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Lacasse v. Didlake, Inc.

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

July 7, 2016

DIDLAKE, INC., Defendant.



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

         Plaintiff Chantal Lacasse alleges eight causes of action based on her sixteen months of employment with Defendant Didlake, Inc. ("Didlake"): Count I, battery; Count II, assault; Count III, false imprisonment; Count IV, intentional infliction of emotional distress; Count V, hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"); Count VI, retaliation based on sex pursuant to Title VII; Count VII, discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended ("ADA"); and Count VIII, retaliation in contravention of the ADA.

         Defendant Didlake is a 501(c)(3) organization providing services and employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Didlake creates opportunities by for rehabilitative services, employment options, and other assistance to persons with disabilities in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania. In 2015, Didlake served more than 2, 000 people with disabilities and directly employed over 800 persons with disabilities through its janitorial services contracts with the federal government.

         Plaintiff is a 26-year old female with epilepsy and learning disabilities. In 2011, the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services ("DARS") determined that Plaintiff was eligible to work in a supported employment environment and referred her to Didlake for assistance. Plaintiff began working with Didlake to find a supported employment position. Such a position involves performing a mainstream job with the assistance of an employment specialist who is also known as a "job coach." Plaintiff's employment specialist was Lyn Cardona, a Didlake employee in its Rehabilitative Services Department. Ms. Cardona assisted Plaintiff in finding a part-time job, among other services, and initially found her a position working at Giant. After a period of employment with Giant, including ongoing employment support services from Ms. Cardona, Plaintiff lost that job.

         On or about January 28, 2013, Plaintiff secured a job working for Didlake at the Defense Logistics Agency ("DLA"). Plaintiff was hired to work as a janitor from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. Plaintiff was responsible for independently cleaning stairwells under the direct supervision of Didlake Janitorial Supervisor Brenda Morales. Ms. Cardona provided employment support services for Plaintiff and visited her onsite several times monthly. Ms. Morales worked with Ms. Cardona to provide the first opportunity to correct any improper workplace behavior by the Plaintiff.

         Ms. Morales, in turn, was supervised by Didlake Project Manager Roy Evo. When Didlake hired Mr. Evo in 2009, he had more than twenty years of relevant experience and positive professional references. Based on his favorable performance, Didlake assigned Mr. Evo to be DLA Project Manager in 2011. Mr. Evo was primarily responsible for ensuring that the government customer was satisfied with Didlake's onsite work. Throughout his four-year tenure with Didlake, Mr. Evo received consistently positive performance appraisals, was never disciplined, and was never the subject of complaints or allegations against him prior to Plaintiff's allegations.

         Didlake maintains a sexual harassment policy, and reviews the policy with each employee upon hire. Plaintiff received a copy of this policy, among other pertinent Didlake policies and procedures, when she began work at DLA. Mr. Evo, likewise, received a copy. He signed off on his understanding of the policy when he began working for Didlake. Further, Didlake's Human Resources Department conducted sexual harassment training at DLA during Plaintiff's tenure on March 20, 2013. This training involved reviewing the policy through a PowerPoint presentation and small group discussions.

         DLA is a secure federal facility with restricted access. In order to work for Didlake at DLA, employees must be screened by the federal government and issued access badges. Plaintiff alleges that on August 15, 2013 toward the end of her shift-between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m.-Mr. Evo found her in a supply closet, closed the door, kissed her, and while restraining her with his hands managed to undo his belt, pull his pants down, undo Plaintiff's belt, and pull her pants down. Plaintiff alleges that the incident ended abruptly because someone knocked on the closet door, though no one was present when the door opened.

         On August 17, 2013, (a Saturday), Plaintiff informed her parents that Mr. Evo kissed her. She did not offer more information. Plaintiff's parents did not report Plaintiff's statement to Didlake. She came to work as usual the following Monday, August 19, 2013.

         On August 19, 2013, Plaintiff shared her story with two individuals. Plaintiff told a non-supervisory janitorial coworker and someone who assists at the DLA site, but is not an employee of Didlake, that Mr. Evo kissed her. Those individuals relayed the information to Mr. Evo, who promptly reported Plaintiff's statements to Didlake's Human Resources Department. Because the report came at the end of Plaintiff's work shift, Human Resources arranged to interview her the following day.

         On the morning of August 20, 2013, Didlake's Manager of Labor and Employee Relations, Susie Kennedy, and Plaintiff's job coach, Ms. Cardona, met privately with Plaintiff to try to determine her claim. Plaintiff relayed that she and Mr. Evo were in a closet together toward the end of her shift on August 15, 2013, and that he kissed her, pulled his pants down and pulled her pants down. Plaintiff stated-for the first time-that Mr. Evo kissed her on another unknown occasion in July 2013. Immediately after receiving this information, Ms. Cardona called Plaintiff's mother and escorted Plaintiff to her transportation so that she could go home. Didlake placed Plaintiff on paid administrative leave to ensure she did not have any further opportunity to see or be contacted by Mr. Evo during the investigation.

         To complete her investigation, Ms. Kennedy spoke with potential witnesses, including Mr. Evo. She confirmed that Mr. Evo was with other people during the time in question on August 15, 2013. When Ms. Kennedy spoke with Mr. Evo, he denied that he ever kissed Plaintiff or did any of the things that she reported. Ms. Kennedy learned that Mr. Evo was conducting interviews for several open positions during the timeframe in question. This information was confirmed by a job coach employed by an entity other than Didlake, who was participating in the interviews, as well as Didlake's administrative assistant at the DLA site.

         Ms. Kennedy drafted a report about her investigation. That report was provided to her supervisor, Trisha Juerling, and other members of Didlake's senior staff. Because there were no eyewitnesses, Mr. Evo specifically denied the allegations, and Mr. Evo had a confirmed alibi, Ms. Kennedy found that Didlake could not corroborate Plaintiff's allegations. To conclude Didlake's investigation, on September 4, 2013, Ms. Kennedy met with Mr. Evo and issued him a ...

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