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Jones v. Quintana

United States District Court, District Circuit

October 1, 2013

JANICE QUINTANA, et al., Defendants.



Plaintiff Alexandria Jones, a former employee of the District of Columbia Office of Unified Communications (“OUC”), filed suit against the District of Columbia and Janice Quintana, the Director of the OUC, alleging that (1) the Defendants retaliated against the Plaintiff in violation of the District of Columbia Whistleblower Protection Act, D.C. Code §§ 1-615.51 et seq.; (2) Defendant Quintana retaliated against the Plaintiff for exercising her First Amendment rights in violation of the 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) the Defendants retaliated against the Plaintiff in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Presently before the Court is the Defendants’ [91] Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds the Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all remaining claims. Accordingly, the Defendants’ motion is GRANTED.


A. Factual Background

From 1999 until 2008, the Plaintiff was employed as a 911 operator with the Office of Unified Communications (“OUC”). Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 1.[2] In 2007, Defendant Janice Quintana was appointed by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty to serve as the Director of the OUC. Id. ¶ 2. The OUC “provides centralized, District-wide coordination and management of public safety voice radio technology and other public safety wireless communication systems and resources.” Id. ¶ 3. Prior to 2007, the District of Columbia utilized “727-1000” as a telephone number for city services. Id. ¶ 4. Mayor Anthony Williams, Mr. Fenty’s predecessor, proposed replacing the 727-1000 number with “311.” Id. Immediately after taking office in January 2007, Mayor Fenty outlined a plan to establish 727-1000 as a 24-hour, 7-day per week “Mayor’s Call Number, ” within six months, and intended to roll-out the 311 number within one year. Id. ¶ 5.

Defendant Quintana testified before the City Council on March 8, 2007, and explained that OUC was working towards operating the 727-1000 number 24 hours per day, and “eventually merging the 7-digit telephone number to a 3-digit 311.” Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 6. Ms. Quintana further testified that in order to determine best practices, OUC officials visited “311” and “911” call centers in Chicago and other major cities. Id. ¶ 7; Defs.’ Ex. 1 (Quintana Dep.) 27:6-28:9. She further indicated that OUC officials attended a number of meetings conducted by community organizations in the District of Columbia to discuss the merger of the 727-1000 and 311 telephone numbers with citizens of the District. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 8.

Ms. Quintana testified before the City Council once again on March 16, 2007, at which point Councilmember Phil Mendelson inquired as to why it made sense to combine the 727-1000 and 311 numbers. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 9. Ms. Quintana indicated that the new system would be modeled after systems in several major cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, would have a dedicated staff for each number, and would allow emergency operators to handle only 911 calls. Id.[3] During the hearing, Mr. Mendelson and Ms. Quintana discussed the different purposes underlying the 727-1000, 311, and 911 numbers, and various models and systems for handling emergency and non-emergency police calls. Id. ¶ 10.

On December 14, 2007, the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary conducted a hearing regarding the OUC. The Plaintiff alleges that she and several of her co-workers sought leave to attend the hearing, but their requests were denied. Jones Aff. ¶¶ 19-20. During the hearing, Councilmember Yvette Alexander explained she had received complaints from her constituents regarding confusion as to whether particular situations were considered emergencies or non-emergencies. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 11. Councilmember Mendelson indicated that he had received similar complaints of confusion. Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Quitana explained that the 727-1000 number would “collapse into 311” and utilized for non-emergencies, while 911 would be used anytime the caller sought a police, fire, or ambulance response. Id. ¶ 12. The Plaintiff concedes that the systems routes all calls seeking a police, fire, or ambulance response to the 911 operators, but the Plaintiff “disputes” Ms. Quintana’s testimony insofar as the Plaintiff would characterize some of the calls seeking a police response as “non-emergencies.” Pl.’s Resp. Stmt. ¶¶ 12, 13.

Following the December 14 oversight hearing, the Plaintiff sent an email to several City Councilmembers asserting that Ms. Quintana “has no ideal [sic] how to run this agency, ” and “has no communications skills.” Defs.’ Ex. 2 (12/14/07 Email Pl. to V. Bonnett, J. Graham, D. Catania). The Plaintiff also took issue with Ms. Quintana’s plan to require 911 operators to work 10 hour shifts, and asserted that the employees of OUC felt it was a “big mistake” to combine 311 with 727-1000. Id. Specifically, the Plaintiff argued that “a lot of citizens of the District of Columbia call 311 with emergency situations and [the merger with 727-1000] would delay service if the call has to be transferred to 911.” Id. The Plaintiff further suggested that “it will take a long time to get the citizens used to calling 311 for trash service[, ] etc.” Id. The Plaintiff subsequently forwarded the email to City Council Chairman Vincent Gray and Councilmember Yvette Alexander. Defs.’ Ex. 3 (12/17/07 Email Pl. to V. Gray, Y. Alexander). Councilmember Jim Graham forwarded the Plaintiff’s email to Councilmember Mendelson. Defs.’ Ex. 4 (12/18/07 Email).

The Plaintiff testified during her deposition that she had previously expressed concerns regarding the 311 merger to Ms. Quintana during a labor-management partnership meeting in October 2007. Defs.’ Ex. 5 (Jones Dep.) 55:8-56:1. The Plaintiff indicated to Ms. Quintana that the merger was problematic because the OUC was understaffed, and the staff had no way of prioritizing emergency calls within the 911 system. Id. After Ms. Quintana dismissed the Plaintiff’s concerns, the Plaintiff reportedly told Ms. Quintana that the Plaintiff “would contact the City Council, the Mayor and anyone outside of the District government who would listen to [her].” Jones Aff. ¶ 8.

On December 28, 2007, the Plaintiff emailed Mayor Fenty, asserting that the communications center had become “a cluttered warehouse environment, ” and alleging that the privacy of District citizens could be jeopardized by housing other agencies near the 911 operators. Defs.’ Ex. 6 (12/28/07 Email Pl. to V. Gray, V. Bonett). The Plaintiff blamed the Mayor for these issues, stating “I can’t understand [sic] my Mayor Adrien Fenty has allowed the 911 center to become an unsecured open facility that can and will jeopardize the citizens [sic] confidentiality with emergency calls for service.” Id. (emphasis in original). The Plaintiff alleged that once the 727-1000 and 311 numbers merged, operators from the 727-1000 line would be forced to take 311 calls “without the benefit of training, ” which would “be a huge negative impact for the citizens with a delay in service, based on the facts [sic] that 727-1000 employees will have to transfer these calls back to the 911 operators.” Id. The Plaintiff requested a meeting with Mayor Fenty to discuss the issues further. Id. Four days later the Plaintiff sent an email to Mayor Fenty’s scheduling assistant “to get his availability to speak with him.” Defs.’ Ex. 7 (1/1/08 Email Pl. to “Scheduler”).

Mayor Fenty visited the OUC on January 7, 2008. The Plaintiff alleges that when she approached the Mayor, indicating that she had been trying to arrange a meeting with him, Mayor Fenty yelled at the Plaintiff, asking “what for?” Jones Dep. 65:21-66:6. The Plaintiff did not give the Mayor her name, and is not sure whether Mayor Fenty knew who she was at that time. Id. at 66:7-14; 68:3-8. The Plaintiff purportedly responded by asking the Mayor why he was yelling, and the Mayor responded with “what for?” Id. at 70:21-22. The Plaintiff asked “Sir, why are you yelling at me? That’s why I don’t want to discuss it on the operation floor, ” to which the Mayor asked “[w]ell what is it?” Id. at 73:5-7, 75:5-8. The Plaintiff explained that “it’s about the Director and what’s going on at the agency.” Id. at 75:8-10. The Plaintiff alleges the Mayor replied in a loud voice that “She’s the Director. She can do whatever she wants to do. If you have a problem with the Director, you talk to her about it, ” then looked at the Plaintiff and said “you keep up the hard work” and walked away. Id. at 75:8-17. Ms. Quintana testified during her deposition that approximately 20 minutes after he left, the Mayor contacted Ms. Quintana to discuss the incident and instructed Ms. Quintana to fire the Plaintiff for insubordination. Quintana Dep. 117:17-119:1. In lieu of termination, Ms. Quintana placed the Plaintiff on administrative leave on January 10, 2008, informing the Plaintiff that the Mayor with displeased by the Plaintiff’s disrespectful behavior. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 21.

The day after she was placed on administrative leave, the Plaintiff gave a televised interview with a local news station “to let the public know what was going on at the OUC.” Defs. Stmt. ¶ 22. The parties disagree as to whether other employees appeared on television to discuss their concerns regarding the proposed agency changes, and whether it was common practice for OUC employees to be interviewed about changes at the agency. Pl.’s Resp. Stmt. ¶¶ 23, 24. Regardless, Ms. Quintana testified that she had no reaction to the Plaintiff’s interview, and did not take criticisms of the 311 merger personally because the Mayor wanted to merge the systems. Quintana Dep. 98:20-99:10; 104: 9-20; but see Jones Aff. ¶ 42 (alleging Ms. Quintana reacted “in a negative way” whenever the Plaintiff disagreed with Ms. Quintana). Ms. Quintana testified that as of January 18, she was not aware of the Plaintiff’s prior contact with the Mayor and Councilmembers regarding OUC, and did not learn that the Plaintiff had contacted Councilmembers until the Plaintiff testified at an oversight hearing on January 24, 2008. Quintana Dep. 97:7-98:19.

On January 18, 2008, Ms. Quintana served the Plaintiff with a proposed 30-day suspension without pay on the grounds the Plaintiff “displayed unprofessional, rude and disrespectful conduct” towards the Mayor. Defs.’ Ex. 8 (1/18/08 Advanced Written Notice of Proposed Suspension of 10 Days or More) at 1. The notice indicated that the Plaintiff had previously been reprimanded for “[d]iscourteous treatment of the public.” Id. at 2. The Plaintiff appealed the proposed suspension, and the suspension was ultimately not sustained and dismissed without prejudice. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 34.

The Plaintiff testified before the City Council regarding her concerns with the proposed 311 merger during a hearing on January 24, 2008. Defs.’ Stmt. 28. The Plaintiff testified that she was “very concerned” that the new system would cause a “serious incident, ” but if the former 727-1000 operators were trained and certified, the new system “may work.” Id. ¶ 29.

The Plaintiff also indicated she believed the proposed suspension was retaliatory, the 911 system was understaffed, and the new call system led to backlogs of 911 calls. Id. ¶ 28. Several other individuals testified to their opposition to the new system during the hearing, including Tiffany Hopper (an OUC employee), and Michael Patterson, the national vice president of the National Association of Government Employees. Id. ¶ 30. The Plaintiff admits that these individuals testified regarding

concerns for public safety (Loftus testimony), proper training for call takers (Patterson and Hopper testimony), background checks for employees (Hopper testimony), OUC giving the appearance of being fully staffed when it was not (Hopper testimony), potential delays in answering emergency calls (Hopper and Loftus testimony), and emergency calls building up in the queue (Hopper testimony).

Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 31; see also Id . ¶¶ 32-33 (describing other discussions during the hearing).

In early 2008, the operators at the OUC began working 10-hour shifts rather than 8-hour shifts, in part because a majority of the operators preferred the longer shift length. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 35. On April 2, 2008, the Plaintiff submitted to her employer a letter from her treating therapist, Sonja Watts-Means, asking that the Plaintiff be provided an accommodation under the ADA. Defs.’ Ex. 9. The letter did not specify the medical condition or the scope of the accommodation, except to say that the Plaintiff “has a series of symptoms and relevant treatment interventions that are sometimes debilitating and impacts [sic] her general sense of wellness, ” therefore she “should not be subjected to undue stress or intense working conditions.” Id. The OUC informed the Plaintiff that in order to provide the Plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation, the Plaintiff would have to submit additional information from her medical professional, including “diagnosis, the associated functional limitations; the duration of the limitations, the accommodation being recommended and/or that [Plaintiff] is requesting.” Defs.’ Ex. 10 (4/10/08 Ltr. A. Bonner-Evans to Pl.) at 1. OUC indicated that while the Plaintiff’s request was in review status, she would remain on her regularly scheduled 10-hour shifts, though the Plaintiff would be permitted to take two hours of leave each shift. Id. The Plaintiff was advised that “if the business needs of the operations floor change, your request [for leave] may be denied and you will be expected to work the full 10-hour schedule. Should you not work the assigned schedule you may be charged AWOL and disciplinary action may be considered.” Id.

One week later, Dr. Arnulfo Bonavente, provided OUC with a letter stating that the Plaintiff “is under my care for a medical problem that necessitates treatment with prescription medication, ” and asked OUC to “allow her to work only eight hours a day while she is recovering from her medical condition.” Defs.’ Ex. 11 (4/15/08 Ltr.). The Plaintiff’s therapist submitted a separate request for a reasonable accommodation on April 24, 2008, indicating that the Plaintiff had been diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. Defs.’ Ex. 12 (4/24/08 Employee Request for Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA). Dr. Watts-Means described the Plaintiff’s symptoms as including poor concentration and focus, anxiousness, fatigue, distractability, and headaches. Id. at 1. The request asked that the Plaintiff be relocated to an office with the fewest distractions and undue demands and that she be permitted to work only eight hours per day. Id.

Between April 24 and May 15, the Plaintiff had a number of meetings with an administrative officer for the OUC regarding the Plaintiff’s request for an accommodation. See Defs.’ Ex. 13 (5/15/08 Ltr. A. Bonner-Evans to Pl.) at 1. On May 15, OUC notified the Plaintiff that it had received all of the necessary medical documentation, but for an estimate of the duration of the Plaintiff’s functional limitations. Id. The OUC explained that as a 911 operator, it is essential for the Plaintiff to answer calls, and the emergency calls the OUC receives “require that [Plaintiff] be able to concentrate, provide quick response service and expeditiously route calls for police, fire and EMS, and other public safety. Id. Since OUC did not have 8-hour shifts on the emergency operations side, OUC proposed allowing the Plaintiff ten to fifteen minute breaks (if needed) every sixty to ninety minutes during her 10-hour shift, in addition to two fifteen minute breaks and a thirty minute lunch break. Id. at 2. It appears that during the May 12 meeting, the Plaintiff rejected the proposed accommodation involving multiple breaks in lieu of a shortened shift. Id. As a result, OUC thus offered two additional proposed accommodations: (1) detailing the Plaintiff to a vacant customer service representative position on the non-emergency side, which included an 8-hour shift; or (2) holding the Plaintiff’s position as an operator and allowing the Plaintiff to use accrued leave and leave without pay for up to the maximum amount of time permitted by District of Columbia personnel regulations. Id.

The May 15 letter from OUC indicated the Plaintiff could continue to use annual or sick leave while the parties finalized the details of the Plaintiff’s accommodation request. Defs.’ Ex. 13 at 2. The Plaintiff, through her union representative, objected to OUC requiring the Plaintiff to use her accrued leave to work shortened shifts. Defs.’ Ex. 15 (5/23/08 Ltr. M. Patterson to A. Bonner-Evans). The Plaintiff subsequently rejected the proposals set forth in the OUC’s May 15 letter, noting that another 911 operator was permitted to work 8-hour shifts to accommodate medication taken for a seizure disorder, and the customer service representative position was on a lower pay scale and scheduled for a peak shift. Defs.’ Ex. 16 (5/26/08 Ltr. Pl. to A. Bonner-Evans). Several days later, Dr. Bonavente submitted a follow-up letter to the OUC stating the Plaintiff’s improvement “ha[s] been delayed because of her continued stress, ” and reiterated his recommendation that the Plaintiff be permitted to work only eight hours per day. Defs.’ Ex. 17 (5/29/08 Ltr.).

The OUC advised the Plaintiff on June 5, 2008, that she did not have sufficient leave to cover her request for two hours of leave in connection with her shift on June 6, 2008, and that she would be expected to report to work on June 6 as scheduled. Defs.’ Ex. 18 (6/5/08 Denied Leave Request). The Plaintiff failed to report to work on June 6 and was issued a letter of warning by Assistant Watch Commander Bennie Coates, advising the Plaintiff that although her overall performance is generally satisfactory, her failure to appear for a scheduled shift was “unacceptable” and her demeanor was affecting her “overall productivity and performance.” Defs.’ Ex. 19 (6/13/08 Ltr. of Warning) at 1. Mr. Coates indicated that “it may be necessary to take further disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, unless these problems are corrected.” Id. at 2.

On June 30, 2008, OUC responded to the Plaintiff’s May 26 letter regarding the Office’s proposed accommodations, discussing the details of the customer service representative position. Defs.’ Ex. 20 (6/30/08 Ltr. A. Bonner-Evans to Pl.) at 1. The OUC further indicated that after reviewing the medical documentation submitted by the Plaintiff, “the OUC cannot make a determination as to whether you have a disability as defined by the ADA, ” and asked the Plaintiff to provide additional medical information regarding specified topics. Id. at 2. Nevertheless, the OUC decided to provide the Plaintiff with a temporary workplace modification in the form of a temporary detail to the customer service representative position in the non-emergency operations side. The parties held a meeting on July 21, 2008, to further discuss the Plaintiff’s accommodation request. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 49. The Plaintiff refused the transfer to the non-emergency position, leading OUC to transfer the Plaintiff back to her original 10-hour shift, and advised the Plaintiff that if she did not work her full 10-hour shift, she would be terminated. Defs.’ Ex. 21 (7/24/08 Ltr. A. Bonner-Evans to Pl.). As of July 24, 2008, the Plaintiff had not submitted the additional medical documentation requested by OUC on June 30. Id.

The Plaintiff completed informal EEO counseling on July 22, and received a notice of her right to file a discrimination complaint with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 50; Defs.’ Ex. 22 (7/22/08 Notice of Right to File). Despite prior warnings from OUC, the Plaintiff continued to work only eight hours of her ten-hour shifts, and was charged with being absent without official leave for two hours each shift. Defs.’ Stmt. ¶ 51. The Plaintiff filed a formal charge of discrimination with the Office of Human Rights on August 7, 2008, alleging she had been subjected to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment ...

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