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Ellis v. Georgetown University Hospital

July 12, 2010

LAKEISHA ELLIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Lakeisha Ellis, a former Georgetown University Hospital employee, brings this action for discrimination and retaliation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq. She contends that Georgetown discriminated against her because she suffered from asthma, and that it retaliated against her when she requested an accommodation for that condition. Before the Court is Georgetown's motion for summary judgment on both claims. Upon careful consideration of the parties' memoranda, the applicable law, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Georgetown's motion.

BACKGROUND

Ellis suffers from asthma, which was diagnosed approximately ten years ago. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem.") [Docket Entry 45], Ex. 2 (Dep. of Lakeisha Ellis ("Ellis Dep.")), 138:1-2.*fn1 She experiences asthma attacks once every six or seven months, see Def.'s Mem., Ex. 6 (Ellis Pre-Employment Health Screening Form), 1, but indicates that her prescribed asthma inhalers control her symptoms, see Ellis Dep. at 59:11-13.

In May 2006, Ellis was hired to work as a Patient Financial Associate at Georgetown University Hospital. See id. at 25:8-11. This position required her "to register patients in several departments of the Hospital," including the Emergency Department, see Def.'s Mem., Ex. 10 (Decl. of Cynthia Hecker), ¶ 2, and obligated her to obtain a patient's personal and insurance information and enter it into Georgetown's computer system, see Ellis Dep. at 32:15-33:4. On July 25, 2006, Ellis suffered an asthma attack while working in Georgetown's Emergency Department. See id. at 75:12-18. The symptoms dissipated after she used her inhaler. See id. at 232:12-19.

The next day, Ellis visited her primary care physician for an unrelated matter -- she was suffering from gastroenteritis and pancreatitis. See id. at 84:2-16; see also Def.'s Mem., Ex. 18 (Dep. of Ellen Finkelman ("Finkelman Dep.")), 15:10-22. Due to Ellis's stomach ailments, Dr. Finkelman told her to "stay off work for five days." Finkelman Dep. at 16:2. At Ellis's request, Dr. Finkelman also wrote a note recommending that Ellis "not work in the emergency department as this is too high an exposure to many sick patients and puts her at risk for her own health." Id. at 16:10-13.

Later that evening, Ellis called one of her supervisors at Georgetown, Fannice Beckett, and told her that she would be out of work for a few days due to illness. See Ellis Dep. at 105:1- 6. Ellis also advised Beckett of Dr. Finkelman's recommendation that Ellis no longer work in the Emergency Department due to her asthma. See id. According to Ellis, Beckett responded that Ellis and the hospital must "part ways if [Ellis] was not able to work in the emergency room." See id. at 105:10-12. Nevertheless, Beckett did not terminate Ellis over the phone, and instead instructed her to bring the note from her doctor when she returned to work. See id. at 105:15-19. When Ellis returned to the hospital on July 31, she met with Beckett and another one of her supervisors, Cindy Hecker, who informed Ellis that once she was deemed fit to return to duty by Employee Health Services, Georgetown would decide whether they could fulfill Ellis's request for an accommodation. See id. at 111:3-7.

Employee Health Services cleared Ellis to return to work on August 1, but noted that she could no longer work in the Emergency Department. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 22 (Employee Health Service Statement of Work Status). The parties disagree about what happened next. According to Ellis, Beckett gave her the option of either waiting in the hospital or returning home while the hospital decided whether it could accommodate her. See Ellis Dep. at 117:10-13. According to Beckett, however, she only told Ellis to wait in the hospital while Georgetown resolved Ellis's request for accommodation. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 11 (Dep. of Fannice Beckett), 69:20-70:4. Whatever the case, the parties agree that Beckett instructed Ellis to be available to meet once Georgetown made its accommodation decision. See id. at 69:20-70:1.

Based on what she remembers Beckett telling her, Ellis decided to take the metro home. See Ellis Dep. at 124:17-21. When a supervisor contacted her by phone and told her to return to work, Ellis stated that she had just exited the metro, and that she would need to drive back to the hospital since she lacked the funds to return via the metro. See id. at 125:10-18, 217:14-19. It took almost three hours for Ellis to drive back to Georgetown, given that it was "very, very congested." Id. at 125:19-126:8.

The following day, Beckett terminated Ellis "for misconduct." Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 (Aug. 2, 2006 Termination Letter). Specifically, Beckett wrote that Ellis had failed to follow Beckett's instructions to remain at the hospital while waiting for an accommodation decision. See id.*fn2

Ellis thereafter filed this action alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the DCHRA.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits" that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. Thus, the non-moving party cannot rely on mere speculation or compilation of inferences to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Hutchinson v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 393 F.3d 226, 229 (D.C. Cir. 2005). Nor can the non-moving party rely on hearsay statements or conclusory statements with no evidentiary basis to establish a genuine issue of material fact. See Assoc. of Flight Attendants v. Dep't of Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465 (D.C. Cir. 2009). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Moreover, a moving party may succeed on summary ...


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