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Lenkiewicz v. Castro

United States District Court, D. Columbia

November 20, 2015

DENISE L. LENKIEWICZ, Plaintiff,
v.
JULIAN CASTRO, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Defendant

          For DENISE L. LENKIEWICZ, Plaintiff: Evan E. North, J. Wells Harrell, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BOIES, SCHILLER & FLEXNER, LLP, Washington, DC.

         For UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, JULIAN CASTRO, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Defendants: Carl Ezekiel Ross, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.

Page 141

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge.

         Currently before the Court is the defendant's Motion for Leave to Amend Answer [85]. The plaintiff in this case, Denise L.

Page 142

Lenkiewicz (" Lenkiewicz" ), brings a claim against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (" HUD" ) for failure to reasonably accommodate her alleged disabilities under § 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In July 2015, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion [79] granting defendant's motion for summary judgment on all portions of Lenkiewicz's claim except for her December 22, 2010 request to telework. In a separate memorandum and order issued on this date, the Court granted plaintiff's September 22, 2015 motion for partial reconsideration of the Court's previous summary judgment order.

         Defendant now moves for leave to amend its answer to plead undue hardship as an affirmative defense to plaintiff's 2010 request to telework. Moreover, defendant's motion seeks to amend its answer to include a defense that Lenkiewicz does not qualify for relief under the Rehabilitation Act. Upon consideration of defendant's motion, plaintiff's opposition, defendant's reply, and the entire record herein, the Court will GRANT defendant's motion for leave to amend its answer.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit is rooted in HUD's alleged failure to affirmatively accommodate what former employee Denise L. Lenkiewicz characterizes as qualifying disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Lenkiewicz alleges that while she was employed by HUD, she suffered from various physical disabilities, including arthritis in her knees and lower back, a fracture in her right foot, and a chronic respiratory ailment. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 11-12, 21-22. In connection with her purported disabilities, Lenkiewicz requested that HUD make certain specific accommodations, including granting her permission to telework three days a week, privileges to park closer to HUD's headquarters, and easier access to a printer. Id. at ¶ ¶ 14-17. After HUD either denied or ignored her requests, Lenkiewicz eventually filed the present lawsuit, putting forth the theory that HUD failed to reasonably accommodate her disabilities in violation of § 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Id. at ¶ 1.

         In analyzing plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act, the Court recently ruled for defendant on summary judgment on all but one portion of plaintiff's allegations: the denial of her 2010 request to telework. Mem. Op. 15, ECF No. 79. Essentially, the Court found that in nearly all instances, Lenkiewicz did not exhaust her administrative remedies in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act's jurisdictional requirements. Id. at 6-8. With one exception, the Court determined it was bound to dismiss each of plaintiff's allegations because she either never contacted an EEO Counselor or failed to do so in a timely manner. Id. at 7-8. Although plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the Court's summary judgment has now been granted, at the time defendant filed its motion for leave to amend, Lenkiewicz's December 22, 2010 request to telework was the sole issue to be determined at trial. Id. at 15.

         A. Plaintiff's 2010 Request to Telework

         As explained above, before the Court granted plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, all that remained for trial is HUD's denial of Lenkiewicz's 2010 telework request. On December 22,2010, Lenkiewicz submitted a Form 1000 requesting accommodations to telework for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease with chronic bronchitis and arthritis. See id. at 11 (citing Accommodation Request for Persons with Disabilities for Denise Lenkiewicz (Dec. 22, 2010)). HUD ultimately rejected this request. Id. at 13. The parties' dispute now centers on " who caused the breakdown in the interactive process" that preceded and partially caused HUD to deny

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Lenkiewicz's request for a telework accommodation. Id. at 15.

         In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act for an employer's failure to reasonably accommodate a disability, " a plaintiff must show (1) that [she] was an individual who had a disability within the meaning of the statute; (2) that the employer had notice of [her] disability; (3) that with reasonable accommodation [she] could perform their essential functions of the position; and (4) that the employer refused to make the accommodation." Loya v. Sebelius, 840 F.Supp.2d 245, 258 (D.D.C. 2012) (citations omitted). Additionally, to be considered disabled, the plaintiff must show that she " (1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more . . . major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment." Adams v. Rice, 531 F.3d 936, 943, 382 U.S.App.D.C. 207 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 705(20)(B)).

         To determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation, federal regulations require agencies, such as HUD, to " initiate an informal, interactive process with the qualified individual with a disability in need of accommodation." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3). This interactive process is designed to ensure that an agency is fully aware of its employees' purported disabilities and desired accommodations and possesses the information it needs to comply with its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act. As such, " [w]hen the need for an accommodation is not obvious, an employer, before providing a reasonable accommodation, may require that the individual with a disability provide documentation of the need for accommodation." Ward v. McDonald, 762 F.3d 24, 31, 412 U.S.App.D.C. 24 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

         Although there is no question that HUD eventually rejected Lenkiewciz's 2010 telework request, there is a " genuine dispute of material fact as to who caused the breakdown in the interactive process" that eventually led to the denial. See Mem. Op. 15, ECF No. 79. The D.C. Circuit has recently stated ...


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