United States District Court, District of Columbia
MONIQUE N. WEATHERSPOON, Plaintiff,
ALEX M. AZAR, II, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services Defendant,
N. McFADDEN, USD.J.
a case about a civil servant's dissatisfaction with the
government's sluggishness in accommodating her
disability. While delay is no doubt frustrating, it is not,
in this case, unlawful.
Weatherspoon suffers from a sensitivity to light that can
make it difficult for her to travel to her office and to read
her computer screen. She works for the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services. The Department tried to address
these problems by devising telework arrangements, providing
her with a docking station and large monitor so that she
could work from home, and providing her with software
specifically designed for visually impaired people so that
she could read her screen better. Nonetheless, Ms.
Weatherspoon sued Secretary Alex Azar on behalf of the
Department,  alleging that the Department failed to
accommodate her condition and retaliated against her based on
her disability discrimination claim. The Department has moved
for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court
will grant the motion.
Weatherspoon works as a Grants Management Specialist in the
Division of Discretionary Grants within the Department's
Administration for Children and Families (“ACF”).
Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 1. She also suffers from severe
uveitis. Weatherspoon Dep., ECF No. 19-1 at 6. Because of her
uveitis, she is sensitive to light and has trouble seeing.
Id. Her uveitis causes “floaters, ”
shapes or dots moving across her vision. Id.
on her condition, the Department granted her a series of
accommodations and various telework arrangements. In April
2011, the Department allowed her to work from home two days a
week for part of the year and one day a week for the other
part of the year. April 13, 2011 Mem., ECF No. 19-1 at 241.
In September 2012, the Department went further, allowing her
to work from home when her condition made it “difficult
or impossible” for her to commute to the office. Jan.
14, 2014 Mem., ECF No. 19-1 at 245.
vision continued to deteriorate. In July 2015, Ms.
Weatherspoon emailed the Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator
to tell her that she needed a laptop with a screen larger
than 17 inches because of her vision condition. Pl.'s
Ex., ECF No. 20-1 at 1. She copied her supervisor, Bridget
Shea Westfall, on that email. Id. Ms. Shea Westfall
approved her request the next month. Aug. 20, 2015 Mem., ECF
No. 19-1 at 247.
Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator later explained to Ms.
Weatherspoon that the Department could not actually provide
her a larger laptop because of the Department's
Information Technology Infrastructure and Operations'
rules and guidelines. Sept. 24, 2015 Email, ECF No. 19-1 at
267. Instead, the Department offered her a docking station
and a large monitor for her to set up at home. Id.
Weatherspoon took medical leave throughout November and
December of 2015. Weatherspoon Rebuttal Affidavit, ECF No.
19-1 at 69. In early February, the IT Department told Ms.
Weatherspoon that her docking station and large monitor were
ready for her to pick up. Feb. 4, 2016 Email, ECF No. 19-1 at
270. The IT Department asked her to come into the office, so
technicians could test the equipment with her. Id.
Ms. Weatherspoon cancelled several appointments with the IT
Department to pick up the new equipment. Feb. 11, 2016 Email,
ECF No. 19-1 at 274. It is unclear when Ms. Weatherspoon
eventually picked up the equipment.
with this accommodation, Ms. Weatherspoon had trouble using
her computer. The Department of Defense Computer/Electronic
Accommodations Program (“CAP”) suggested to Ms.
Weatherspoon that a software called ZoomText could help and
sent her a link to a trial version. Pl.'s Ex. 2, ECF No.
20-2 at 1. Copying Ms. Shea Westfall on her email, Ms.
Weatherspoon told CAP that ZoomText was not helping.
Id. Ms. Weatherspoon eventually visited CAP for an
in-person needs assessment. Pl.'s Ex. 3, ECF No. 20-3 at
2. After that meeting, CAP recommended a ZoomText
Magnifier/Reader 10.1 along with a larger laptop.
Id. In April, Ms. Shea Westfall learned that CAP
would purchase the ZoomText software for Ms. Weatherspoon.
Id. at 1-2. According to Ms. Weatherspoon, she
picked up the ZoomText software when she came into the office
for the annual holiday party in December. Pl.'s Ex. 6,
ECF No. 20-6 at 17.
this time, Ms. Shea Westfall found Ms. Weatherspoon's job
performance deficient. Report to Duty Mem., ECF No. 19-1 at
252. On March 26, 2016, Ms. Shea Westfall issued Ms.
Weatherspoon a formal Report to Duty
Memorandum. Id. In this memorandum, Ms. Shea
Westfall explained that Ms. Weatherspoon had not performed
key functions of her grant management specialist duties.
Id. She also summarized how Ms. Weatherspoon was not
in compliance with her current telework agreement.
Id. at 252-53. Last, she instructed her to report to
work the next week. Id. at 253. She advised Ms.
Weatherspoon that if she failed to do so, her absences would
be recorded as “absence without leave” unless she
provided adequate documentation justifying them. Id.
She also warned her that prolonged “absence without
leave” status “could result in discipline, up to
and including removal from the Federal service.”
Id. Ms. Weatherspoon was not in fact disciplined,
however. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. (“Pl.'s
Mem.”), ECF No. 20 at 17.
to Ms. Weatherspoon, Ms. Shea Westfall issued this Memorandum
to retaliate against her for claiming discrimination earlier
that month. Id. She cites a March 2, 2016 email in
which Ms. Weatherspoon complained that Ms. Shea Westfall had
used her disability against her in a performance review.
See Pl.'s Ex. 25, ECF No. 20-25 at 1.
Ms. Weatherspoon asked for 100% telework as an accommodation.
June 8, 2016 Mem., ECF No. 19-1 at 257. Ms. Shea Westfall
denied that specific request and instead granted a different
accommodation: Ms. Weatherspoon could telework two days a
week and then request “episodic” telework when
her medical condition kept her from commuting. June 14, 2016
Mem., ECF No. 19-1 at 262-63. The Department has never denied a
request by Ms. Weatherspoon for an “episodic”
telework day. Weatherspoon Dep. at 41.
Weatherspoon has sued, alleging both employment
discrimination and retaliation. Compl. ¶ 1.
Specifically, she first asserts that the Department
“violated the Rehabilitation Act by failing to
reasonably and effectively accommodate” her disability.
Id. ¶ 19. She also asserts that the Department
violated the Rehabilitation Act by denying her “the
right to telework based on her complaint of disability
discrimination and her request for a larger-screened laptop
computer.” Id. ¶ 20.
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a movant must show
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 (1986). A factual
dispute is material if it could alter the outcome of the suit
under the substantive governing law. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248. 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 believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue
of material ...