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Hannah P. v. Coats

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

July 27, 2017

HANNAH P., Plaintiff,
v.
DANIEL COATS, Director of the Office of The Director Of National Intelligence, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CLAUDE M. HILTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Daniel Coats, Director of the Office of The Director of National Intelligence ("Defendant" or "ODNI") and on a Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by the Plaintiff, Hannah P.[1] Plaintiff Hannah P. ("Plaintiff") worked at ODNI for a five-year term, during which time she was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Plaintiff alleges that ODNI violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq., in refusing to hire her for a permanent position; failing to accommodate her; creating a hostile work environment; wrongfully requiring a medical examination; and unlawfully disclosing confidential medical information (Count I). Plaintiff also alleges that ODNI interfered with and retaliated against her for using leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 39 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (Count II). Upon consideration of the memoranda filed in support of and in opposition to Defendant's motion and the Plaintiff's cross-motion, the Court concludes that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Counts I and II.

         Plaintiff was hired by ODNI in March 2011 for a five-year term working in the Systems and Research Analysis unit. In the summer of 2011, Plaintiff was diagnosed with recurrent Major Depressive Disorder ("depression"). Around the time she was diagnosed with depression, Plaintiff informed her then supervisor of her diagnosis. She did not, however, request an accommodation at that time.

         In early 2015, after Plaintiff had finished working on an 18-month long investigation that had required extensive overtime, Plaintiff began arriving to work late and missed several days of work. In March 2015, Plaintiff's supervisors approached her with concerns about her schedule and her work absences. Plaintiff told her supervisors that she was experiencing acute bouts of depression, and that she was having trouble getting to work. On March 19, 2015, Plaintiff met with one of her supervisors, and the two agreed upon a plan to make Plaintiff's schedule more regular. The plan stated that Plaintiff was expected to arrive at work by 10 a.m., and if Plaintiff was not going to be in by that time, she was to call or email her supervisors. If Plaintiff had not arrived at work or communicate with her supervisors by 11 a.m., a supervisor would call her to determine when she would arrive.

         Over the next week, Plaintiff did not consistently follow through with the plan. For example, on March 20, 2015, Plaintiff did not email her supervisors until 11:05 a.m. to advise that she would be in after 12 p.m. because she was running errands for a house that she had recently purchased. On March 31, Plaintiff emailed her supervisors at 11:56 a.m. to inform them that she would not be coming to work that day. On April 1, by 12:30 p.m., Plaintiff had not arrived or communicated when she would arrive, so her second-level supervisor called Plaintiff. When Plaintiff arrived at work later that day, the second-level supervisor told Plaintiff that the plan they had created was not working.

         Days later, Plaintiff met with her psychiatrist, who recommended that Plaintiff take four weeks of leave to address her depression. Around the same time, on April 2, 2015, Plaintiff's supervisors met and decided to refer Plaintiff to the Employee Assistance Program ("EAP"). The EAP is a voluntary counseling service that assists employees in accessing resources and services that can help them address problems that are affecting their work. On April 9, Plaintiff's supervisors met with Plaintiff and presented her with a management referral memorandum they had drafted to the EAP setting forth Plaintiff's attendance and reporting problems. In the memorandum, Plaintiff's supervisors explained that Plaintiff had disclosed to them that she was seeing a psychiatrist and taking medications for depression. They also informed Plaintiff that they had scheduled an appointment for her to meet with an EAP counselor the following day. Plaintiff told her supervisors that her psychiatrist had recommended that she take leave. Her supervisors responded that they wanted her to keep her appointment with the EAP counselor and would discuss her leave request the following week.

         Plaintiff met with the EAP counselor on April 10, 2015. On April 13, 2015, Plaintiff told her supervisor that she was putting her plan to take lave on hold. Plaintiff continued to meet with the EAP counselor through July 17, 2015. Plaintiff claims that during her EAP sessions, she was questioned regarding her mental health history and diagnoses, her past and current medications and dosages, and her family medical history. Plaintiff also alleges that the EAP counselor discussed Plaintiffs mental health history with Plaintiff's second-level supervisor.

         Plaintiff's attendance and reporting issues continued through the month of April 2015. In late April 2015, Plaintiff renewed her leave request. Plaintiff's leave request was approved and began on May 5, 2015. Plaintiff used annual leave, except for once a week, when she used sick leave for her regularly scheduled counseling appointments. Prior to her departure, on May 4, Plaintiff's supervisors presented Plaintiff with a Letter of Expectations that documented her past attendance issues and set forth ODNI's expectations of Plaintiff when she returned from leave, which included arriving at work by 10 a.m. and notifying a supervisor by 9:30 a.m. if she was going to be late to work.

         Shortly before going on leave, Plaintiff had submitted an application for the Program Mission Manager Cyber Position ("the Cyber position"). Plaintiff returned to work on June 1, and on June 9, she interviewed for the Cyber position. Plaintiff learned after her interview that the interview panel had recommended her for the position. On June 17, the interview panel's recommendation was forwarded to ODNI's Chief Management Officer Mark Ewing. Mr. Ewing recommended that Plaintiff not be hired. Plaintiff was informed that she was not selected for the Cyber position on July 7, 2015- Plaintiff completed her five-year term at ODNI in March 2016.

         After having exhausted administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action on August 12, 2016. In Count I of the operative complaint, [2] Plaintiff alleges that ODNI violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq., in refusing to hire her for a permanent position; failing to accommodate her; creating a hostile work environment; wrongfully requiring a medical examination; and unlawfully disclosing confidential medical information. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that ODNI interfered with and retaliated against Plaintiff for her use of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 39 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. Following the close of discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment on all counts, and Plaintiff responded by filing an opposition and cross motion for partial summary judgment.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings and evidence before the Court show no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).

         The Rehabilitation Act prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against qualified employees based on a disability, and it provides the exclusive avenue for remedying such discrimination. See 29 U.S.C. § 791, 794(a). A plaintiff alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act may prove her case by using either direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination, or the burden-shifting approach under the McDonnell Douglas "pretext" framework. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Luther v. Gutierrez, 618 F.Supp.2d 483, 491-93 (E.D. Va. 2009) (applying McDonnell Douglas to a Rehabilitation Act claim).

         Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff must first state a prima facie case of discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. To state a claim of disability discrimination, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she is an individual with a disability within the statute's definition; (2) she is qualified for the position; and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action that was motivated by her disability status. Doe v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 50 F.3d 1261, 1265 (4th Cir. 1995). If the plaintiff succeeds in stating a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its adverse employment decision. Id. If the defendant satisfies this showing, the plaintiff must show that the articulated reason is a pretext for discrimination. Id. at 430-31.

         In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act's prohibition against disability discrimination when Defendant did not hire Plaintiff for the Cyber position, when it failed to accommodate Plaintiffs disability, when it created a hostile work environment, when it utilized the Employee Assistance ...


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