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McNair v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 9, 2012

Saundra McNAIR, Plaintiff,

Page 72

John F. Mercer, Mercer Law Associates, PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Martha J. Mullen, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Saundra McNair was a hearing officer with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs who has suffered from lupus and a series of related complications since 2001. She brought this action against the District under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, alleging both that DCRA failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations while she recovered from back surgery and that it retaliated against her by threatening her with termination after she requested such accommodations. Although discovery has not yet commenced, the District now files this Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment. As to Plaintiff's first claim, the Court finds that summary judgment would be premature at this early juncture in the proceedings. The Court, however, agrees that McNair's retaliation claim must fail as a matter of law, and it will thus grant the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to that count.

I. Background

According to her Complaint, which must be presumed true for a motion for judgment on the pleadings, though not for summary judgment, McNair was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus in 2001. See Compl., ¶ 8. She alleges that she has suffered from a variety of complications due to her disease, including difficulty recovering from physical ailments ranging from the common cold to complex surgeries; difficulty with sitting, standing, walking, and concentrating; and occasional bouts of fatigue and short-term partial paralysis. Id., ¶¶ 9, 11. Despite these challenges, McNair began working as a Hearing Examiner with DCRA in August 2002, where her job responsibilities included " conducting administrative hearings, considering and evaluating written motions and other case filings, engaging in legal research, drafting decisions and orders, and communicating with all parties involved in administrative cases before her." Id., ¶ 12. She asserts that she notified her employer of her disability and that she was periodically afforded " such reasonable accommodations as working from home, or working on a modified schedule" as her illness required. Id., ¶¶ 13-15.

In November 2005, McNair was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and had to undergo " numerous back surgeries ... in an effort to repair her injured spine." Id., ¶ 16. She took extended medical

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leave during her complicated recovery, but her leave expired on May 11, 2006. Id., ¶¶ 17-20. At this point, the parties' accounts diverge. When her leave expired, McNair alleges that her supervisor, Keith Anderson, verbally indicated that she could work from home for some time and that she then resumed work on administrative cases she had pending at the beginning of her extended leave. Id., ¶ 20. According to the District, Anderson notified McNair on July 7 " that the DCRA had not authorized [her] informal demand ... and that [she] would have to submit her reasonable accommodation request in writing." See Mot., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 6. McNair, by contrast, describes this decision as a " revocation" of a preexisting authorization to work from home. See Compl., ¶ 23. She submitted a formal written request for a reasonable accommodation on July 14, 2006, requesting permission to work from home two or three days per week, with flexible hours on the days she was in the office. See SUMF, ¶ 7. On August 3, 2006, DCRA informed her that it believed it could not permit her to work from home as requested and that she had been designated absent without leave (AWOL). Id., ¶ 8; Mot., Exh. F (Letter from Deborah Bonsack to Saundra McNair).

In late September 2006, DCRA Director Patrick J. Canavan reminded her of her AWOL status and her lack of work-from-home authorization and instructed her to report to work by November 6, 2006, or face possible termination. See SUMF, ¶ 9; Mot., Exh. I (Letter from Patrick Canavan to Saundra McNair). This date was later extended to December 11, 2006. See SUMF, ¶ 10. On January 4, 2007, she was given a 15-day advance written notice that DCRA proposed to remove her from her position, which she successfully contested. See Compl., ¶¶ 36-37; Mot., Exh. L (Advanced Written Notice of Proposed Removal). As a result, DCRA formally issued its decision not to terminate her on September 19, 2007, and instructed her to report to work by October 1, 2007. See Compl., ¶¶ 36-37; Mot., Exh. M (Letter from Linda K. Argo to Saundra McNair). McNair did report to work on October 1, 2007, see SUMF, ¶ 11, but claims " that Defendant had not provided any of the previously promised reasonable accommodations" and " purposefully prevented [her] from fulfilling her job responsibilities and duties." See Compl., ¶ 40. McNair remained in her position until February 12, 2009, when she resigned to accept a position with the District's Department of Employment Services. See SUMF, ¶ 14.

After properly exhausting her administrative remedies, McNair brought this suit against the District on February 14, 2012. She alleges two ADA violations: first, that the District discriminated against her by failing to provide the reasonable accommodations she requested (Count I), Compl., ¶¶ 46-51, and second, that the District retaliated against her by notifying her of her proposed termination after she had requested accommodations (Count II). Id., ¶¶ 52-56. The District has filed this Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment, which the Court now considers.

II. Legal Standard

The District styles its Motion as one for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, summary judgment. These entail very different legal standards. This Court evaluates a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ.,532 F.Supp.2d 6, 12 (D.D.C.2008). The factual allegations ...

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