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Abeles v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Autority

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

April 1, 2016

SUSAN H. ABELES, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN WASHINGTON AIRPORTS AUTHORITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CLAUDE M. HILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. STATEMENT OF FACT

Plaintiff, an Orthodox Jew, began working for Defendant in 1987. Defendant knew that Plaintiff was an Orthodox Jew. No evidence suggests that Plaintiff was denied leave to observe a religious holiday throughout more than two decades of employment. Plaintiff appears to have always been allowed to leave early on Fridays to be home before sundown to observe the Sabbath.

Plaintiff began working under a new supervisor, O'Hara, in 2009. The record reflects that O'Hara, like Plaintiff's supervisors before her, never denied Plaintiff's requested leave to observe a religious holiday or withheld permission for Plaintiff to leave early on Fridays to observe the Sabbath. O'Hara provided Kosher food for Plaintiff at staff events.

Defendant's Absence and Leave Program specifies that annual leave must be requested by form or e-mail. Plaintiff was aware of the Absence and Leave Program. The department in which Plaintiff worked utilized an informal planning calendar to help assess when people would be in the office. Marking the calendar was no substitute for formal procedure. Annual leave still had to be requested pursuant to the Absence and Leave Program. Neither O'Hara nor Hodge, Plaintiff's second-level supervisor, told Plaintiff that marking the calendar was an adequate substitute for following the formal policy.

O'Hara and Hodge were concerned about Plaintiff's performance prior to her AWOL status in April 2013. Plaintiff failed to meet her supervisor's expectations and instructions earlier in the year. Plaintiff does not dispute the accuracy of the allegations regarding insubordination set forth in a letter dated April 12, 2013, advising her that she may be suspended for five days for that charge, as well as her failure to follow the leave procedures and her AWOL status on April 1 and 2. Under Defendant's Conduct and Discipline directive, Plaintiff could have been suspended for five days simply on the insubordination charge alone.

Plaintiff attended meetings in February 2013 with Hodge, O'Hara, and Ramos, one of the Airports Authority's Labor Relations Specialists, regarding being on time to work and complying with the Airports Authority's leave policy. Plaintiff's Work Goals and Performance Factors for 2013, of which she was advised in early 2013, required her to use leave in accordance with the Airports Authority's Absence and Leave Program.

Even for the first half of Passover 2013, Plaintiff demonstrated that she was aware of Defendant's leave policy. On March 21, 2013, Plaintiff requested leave from O'Hara to observe the first two days of Passover on March 26 and 27, 2013. Plaintiff followed proper procedure by discussing her requested leave with O'Hara, receiving approval, then sending O'Hara an Outlook calendar invitation. That leave was granted. Nothing in the record indicates that Plaintiff was unaware on March 21 that she would also need leave on April 1 and 2 to observe the final days of Passover. Plaintiff returned to the office on March 28, 2013, after being off work for the first two days of Passover. While O'Hara was in the office that day, Plaintiff did not request leave from her for April 1 and 2.

On March 29, 2013, Plaintiff sent an Outlook Calendar invitation to O'Hara and Hodge, "notifying" them that she would be out of the office on April 1 and 2, 2013. O'Hara was out of the office and did not respond to the invitation. O'Hara did not see Plaintiff's Calendar invite until she returned to the office on April 2, 2013.

Hodge saw Plaintiff's March 29, 2013, Calendar invite on March 29. After exchanging e-mails with Plaintiff, however, she believed that Plaintiff requested leave from O'Hara for April 1 and 2 and that the leave was approved. O'Hara, not Hodge, was Plaintiff's leave approving official. Regardless what Plaintiff intended to convey through the March 28, 2013, Outlook Calendar invite, Plaintiff did not request leave for April 1 and 2, 2013, in accordance with Defendant's leave policy. Plaintiff was placed on AWOL status for April 1 and 2, 2013, because she failed to request leave for those two days prior to her absence.

Plaintiff further demonstrated her understanding of the leave policy by when she requested two days of leave in May 2013 to observe another Jewish holiday. That properly requested leave was granted.

Plaintiff voluntarily retired from the Airports Authority on May 31, 2013. She filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 5, 2015, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (religious discrimination by employer), 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (civil action for deprivation of rights), the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Virginia Religious Freedom Act. Plaintiff's claims were against the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and her supervisors Hodge and O'Hara. The case was transferred to this Court on June 23, 2015.

On August 17, 2015, this Court granted Defendants Hodge and O'Hara's motions to dismiss, and denied Defendant Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's Motion to Dismiss. Defendant Metropolitan Washington Airports ...


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