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McNair v. Government of District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 27, 2015

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

Page 14

          For SAUNDRA MCNAIR, Plaintiff: John F. Mercer, LEAD ATTORNEY, MERCER LAW ASSOCIATES, PLLC, Washington, DC.

         For GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Martha J. Mullen, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

Page 15

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

         In this day of vanishing trials, when a case finally does go the distance, the jury is supposed to have the last word. No adherent to this proposition, Plaintiff Saundra McNair, whose suit a jury recently rejected, now asks for another day in court. In moving for a new trial, she asserts that several errors at the first one deprived her of a just result. As the verdict was both correct on the merits and not infected by impropriety, the Court will deny the Motion.

         I. Background

         According to her trial testimony, McNair worked for a number of years at the District of Columbia's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) as a hearing examiner in the rental-housing administration. In that position, she conducted formal administrative hearings between landlords and tenants. Suffering from lupus and related complications, she was out of work for considerable time in 2005-07 and alleged that the District violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide her reasonable accommodations so that she could return. Although DCRA at one point proposed McNair's termination, it later reversed that proposal, and she ultimately did return to work in late 2007.

         The Complaint in this matter initially asserted two counts under the ADA: failure to provide reasonable accommodations and retaliation. The Court dismissed the latter count in response to the District's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, but permitted the reasonable-accommodations claim to proceed. See McNair v. District of Columbia (McNair I), 903 F.Supp.2d 71 (D.D.C. 2012). After discovery, the District moved for summary judgment on the remaining count, which the Court granted in part and denied in part. See McNair v. District of Columbia (McNair II), 11 F.Supp.3d 10 (D.D.C. 2014). In particular, the Court concluded that the city was not required to permit McNair to work from home because she could not perform the essential functions of her job outside the office. The Court, however, did allow Plaintiff to move forward on the denial of the remaining workplace accommodations she had sought -- e.g., a lumbar-support chair and assistance in transporting files.

         As the case approached trial, the performance of Plaintiff's original counsel deteriorated markedly. He failed to appear for the pretrial conference, which was the third time he had neglected to appear at a court hearing without any justification or excuse or any prior notice to the Court.

Page 16

See Minute Order of June 5, 2014. The Court ultimately held the pretrial conference on June 10, 2014, and issued an Order setting out certain rulings that would govern the trial, then set for July 8, 2014. See Minute Order of June 10, 2014. Plaintiff's counsel thereafter provided medical evidence of his inability to try the case on his own, and the Court continued the trial numerous times to accommodate him, Plaintiff, and her subsequent counsel, who ultimately entered his appearance on December 18, 2014. See Minute Orders of June 25, 2014; June 26, 2014; June 27, 2014; September 2, 2014; September 16, 2014; October 17, 2014; October 31, 2014; November 12, 2014; January 20, 2015; January 21, 2015; ECF No. 64 (Notice of Appearance).

         The Court also spent several hearings with new counsel and the District discussing which documents would be admitted at trial, and it even revisited several of its earlier rulings against Plaintiff, permitting new counsel to make arguments that prior counsel had neglected to present. The Court, over the objections of Defendant, ultimately allowed McNair much greater latitude in her arguments and evidentiary presentation to the jury than it had initially.

         Trial commenced on March 16, 2015, and ran through closing arguments on March 18. The jury was asked one liability question on the verdict form -- namely, " Has Ms. McNair proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the District of Columbia discriminated against her by refusing to provide her a reasonable accommodation?" ECF No. 86 (Verdict Form). As the ADA requires both employer and employee to engage in a good-faith, interactive process when an accommodation is sought, see McNair II, 11 F.Supp.3d at 16, the dispute at trial boiled down to whether Plaintiff could prove that the District had not engaged in that interactive process. The evidence adduced focused on the letters exchanged between Plaintiff (and her counsel) and the city about accommodations and her return to work. The jury began its deliberations on March 19 and returned a defense verdict that same day.

         Plaintiff now moves for a new trial.

         II. ...


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