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Mcintyre v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 15, 2019

NATAHSA MCINTYRE, Plaintiff
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a disability discrimination and retaliation case brought by an employee of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”).[1] Plaintiff Natasha McIntyre alleges that she was denied an accommodation for her disability and that she was retaliated against for engaging in protected activity related to her disability. Plaintiff brings this lawsuit against Defendant under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 29 U.S.C. § 794.

         Before the Court is Defendant's [21] Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant claims that it is entitled to summary judgment on both of Plaintiff's claims. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion. First, the Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiff's Count 1 claim for failure to accommodate because Plaintiff's requested accommodation, involving a late work arrival and a change in work days, was not reasonable and would impose an undue hardship on Defendant. Second, the Court finds that summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiff's Count 3 retaliation claim as Plaintiff has failed to allege any adverse employment action that is causally connected to a protected activity.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was hired by Defendant WMATA as a Special Police Officer in 2008. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶ 1. In 2010, Plaintiff was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, Special Police. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3. Originally, Plaintiff worked the night shift, but in 2014 Plaintiff selected to work the day shift, which runs from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Id. at ¶ 5. Once on the day shift, Plaintiff reported to Lieutenant Denise Craig. Id. at ¶ 10.

         The parties dispute whether or not Plaintiff selected the day shift as part of a “bona fide seniority system.” Defendant argues that it has a seniority system to determine the shifts and days which sergeants work. The most senior sergeants pick their shifts first, with the picks continuing down the line of sergeants according to seniority. Id. at ¶¶ 6-8. Plaintiff agrees that “[o]nce a year, the Sergeants choose among themselves based on their seniority as to who gets what shift.” Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 24, ¶ 2. However, Plaintiff contends that the seniority system is not “bona fide” as it is not implemented by management and there are exceptions to the seniority system for issues like overtime and holiday work. Id. at ¶ 1-2.

         Defendant has a drug and alcohol testing policy for employees. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶ 11. In February 2016, Plaintiff's drug test revealed the presence of amphetamines. Id. at ¶ 16. The presence of amphetamines in Plaintiff's system was caused by the prescription drug Adderall which had been prescribed by her doctor to treat her Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Id. at ¶ 18. Defendant found that Plaintiff had failed to follow the mandatory reporting procedures for prescription drugs. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff disputes this finding and argues that she reported her prescription drug use according to her supervisor's instruction. Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 24, ¶ 19. As a result of Defendant's finding that Plaintiff had failed to report her prescription drug use in a satisfactory manner, Plaintiff was placed on a mandatory Employee Assistance Program enrollment for approximately fifteen days in March 2016. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶¶ 21-23.

         Following Defendant's finding that Plaintiff had failed to report her prescription drug use, in March 2016, Plaintiff contacted Defendant regarding possible accommodations for her disability of ADHD. Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff met with Ada Posey, the Acting Chair of Defendant's Employees with Disabilities Panel. Id. at ¶ 25. In response to her discussions with Ms. Posey, Plaintiff submitted a letter from her doctor. As accommodations for Plaintiff's disability, her doctor recommended: “1) Approval for prescription drug use-Adderall XR [] 2) Flex time- employee choosing time to start and leave work daily, within limits 3) Short, frequent breaks throughout workday 4) Advice on breaking down large projects into smaller pieces 5) Written instructions and email reminders 6) Frequent performance reviews/regular feedback.” Exhibit 5, ECF No. 21-6.

         On April 7, 2016, the Employees with Disabilities Panel met with Plaintiff to discuss her request for accommodations. There is some dispute as to what accommodations Plaintiff requested pertaining to a change in her work schedule. Plaintiff contends that she requested an accommodation only “for the occasional times that her medication had a negative effect on her sleep.” Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 24, ¶ 3. Plaintiff explains that she did not request a permanent schedule change. Defendant contends that Plaintiff requested that her start time be changed from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. and that her weekly scheduled work days be changed from Friday through Tuesday to Monday through Friday. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶¶ 33-34.

         On May 13, 2016, the Panel issued its decision on Plaintiff's accommodations request. Defendant offered its “full support” in accommodating Plaintiff by providing “1) advice on breaking down large projects into smaller pieces; 2) written instructions and email reminders; 3) short, frequent breaks throughout the workday; and 4) frequent performance reviews/regular feedback.” Exhibit 8, ECF No. 21-8. Defendant indicated that it was already providing Plaintiff with some of these accommodations and that it would continue to do so. Id.

         However, Defendant denied Plaintiff's request “to change [her] start time from 6:00 am to 8:00 am or 9:00 am, and [her] weekly scheduled work days from Friday through Tuesday to Monday through Friday.” Id. Defendant indicated that this would be an unreasonable accommodation. According to the denial letter “[g]ranting this accommodation would require [Defendant] to breach the SPO (Special Police Officer) bona fide seniority system; and it would require a number of changes in work schedules of other staff members to compensate for gaps in coverage.” Id. Moreover, as Plaintiff had been working the day shift for two years, Defendant “[w]as confident in [Plaintiff's] capability to meet this current schedule and further suggested that if [Plaintiff] wished to change [her] schedule to any of the other standard shift times, [she] could do so via the ‘picking system' (the bona fide seniority system…).” Id. Following Plaintiff's initial denial for a scheduling accommodation, Plaintiff contacted Ms. Posey regarding an appeal of the denial. However, in late May 2016, Plaintiff's request was again denied. Exhibit 5, ECF No. 24-5.

         The parties disagree on whether or not Plaintiff's requested scheduling accommodation was reasonable. The parties agree that Plaintiff's day shift runs from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

         Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶ 40. In addition to Plaintiff, there are generally four other sergeants assigned to the day shift. Id. at ¶ 45. The next shift runs from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., and the night shift runs from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Id. at ¶¶ 41-42. The parties also agree that the officers whom Plaintiff supervises on her day shift report at 6:45 a.m. for their 7:00 shifts. Id. at ¶ 43. Once the sergeants report to the station in the morning, approximately 20 officers who are assigned to the 7:00 a.m. shift will call in by phone. Id. at ¶ 47. At the beginning of the shift, sergeants are responsible for roll call, updating officers about any information they need to be aware of, debriefing previous officers, and providing assignments for some alternative officers reporting for duty. Id. at ¶ 48. The parties also agree that the sergeants are not responsible for preparing only for the officers whom they supervise. Instead, typically two of the five sergeants on Plaintiff's shift will perform the initial administrative duties for all of the officers. Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 24, ¶ 49. The remaining three officers may provide assistance or complete their own work.

         In addition to denying her request for a scheduling accommodation, Plaintiff further contends that Defendant retaliated against her for engaging in protected activities relating to her disability. Plaintiff's allegations of retaliation center on her supervisor Lieutenant Craig. Plaintiff first started working for Lieutenant Craig when she transferred to the day shift in March 2014. Plaintiff contends that she was a “target” of Lieutenant Craig ever since she arrived on the day shift. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶ 53.

         In November 2016 and February 2017, Plaintiff filed complaints with Defendant's internal Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) office alleging that she was being retaliated against by Lieutenant Craig and others. Plaintiff made many allegations concerning perceived unfair treatment and favoritism towards certain officers. For example, Plaintiff alleged that Lieutenant Craig publicly criticized her, called her a “cancer, ” disciplined her for tardiness, and allowed others to treat her negatively. Exhibit 6, ECF No. 24-6. And, Plaintiff further alleged that Lieutenant Craig had attempted to embarrass another officer by asking him to spell something aloud. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 21, ¶¶ 63-64.

         Based on the denial of her requested disability accommodation and the alleged retaliation, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on May 23, 2017. Exhibit 8, ECF No. 24-8. The EEOC provided Plaintiff with a right to sue letter on June 13, 2017, and Plaintiff filed this lawsuit within 90 days on September 12, 2017.

         The parties have completed discovery and were unable to resolve the matter through court-facilitated mediation. See Joint Status Report, ECF No. 18. On October 15, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claims for failure to accommodate, retaliation, and hostile work environment. See generally Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 21. In her opposition, Plaintiff agreed to dismiss her hostile work environment claim. Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 24, 1. Accordingly, the only two issues currently before the Court are Defendant's request for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for failure to accommodate and retaliation.

         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. 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 make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence; instead, the evidence must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, with all justifiable inferences drawn in his favor. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. If material facts are genuinely in dispute, or undisputed facts are susceptible to divergent yet justifiable inferences, summary judgment is inappropriate. Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). 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.” Liberty Lobby, 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.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

         In recognition of the difficulty in uncovering clear evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory intent, the district court should approach summary judgment in an action for employment discrimination or retaliation with “special caution.” Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr., 116 F.3d 876, 879-80 (D.C. Cir. 1997), vacated on other grounds, 156 F.3d 1284 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (en banc). Be that as it may, the plaintiff is not relieved of his burden to support his allegations with competent evidence. Brown v. Mills, 674 F.Supp.2d 182, 188 (D.D.C. 2009). As in any context, where the plaintiff would bear the burden of proof on a dispositive issue at trial, at the summary judgment stage he bears the burden of production to designate specific facts showing that there exists a genuine dispute requiring trial. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009). Otherwise, the plaintiff could effectively defeat the “central purpose” of the summary judgment device-namely, “to weed out those cases insufficiently meritorious to warrant . . . trial”- simply by way of offering conclusory allegations, speculation, and argument. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings three claims under the Rehabilitation Act. In Count 1, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against her based on her disability by wrongfully denying her reasonable accommodation. Am. Compl., ECF No. 13, ¶¶ 38-52. In Count 2, Plaintiff claims that she faced a hostile work environment on account of her disability. Id. at ¶¶ 53-64. And, in Count 3, Plaintiff alleges that she was retaliated against for engaging in protected activities related to her disability. Id. at ¶¶ 65-80.

         Plaintiff has voluntarily agreed to dismiss her Count 2 claim for a hostile work environment. Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 24, 1. Defendant requests summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining claims for failure to accommodate and retaliation.

         Defendant argues that summary judgment is appropriate on both of Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claims. As to Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim, Defendant contends that summary judgment should be granted because the statute of limitations has run and because Plaintiff's requested accommodation was not reasonable and would impose an undue hardship on Defendant. And, as to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, Defendant argues that summary judgment is appropriate because Plaintiff failed to allege any actionable adverse employment action which is causally connected to a protected activity.

         The Court will address each argument in turn. Ultimately, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on both counts. The Court concludes that Defendant did not discriminate against Plaintiff by denying her requested accommodation because that accommodation was unreasonable and would place and undue hardship on Defendant. Additionally, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to allege that Defendant retaliated against her by subjecting her to an adverse employment action causally connected to her protected activities.

         A. Statute of Limitation

         First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim under the Rehabilitation Act must be dismissed as barred by the statute of limitations. The Rehabilitation Act does not have an express statute of limitations. Accordingly, the Act must “borrow” one from an analogous state cause of action. See Spiegler v. D.C., 866 F.2d 461, 463-64 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (explaining that when Congress has not established a statute of limitations for a federal cause of action, courts should use the limitations period from an analogous state statute). The United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) has not decided on an analogous state cause of action from which courts should draw a limitations period when analyzing Rehabilitation Act claims. And, courts have pulled limitations period from both the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), which has a one-year limitations period, and District of Columbia personal injury laws, which have a three-year limitations period. See, e.g., Adams v. D.C., 740 F.Supp.2d 173, 184 (D.D.C. 2010) (borrowing the District of Columbia's three-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims when analyzing a Rehabilitation Act claim); Gordon v. D.C., 605 F.Supp.2d 239, 245 (D.D.C. 2009) (same); but see Jaiyeola v. D.C., 40 A.3d 356, 368-69 (D.C. 2012) (holding that the DCHRA is more analogous to the Rehabilitation Act than the District of Columbia's personal injury laws and applying the DCHRA's one-year statute of limitations to a Rehabilitation Act claim).

         Defendant asks the Court to apply the one-year limitations period from the DCHRA, and Plaintiff asks the Court to apply the three-year limitations period from District of Columbia personal injury laws. The Court need not resolve this issue, because under ...


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