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Lenkiewicz v. Castro

United States District Court, D. Columbia

November 30, 2015

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.


         ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, United States District Judge.

         Currently before the Court are plaintiff's [56] and defendant's [57] cross-motions for summary judgment, which again became ripe for decision as a result of the Court's order [107] granting plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the Court's previous order [58] on summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         The plaintiff in this case, Denise L. Lenkiewicz (" Lenkiewicz" ), brings a claim against her former employer, 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. Lenkiewicz began working at HUD in October 2008. Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Her Mot. for Summ. J. 3, ECF No. 56. During her roughly three years of employment, she claims to have suffered from three separate, though related, disability claims, all of which she requested that HUD-reasonably accommodate. First, Lenkiewicz claimed her " debilitating arthritis" was a " hindering disability." Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 15, ECF No. 64 (citing Pl.'s Ex. 22, LENK_0055). Before joining HUD, she was diagnosed with tricompartmental osteoarthritis in both knees and polyarthralgia, a form of arthritis, in her lower back. Am Compl. ¶ 11. Second, and compounding the problems associated with her arthritis, Lenkiewicz fractured her right foot in November 2009, and in April 2010 tore the meniscus in her right knee. Id. Third, Lenkiewicz claims to have suffered from Chronic Obstruction Pulmonary Disease (" COPD" ) with chronic bronchitis, a respiratory illness that causes her " breathing difficulty." Id. at 21.

         In connection with these alleged disabilities, plaintiff asserts she made five separate requests for reasonable accommodations, all of which HUD denied. Plaintiff claims that over the course of nearly two years, she made the following five requests: " (i) a printer at her workstation, (ii) a parking space, (iii) relocation to the HUD office located in the portals building, (iv and v) and on two separate occasions the ability to work from home (or 'telework')." See Mem. Op. 2, ECF No. 109 (citing Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Her Mot. for Summ. J. 7). After submitting these various accommodation requests, Lenkiewicz stopped reporting for work in May 2011. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ¶ 48.

         Although the facts of this case are reasonably straightforward, the procedural posture is complex due in no small part to intervening D.C. Circuit case law that compelled the Court to grant plaintiff's recent motion for partial reconsideration of its original July 2015 summary judgment order [78]. In that original July 2015 order, the Court found it lacked jurisdiction over the case for all but Lenkiewicz's second request to telework because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.

         In making this initial finding, the Court determined that because Lenkiewicz had " never contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity ('EEO') Counselor or filed an administrative complaint" for her 2009 requests to telework and relocate, the Court lacked jurisdiction over those aspects of her claim. Mem. Op. 6, ECF No. 79. In looking to her requests for a parking space and printer, the Court ruled Lenkiewicz's failure to initiate contact with an EEO Counselor within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory occurrences also presented a jurisdictional bar and resulted in dismissal. This ruling left plaintiff's 2010 telework request as the only portion of Lenkiewicz's case over which the Court had jurisdiction. In evaluating this 2010 telework request, the Court determined " there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to who caused the breakdown in the interactive process, leading to the denial of Lenkiewicz's request for accommodation." Mem. Op. 15, ECF No. 79. At the time, this factual dispute framed the sole issue to be determined at trial.

         One month after this summary judgment order was issued, the D.C. Circuit decided Doak v. Johnson, 798 F.3d 1096 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 18, 2015), binding the Court to revisit its jurisdictional rulings and come to the contrary conclusion. Doak specifically ruled that a plaintiff's previous failure to comply with the EEOC's 45-day requirement does not strip federal courts of jurisdiction after the conclusion of the administrative proceedings. Id. at 1104. The Circuit's opinion went further, however. Doak held that " issues concerning how a claimant participates in [the] administrative process, both procedurally and substantively, are not of jurisdictional moment." Id. Furthermore, only a plaintiff's " wholesale failure to file an administrative complaint or to obtain any administrative decision at all" would jurisdictionally bar federal courts from hearing the case. Id. at 1103.

         In light of Doak, the Court reconsidered its previous summary judgment order and made two general findings. First, after Doak, it is clear the Court does in fact have jurisdiction over every accommodation request Lenkiewicz made in connection with her present Rehabilitation Act claim. See Mem. Op. 2, ECF No. 109. Second, HUD effectively waived its exhaustion argument for four out of five of Lenkiewicz's requests because HUD had received notice of these requests and " never raised [failure to exhaust] during the administrative proceedings," which the D.C. Circuit ruled must be expressly argued as an affirmative defense. Mem. Op. 14, ECF No. 109 (quoting Doak, 798 F.3d at 1104). In contrast, Lenkiewicz did not provide notice of her 2009 request to telework in the administrative proceeding, and the defendant therefore did not waive its defense of failure to administratively exhaust. As such, the Court is barred from hearing that aspect of Lenkiewicz's claim. Id. at 16-18. The Court now turns to the remaining unresolved aspects of the parties' previous summary judgment motions, i.e., Lenkiewicz's 2009 requests for a printer, to relocate, and for parking, all of which have again become ripe after the Court's order granting plaintiff's motion to partially reconsider its prior jurisdictional determinations. See Mem. Op. 20, ECF No. 109

         II. Reconsideration of Summary Judgment Motions for the Remaining Accommodation Requests

         Looking to the remaining aspects of Lenkiewicz's claim and re-evaluating the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, genuine disputes of material fact exist with regard to Lenkiewicz's request for a printer and the reasonability of HUD's ensuing accommodation. Lenkiewicz prevails as a matter of law, however, on her 2009 relocation and parking requests to the degree those requests related to her broken foot, and defendant prevails as a matter of law on the portion of plaintiff's claim that relates to the presence of mold in her office.

         A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

         As articulated in the Court's previous order, summary judgment shall be granted when " 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). A material fact is a fact that might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is " genuine" if " the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. " A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it ...

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