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Robinson v. Veneman

August 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge


Plaintiff Kristen A. Robinson sues the Secretary of Agriculture under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791 & 794, for discrimination based on her disabilities --endometriosis, gastritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. The Agency moves for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, that motion will be granted and summary judgment will be entered for the defendant.


Kristen Robinson began working for the Department of Agriculture's Food and Safety Inspection Services in May 1992. In 1995, she was diagnosed with endometriosis. The condition caused her considerable pain, and she quickly used up her accrued leave time. She joined the Leave Transfer Program and asked for additional leave without pay, which was granted. In 1999, Robinson was diagnosed with gastritis and irritable bowel syndrome. These conditions further debilitated her, causing diarrhea, constipation, and pain. Moreover, the symptoms flared at unpredictable times and were exacerbated by stress. Robinson's illnesses led to numerous absences from work -- in 1997 alone she took 809 hours of leave out of 2,080 total working hours for the year -- and her absences led to considerable friction with her supervisors:

* In February 1998, her supervisor, Dennis O'Malley, denied her request for a "flex schedule" with a "glide," which would have allowed her to arrive at work later than her scheduled starting time and to make up that hour later during the pay period.

* In November 2000, Robinson applied for Vacancy Announcement 001-039, Labor Relations Specialist, which was cancelled before any selection was made. Robinson alleges that a supervisor informed her that she was not being considered for the position due to her medical condition.

* When William Milton, one of Robinson's supervisors, overheard her complain that she "did not understand how some management officials in the agency slept peacefully at night," Milton went to her and reportedly stated, "I'm up here and you're down there; I've been reading the Bible for 15 years and I don't have any problem going to bed at night." Pl.'s Aff. at 2. According to Robinson, she left the area of this confrontation but was followed by Milton and had to lock the entrance to her office to prevent further contact with him. Id.

* In early 2001, as part of an agency reorganization, Robinson's position was reassigned to the Labor and Employee Relations Division, Employee Relations Branch. In a meeting with Ronald Coleman, her new supervisor, Robinson was informed that the Agency viewed her leave practices as abusive. Referring to the fact that Robinson was only working half of her scheduled hours, Coleman stated: "Prepare to retire with half of your salary and get an apartment on Benning Road, because that's all you'll be able to afford on that amount." Id.

Robinson viewed these incidents as harassment. She was also offended by statements of non-supervisory employees. In May 2001, for example, Robinson began bleeding during a staff meeting and stayed afterward to clean her office chair. Kristie Kelm, another employee, asked her what was wrong and, upon learning about the hemorrhage, stated, "It sounds like you need to have a hysterectomy." Id. Robinson took this to be a "derogatory statement." Pl.'s Opp. Mem. at 3. On another occasion, Ms. Lynn Dickey, a former supervisor, stated, "Don't come to work dressed so well, it bothers me. I don't know why it bothers me, but it bothers me." Pl.'s Resp. to Interrogatories at 27. Robinson viewed this as harassment.

Robinson was also concerned that her private medical information, which she had provided to her supervisors to support her requests for leave, was not being adequately protected. Ms. Dickey, for example, called Robinson into her office and said that she had done some research into endometriosis and that Robinson might want to consider the Leave Transfer Program, adding that she would be willing to donate leave to her through this mechanism. Id. at 30-31. Robinson did not believe that Dickey should have known as much as she did about her condition. Ms. Patti Schulke, a human resources official, pulled Robinson aside one day to ask about her health. Although the two had spoken of her health issues before, it became clear to Robinson during the conversation that Schulke knew more about her conditions than she had personally told her. She found this conversation "strange and invasive." Id. at 31.

In June and July 2001, Robinson requested leave without pay on several occasions, but Coleman, her supervisor, denied the leave for "failure to follow work procedures," and "work volume exceeds manpower." Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at 3. At the time, Robinson had a leave balance of negative 5 hours of annual leave and negative 234 hours of sick leave, and much of this leave occurred from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. due to commuting problems. Id. at 2-3.

In November 2001, Robinson requested permission to use the 4/10 Alternative Work Schedule, in which employees work four days per week of ten hours each, yielding one day off per week. To accommodate her request, Robinson was detailed to a different office within the Agency that allowed employees to utilize more flexible schedules, and in January 2002 that office approved her request to work from home one day per week. In May 2003, Robinson began working at home more than one day per week, and by August of that year, she was working at home multiple days per week.

In November 2003, Robinson applied for a promotion to the position of Program Analyst, GS-9, which she was awarded in March 2004. That same month, the Agency officially approved her request to work from home every day. Robinson stayed at this position until ...

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