he had to give up a position as a file clerk at the Department of Energy because of the physical strain. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3.

In 1989, plaintiff joined the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of a special placement program. The parties dispute whether the special placement program was for disabled veterans, or generally for persons with disabilities. Compare Def.'s Mem. in Support of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter "Def.'s Br.") at 2 with Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. Plaintiff contends that when he was hired, he gave DEA Personnel a copy of his Veterans' Administration ("VA") disability rating sheet and filled out a form that listed the physical activities he could not perform. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. However, Defendant claims that the management at the Washington Division Office ("WDO") where plaintiff worked was unaware of his disability rating or physical impairments. Def.'s Br. at 2.

The parties agree that for several years, plaintiff performed his duties at levels consistently assessed as "excellent" and worked his way from a G-4 salaried position to a G-12 position as a Telecommunications Specialist in the Technical Operations Group at the WDO. Plaintiff claims that from the beginning of his time at DEA, he was given accommodations for his disability. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. Plaintiff claims that he was allowed to park in a parking spot that minimized walking. Id. Plaintiff claims that one of his initial supervisors, Administrative Officer ("AO") Juanita Matthews, had in place a lifting restriction for him. Id. In addition, plaintiff claims that he was allowed to take his lunch hour from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. so that he could use a particular gym for his medically-required exercises. Id. Until 1995, plaintiff claims that he had no problem parking in his desired spot or taking the late lunch. Id. Defendant contests these facts, claiming that plaintiff never requested or received a disability accommodation before 1995. Def.'s Br. at 2.

In 1991, plaintiff filed an EEO complaint against Assistant Special Agent in Charge ("ASAC") Ferris, alleging racial discrimination. While that complaint was settled, plaintiff alleges that his filing an EEO complaint was not well received at the WDO. Pl.'s Opp'n at 4 — 5.

In 1995, plaintiff was informed that he was being transferred from the Technical Operations Group to the Administrative Section under AO Alvin Jenkins. Plaintiff claims that this transfer was improper. He claims that when he asked why he was being transferred, Group Supervisor ("GS") Michael Burke told him that the front office did not like plaintiff because he was intimidating, "uppity, too cocky, and was lucky to be a GS-12." Pl.'s Opp'n at 5. Defendant contests this claim. Defendant explains that plaintiff was transferred because Special Agent in Charge ("SAC") Peter Gruden conducted an analysis and determined that the Administrative Section needed a full time Security Specialist to handle security matters that would accompany an upcoming office relocation. Def.'s Br. at 2-3. He consequently decided to reclassify one Telecommunications Specialist position to a Security Specialist, and chose plaintiff to fill that role. Id. at 2.

In September, 1995, plaintiff was transferred to the Administrative Section at WDO under the supervision of AO Jenkins. Plaintiff alleges that from the start AO Jenkins prevented him from doing his work by denying him access to government vehicles, instructing plaintiff not to leave the building, and refusing plaintiff adequate training for his new position. Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. Defendant, on the other hand, claims that plaintiff from the start became a problem for AO Jenkins by refusing to comply with orders. Def.'s Br. at 3. Defendant claims that plaintiff failed to meet his supervisor's instructions and needed counseling as a result. Id.

In December 1995, plaintiffs parking space became an issue. Plaintiff claims that in December 1995, SAC Gruden instructed the parking garage manager to make plaintiff move his car. Pl.'s Opp'n at 7. Plaintiff then met with SAC Gruden and informed him of his need for a handicapped parking space. Id. Defendant claims that SAC Gruden noticed a car parked improperly in the garage and questioned AO Jenkins about it. Def.'s Br. at 5. Defendant admits that SAC Gruden spoke with plaintiff about the parking space and requested medical documentation. Id. Plaintiff claims that he then showed SAC Gruden his handicapped parking permit in response to that request. Pl.'s Opp'n at 7.

AO Jenkins requested assistance in resolving the parking space dispute from the DEA Office of Personnel. Once again, the parties dispute what happened next. Plaintiff alleges that Sharon Taylor Foreman investigated plaintiffs parking space request in December of 1995. Pl.'s Opp'n at 8. Ms. Foreman informed plaintiff that any further accommodation requests should go through her. Id. Plaintiff claims that in early 1996, he provided Ms. Foreman with copies of his medical records, from both the VA and his private physicians. Id. Defendant, on the other hand, claims that SAC Gruden and AO Jenkins were given conflicting information from the Personnel Office with respect to plaintiff's disability. Def.'s Br. at 5. Defendant claims that Personnel initially responded that it had no information related to plaintiffs disability. Id. Then, on January 30, 1996, the head of Personnel, Retha Fulmore, advised AO Jenkins that plaintiff should be given a special parking spot to "accommodate his disability." Id.

Defendant does not dispute the fact that after the January 30, 1996, letter from the head of Personnel, it did not provide plaintiff with his accommodation. Id. Instead, defendant claims that it consulted with DEA's EEO officer, Marion Moss, as to the proper course of action. Id. Defendant claims that plaintiffs failure to provide medical documentation until September of 1996 prevented it from providing the parking space. Id.

Plaintiff, on the other hand, contests this version of events. Plaintiff claims that after receiving his medical documents, Ms. Foreman attempted to meet with AO Jenkins to discuss the matter from January through September 1996 but was rebuffed. Pl.'s Opp'n at 8. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Foreman both informed SAC Gruden that AO Jenkins would not meet with her, and also forwarded plaintiffs medical documents to both AO Jenkins and another supervisor, R.C. Gramble, in April of 1996. Id. Defendant contests this version of events, and characterizes plaintiffs discussions with Ms. Foreman as an attempt to "bypass the system" and blames Ms. Foreman for failing to provide WDO management with information related to plaintiff's disability. Def.'s Br. at 6 n. 8. Plaintiff alleges that he was unaware that he should discuss his request with anyone other than Ms. Foreman until fall of 1996, and when he was so informed, he did so promptly. Pl.'s Opp'n at 8.

Defendant claims that accommodation requests are processed through DEA's Medical Health Unit and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gary Schwartz. Def.'s Br. at 6. Plaintiff agrees that it was not until September of 1996 that he approached Dr. Schwartz. Dr. Schwartz did receive plaintiffs accommodation request for a parking space, ergonomic chair, and a late lunch hour, along with medical documents from the VA and plaintiffs personal physicians. Id. Upon review of plaintiffs documentation, Dr. Schwartz recommended that plaintiffs accommodation requests be granted. Id. Defendant admits that one of the forms reviewed by Dr. Schwartz was a Statement of Physical Ability for Light Duty Work which plaintiff had completed when he was hired by DEA 1989 which discusses plaintiffs physical limitations. Id.

Defendant claims that in September of 1996, after receiving a recommendation that plaintiff should receive the three accommodations he requested, SAC Gruden made arrangements to grant two of the requests, the parking space and the chair. Def.'s Br. at 7. It is unclear when plaintiff actually received those accommodations. Defendant claims that the late lunch request ...


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