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Gonzalez v. Faithful᪋, Inc.

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

December 22, 2017

JUAN GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
FAITHFULᣥ, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. Ellis, III United Stales District Judge

         At issue in this Americans with Disabilities Act[1] case is the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff alleges that defendant, Faithful Gould, Inc., terminated plaintiff because of his disability and failed to provide plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation for his disability. Defendant seeks summary judgment, arguing: (i) that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case with respect to his disability discrimination claim; (ii) that plaintiff has failed to present evidence demonstrating that defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff, namely that plaintiff had engaged in misconduct by disrobing at work, was pretextual; and (iii) that plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim fails because plaintiff's request for an accommodation came only after a decision had been made to terminate plaintiff for misconduct.

         The matter has been fully briefed and argued, and is now ripe for disposition.

         I.[2]

         In August 2015, defendant, Faithful᪋, hired plaintiff, Juan Gonzalez, as an Invoice Validation Specialist on a contract with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Timothy Hannaway (Hannaway), a managing director at defendant, interviewed and hired plaintiff for the position. In the Invoice Validation position, plaintiff was required to process, validate, and reconcile airport invoices and prepare financial reports related to the TSA contract. On plaintiff's first day at work, he did not disclose his disability to defendant, though he had the opportunity to do so on one of his employment forms. In fact, plaintiff did not disclose his disability to defendant until the day he was terminated.

         Plaintiff was supervised by Henry Edquist and Hannaway while working at defendant. Plaintiff struggled to adjust to the new job and his work product was inadequate. Edquist expressed concerns about plaintiff's work to Hannaway. Hannaway met with plaintiff on multiple occasions to discuss plaintiff's work-product deficiencies and other performance issues, but plaintiff did not show improvement. As a result, on October 2, 2015 Hannaway decided he needed to look for a replacement for plaintiff. Accordingly, Hannaway told Tracy Nursey, defendant's Senior Human Resources Manager, that he would be advertising plaintiff's position and that it was necessary to begin soliciting applications for plaintiff's replacement. By October 6, 2015, Hannaway and Edquist had begun receiving and reviewing resumes from candidates who would replace plaintiff.

         On October 7, 2015, plaintiff reported to work as usual and sat at a work table in the open office area next to Jack Kestner, defendant's Director of Finance. Kestner was on a conference call with defendant's CFO when he saw plaintiff taking off his clothes at the seat next to him. Plaintiff walked away from his desk, then returned to his seat next to Kestner and took off his socks and shoes. Plaintiff then stood up and unbuttoned his pants. When Kestner asked plaintiff if he was okay, plaintiff answered “yes.” After that, plaintiff took off his pants and his shirt and placed them on his desk and stood in the open office area clad only in his underwear.

         While plaintiff was taking off his clothes, Kestner alerted Laura Rullan, Office Supervisor, about the incident. Rullan saw that plaintiff was not wearing pants, got up from her desk, and took a post-it note to Nursey alerting her that there was an urgent matter concerning the plaintiff. Nursey left her telephone call and went to the main office area to speak with plaintiff. By the time Nursey arrived, plaintiff had put on his shirt and pants. Nursey asked plaintiff if they could speak in her office and plaintiff followed her there. Once in Nursey's office, Nursey asked plaintiff if he had undressed. Plaintiff responded that he was changing after taking the Metro to work. At that point, Nursey believed plaintiff meant he had just been changing his shoes, and Nursey told plaintiff that he should change his shoes in the bathroom.

         Later in the day, Nursey spoke with Kestner and Rullan, who informed her that plaintiff had removed all of his clothes except his underwear. At that point, Nursey attempted to contact Hannaway. When she was unable to reach Hannaway, Nursey consulted with her supervisor, Jeanette Rodriguez, and the company's Human Relations manager, Joy Lee. All three agreed that termination was the appropriate discipline based on the misconduct, but they agreed they needed to consult Hannaway before reaching a final decision.

         At 5:30 p.m., Nursey was able to reach Hannaway by telephone. Nursey described the incident to Hannaway, and Hannaway told Nursey that he had already planned to terminate plaintiff. Hannaway and Nursey agreed to have a termination meeting with plaintiff as soon as he arrived at work the following morning. At the time Hannaway made the decision to terminate plaintiff, he had no knowledge that plaintiff suffered from epilepsy or that he had experienced a seizure.

         On the morning of October 8, 2015, plaintiff approached Nursey in her office and told her that he believed he may have suffered a seizure the day before. Nursey told plaintiff that she knew plaintiff had taken his clothes off in the office. Plaintiff asked Nursey for the names of the people who had seen him take off his clothes and Nursey declined. At that point, plaintiff went to the garage to wait for Hannaway. When Hannaway arrived, plaintiff tried to speak with Hannaway in the parking garage, but Hannaway indicated he wanted to go upstairs and speak with plaintiff in the office.

         After returning to the office, Nursey and Hannaway discussed plaintiff's claim that plaintiff believed he had a seizure. Nursey and Hannaway agreed that they should meet with plaintiff to inform him that he would be terminated. Thereafter, plaintiff, Nursey, and Hannaway met in a conference room to discuss the incident. Plaintiff called Nursey a liar, and Hannaway asked plaintiff to calm down. Hannaway then reviewed the incident with plaintiff and told plaintiff that he had decided the previous day to terminate plaintiff for this incident. Plaintiff repeated his claim that he had suffered a seizure.[3] Hannaway instructed plaintiff that he should take the remainder of the day as leave with pay while defendant considered plaintiff's claim that he had suffered an epileptic seizure.

         After plaintiff left, Nursey called the Job Accommodation Network (“JAN”), a hotline at the Department of Labor that gives advice on handling situations where an employee's disability leads to the violation of a conduct rule. JAN provided written guidance to defendant, telling defendant that an employee may be terminated for violation of a conduct standard that is job-related and consistent with business necessity, and where all employees were held to the same standard.

         After receiving advice from JAN, Hanaway finalized his decision to terminate plaintiff. Hannaway and Nursey called plaintiff at 6:00 p.m. on October 8, 2015 to confirm that his employment was terminated. Hannaway told ...


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