United States District Court for the District of Columbia
May 13, 2004.
LINDA PRICE, Plaintiff
WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBORAH ROBINSON, Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff, in this action against her former employer, Defendant
Washington Hospital Center, alleges unlawful termination in violation of
the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA" or "Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.
(Count I) and the District of Columbia Family Medical Leave Act
("DCFMLA"), D.C. Code §§ 32-501 et seq. (Count II), and unlawful
discrimination based on disability in violation of the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code §§ 2-1402.11 et seq. (Count
III). Pending for determination by the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge is Washington Hospital Center's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Docket No. 19) and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment (Docket No. 20). Upon consideration of the motions, the
memoranda in support thereof and in opposition thereto and the entire
record herein, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in
part, and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.
Plaintiff Linda Price was employed by Defendant Washington Hospital
Center from August, 1998 to May, 2000, as an Administrative Coordinator in the
Materials and Biomedical Technology Management Department, and from May,
2000 to March, 2002, as an Administrative Coordinator in the Biomedical
Engineering Department ("the Department"). Complaint for Compensatory and
Punitive Damages ("Complaint") ¶¶ 2, 6. Plaintiff suffers from
"hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, anemia, diabetic eye
disease, and end-stage renal disease[,]" and as a result is "on
peritoneal dialysis every six hours, four times per day" and "several
prescription medications[.]" Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff asserts that "[d]uring
the course of her employment with [Washington Hospital Center], Plaintiff
occasionally had doctor's appointments or other medial appointments[,]"
but that she "routinely scheduled her medical appointments in the early
morning or else at the end of the day to minimize any disruption to her
work schedule" and that she would often work late or through her lunch
period to compensate. Id. ¶ 8.
Beginning in May, 2000, Caroline Campbell, the Director of the
Department, became Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Id. ¶ 9. On June
29, 2001, Plaintiff was treated in an emergency room after she "became
very sick, with chest pains, nausea, swollen legs, and blood pressure of
210/160." Id. ¶ 11. During Plaintiff's July, 2001 performance review,
Ms. Campbell informed her "that the medical appointments were causing
hardship to the office." Id. ¶ 10. In August, 2001, Plaintiff informed
Ms. Campbell of her hypertension and that her doctor wanted her to have
weekly appointments to have her blood pressure checked. Id. ¶ 12.
Plaintiff asserts that "Ms. Campbell disapproved of these weekly
appointments, telling Plaintiff that Plaintiff did not `need to see the
doctor every week' because a lab technician at [Washington Hospital
Center] could check Plaintiff's blood pressure for her." Id. Plaintiff
claims that she "made every reasonable effort to schedule her medical treatment and medical
supervision in a manner that did not unduly disrupt the operations of the
department[,]" and that she was "forced to cancel and reschedule numerous
medical appointments because of work." Id.
In December, 2001, Plaintiff went to the emergency room after
"experiencing chest pain, leg pain, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness" and
was hospitalized for uncontrolled hypertension and renal failure. Id. ¶
14. Plaintiff asserts that she informed Ms. Campbell of "her health
condition and that she would likely need to go on dialysis." Id. ¶ 15.
In January, 2002, Ms. Campbell informed the Department at a staff meeting
that "Plaintiff had hypertension and renal problems that her kidneys
were `shutting down' and that Plaintiff would be on sick leave from
work." Id. ¶ 16. On January 5, 2002, Plaintiff was released from the
hospital and put on bed rest. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff's doctor informed her
that she would probably be ready to return to work on January 22, 2002.
On January 22, 2002, Plaintiff, reported to work and appeared at the
Defendant's Occupational Health Office ("OHO") for a medical
examination. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff was informed that she was ineligible to
return to work because her blood pressure was too high. Id. On January
29, 2002, Plaintiff's doctor, Dr. Mathur, informed her that she could not
return to work until February 6, 2002. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff contends that
she faxed Dr. Mathur's report to the OHO and remained on bed rest. Id. On
February 6, 2002, Ms. Campbell informed Plaintiff "over the phone that
her position was being eliminated and that Plaintiff was terminated
effective March 8, 2002." Id. ¶ 21.
In Count I of her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant
violated her rights under the FMLA by terminating her employment "while
[she] was out on approved medical leave under the [FMLA]." Id. ¶¶ 30-31. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant violated her rights under DCFMLA by terminating her employment
"while [she] was out on approved medical leaved under [DCFMLA]." Id. ¶¶
34-36. In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant intentionally
discriminated on the basis of disability" in violation of the DCHRA. Id.
II. CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
Defendant moves for summary judgment with respect to all of Plaintiff's
claims. Plaintiff cross-moves for summary judgment with respect to the
issue that she "has made out a prima facie case that defendant violated
the federal and DC FMLA." Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Memorandum") at 10.
A. Federal Family Medical Leave Act (Count I) and District of Columbia
Family Medical Leave Act (Count II)
Defendant maintains that Plaintiff cannot carry her burden of
establishing a prima facie case under either the FMLA or the DCFMLA,
because she cannot show that she was protected under the statute, treated
less favorably than a similarly situated employee or was discharged
because of her request for leave. Memorandum in Support of Defendant
Washington Hospital Center's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defendant's
Memorandum") at 37. Defendant asserts that "Plaintiff has not alleged nor
offered any proof that she worked the requisite number of hours during
the year prior to taking medical leave" to be an "eligible employee"
under either the FMLA or the DCFMLA. Id. at 38. Defendant contends that
Plaintiff cannot sustain a FMLA or a DCFMLA claim because there is no
evidence that the decision-maker, Michael Ugwueke, had knowledge of her medical leave. Id. at 39. Further, Defendant asserts
that there is no evidence that Plaintiff was treated less favorably than
a similarly-situated employee who did not request medical leave. Id. at
39-40. Defendant submits that even if the Court were to find that
Plaintiff had established a prima facie case under FMLA, Defendant would
still be entitled to summary judgment, since "Plaintiff was terminated as
part of a legitimate [reduction-in-force] and she was unable to perform
the essential functions of her position as a result of her continuing
medical conditions." Id. at 43.
Plaintiff opposes Defendant's motion, and cross-moves for summary
judgment with respect to her prima facie case that Defendant violated the
FMLA and the DCFMLA. Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Opposition") (Docket No. 21) at 15;
Plaintiff's Memorandum at 7-10. With respect to her FMLA and DCFMLA
claims, Plaintiff contends that she has established a prima facie case
that she suffered from a "serious health condition" as defined by both
statutes; that at the time she requested medical leave, her health was
such that she unable to perform the functions of her job; and that
Defendant was notified of her need for medical leave under the FMLA and
DCFMLA. Plaintiff's Memorandum at 7-10.
In her opposition to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff submits that she has
demonstrated that she has "worked far more than the minimum hours
required to qualify under both laws." Plaintiff's Opposition at 16.
Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's contention that Mr. Ugwueke was
unaware of Plaintiff's health status is "simply false[,]" and that "he
signed off on Price's first FMLA leave request form." Id. at 22.
Plaintiff further submits that in any event, there is evidence that the
official responsible for her termination, Caroline Campbell, made the recommendation to Mr. Ugwueke, who served only as "the `cats paw' of
Campbell's animus[,]" that Plaintiff be terminated. Id. at 23 (citations
omitted). Further, Plaintiff submits that Defendant has failed to meet
its burden of proving that it would have terminated Plaintiff even if she
had not been on medical leave. Id. at 17-18.
Defendant, in its opposition to Plaintiff's motion for partial summary
judgment, submits that Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that she was
protected under either the FMLA or the DCFMLA at the time of her
termination. First, Defendant contends that because Plaintiff took 19
workweeks of medical leave over a 24-month period, she is not covered
under the DCFMLA. Washington Hospital Center's Opposition to Plaintiff's
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Defendant's Opposition") (Docket
No. 22) at 5-7. Defendant submits that Plaintiff was not entitled under
either statute to be restored to her former position, or an equivalent,
because she could not return to work at the end of her leave period. Id.
at 7-8. Defendant further submits that Plaintiff is not entitled to
relief under the FMLA because she has lost no benefits or compensation as
a result of any violation of the FMLA. Id. 8-10. Defendant argues that
the burden of proving that the employment action would have occurred even
if Plaintiff had not taken medical leave should rest with the Plaintiff.
Plaintiff further contends that it is undisputed that "Plaintiff's
employment was terminated in a Hospital-wide reduction-in-force." Id. at
Defendant, in its reply to Plaintiff's opposition to its motion,
submits that because Plaintiff could not return to work until April 1,
2002, after the expiration of her leave, she cannot show that she was
entitled to restoration under either the FMLA or the DCFMLA. Defendant's
Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment ("Defendant's Reply") (Docket No. 24) at 2. Defendant further submits that the only
evidence in the record is that Plaintiff's Administrative Coordinator
position would have been eliminated even if Plaintiff had not taken
medical leave; that Plaintiff does not dispute that Defendant underwent a
reduction-in-force ("RIF"); that the Department had a salary reduction
target of $167,000, which it could not have met without eliminating
Plaintiff's position; and that Plaintiff's position was not essential to
the functioning of the Department. Id. at 4-15.
Plaintiff, in her reply to Defendant's opposition to her motion,
submits that she was "entitled to 16 weeks of protected DCFMLA leave in
2002, carrying through April 19, 2002[,]" and that Defendant's "argument
that her leave expired on February 8, 2002 is simply wrong." Reply
Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
("Plaintiff's Reply") (Docket No. 23) at 10. Plaintiff further asserts
that she would have returned to work by March 25, 2002 had Defendant not
notified her of her termination on February 6, 2002. Id. at 10-13.
B. Plaintiff's District of Columbia Human Rights Act Claim (Count III)
Defendant contends that summary judgment is appropriate with respect to
Plaintiff's DCHRA claim on the ground that Plaintiff has failed to
satisfy any of the three elements of a prima facie case. First, Defendant
argues that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the DCHRA.
Defendant's Memorandum at 23-29. Second, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff
was not qualified to perform the essential functions of her position at
the time of her termination. Id. at 29-32. Third, Defendant submits that
there is no evidence that Plaintiff's termination was related to her
physical condition. Id. at 32-33. In the alternative, Defendant contends
that even if it is assumed that Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of disability
discrimination, Defendant has established a legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reason for her termination, i.e., that Plaintiff's position was
eliminated during a hospital-wide RIF. Id. at 33-36. Further, Defendant
submits that Plaintiff has provided no evidence that the RIF was a
pretext for discrimination. Id.
Plaintiff, in her opposition, maintains that her physical condition
substantially limits her in a number of major life activities, and that
she accordingly suffers from a "disability" within the meaning of the
DCHRA. Plaintiff's Opposition at 27-34. Second, Plaintiff submits that
she was qualified for her position in that "she possessed the necessary
skills and credentials for the job, and could perform the job's core
functions either with or without accommodation[.]" Id. at 36 (citation
omitted). Plaintiff concedes that Defendant has met its burden in
articulating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiff's
termination, see id at 36, but asserts that there is sufficient evidence
of pretext to preclude summary judgment. Id. at 36-39.
Defendant, in its reply, asserts that Plaintiff's evidence is
insufficient to establish that she was disabled within the meaning of
DCHRA at the time of her termination. Defendant's Reply at 23-24.
Further, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot make out a prima facie
case of discrimination because she cannot demonstrate that she was either
replaced by someone outside of her protected class, or that a similarly
situated employee was treated more favorably. Accordingly, Defendant
submits Plaintiff has failed to offer evidence that her termination was a
result of her alleged disability. Id. at 16-19. Lastly, Defendant submits
that Plaintiff has failed to rebut Defendant's legitimate explanation for
the challenged action. Id. at 19-23.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C.
Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party cannot merely rest upon the allegations
included in the complaint, and instead, must identify the specific facts
which demonstrate that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248. The burden is upon the nonmoving party to demonstrate that
there are material facts in dispute. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). There is a genuine issue of material fact
"if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Material facts are
in dispute if they are capable of affecting the outcome of the suit under
governing law. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, all
evidence and inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986); United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). The
"evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255;
Bayer v. United States Dept. of Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C. Cir.
This circuit has held that because proof of discrimination may be
difficult for a plaintiff to establish, "the court should view summary
judgment motions in such cases with special caution." Childers v.
Slater, 44 F. Supp.2d 8, 15 (D.D.C. 1999) (citing Aka v. Washington
Hosp. Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879 (D.C. Cir. 1997)); see also Johnson v.
Digital Equip. Corp., 836 F. Supp. 14, 18 (D.D.C. 1993). Nevertheless, the nonmoving party "must do more than
simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. Rather, she must come forward with
"specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at
587; FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e).
Moreover, Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides,
in relevant part:
When a motion for summary judgment is made and
supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party
may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of
the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's
response, by affidavits or otherwise provided in this
rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there
is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party
does not so respond, summary judgment, if
appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse
FED. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The nonmoving party must therefore
go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or
by the "depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file," designate "specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial" . . . Rule
56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be
opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials
listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings
themselves, and it is from this list that one would
normally expect the nonmoving party to make the
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (emphasis added).
A. Federal Family Medical Leave Act and District of Columbia Family
Medical Leave Act
In Count I of her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant
unlawfully terminated Plaintiff's employment while Plaintiff was out on
approved medical leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act"
and thereby "violated Plaintiff's statutorily protected rights under the FMLA." Complaint ¶¶ 30-31. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that
"Defendant unlawfully terminated Plaintiff's employment while Plaintiff
was out on approved medical leave under the D.C. Family and Medical Leave
Act" and thereby "violated Plaintiff's statutorily protected rights under
the DCFMLA." Complaint ¶¶ 40-41.
The FMLA is applicable where an employee has worked at least 1,250
hours a year at a firm employing 50 or more employees at least 20 weeks
of the year. See 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2), (4) (defining "eligible
employee"). Generally, the FMLA provides that an "eligible employee" who
has a "serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform
the functions of [her] position" is entitled to up to 12 weeks of medical
leave during any 12-month period without suffering any adverse employment
action by her employer.*fn1 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1);
29 C.F.R. § 825.112(a)(4). The FMLA provides that "on return from [leave
under section 2612][,]" an employee is entitled "to be restored by the
employer to the position of employment held by the employee when the
leave commenced[,]" or to an "equivalent position." 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1).
The DCFMLA provides that "any employee who becomes unable to perform
the functions of the employee's position because of a serious health
condition shall be entitled to medical leave for as long as the employee
is unable to perform the functions, except that the medical leave shall
not exceed 16 workweeks during any 24-month period." D.C. Code §
32-503(a). "Under both the DCFMLA and the FMLA, an employee of a covered
employer is entitled to take protected medical leave when unable to
perform his or her job functions because of a `serious health condition.'"
Chang v. Inst. for Public-Private P'ships, Inc., 2004 WL 742806, at *7 (D.C. April 8, 2004) (citing B.C. Code § 32-503(a);
29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D) (2000)). Like the federal FMLA, the DCFMLA
provides that an "employee returning from medical leave will be restored
to the same position which that employee held when the leave began, or to
an equivalent position." Harrison v. Children's Nat'l Med. Ctr.,
678 A.2d 572, 575 (D.C. 1996).*fn2
The Department of Labor regulations which further implement the FMLA
[a]n employee has no greater right to reinstatement or
to other benefits and conditions of employment than if
the employee had been continuously employed during the
FMLA leave period. An employer must be able to show
that an employee would not otherwise have been
employed at the time reinstatement is requested in
order to deny restoration to employment. For example:
(1) If an employee is laid off during the course of
taking FMLA leave and employment is terminated, the
employer's responsibility to . . . restore the
employee cease[s] at the time the employee is laid
29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a).*fn3
"Unlike the right to commence leave, an
employer can deny the right to reinstatement in certain circumstances,
because United States Department of Labor regulation qualifies the
right." O'Connor v. PCA Family Health Plan. Inc., 200 F.3d 1349
(11th Cir. 2000)(quoting 29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a)).
The conduct made unlawful by the FMLA is set forth at section 2615 of
the Act. Two forms of conduct are proscribed by the Act. First, the Act
provides that it shall be unlawful for any employer "to interfere with,
restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under this subchapter[,]" or "to discharge or in any other
manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made
unlawful by this subchapter." 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1), (2). Second, the
Act provides that it shall be unlawful for any person "to discharge[,]"
or "in any other manner discriminate against any individual" because such
individual has, with respect to any proceeding or inquiry under or
related to the FMLA, "filed a charge or . . . instituted or caused to be
instituted any proceeding"; "given, or is about to give information"; or
"testified, or is about to testify[.]" 29 U.S.C. § 2615(b)(1), (2),
(3).*fn4 See O'Connor, 200 F.3d at 1352 (FMLA recognizes "two types of
claims for alleged violations" of the Act's provisions: "interference
claims" and "retaliation claims"); King v. Preferred Technical Group.
166 F.3d 887, 891 (7th Cir. 1999)(FMLA "establishes two categories of
broad protections": "prescriptive protections that are expressed as
substantive statutory rights[,]" and "protection in the event [employees]
are discriminated against for exercising their rights under the
Act")(citations omitted); Hodgens v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 144 F.3d 151,
159 (1st Cir. 1998) (the FMLA "creates a series of substantive rights[,]"
and "provides protection in the event an employee is discriminated
against for exercising those rights."); Smith v. Univ. of Chicago
Hospitals, 2003 WL 22757754, at*5 (N.D. 111. November 20, 2003) (FMLA
"insure[s] the availability" of the "broad protections for employees who
need to take [reasonable leave for medical purposes][,]" and "affords
employees protection in the event they are discriminated or retaliated against for exercising their rights under the Act.").
Plaintiff's complaint does not include any allegation of
"[i]nterference with proceedings or inquiries[,]" which is proscribed by
section 2615(b). Nor does Plaintiff allege any "[i]nterference" with her
"[e]xercise of rights" under section 2615(a)(1) of the FMLA.*fn5
Rather, Plaintiff alleges simply that she was "unlawfully terminated . .
. while [she] was out on approved medical leave under the [federal and
District of Columbia] Family and Medical Leave Act." Complaint ¶¶ 30, 35.
The word "terminate" does not appear in section 2615. While the term
"discharge" appears in section 2615(a)(2) of Title 29, the conduct which
is proscribed is "to discharge" an individual, or in any other manner
discriminate against an individual, "for opposing any practice made
unlawful by this subchapter." 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2). However, Plaintiff
does not allege that she was terminated for "opposing any practice" made
unlawful by the FMLA.*fn6
Morever, Plaintiff concedes that the position which she held at the
time her medical leave commenced was eliminated pursuant to a RIF. See
Plaintiff's Opposition at 11; Plaintiff's Opposition, Sworn Declaration
of Linda Prices (Exhibit 2) ¶ 10 ("Caroline told me over the phone that
I was being terminated due to a RIF and that the termination was
effective March 8, 2002); Plaintiff's Opposition, February 6, 2002 Letter
from Wayne L. Swann to Linda Price (Exhibit 4) ("I regret to inform you
that your position is affected and that your position has been eliminated."). Neither the FMLA nor the DCFMLA directly address the
elimination of the position of an employee covered by either statute
during a RIF. However, because the Department of Labor regulations
provide that "[a]n employee has no greater right to reinstatement or to
other benefits and conditions of employment than if the employee had been
continuously employed during the FMLA leave period[,]" Plaintiff cannot
demonstrate that the elimination of her position pursuant to a RIF while
she was on medical leave violated either medical leave statute. Ilhardt
v. Sara Lee Corp., 118 F.3d 1151, 1157 (7th Cir. 1997)(employer would
have had no obligation to reinstate employee whose position was
eliminated as part of a RIF "because an employer's responsibility to
continue FMLA leave and restore an employee `cease at the time the
employee is laid off[.]'").*fn7
In sum, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not alleged any claim for
which either the FMLA or the DCFMLA provides a cause of action.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment will be
denied, and Washington Hospital Center's Motion for Summary Judgment will
granted with respect to Counts I and II of Plaintiff's Complaint.
B. District of Columbia Human Rights Act
The DCHRA makes it an "unlawful discriminatory practice" for an
employer to "discharge" an employee for "wholly or partially for a
discriminatory reason based upon the actual or perceived . . . disability." D.C. Code § 2-1402.11 (a)(2001).
In considering claims brought under the DCHRA, courts apply "the same
three-part, burden-shifting test articulated by the Supreme Court for
Title VII cases in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802,
93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)." Futrell v. Dep't of Labor Fed.
Credit Union. 816 A.2d 793, 802 (D.C. 2003) (citations omitted).
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), and its progeny
established the framework which governs the allocation of the burden of
production in cases in which discrimination based on disparate treatment
is alleged. To satisfy the first element of the McDonnell Douglas
framework, the plaintiff must prove a prima facie case by a preponderance
of the evidence. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. In the instant
action, both parties generally agree that to establish her prima facie
case, Plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) she has a "disability" within
the meaning of DCHRA; (2) she was "qualified" for the position in
question; (3) she suffered an adverse personnel action; and (4) the
adverse action occurred under circumstances that give rise to an
inference of unlawful discrimination. Defendant's Memorandum at 21;
Plaintiff's Opposition at 25. Further, both parties agree that the fourth
element may be established by a showing that Plaintiff was replaced by
someone outside her protected group, or that employees outside of her
protected group were treated more favorably. Plaintiff's Opposition at 25
(citation omitted); Defendant's Reply at 16.
If a plaintiff succeeds in proving his or her prima facie case, a
presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the
employee arises, see Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248,
253 (1981), and the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some
legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection."
McDonnell Douglas. 411 U.S. at 802.
Finally, if the defendant successfully carries this burden, then the
presumption of discrimination disappears, and the plaintiff "must have an
opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the
legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons,
but were pretext for discrimination." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253 (citing
McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804); see also St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v.
Hicks, 509 U.S. 502. 511 (1993). At this point, plaintiff's ultimate
burden of proving intentional discrimination merges with her burden of
demonstrating pretext. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256. Plaintiff, at all
times, retains the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that
defendant intentionally discriminated against him or her. Burdine, 450
U.S. at 253.
The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff suffers from hypertension,
diabetes and end-stage renal disease. Defendant's Memorandum at 23.
However, Defendant submits that "Plaintiff cannot establish her prima
facie case under the DCHRA because due to mitigating measures, her
hypertension is not a `disability' under applicable law." Defendant's
Memorandum at 2.
The DCHRA defines "disability" as a "physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an
individual having a record of such an impairment or being regarded as
having such an impairment." D.C. Code § 2-1401.02(5A). The District
of Columbia Court of Appeals has held that definition of "disability"
provided in the DCHRA is substantially similar to that provided for in
the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2), and
"consider[s] decisions construing the ADA as persuasive in [the court's]
decisions construing comparable sections of DCHRA." Grant v. May
Dep't Stores Co., 786 A.2d 580, 583 (D.C. 2001) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court has held that "to be substantially limited in
performing manual tasks, an individual must have an impairment that
prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that
are of central importance to most people's daily lives." Toyota Motor
Mfg., Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 198 (2002). Major life
activities include "functions such as caring for oneself, performing
manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning,
and working." Grant, 786 A.2d at 584 (citation omitted). Working is
widely recognized as a major life activity. E.g., Toyota, 534 U.S. at
198; Sutton v. United Air Lines. Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 491 (1999);
Scarborough v. Natsios, 190 F. Supp.2d 5, 21 (D.D.C. 2002).
The undersigned finds that Plaintiff has set forth specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial with respect to both the
elements of her prima facie showing and evidence of pretext. For
example, with respect to the issue of whether Plaintiff suffers from a
"disability" within the meaning of the DCHRA, Plaintiff's declaration is
corroborated by (1) a letter prepared by Frank Kriger, M.D., which
indicates that Plaintiff requires in-center hemodialysis treatments each
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 10:15
a.m., and (2) an admission note from the Southern Maryland Hospital
Center, which confirms the diagnosis of uncontrolled hypertension,
diabetes and chronic renal failure, and notes that she suffered from
shortness in breath during her admission. Plaintiff's Opposition,
Exhibits 7, 10. Indeed, evidence offered by Defendant shows that in
January, 2002, the Defendant's nurse practitioner took Plaintiff's blood
pressure, found it to be "too high," and would not clear Plaintiff to
return to work pursuant to Defendant's Managed Disability guidelines.
See Defendant's Memorandum, Deposition of Linda Price (Exhibit A), p.
34; Defendant's Memorandum, Occupational Health Medical Referral Form
dated January 22, 2002 (Exhibit F). Further, the undersigned finds that Plaintiff has offered sufficient
evidence of pretext to preclude the entry of summary judgment. First,
Plaintiff offers evidence of Ms. Campbell's negative comments regarding
Plaintiff's need for medical leave. Plaintiff's Opposition, Sworn
Declaration of Linda Price (Exhibit 2) ¶ 5; Plaintiff's Opposition,
Campbell Deposition (Exhibit 3) at 187. Second, Plaintiff offers evidence
regarding the timing of Ms. Campbell's decision to include her position
in the RIF, just four days after learning Plaintiff would be required to
undergo dialysis treatment. See Plaintiff's Opposition, Campbell
Deposition at 199; see also Defendant's Statement of Material Facts Not
in Dispute ¶ 49. Third, Plaintiff offers evidence from which a jury
could infer that Ms. Campbell's explanation for including Plaintiff's
position among those eliminated in the RIF was false. Plaintiff's
Opposition, Campbell Deposition at 151 (supervisor concedes that at the
same time the proposed reductions were approved, she received approval to
create a new administrative position).
In sum, the undersigned finds that genuine issues with respect to
Plaintiff's DCFIRA claim preclude summary judgment. Accordingly,
Defendant's motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiff's DCHRA
claim, Count III of her Complaint, will be denied.
A separate Order (Docket No. 47) incorporates the findings set forth