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PRICE v. WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER

May 13, 2004.

LINDA PRICE, Plaintiff
v.
WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBORAH ROBINSON, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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.

I. BACKGROUND

  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. Id.

  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. ¶ 40.

 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). ...


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