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Mavrogianis v. McDonald

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 26, 2016

LISA M. MAVROGIANIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT A. McDONALD, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Lisa Mavrogianis, an employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, has brought this suit claiming discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act. She now moves for partial summary judgment on her claim that the VA failed to accommodate her physical injury by refusing to permit her three days of telework per week. In support of her position that there are no genuine disputes of material fact, she points solely to the conclusions in a Final Agency Decision (FAD) issued by the Department's Office of Employment Discrimination. Because the Department properly rescinded that FAD, however, the Court finds that it has no evidentiary or legal effect. As such, Mavrogianis cannot prevail at this stage, and the Court will deny her Motion.

         I. Background

         At the time of the events underlying this case, Plaintiff served within the VA as a Management Analyst in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning in Washington, D.C. See Pl. Exh. 2 (EEO Investigative Report) at 2. In November 2012, she was diagnosed with a hip labral tear, the cause of which was unknown. See Pl. SOF (ECF No. 15, Attach. 1), ¶ 4; Def. SOF (ECF No. 18, Attach. 1), ¶ 4. This tear, along with other problems in her musculoskeletal system, caused her to suffer “pain, inflammation, restricted movement, and loss of flexibility while walking, bending, reaching, twisting, lifting, and pushing/pulling weights.” Pl. SOF, ¶ 5; see also Def. SOF, ¶ 5. In December 2012, Mavrogianis's orthopedist recommended workplace accommodations that could help to stabilize and improve her condition. These included medical leave and time off for recovery, a flexible work schedule, fixed working conditions and duties, and telework. See Pl. SOF, ¶ 6; Def. SOF, ¶ 6.

         In July 2013, after the VA moved her workspace to a new building, Plaintiff filed a written request for various accommodations she believed to be reasonable, including three days per week of telework. See Pl. SOF, ¶ 9; Def. SOF, ¶ 9. Her orthopedist supported this request in a written letter, explaining that Mavrogianis's new cubicle had different furniture and less space, requiring her to move about in more painful ways than she had at her previous workstation. See Pl. SOF, ¶ 10; Def. SOF, ¶ 10. In September 2013, the physician followed up with another letter, noting that her medical condition had worsened and stressing the need for further accommodations. See Pl. SOF, ¶ 11; Def. SOF, ¶ 11.

         A couple months passed and in November 2013 the VA management granted some of Plaintiff's requested accommodations, permitting her, inter alia, to telework from home one day per week as part of a compressed work schedule. See Pl. SOF, ¶ 12; Def. SOF, ¶ 12. The Department's Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator did not approve Plaintiff's three-day-telework request, but later the VA requested updated medical documentation to support that request. See Pl. SOF, ¶¶ 13-14; Def. SOF, ¶¶ 13-14. On February 12, 2014, Mavrogianis filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging that the VA had failed to accommodate her disability, subjected her to a hostile work environment based on disability discrimination, and retaliated against her for requesting reasonable accommodations. See EEO Investigative Report at 62-65. The Department indicated that it would begin investigating her complaint. See id. at 65-66.

         By June 2014, the Department had decided to allow all employees on compressed work schedules to take up to two days per week of telework, and Mavrogianis indicated via email to the Accommodations Coordinator that she would “suffer and accept” the two-day-telework option. See Pl. SOF, ¶ 16; Def. SOF, ¶ 16. Her physician nevertheless sent another letter that month, again expressing the view that the best accommodation for Plaintiff would be “to permit her to work from home as frequently as possible, but at least three days per week.” Pl. SOF, ¶ 18; see also Def. SOF, ¶ 18.

         About six months later, on December 10, 2014, Mavrogianis filed the instant lawsuit in this Court, naming Robert McDonald, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as Defendant. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint). In her Complaint, she described her request for accommodation and the Department's failure to acquiesce, as well as its “creation of a hostile work environment for plaintiff, [by] having taken discriminatory and retaliatory adverse actions against” her. See id., ¶ 19. Plaintiff argued that these actions on the part of the VA caused her to suffer economic losses, lost career opportunities, and emotional distress. See id., ¶ 18. As such, she claimed, the VA had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. See id., ¶ 19. She sought compensatory damages to the tune of $300, 000 plus interest; an injunction requiring the VA to permit her to telework three days per week and to provide her with various other accommodations when at work; an order that the VA restore all the annual and sick leave she has taken in connection with its failure to accommodate her and that it provide her with excellent performance ratings during the time at issue in the Complaint; and attorney fees and costs. See id. at 9.

         Three months after initiating this civil suit, Plaintiff filed a second EEO complaint with the VA on March 4, 2015, raising a “single claim regarding a performance evaluation.” Pl. Exh. 1 (FAD) at 1, n.1. (That second complaint, although mentioned in the parties' briefing, does not appear to be in the record at present.)

         On March 31, 2016, the VA's Office of Employment Discrimination Complaints Adjudication (OEDCA) issued what it labeled a “Final Agency Decision” disposing of both of Mavrogianis's consolidated EEO complaints. See FAD at 1. That FAD described at length the investigation the EEO had conducted, and it concluded that Plaintiff “has established that the agency discriminated against her on the basis of her disability when it failed to accommodate her as repeatedly requested by her physician.” Id. at 29. It also concluded, however, that she had “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the agency subjected her to unlawful workplace harassment on the basis of disability or reprisal . . . [or] that the agency discriminated against her on the basis of reprisal regarding her FY 14 performance evaluation.” Id. The Decision stated that Mavrogianis was “entitled to full, make-whole relief” as a result of the Department's failure to accommodate, including provision of requested accommodations, restoration of all leave taken as a result of the failure to accommodate, compensatory damages, attorney fees and costs, and other miscellaneous relief. See id. at 29-36.

         Shortly thereafter, on April 14, 2016, the OEDCA issued a “Rescission of Final Agency Decision” rescinding the aforementioned FAD. See Pl. Exh. 3 (Rescission Order). The Rescission Order explained that “[a]fter issuance of the FAD” adjudicating Mavrogianis's EEO complaints, “OEDCA received notice that [Plaintiff] had filed a civil action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on December 10, 2014.” Id. at 1. Because the claims Mavrogianis raised in her EEO complaints “are identical to those raised in the Civil Action pending adjudication before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, as of December 10, 2014, OEDCA had no jurisdiction to render a FAD on this same complaint on March 31, 2016.” Id. It therefore “rescind[ed] in its entirety[] the March 31, 2016 FAD administratively adjudicating [Plaintiff's EEO] complaints.” Id. at 2.

         On May 23, 2016, while the parties were in the middle of discovery, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on her Rehabilitation Act (failure-to-accommodate) claim citing the factual findings contained in the March 31, 2016, FAD. See Partial MSJ (ECF No. 15, Attach. 5) at 1. She requests that her remaining discrimination and retaliation claims arising under Title VII be allowed to proceed separately to further discovery and trial. See id. at 2 n.2. The Partial Motion is now ripe.

         11. 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 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); 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 ...


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