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Agha v. Suntrust Bank

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

February 9, 2015

ALIA AGHA, Plaintiff,
v.
SUNTRUST BANK, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant SunTrust Bank's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 38. The plaintiff filed her opposition, to which the defendant replied. The Court heard oral argument on January 16, 2015. For the reasons stated in open court, as well as those set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND[1]

This controversy arises out of a deaf woman's claim that her former employer discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act ("ADAAA") by wrongfully terminating her and failing to accommodate her needs. Plaintiff Alia Agha was born partially deaf. She has 100% hearing loss in her right ear and 65% hearing loss in her left ear. To communicate with others, she uses a hearing aid and has learned to read lips. Agha was hired by Defendant SunTrust Bank "(SunTrust") on December 24, 2012 as a Client Service Specialist I. This position, according to SunTrust's official job description, entails duties such as cash handling, processing teller transactions like deposits, and lobby management. As a newly hired employee, Agha had a 90-day probationary period with SunTrust, scheduled to end on March 24, 2013.

Before completing training, she worked at the platform, " or the lobby of the bank, where she would greet customers and lead them to their safe deposit boxes. After completing her training, Agha was placed on the teller line. As part of her teller duties, and despite her hearing impairment, she was required to answer telephone calls and communicate with customers through the drive-through intercom. Upon making mistakes at the drive-through teller window and being reprimanded by her supervisor Gian Carlo Briceno, she requested a TTY phone or some other method of aiding her to hear customers better. In response, Briceno told her to "tell the customers they have to speak louder, because you have a hearing disability." Agha Dep. 116:5-117:12.

In January and February 2013, Agha had thirteen instances of "differences" in her teller drawer; it was either short or over the amount of money that should have been in her drawer at the end alter shift. The shortages ranged from $0.30 to $59.90. She also had multiple transaction reversals during this period, including ten reversals for one client who needed to make a deposit and receive cash back. Agha also had difficulty counting coins, as she was not familiar with American currency and could not readily tell the difference between dimes and nickels.

Citing her failure to demonstrate "mastery of the teller line and constantly getting] stuck between transactions, " SunTrust vice president Monique Marchese extended Agha's probationary period an additional thirty days to April 24, 2013. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s SJ Mot."), Ex. D. She was placed on a Corrective Action Plan ("CAP"), which stated that if Agha's performance did not improve or "if other performance deficiencies arise... further disciplinary actions, up to and including termination can occur at any time." Id. The CAP also stated that Agha was "unable to answer phone calls without losing patience because she does not understand what client's [sic] say to her." Agha testified at her deposition that upon being placed on the CAP, she again requested a TTY phone as well as to be placed in a position without teller duties. These requests were not granted.

On March 5, 2013, Briceno displaced $1, 995.00 from his cash drawer. According to SunTrust, he had previously "sold" cash to Agha via the bank's processing system, and Agha did not acknowledge the sale. Because of this, when Briceno later sold her $1, 995, the transaction was not properly processed. As a result, Briceno's drawer was short $1, 995 and Agha's drawer balanced. Agha disputes that any of this took place.

Six days later, on March 11, 2013, SunTrust's vice president of security Robert Tapscott interrogated Briceno and then Agha regarding the missing $1, 995. He allegedly accused Agha of stealing the money and threatened her with arrest. The next day, Agha gave Marchese a written letter requesting to be removed from the teller line. Marchese apparently threw the letter back at her and told her to bring it to Briceno instead. On March 15, 2013, Marchese terminated Agha, citing her numerous transaction errors, including the missing $1, 995.

In February 2014, Agha filed her First. Amended Complaint claiming discrimination and wrongful termination under the ADAAA (Count I), failure to accommodate under the ADAAA (Count II), retaliation under the ADAAA (Count and defamation per se (Count IV). Dkt. No. 4. On April 25, 2014, the Court dismissed the defamation claim. Dkt. No. 15.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As the Supreme Court has explained, "this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A dispute over an issue of material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. Finally, in making a summary judgment determination, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986).

DISCUSSION

SunTrust has moved for summary judgment on the remaining three counts of the Complaint. Dkt. No. 38. Resolution of the motion turns on the following issues: (1) whether Agha was meeting SunTrust's legitimate job performance expectations; (2) whether she could. have performed the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) whether the falsity of one of SunTrust's reasons for terminating Agha is sufficient to establish pretext.

I. Wrongful Termination Under the ADAAA (Count I)

To survive summary judgment on a claim for wrongful termination under the ADAAA, a plaintiff must offer sufficient direct and indirect evidence of unlawful discrimination, or proceed under a burden-shifting method. Rhoads v. F.D.I.C., 257 F.3d 373, 391 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Under the burden-shifting method, the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that: (1) she was a "qualified individual with a disability"; (2) her employer took adverse action against her; (3) at the time of the adverse action, she was performing her job at a level that met her employer's legitimate expectations; and (4) "the circumstances of [her] discharge raise a reasonable inference of unlawful discrimination." Reynolds v. Am. Nat. Red Cross, 701 F.3d 143, 150 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Rahan v. Networks Presentations LLC, 375 F.3d 266. 273 ...


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