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Gordon v. District of Columbia

March 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge


Plaintiff Murielene Gordon brings this action against the District of Columbia ("D.C." or "the District") under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Plaintiff alleges that the District failed to accommodate her disability when she was an art teacher employed by the District. Currently pending before the Court are three discovery-related motions and defendant's motion for summary judgment, which primarily argues that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA. Upon consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court determines that plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that she is disabled under the ADA and that she is entitled to additional time to conduct discovery. Therefore, for the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED, defendant's motion to strike plaintiff's expert witnesses is DENIED, defendant's motion to quash subpoenas is DENIED, and plaintiff's motion to extend discovery is GRANTED.


I. Factual Background

Plaintiff Murielene Gordon, a resident of D.C., has been successfully employed by the District as a teacher since 1979. Beginning in 1990, she was employed as an art teacher at the Ballou Senior High School. Plaintiff has degenerative arthritis, which affects her mobility and manual dexterity. Plaintiff alleges that while at Ballou, she did not have access to an accessible bathroom, she did not have keys to locked emergency doors, the heating and cooling system was non-functional, the shelves were too high, she did not have access to a copier, and mandatory meetings were held on the second floor. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 14. Plaintiff retired in January 2006.

Plaintiff was deposed in connection with this case in June and July 2006. See Def.'s Ex. 1, Gordon Dep. According to answers elicited by defendant's counsel, plaintiff is able to navigate the stairs into her house, up to her second floor, and down to her basement. Until 2004, she used public transportation to commute to work and was able to walk to and from the bus stop, which were distances up to a city block. Plaintiff was capable of bathing and dressing herself without assistance. With respect to her ability to work, plaintiff stated that she maintained her full-time status until retirement and that she was at all times capable of performing her job at a high level despite her arthritis.

Plaintiff has submitted affidavits that clarify and elaborate on the answers given in the deposition. See Pl.'s Exs. 1-5. According to plaintiff, she required the use of a cane to walk in 2002 and 2003, and thereafter required the use of a walker. Pl.'s Ex. 1, Aff. of Murielene Gordon. When she used a cane, it took her at least five minutes to traverse a single flight of stairs. With her walker, it takes at least seven or eight minutes to do so. In either case, traversing staircases causes "extreme pain." Id. at 1. In 2002 to 2003, plaintiff would go down to the basement at most once a month, and since then does so even more rarely, if ever. The bathroom in her house is located on the second floor. Due to that fact, plaintiff has since at least 2003 used a portable toilet so that she does not have to climb the stairs. She also notes that if she ever forgets something upstairs after coming downstairs, she either asks someone else to retrieve it, or does without it.

Plaintiff admits that she could walk to and from the bus stop until 2004, but explained that she could do so only at a sharply diminished pace. A city block that able-bodied people could walk in less than 10 minutes would take plaintiff at least 20-25 minutes with her cane, and 35-40 minutes with her walker. It would take even longer in inclement weather. During these one-block walks, plaintiff would have to take a break and rest at least once. If sidewalks were icy or slippery, plaintiff could not walk at all, and would call in sick to work.

While plaintiff can bathe herself and brush her teeth, both activities cause great pain and take more time than average. For instance, plaintiff cannot brush her teeth for more than one minute without taking a break. Due to pain, plaintiff has not worn makeup since 2000 and cannot style her own hair. Since 2001, she requires assistance in order to shampoo her hair. Plaintiff cannot wear clothes or shoes that are fastened with buttons or laces. Finally, plaintiff was limited in her ability to cook, and thus only ate meals that required less than five minutes of preparation or that could be prepared using a microwave oven.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in April 2003, alleging disability and age discrimination under the ADA and Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Pl.'s Ex. 7. This EEOC complaint apparently followed the filing of an internal discrimination complaint that was dismissed as unsubstantiated.

Id. Also, in March 2003, plaintiff was ordered by the District to undergo a "fitness for duty" examination. Pl.'s Ex. 10. After performing a physical examination, Dr. Samuel J. Scott confirmed that plaintiff suffered from arthritis that "severely affected" her mobility. Id. Dr. Scott concluded that plaintiff was fit for duty with accommodations that included no standing for more than five minutes at a time, no walking up or down stairs, and no walking more than 50 yards at a time. Id.

Plaintiff brought suit in this Court on September 28, 2005, alleging that defendant violated the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 1401 et seq., by failing to accommodate her disability. Compl. ¶ 1. During discovery, defendant moved to strike plaintiff's expert witnesses because plaintiff's Rule 26(a)(2) statement did not include any expert reports. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2). Soon after, plaintiff served defendant's counsel with notices of deposition for several witnesses, and these notices directed the witnesses to produce their personnel files at the deposition. Defendant moved to quash the subpoenas on the grounds that the personnel files were irrelevant and producing them would invade the deponents' privacy. Discovery was set to conclude on July 19, 2006. On July 18, 2006, plaintiff moved to extend discovery ...

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