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Sheila Alford v. Providence Hospital

June 14, 2011

SHEILA ALFORD,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

After failing to obtain a new position with Defendant Providence Hospital, Plaintiff Sheila Alford, who requires the use of a wheelchair, brought this action alleging that she was passed over because of her disability. Following discovery, Defendant filed this Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that it hired a superior candidate for the position. Because no reasonable jury could find that Defendant's hiring decision was a pretext for discrimination, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion. *fn1

I.Background

Until recently, Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a Unit Secretary, a position that she held for 27 years. Plaintiff became disabled in 1991 and has used a wheelchair ever since. In early 2007, Plaintiff twice applied for the position of Discharge Planning Associate (DPA) in the Case Management Department. Motion, Exh. M (Employment Application of Sheila Alford). This is an administrative position that assists the social workers, nurse managers, and other department staff in discharging patients from the hospital. Motion, Exh. C (Deposition of Wanda English) at 29-30.

Several other internal applicants submitted applications as well, including Alexis Sydney-Hunter, the eventual selectee. Motion, Exh. N (Answer to Interrogatory No. 11); Motion, Exh. O (Employment Application of Alexis Sydney-Hunter). Like Plaintiff, Sydney-Hunter worked as a Unit Secretary, a position she held since 1994. Both Plaintiff and Sydney-Hunter interviewed for the DPA position with Wanda English, the Director of the Case Management Department at that time. English Dep. at 39. In addition to the interviews, English reviewed both candidates' performance evaluations, consulted with the candidates' supervisors and other hospital employees, and observed the candidates herself. Id. at 11-13, 39, 43, 45.

At the end of this process, English selected Sydney-Hunter for the DPA position. English testified that she chose Sydney-Hunter because she thought she was a "better match for the department." Id. at 52. English believed that both Plaintiff and Sydney-Hunter were qualified, but she felt that Sydney-Hunter had the appropriate personality for the position. Id. at 51-53. During her observations, English said that Plaintiff was "aggressive," "abrupt," and "not always helpful." Id. at 73-74. In addition, English stated that other staff members had complained to her about Plaintiff's demeanor. Id. at 13, 16, 78-79. In comparison, English explained that she had never received any negative feedback about Sydney-Hunter; in fact, she had heard positive comments from her future co-workers in the Case Management Department. Id. at 53, 94-95. Ultimately, English wanted to change the image of her department and believed that Sydney-Hunter was the better fit for the position. Id. at 71. English testified that the fact that Alford had paraplegia did not affect her decision at all. Id. at 95-96.

Following her non-selection, Alford filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007, alleging discrimination on the basis of her disability. The matter was transferred to the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights for investigation, and eventually the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue to Plaintiff in August 2009. A Complaint was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on November 16, 2009, and the case was removed to this Court in January 2010. After discovery, Defendant filed this Motion for Summary Judgment.

II.Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A). "A fact is 'material' if a dispute over it might affect the outcome of a suit under the governing law; factual disputes that are 'irrelevant or unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment determination." Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895 (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. The party seeking summary judgment "bears the heavy burden of establishing that the merits of his case are so clear that expedited action is justified." Taxpayers Watchdog, Inc., v. Stanley, 819 F.2d 294, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1987). "Until a movant has met its burden, the opponent of a summary judgment motion is under no obligation to present any evidence." Gray v. Greyhound Lines, East, 545 F.2d 169, 174 (D.C. Cir. 1976). When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, "the evidence of the non-movant[s] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor." Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

The nonmoving party's opposition, however, must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must be supported by affidavits, declarations, or other competent evidence, setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). She is required to provide evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find in her favor. Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50; see Scott, 550 U.S. at 380 ("[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is 'no genuine issue for trial.'") (quoting Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

III.Analysis

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). "[T]he two basic elements of a disability discrimination claim are that (i) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action (ii) because of the plaintiff's disability." Adeyemi v. District of Columbia, 525 F.3d 1222, 1226 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

There is no dispute that Plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action when she did not obtain the DPA position. The question to be answered here is whether that adverse employment ...


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