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Cripe v. Mineta

June 29, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louis F. Oberdorfer United States District Judge


In this case, defendant finds itself in the curious position of initially granting plaintiff's request for a reasonable accommodation due to his HIV-positive status, and now moving for summary judgment on the ground that there is no evidence that plaintiff was entitled to a reasonable accommodation.*fn1 This argument is untenable and erroneous. There is also sufficient evidence that defendant failed to keep plaintiff's medical records in confidence within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Accordingly, defendant's pending Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

Plaintiff's complaint initially contained four claims for relief. In his opposition brief, plaintiff consented to the dismissal of two of his claims for gender discrimination and violations of the Privacy Act. See Pltfs' Opp. to Def's Mot. for SJ ("Opp."), at 1 n.1. Left remaining for consideration are the following two claims, both based on violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq.): (1) discrimination based on disability, and (2) improper disclosure of confidential medical information.

I. Facts

Construing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, the record reveals the following facts.

Plaintiff Robert Cripe has worked for the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") for 17 years. For the past 10 years, he has served as the Administrative Officer for the Office of Government and Industry Affairs. Quentin Burgess, as the Manager of the Government and Industry Affairs office, has been plaintiff's supervisor since 1992 or 1993. See Opp. at 2 and citations therein. Plaintiff currently lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A. Reasonable Accommodation

In 1990, plaintiff was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder; in 1994, he was diagnosed with HIV. Plaintiff told Burgess that he was HIV positive in either 1997 or 1998. In 1999, plaintiff was absent from work frequently because of complications from his HIV. See Pltf's Stmnt of Material Facts in Dispute ("Pltf's Stmnt") ¶ 2. In August 1999, plaintiff began to telecommute one day per week. In 2000 and 2001, he telecommunted two days per week. During this period, when another supervisor asked Burgess about plaintiff's absences, Burgess explained that they were due to his health problems. See id.

On November 25, 2002, David Balloff, the newly appointed Assistant Administrator of the Government and Industry Affairs office, announced that, effective January 6, 2003, staff would no longer be able to telecommute. The next day, Burgess provided plaintiff with a memo which officially terminated his telecommuting agreement. On November 7 and December 2, 2002, plaintiff asked Burgess for permission to telecommute two days a week as a reasonable accommodation of his disability. Burgess did not respond to his latter request. See id. ¶ 8. On January 10, 2003, plaintiff submitted to Balloff a written request for reasonable accommodation due to his "existing medical condition." Id. ¶ 15.

Before filing his formal request for accommodation, plaintiff had previously submitted two letters from his physicians briefly explaining his condition. See Opp. Exs. 2; 5. On January 21, 2003, to support his specific request for accommodation, plaintiff submitted two additional letters -- one from Dr. Chaintella (his primary care physician) and another from Dr. Soni (his infectious disease physician). Pltf's Stmnt ¶ 18. Dr. Chiantella's letter states in part:

I am requesting that strong consideration be made for allowing Mr. Cripe to telecommute from home at least 2 days per week. The medical indication for that would be his various symptoms of fatigue, digestive upset, depression, and headaches and sleep deprivation which come as a result of his HIV, anxiety and depression and especially related to the multiple medications which he has been prescribed to treat the above mentioned conditions.

See id. ¶ 18.

The FAA disagreed. On January 22, 2003, Dr. Pakull, the FAA's Chief Psychiatrist, wrote in a memorandum that "[w]hile there may be physical medical reasons to support an accommodation, there is no specific psychiatric justification for such an accommodation." See id. ¶ 21. On that same day, Dr. Poole, an FAA Senior Medical Officer, wrote as follows:

I agree with Dr. Pakull's assessment. The diagnosis does not a priori justify the need for any accommodation. If the employee claims the illness is severe enough to require accommodation then it is necessary for him to provide a detailed medical report from his treating physician. The report must include a history of the present illness, comprehensive ...

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