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Duncan v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

April 4, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler U.S. District Judge


Plaintiff, Jimmy Duncan, a Maryland resident, brings this action against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority ("WMATA" or the "Authority") alleging unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794. This matter is currently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt No. 37]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is hereby granted.


A. Facts*fn1

For nearly eleven years, in two separate stints, Plaintiff worked for WMATA: first from 1986 through 1993, and again from 1998 through 2001. Duncan served as a custodian from 1986 until 1991, when he was promoted to the position of "parts runner" in the Automatic Fare Collection Branch ("AFC"). In February 1992, Plaintiff sustained an injury to his back during an automobile accident that was unrelated to his employment. He subsequently returned to work and performed his regular duties without incident for several months. See Duncan v. WMATA, No. 95-2360, slip op. at 2 (D.D.C. May 19, 1997).

Because of a "bump down" pursuant to the union seniority system contained in the governing collective bargaining agreement, Plaintiff was reassigned to the position of parts runner in WMATA's Elevator/Escalator Branch("ELES") in early December 1992. That position required heavier lifting than he was accustomed to, and on December 16, 1992, Duncan re-injured his back while on the job. According to Plaintiff, the heavy lifting involved in his ELES assignments became impossible for him to perform after this injury, and he requested a lighter-duty assignment as a result. See Duncan v. WMATA, No. 01-2360, slip op. at 2 (D.D.C. Mar. 30, 2003). When Duncan's supervisor informed him that no lighter-duty jobs were available, he took unpaid sick leave from January 1993 until August 1993.

WMATA requested that Duncan report to the Authority's Medical Office in August 1993 so that his injury could be assessed and his medical status formally evaluated. Plaintiff failed to report as requested, or to otherwise provide sufficient medical information to WMATA. On October 7, 1993 WMATA terminated him, citing his refusal to comply with the Medical Office's directives.

After first filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), Plaintiff brought suit in this Court on December 22, 1995, alleging that WMATA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability and by discharging him. See id. On May 27, 1997, after a five-day trial, a jury returned a verdict for Duncan and awarded him a total of $250,000 in compensatory damages: $125,000 on his wrongful termination claim and $125,000 on his reasonable accommodation claim. See Duncan v. WMATA, No. 95-2360, J. on the Verdict (D.D.C. May 27, 1997).

Subsequent to the jury verdict, this Court ordered WMATA to reinstate Plaintiff to the position of AFC parts runner. By letter dated July 7, 1998, however, WMATA informed Duncan that his reinstatement was "conditional upon the outcome of the [upcoming] appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals." See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 4, July 7, 1998 Letter from Mark L. Sullivan to Suzanne Logue Lawrence. Plaintiff continued in WMATA's employ throughout the pendency of its appeal, from July 1998 through April 2001. By all accounts, Duncan performed his job satisfactorily and without accommodation during this period.

On March 2, 2001, the Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, reversed the judgment and vacated this Court's post-trial Orders, including the Order requiring WMATA to reinstate Plaintiff to his AFC parts runner position. The Court of Appeals concluded that Duncan was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA and therefore could not claim the protections it affords. See Duncan v. WMATA, 240 F.3d 1110, 1117 (D.C. Cir. 2001)(en banc).

On April 11, 2001, five weeks after the Court of Appeals issued its opinion, WMATA again terminated Plaintiff. At the time, Charles Buetter, Acting Superintendent of the Office of Systems Maintenance within WMATA's AFC Branch, stated that because this Court's reinstatement Order had been vacated, the condition underlying his reinstatement had lapsed. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1, Buettner Dep. at 19-20.

In January 2002, WMATA posted a vacancy for an AFC parts runner, the position Duncan had previously held. The vacancy announcement indicated that selection preference would be given to "Maintenance and Construction seniority district, System-Wide (L689), Authority-Wide, and external candidates, respectively." See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 5. Plaintiff submitted an application in response to this announcement but was not selected for the job.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff brought this action on November 13, 2001 and amended his Complaint on March 12, 2002. Duncan presents two claims: first, he alleges that by terminating him on April 11, 2001, WMATA violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Rehabilitation Act; second, he contends that WMATA unlawfully failed to ...

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