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Waggel v. George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 9, 2018

STEPHANIE WAGGEL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Stephanie Waggel is a former resident in the Psychiatry Residency Training Program of Defendant, The George Washington University. She alleges that through a series of actions culminating in her termination from the program, Defendant violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (the “ADA”), and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (the “FMLA”), as well as their local analogues, the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 32-501 et seq. (the “DCHRA”), and the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et seq. (the “DCFMLA”).

         Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's [32] Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Counts I & II (“Plaintiff's Motion”). The Court shall issue a separate Memorandum Opinion addressing Defendant's [34] Motion for Summary Judgment, as well as its [41] Motion to Strike Portions of the Declaration of Dr. Stephanie Waggel, M.D. (“Defendant's Motion to Strike”).

         Upon consideration of the briefing, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and pertinent portions of the voluminous record in this matter, [2] the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A brief summary of the factual background will suffice before the Court delves into the details relevant to Plaintiff's respective claims. This case concerns Plaintiff's first and second years as a psychiatry resident, culminating in Defendant's termination of her residency effective August 10, 2016. See, e.g., Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts for Which There Are No Genuine Disputes in Support of Her Mot. for Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 32-2 (“Pl.'s Stmt.”), ¶ 1; Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 36-1 (“Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Stmt.”), ¶ 1. Shortly after beginning her second year in the program, Plaintiff underwent surgery in July 2015 for the removal of a cyst on her kidney. See Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 6, 7, 9, 13; Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 6, 7, 9, 13. She took various kinds of leave from the program during her two years, including sick leave during the surgery and FMLA leave at other times. See, e.g., Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts as to Which There Is No Genuine Dispute, ECF No. 34 (“Def.'s Stmt.”), ¶¶ 230, 274, 531; Pl.'s Corrected Stmt. of Genuine Issues and of Counterveiling Facts, ECF No. 37 (“Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt.”), ¶¶ 230, 274, 531. In the meantime, Defendant allegedly identified a number of problems with Plaintiff's performance in the program, which were documented in, among other places, four Letters of Deficiency and a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct. See, e.g., Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 744, 798-800; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 744, 798-800. Purportedly as a result of these deficiencies, aspects of Plaintiff's clinical duties were suspended multiple times, her promotion to her third year in the program was delayed, and she was ultimately dismissed from the program. See, e.g., Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 656, 726, 975, 977; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 656, 726, 975, 977.

         Plaintiff filed suit on July 7, 2016. Compl., ECF No. 2. Her four-count Complaint alleges violations of the ADA and the FMLA, as well as comparable D.C. statutes. Id. Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment as to the first two counts, namely the ADA claim and its D.C. analogue, the DCHRA claim. Pl.'s Mem. at 7. She attributes her decision not to seek summary judgment as to the FMLA and DCFMLA claims to disputes of material fact. Id. A separate opinion, which also will issue today, shall resolve Defendant's motion seeking summary judgment as to all four counts. Although the Court largely evaluates these motions separately, the Court- like the parties-draws upon materials submitted in connection with Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment where such submissions facilitate the Court's consideration of Plaintiff's Motion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a “material” fact. Id. Accordingly, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided based on just any disagreement as to the relevant facts; the dispute must be “genuine, ” meaning that there must be sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant. Id.

         In order to establish that a fact is or cannot be genuinely disputed, a party must (a) cite to specific parts of the record-including deposition testimony, documentary evidence, affidavits or declarations, or other competent evidence-in support of its position, or (b) demonstrate that the materials relied upon by the opposing party do not actually establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Conclusory assertions offered without any factual basis in the record cannot create a genuine dispute sufficient to survive summary judgment. See Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Moreover, where “a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, ” the district court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         When faced with a motion for summary judgment, the district court may not assess credibility or weigh evidence; instead, the evidence must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, with “all justifiable inferences . . . drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “If material facts are at issue, or though undisputed, are susceptible to divergent inferences, summary judgment is not available.” Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Kuo-Yun Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In the end, the district court's task is to determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. In this regard, the non-movant must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under the ADA, covered entities are prohibited from “discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). That discrimination is further defined to include seven different types of activity, including the failure to reasonably accommodate a disability. Id. § 12112(b). Defendant has not disputed that it is an employer within the scope of the covered entity definition. See Pl.'s Mem. at 8 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12111(2). The DCHRA's prohibitions extend, in pertinent part, to certain employment acts performed “wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason based upon the actual or perceived . . . disability . . . of any individual.” D.C. Code § 2-1402.11(a). Specifically, it is forbidden

[t]o fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any individual; or otherwise to discriminate against any individual, with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including promotion; or to limit, segregate, or classify his employees in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities, or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee[, ]

when the employer has a discriminatory rationale. D.C. Code § 2-1402.11(a)(1).

         Courts in this jurisdiction have applied the legal analysis developed for ADA claims to DCHRA claims as well. See, e.g., Giles v. Transit Emps. Credit Union, 794 F.3d 1, 5 (D.C. Cir. 2015); Grant v. May Dep't Stores Co., 786 A.2d 580, 583-84 (D.C. 2001) (deeming ADA precedent to be “persuasive” where “comparable sections of DCHRA” are concerned). Because the parties' arguments do not distinguish between the two statutes, the Court shall consolidate its analysis under the ADA. See Minter v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 66, 68 n.2 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant 1) failed to accommodate her disability, and 2) took a series of adverse actions in response to her disability. See Pl.'s Mem. at 6. Because the standards for these two types of disability discrimination claims differ, the Court shall deal separately with them below.

         A. Reasonable Accommodation Claim

         Plaintiff's claim that Defendant did not accommodate her disability falls under 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A), which imposes liability on a covered entity for “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such covered entity.” In light of this language, the Court shall refer more generally to Plaintiff's claim as alleging a failure to make reasonable accommodation. The reasonable accommodation claim is but one type of alleged discrimination under the ADA that is enumerated in 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b). See Haynes v. Williams, 392 F.3d 478, 481 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

         In this Circuit, courts evaluating reasonable accommodation claims do not apply the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework applicable to certain other discrimination claims. Davis v. George Washington Univ., 26 F.Supp.3d 103, 114 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Barth v. Gelb, 2 F.3d 1180, 1185-86 (D.C. Cir. 1993)); see also Flemmings v. Howard Univ., 198 F.3d 857, 861 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, Plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence “that (1) she was a qualified individual with a disability, (2) the [Defendant] had notice of her disability and (3) the [Defendant] denied her request for a reasonable accommodation.” Ward v. McDonald, 762 F.3d 24, 31 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (citing Stewart v. St. Elizabeths Hosp., 589 F.3d 1305, 1307-08 (D.C. Cir. 2010); Barth, 2 F.3d at 1186). “An underlying assumption of any reasonable accommodation claim is that the plaintiff-employee has requested an accommodation which the defendant-employer has denied.” Flemmings, 198 F.3d at 861. A request for accommodation may trigger an “interactive process” to determine what accommodation would be reasonable. Minter, 809 F.3d at 69.

         Plaintiff argues that she was a qualified individual disabled by renal cancer, whether active or in remission; that Defendant had notice of that disability; and that she requested but was denied accommodation. See Pl.'s Mem. at 9-20. Each of the first two prongs of Plaintiff's argument is subject to some dispute; whether those disputes involve genuine issues of material fact is less readily apparent. Strictly for purposes of this analysis, the Court shall assume, arguendo, that Plaintiff satisfies the first two prongs. It is clear that Plaintiff is unable to discharge her burden as to the third prong in at least two respects: whether Plaintiff ever made a request for reasonable accommodation, and whether any such request was denied.

         Plaintiff argues that she made a request for accommodation at two times, both before and after her July 2015 surgery. Id. at 4, 13-14. Plaintiff argues at various points that she made her reasonable accommodation requests through Defendant's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (“OEEO”) and through members of the Psychiatry ...


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