United States District Court, D. Columbia.
SAUNDRA MCNAIR, Plaintiff: John F. Mercer, LEAD ATTORNEY,
MERCER LAW ASSOCIATES, PLLC, Washington, DC.
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Martha J.
Mullen, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.
E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
now moves for a new trial.