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Quintell Etheridge v. Fedchoice Federal Credit Union

June 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge


Plaintiff, Quintell Etheridge, brings this action against Defendant FedChoice Federal Credit Union ("FedChoice"), her former employer, for employment discrimination and unlawful termination based upon a claimed disability. Plaintiff alleges violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., breach of contract, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. This matter is presently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on all Plaintiff's claims. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in its entirety.

I. Background*fn1

From 2001 until her termination on March 28, 2008, Plaintiff Quintell Etheridge was a Financial Services Representative at FedChoice, performing duties as a bank teller at a branch located in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ("ATF"). Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, 1, 6 ("Plaintiff's Opp'n")(Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-1]. As a Financial Services Representative, Plaintiff's major duties included processing "all transactions for members, including deposits, withdrawals, loan payments, cash advances and transfers," "[p]repar[ing] individual daily settlement of teller cash and other transactions bringing cash drawer and settlement sheets into balance," "[c]heck[ing] and assembl[ing] all supplies in the branch," and "[s]tock[ing]/replac[ing] forms, brochures, etc. as needed." Plaintiff Ex. 2 - Federal Credit Union Position Description (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-2]. In addition, as a condition of her employment, Plaintiff was required to lift a "minimum [of] 25 lbs (i.e. coinage & trays)" and to travel occasionally. Id.

It is undisputed that, although provided with a chair, Plaintiff was regularly on her feet and required to walk throughout the course of her workday. Compl. ¶ 7. Since the summer of 2007, this included an approximate 1/2 mile daily walk from the nearest parking garage where Plaintiff, who commuted from her residence in Maryland, parked her car to the ATF building where she worked. Plaintiff's Opp'n 1-2.

According to Plaintiff and undisputed by Defendant, in August 2007, Plaintiff began experiencing severe pain in her right foot*fn2 with swelling and bruising developing in that area sometime in September 2007. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts in Dispute and Counter-Statement of the Facts in Dispute ¶ 19 ("Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts") (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19]. On November 21, 2007, Plaintiff consulted a podiatrist, Dr. Dorothy Powell, because her pain had become more pronounced. Nov. 21, 2007 Medical Evaluation of Quintell Etheridge; Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Relation to Its Motion for Summary Judgment ¶ 2 ("Def.'s Stmt. of Facts") (Sept. 3, 2010) [Dkt. No. 16]. At this appointment, Dr. Powell diagnosed Plaintiff with "plantar fasciitis" or "heel spurs." Nov. 21, 2007 Medical Evaluation of Quintell Etheridge.

On November 21, 2007, Plaintiff sought and received FMLA leave from Defendant because of this diagnosis. Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶¶ 23-24. Plaintiff does not dispute that, at the time of requesting her leave, Defendant provided her with written notice of her FMLA rights, including that she was eligible for FMLA leave of up to sixteen weeks under District of Columbia law,*fn3 and notified her that her leave would be counted against this entitlement. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 4; Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 4.

Initially, Plaintiff's FMLA leave was scheduled to last from November 21, 2007 until December 3, 2007. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, 1 ("Def.'s Mot.") (Sept. 3, 2010) [Dkt. No. 16]. However, Plaintiff alleges that her symptoms worsened so much during this period that she was unable to walk "other than to take care for her personal daily care and to go to her medical appointments." Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 27. Plaintiff subsequently submitted a work excuse note from Dr. Powell to extend her FMLA leave from December 3, 2007 to January 14, 2008, which was granted by Defendant. Plaintiff Ex. 4 -- Nov. 30, 2007 Work Excuse Note (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-2]; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 5. On January 11, 2008, Plaintiff submitted another work excuse note to Defendant from Dr. Powell, requesting an extension of her FMLA leave to February 1, 2011, which Defendant again granted. Plaintiff Ex. 4 -- Jan. 11, 2008 Work Excuse Note (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-2]; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 5.

Plaintiff claims, and Defendant does not dispute, that by late January or sometime in February 2008, Plaintiff's symptoms improved slightly, although she still "could not walk long distances or stay on her feet for any significant length of time." Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 28.

At some point during January/February 2008, Plaintiff contacted her supervisor at FedChoice, Charlene Backstrom, to request a transfer to FedChoice's headquarters in Lanham, Maryland. Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff believed that tellers at the Lanham headquarters performed more limited duties than at the ATF branch, and engaged in fewer weight-bearing activities. Compl. ¶ 9. This belief, combined with the fact that the Lanham headquarters had a large parking lot with handicap parking spaces adjacent to the front door, led Plaintiff to believe that a transfer to Lanham would allow her to fully perform her work duties. Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 29. Although Plaintiff does not provide specific evidence regarding the statements made during this conversation with her supervisor, it is undisputed that Plaintiff requested a transfer to the Lanham headquarters, that Plaintiff's supervisor passed her request to Susan Barnes, the head of FedChoice's human resources department, and that the request for a transfer was denied. Id. ¶¶ 31-33.

Plaintiff submitted further work excuse notes to Defendant to extend her FMLA leave from February 1, 2008 to March 3, 2008 and then to March 11, 2008, all of which Defendant granted. Plaintiff Ex. 4 -- Feb. 1, 2008 and Feb. 27, 2008 Work Excuse Notes (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-2]; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 5.*fn4

With Plaintiff's sixteen weeks of FMLA leave set to expire on March 12, 2008, Plaintiff received a letter dated March 10, 2008 from Tammeca Riley, an employee in FedChoice's human resources department. Plaintiff Ex. 5 - Mar. 10, 2008 Fed Choice Letter to Quintell Etheridge ("Mar. 10, 2008 Fed Choice Letter to Quintell Etheridge") (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-3]; Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 39. The letter requested additional information regarding Plaintiff's medical condition, including the date on which Plaintiff would return to work and any work restrictions she would have. Mar. 10, 2008 Fed Choice Letter to Quintell Etheridge. During a telephone conversation with Plaintiff on approximately March 12, 2008, Ms. Riley again requested information as to when Plaintiff could return to work. Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 40. Plaintiff indicated that her condition was improving, but that she had a surgical consultation on March 18, 2008 and would immediately provide Ms. Riley with the result. Id. At this surgical consult, Plaintiff ultimately chose to forgo surgery, informing Ms. Riley of her decision the next day. Id. ¶44.

At an unspecified point during March 2008, FedChoice officials, including Ms. Riley, Ms. Barnes, and FedChoice counsel, met to discuss Plaintiff's leave status. Id. ¶ 43; Plaintiff Ex. 6 - Deposition of Susan Barnes ("Barnes Depo."), Tr. 60:13-61:6 (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. Not. 19-3]. Plaintiff claims and Defendant does not dispute that, in the weeks leading up to the March 12 expiration of her FMLA leave, FedChoice officials did not notify Plaintiff that her leave period was nearing a close and that she risked termination. Id. ¶ 40. However, Plaintiff also does not suggest, nor does the record show, that she provided any specific information to Defendant regarding when she would be returning to work.*fn5

On March 27, 2008, Dr. Powell provided a further work excuse note to Defendant, stating that Plaintiff would not be able to perform "normal work activities" until April 11, 2008 and requesting an extension of her leave until that time. Plaintiff Ex. 4 - Mar. 27, 2008 Work Excuse Note ("Mar. 27, 2008 Work Excuse Note") (Oct. 7, 2010) [Dkt. No. 19-2]. The note provided no indication as to when Plaintiff would be returning to work.

On April 1, 2008, Plaintiff learned for the first time, through a telephone conversation with Ms. Riley, that her employment had been terminated as of March 28, 2008, and that Ms.Riley had sent her a letter to that effect on March 30, 2008, which Plaintiff subsequently received on April 3, 2008. Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 48. This letter stated, in part:

I [Ms. Riley] am in receipt of your physician's note dated March 27, 2008. That note states that you will need additional time off and does not indicate when your physician believes that you will be able to return to work. You have been out of work since 11/21/07 and your FMLA leave expired on 3/12/08.

We can no longer hold your job; therefore your employment is terminated effective 3/28/08.

Def. Ex. 5 -- Mar. 31, 2008 FedChoice Letter to Quintell Etheridge (Sept. 3, 2010) [Dkt. No. 16-1].

Although the parties dispute the precise date, Plaintiff concedes that she began looking for new work "soon after she was terminated because she needed to work and needed health insurance." Plaintiff's Stmt. of Facts ¶ 50. She did not secure new employment until March 2009. Id. ¶ 54.

On approximately September 17, 2008, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging violations of the ADA. Compl. ¶ 12. On approximately July 13, 2009, Plaintiff received a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC. Id.

Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in this Court on October 9, 2009. Defendant moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims on September 3, 2010. Plaintiff filed her opposition on October 7, 2010. Defendant filed its Reply on October 18, 2010.

Defendant's Reply Memorandum of Points and Authorities In Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment ...

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