United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
E. PAYNE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the UNITED STATES' MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ("U.S. Mot."), (ECF No. 29),
as well as the DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
("Def. Mot."), (ECF No. 31) . For the reasons set
forth below, the United States' motion for summary
judgment will be denied, and the defendant's motion for
summary judgment will be granted.
United States filed this action on behalf of Emily Hall, a
former employee of the Sheriff of the City of Richmond,
Virginia, alleging violation of Title I of the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seg. (ADA
or "the Act"). The remaining Defendant is Sheriff
C.T. Woody, Jr. ("Woody"), appearing in his
official capacity, as Sheriff of the City of
Richmond. The relevant facts are undisputed.
began working as a Deputy Sheriff in 2003. (U.S. Mot. 3) . In
September 2012, Hall was diagnosed with familial dilated
cardiomyopathy and supraventricular tachycardia, conditions
that, without treatment, would substantially limit the
operation of her cardiovascular system, Id. at 4. On
September 21, 2012, Hall's doctors implanted an internal
cardiac defibrillator and pacemaker to treat these conditions
and to prevent heart failure. Id.
health condition and restrictions prevented her from
performing the essential functions of her job as a Deputy
Sheriff, namely that all Deputy Sheriffs must be able to have
direct contact with inmates or other individuals,
Id. at 5. Given her condition and this essential
function, the parties agree that no accommodation could have
enabled Hall to remain a Deputy Sheriff. Id.;
see also Def. Mot. 27. Hall therefore required (and
timely requested) reassignment to a vacant civilian position
to remain employed by the Sheriff. (U.S. Mot. 5) .
January of 2012, Hall was informed by Billie Windzor, then
head of the Human Resources (HR) Department at the
Sheriff's Office, that a Payroll Technician position had
become vacant, Id. at 7. The parties agree that Hall
possessed the minimum qualifications necessary for the
position, and that reassignment to the job would have
accommodated Hall's disability.
other applications were submitted for the position of Payroll
Technician. (U.S. Mot. 9). All of these applications, except
for Hall's, were from candidates not then employed by the
Sheriff. Id. Four applicants received interviews for
the position, during which they were ranked according to
their comparative qualifications under the department's
own internal evaluation system. Id. Woody contends,
and the U.S. does not dispute, that Hall was the least
qualified interviewee under these metrics. (Woody Mot. 2;
U.S. Resp. 1). Hall did not receive the Payroll Technician
position. Instead, the most qualified applicant was hired.
parties agree that the Sheriff has and maintains an official,
neutral, and non-discriminatory policy of hiring the
"most qualified" candidate for each position or
vacancy that arises. (Def. Mot. 4; U.S. Resp. 1) Woody
contends that he has consistently followed this "most
qualified" hiring policy in the past, and the United
States has conceded that the record does not indicate
otherwise. Summ. J. Hr'g Tr. 90:14-91:5.Furthermore, the
parties agree that Woody's "most qualified"
hiring policy was followed with respect to the filling of the
vacant Payroll Technician position in question. In other
words, the parties agree that Hall was not reassigned to the
Payroll Technician position because, notwithstanding her
disability, she was not the most qualified applicant for the
job. (Def. Mot. 2; U.S. Resp. 1). The issue presented in this
case is whether that decision nonetheless violated the ADA.
on or before October 10, 2013, Hall filed a timely charge of
discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) alleging that Woody discriminated against
her in violation of the ADA by denying her a reasonable
accommodation. (U.S. Mot. 12) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5, incorporated by reference in 42 U.S.C. §
12117(a), the EEOC investigated Hall's charge.
Id. The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that
Woody had discriminated against Hall in violation of the ADA.
Id. After the EEOCs conciliation efforts failed, the
EEOC referred the matter to the United States Department of
United States filed the Complaint (ECF No. 1) in this case on
March 2, 2016. Woody filed an Answer on May 16, 2016 (ECF No.
18) . On September 2, 2016, the parties filed these
cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF No. 29, ECF No. 31).
The United States filed its response ("U.S. Resp.,
" ECF No. 35) on September 16, 2016, and Woody did the
same ("Def. Resp., " ECF No. 36) . Replies to the
cross-motions were filed on September 22, 2016 (ECF No. 37,
38) ("U.S. Reply, " "Def. Reply"), and
oral argument was heard on October 18, 2016 (ECF No. 68) .
For the reasons stated on the record at that hearing, the
Court ordered the trial in this case to be continued
generally, pending resolution of the motions for summary
judgment (ECF No. 67).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) instructs that a court
"shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists
under Rule 56 "if the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
evaluating a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, any
disputed "facts must be viewed in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party." Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). In general, the
"party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion" and "demonstrating] the absence of
a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Although the Court
continues to endorse this general framework, it has also
provided more specific instruction to courts assessing
"reasonable accommodation" claims under the ADA.
United States v. Barnett, the Supreme Court endorsed
a two-step, burden-shifting framework for assessing claims
arising under the "reasonable accommodation"
provision of the ADA. 535 U.S. 391, 401 (2002). To survive
summary judgment, the employee must first demonstrate that
the accommodation he or she requests "seems reasonable
on its face, i.e., ordinarily or in the run of cases."
Id. If the plaintiff makes this showing, the
employer "then must show special (typically
case-specific) circumstances that demonstrate undue hardship
in the particular circumstances." Id. at 4 02.
accommodation requested by the employee is not reasonable in
the run of cases, summary judgment for the employer will
usually be appropriate, Id. at 403 ("The
statute does not require proof on a case-by-case basis that a
seniority system should prevail."). Nevertheless, even
where the requested accommodation would be unreasonable in
the run of cases, the plaintiff-employee "nonetheless
remains free to show that special circumstances warrant a
finding that . . . the requested 'accommodation' is
'reasonable' on the particular facts."
Id., at 405. In Barnett, the Court further
explained, in the context of the seniority system at issue,
what a showing of "special circumstances" might
The plaintiff might show, for example, that the employer,
having retained the right to change the seniority system
unilaterally, exercises that right fairly frequently,
reducing employee expectations that the system will be
followed-to the point where one more departure, needed to
accommodate an individual with a disability, will not likely
make a difference. The plaintiff might show that the system
already contains exceptions such that, in the circumstances,
one further exception is unlikely to matter. We do not mean
these examples to exhaust the kinds of showings that a
plaintiff might make. But we do mean to say that the
plaintiff must bear the burden of showing special
circumstances that make an exception from the seniority
system reasonable in the particular case. And to do so, the
plaintiff must explain why, in the particular case, an
exception to the employer's seniority policy can
constitute a "reasonable accommodation" even though
in the ordinary case it cannot.
Id. at 405-06. The United States concedes that it
has not demonstrated "special circumstances" in
this case, and therefore rests its summary judgment position
only on the theory that reassignment would ordinarily be
"reasonable" for employees like Hall, where the
presence of a nondiscriminatory "most qualified"
hiring policy would otherwise have resulted in the employer
hiring a more qualified but non-disabled applicant. Summ. J.
Hr'g Tr. 90:14-91:5.
was enacted "to provide a clear and comprehensive
national mandate for the elimination of discrimination
against individuals with disabilities" and "to
provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards
addressing discrimination against individuals with
disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b). In passing the
ADA, Congress expressly found that "the continuing
existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and
prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to
compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities
for which our free society is justifiably famous." 42
U.S.C. § 12101(a)(8).
accomplish these goals, the ADA prohibits all
"discrimination against a qualified individual on the
basis of disability in regard to job application procedures,
the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee
compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and
privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a).
The Act then details the different ways in which employers