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McNair v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

January 23, 2014

SAUNDRA MCNAIR, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Saundra McNair, a former hearing officer with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 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, alleging that DCRA both failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations while she recovered from back surgery and retaliated against her by threatening termination after she requested those accommodations. This Court dismissed McNair’s retaliation claims in a 2012 Memorandum Opinion, but it allowed her to commence discovery relating to the allegations in her reasonable-accommodation count. See McNair v. District of Columbia (McNair I), 903 F.Supp.2d 71 (D.D.C. 2012). Discovery now complete, Defendant moves for summary judgment. Although Plaintiff’s remaining accommodation claims are hardly robust – indeed, the Court concludes that certain ones fail as a matter of law – some are sufficient to withstand the District’s Motion and proceed to trial.

I. Background

Many of the facts in this case are disputed. On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must take the evidence of the non-movant – here, Plaintiff – as true and must view the facts in the light most favorable to her. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In setting forth these facts, therefore, the Court does not endorse them as true; instead, they are simply allegations for which Plaintiff provides record support – in this case largely by reference to her deposition. It goes almost without saying, then, that where Plaintiff provides no such support, the Court may assume Defendant’s version of the facts – itself supported by record evidence – to be true.

McNair was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus in 2001. See Opp., Exh. A (Deposition of Saundra McNair) at 131. She has suffered from a variety of complications since then, 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 numbness. See id. at 158-59. Despite these challenges, McNair began working as a Hearing Examiner with DCRA in August 2002, see id. at 12-13, 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. See Mot., Exh. P (Hearing Examiner Official Job Description), ¶¶ 3-8. She asserts that she notified her employer of her disability and was told “that if [she] needed various accommodations to make [DCRA] aware and they would provide them.” McNair Depo. at 58-59.

In November 2005, McNair was diagnosed with degenerative-disc disease and had to undergo several back procedures, including at least one surgery. See id. at 51-53. She took extended medical leave during her recovery; this leave expired on or around May 11, 2006, see Def. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 6.

At this point, the parties’ accounts diverge. When her leave expired, McNair avers, her supervisor, Keith Anderson, verbally indicated that she could work from home for some time. See McNair Depo. at 61-62. She began to do so, resuming work on administrative cases that were pending at the beginning of her extended leave. See id. at 73-74. According to the District, however, Anderson notified McNair on July 7, 2006, “that the DCRA had not authorized [her] informal demand to work from home and that [she] would have to submit her reasonable accommodation request in writing.” See Def. SUMF, ¶ 6. McNair, by contrast, contends that DCRA “stopped [her] accommodations” – that is, her pre-existing authorization to work from home. See McNair Depo. at 62; Opp. at 2 (arguing that the July 2006 decision “revoke[d] the reasonable accommodation previously granted”).

McNair submitted a formal written request for accommodations on July 14, 2006, seeking, among other things, permission to work from home two or three days per week. See McNair Depo. at 68-69; Mot., Exh. G (McNair’s List of Proposed Accommodations). On August 3, 2006, DCRA informed her that it could not permit her to work from home and that she had been designated absent without leave (AWOL). See Mot., Exh. F (Letter from Deborah Bonsack to Saundra McNair). In the meantime, McNair scheduled a meeting with the DCRA leadership for some time around September 25. See McNair Depo. at 66-69. Ultimately, she claims, nothing came of that meeting, as Defendant “summarily denied” each of her proposed reasonable accommodations without making any alternative suggestions. Id. at 66.

Indeed, on September 29, just four days after that meeting, DCRA Director Patrick J. Canavan reminded McNair of her AWOL status and her lack of work-from-home authorization – though he did not mention the other accommodations McNair had proposed – and instructed her to report to work by November 6, 2006, or face possible termination. See Mot., Exh. I (Letter from Patrick Canavan to Saundra McNair). This date was later extended to December 11, 2006. See Def. SUMF, ¶ 10. On January 4, 2007, McNair, who still had not returned to work, was given 15-day advance written notice that DCRA intended to remove her from her position. See Mot., Exh. L (Advance Written Notice of Proposed Removal). She successfully contested her removal, and, on September 19, 2007, DCRA formally decided not to terminate her. She was instructed to report to work by October 1, 2007. See Mot., Exh. M (Letter from Linda K. Argo to Saundra McNair).

McNair finally did return to work on October 1, 2007, see Def. SUMF, ¶ 11, despite Defendant’s refusal to permit her to work from home or to provide the other accommodations she requested. See McNair Depo. at 66, 94. Though she had officially been transferred to a partner agency to serve as a Rental Conversion Specialist, she worked out of the same building, and her duties were largely the same. See id. at 87-89. She remained in that position until February 12, 2009, when she resigned to accept a position with the District’s Department of Employment Services. See Def. SUMF, ¶ 14.

After properly exhausting her administrative remedies, McNair brought this suit against the District on February 14, 2012, alleging two ADA violations: first, that the District discriminated against her by failing to provide the reasonable accommodations she requested, see Compl., ¶¶ 46-51 (Count I); and second, that the District retaliated against her by notifying her of her proposed termination after she had requested accommodations. See id., ¶¶ 52-56 (Count II). In a 2012 Memorandum Opinion, this Court dismissed the retaliation claims. Although it noted that Plaintiff’s briefs were “assuredly deficient, ” McNair I, 903 F.Supp.2d at 77, the Court allowed her to undertake some discovery relating to Count I because “there [was] some language in her submissions and the District’s that could conceivably [have] create[d] a dispute of material fact.” Id. Discovery complete, Defendant has renewed its Motion for Summary Judgment, to which the Court now turns.

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 Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 247-48; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. A dispute 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, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “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” or “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

When a motion for summary judgment is under consideration, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Mastro v. PEPCO, 447 F.3d 843, 850 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “eschew making ...


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