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Bugg-Barber v. Randstad US

May 20, 2003

JUANITA A. BUGG-BARBER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RANDSTAD US, L.P., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Juanita A. Bugg-Barber has sued her former employer, Randstad US, L.P. ("Randstad"), alleging that her discharge on January 2, 2001, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), and the Human Rights Act of the District of Columbia, D.C. CODE § 2-1402.11 ("DCHRA"). At the close of discovery, Randstad filed a motion for summary judgment, which is opposed by Ms. Bugg-Barber. After careful review of the parties' submissions, deposition testimony, and supporting evidence, the Court concludes that Randstad is entitled to summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND *fn1

Randstad, Ms. Bugg-Barber's employer from July 2000 to January 2001, provides temporary staff to various companies, such as the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation ("PBGC"). The PBGC is a federal agency that manages pension fund assets of bankrupt and near-bankrupt companies to ensure employee pension benefits. Ms. Bugg-Barber worked as a Customer Service Representative ("CSR") at the PBGC's call center in Washington, D.C., answering calls and providing information on benefit inquiries from covered employees. CSRs work in small cubicles surrounded by fellow CSRs who are engaged in telephone conversations with outsiders. Ms. Bugg-Barber's employment was subject to a Randstad Employee Handbook, which required employees to "control voice level and avoid arguing with co-workers and associates" and to maintain "[c]ourtesy and professionalism" at all times. Randstad St. ¶ 11. Randstad reserved the right to impose "immediate dismissal" for "misconduct or major offenses." Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.

Ms. Bugg-Barber is a Type 1 Insulin Dependent Diabetic, whose pancreas does not produce insulin. She is also considered a "brittle" diabetic, one whose condition is more erratic and difficult to control. She must monitor her blood sugar levels at least four times a day, administer injections of insulin, and respond to variations in her blood sugar levels with glucose tablets, food, orange juice and rest. Her doctor testified in deposition that it requires "a substantial effort to attempt to control the blood sugar" in patients like Ms. Bugg-Barber who, "despite their best effort,... are unable to control" their sugar level fluctuations. Pinzone Dep. at 218.

As a result of her diabetes, high levels of sugar in Ms. Bugg-Barber's blood, or hyperglycemia, can produce blurred vision, serious dehydration, irritability, mood swings, and impaired thinking. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can produce anxiety, difficulty in focusing, difficulty in concentrating, acute hunger, difficulty standing, irritability and mood swings. See Pinzone Dep. at 223-228. The exact nature of the impact of these conditions on Ms. Bugg-Barber's daily life is described in various ways.*fn2 Ms. Bugg-Barber asserts that she suffers from these symptoms regularly, sometimes on a daily basis. Prior to filing suit, she submitted a sworn affidavit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") stating that she experiences "severe problems" when she "do[es] not take [her] insulin regularly." Pl. Dep. at 71 (quoting Pl. Aff.). Dr. Joseph Pinzone, her treating physician and expert witness, testified that the debilitating effects of her diabetes are "intermittent" and "[o]n an average day, she, like others with a similar problem, are [ sic ] able to generally function." Pinzone Dep. at 230.

Throughout her employment with Randstad, Ms. Bugg-Barber reported to Valerie Palmer and was directly supervised by Carolyn Wheeler. Ms. Palmer knew that Ms. Bugg-Barber had diabetes, that she had gone to the PBGC nurse on one occasion to check her blood sugar, that she was contemplating getting an insulin pump, and that a "sick note" from September 2000 mentioned diabetes. Ms. Wheeler had at least one conversation with Ms. Bugg-Barber in which Ms. Wheeler learned that Ms. Bugg-Barber was considering insulin pump therapy. However, Ms. Wheeler recalled no conversations about how Ms. Bugg-Barber's diabetes affected her. Ms. Bugg-Barber testified that she once told her supervisors where they could find her glucose tablets and that they should give her two or three if she did not appear well. She also recalled describing things that had happened to her in previous jobs, including instances where she became disoriented or irritable, and that she sometimes became confrontational. Ms. Bugg- Barber asserts that she once provided a document concerning hyper- and hypoglycemia symptoms to her supervisors.

The immediate events leading to Ms. Bugg-Barber's discharge are not materially in dispute. Ms. Bugg-Barber has admitted most of the facts contained in the Randstad Statement. Those matters over which there are disputes are noted but, as discussed below, do not affect the legal conclusions.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. on December 29, 2000, Carolyn Wheeler observed Ms. Bugg-Barber standing next to the desk of a new trainee, Chrishelle Bertrand. Ms. Wheeler approached Ms. Bugg-Barber and, as she routinely does to keep the call center operating efficiently, asked, "what are you working on[?]" Randstad St. ¶ 17 (quoting Wheeler Dep. at 53). Ms. Bugg-Barber responded that she was "working on a record." Id. (quoting Wheeler Dep. at 53). Ms. Wheeler was skeptical about this response because Ms. Bugg-Barber was standing next to the cubical of a new, inexperienced employee who Ms. Wheeler believed could not have been assisting Ms. Bugg-Barber with a record. Ms. Wheeler instructed Ms. Bugg- Barber that she needed to return to her desk and get on the telephone because they had "calls in queue." Id. ¶ 19 (quoting Wheeler Dep. at 58).

In response to Ms. Wheeler's inquiry and request, Ms. Bugg-Barber became confrontational and disruptive.*fn3 Ms. Bugg-Barber repeatedly told Ms. Wheeler that Ms. Wheeler was "bothering her" and demanded that Ms. Wheeler "leave her alone." Id. ¶ 21 (quoting Wheeler Dep. at 60-61). Ms. Bugg-Barber stepped back to her own work cubicle, remained standing, and told Ms. Wheeler "to leave her alone because her blood sugar was up." Bugg-Barber St. ¶ 21 (quoting Wheeler Dep. at 61). Ms. Wheeler asked Ms. Bugg-Barber to speak with her in private, but Ms. Bugg-Barber did not comply and only continued to mutter that Ms. Wheeler should stop "bothering" her. Randstad St. ¶¶ 23-24 (quoting Wheeler Dep. at 60); see Bugg-Barber St. ¶¶ 23-24.

Supervisor Palmer and Assistant Supervisor Brian Johnson heard something of this exchange and came over to see what was happening.*fn4 Both of them observed Ms. Bugg-Barber pointing her finger in Ms. Wheeler's face and threatening to show Ms. Wheeler a "side of me that you don't want to see." Randstad St. ¶ 27 (quoting Palmer Dep. at 35-36). Mr. Johnson's written memorandum reported that Ms. Bugg-Barber was "yelling at the top of her voice" for Ms. Wheeler to "get out of my face" and also stated that she was "sick and tired of the supervisors." Id. ¶ 28 (quoting Blessing Dep. Ex. A). Ms. Palmer asked Ms. Wheeler to leave Ms. Bugg-Barber's desk, which she did.

Ms. Palmer then asked Ms. Bugg-Barber to see her before Ms. Bugg-Barber left for the day. Ms. Bugg-Barber responded by telling Ms. Palmer to leave her alone. When Ms. Palmer repeated her direction to see her before she left for the day, Ms. Bugg-Barber responded, "whatever." Randstad St. ¶ 31 (quoting Palmer Dep. at 37). Ms. Bugg-Barber cannot remember the details of this encounter and does not deny that she told Ms. Palmer to leave her alone, although she also testified in deposition that she remembers telling Ms. Palmer that it was not a good time due to her condition. See Bugg-Barber St. ¶ 31; Randstad St. ¶ 33. Ms. Bugg-Barber left without seeing Ms. Palmer at the end of the day. When Ms. Bugg-Barber next reported to work on January 2, 2001, she did not discuss or explain her conduct from the preceding Friday with either Mses. Wheeler or Palmer.

On Tuesday, January 2, 2001, Ms. Palmer reported to Contract Manager Gwynne Anne Hadidian, who was filling in for Mary Beth Blessing, the Contract Manager on the PBGC contract, about the events that had taken place the preceding Friday. Ms. Palmer told Ms. Hadidian that Ms. Bugg-Barber had become rude, hostile, insubordinate and threatening toward Ms. Wheeler and that, when Ms. Palmer intervened, Ms. Bugg-Barber had treated her in the same manner. Ms. Palmer also informed Ms. Hadidian that Ms. Bugg-Barber had refused and failed to discuss the events in Ms. Palmer's office on December 29, 2000, despite two instructions to meet with her before she left for the day. Ms. Hadidian then talked with Ms. Blessing by telephone and they decided to terminate Ms. Bugg-Barber for misconduct. This discipline was admittedly consistent with a prior termination in the summer of 2002.

Ms. Hadidian asked Ms. Palmer to send Ms. Bugg-Barber to the Randstad Office away from the PBGC to be informed of her termination. When Ms. Bugg-Barber arrived, Ms. Hadidian told Ms. Bugg-Barber that she was being terminated for misconduct and showed her the Handbook provisions that applied.*fn5 Ms. Bugg-Barber became agitated and told Ms. Hadidian that Randstad would have to physically remove her from the call center. Ms. Hadidian told Ms. Bugg-Barber to remain in her office ...


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