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Hill v. City of Phoenix

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 8, 2016

Stacia C. Hill, Plaintiff,
City of Phoenix, et al., Defendants.



Plaintiff Stacia C. Hill asserts claims against the City of Phoenix, its Police Department, and the Department’s Chief (collectively, “the City”) for unlawful termination and failure to engage in the interactive process in good faith in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Doc. 1. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Docs. 67, 69. The motions have been fully briefed (Docs. 75, 78), and the Court held oral argument on January 19, 2016. For the reasons that follow, Hill’s motion will be denied, and the City’s motion will be granted in part.[1]

I. Background.

Stacia C. Hill was employed by the City of Phoenix Police Department from 1991 to 2012. Docs. 68 & 70, ¶¶ 9, 184. In 2003, Hill began suffering ankle problems and shift work sleep disorder. Id., ¶ 13. In May 2010, she took medical leave after reinjuring her ankle. Id., ¶ 38. She returned to work on February 27, 2012, after approximately 21 months of leave. Id., ¶ 1.

Upon returning to work, Hill advised the City of her ankle problems and sleep disorder. Id., ¶ 2. The City contends that it accommodated these disabilities by assigning Hill to the Front Desk Sergeant position, which it characterizes as a sedentary desk job, and by giving Hill an 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. shift, consistent with the recommendations of her sleep doctor, Dr. Stephen Anthony. Doc. 68, ¶¶ 46-54, 258. Hill disputes whether the Front Desk Sergeant was in fact a sedentary position - she contends she was on her feet 95% of the time - but she does not dispute that her hours were consistent with Dr. Anthony’s orders. Doc. 70, ¶¶ 52, 257, 276.

By mid-April 2012, Hill began arriving late and missing some days of work. Docs. 68 & 70, ¶ 4. Hill states that she began experiencing increased ankle pain around this time because she was spending too much time on her feet. Doc. 70, ¶ 276. The parties dispute whether Hill raised these concerns with her supervisor, Lieutenant Anthony Lopez. According to Hill, she told Lopez about her concerns sometime in April. Doc. 70-2 at 4-6. According to Lopez, he “never saw [Hill] limping” and was “never aware that she felt she was spending too much time on her feet.” Doc. 76, Ex. 56, ¶ 46. It is undisputed, however, that Hill complained about her ankle condition in an April meeting with Mary Lynne MeKenney, the City’s long term disability (“LTD”) coordinator. Doc. 70-1 at 6-7. MeKenney advised Hill that she should approach Judy Boros, an employee in Human Resources, about obtaining additional accommodations. Id. at 6. Hill testified that she tried to contact Boros, but Boros never responded. Id.

Also in mid-April, Hill began supplementing her work as Front Desk Sergeant with work at the Off Duty Detail position. Docs. 68 & 70, ¶ 74. The latter position involved scheduling and managing off-duty projects undertaken by the Department’s officers. Id., ¶¶ 75-76. At some point after taking on this additional position, Hill told Lopez that she needed an additional officer to help with the increased volume of work from both positions. Id., ¶ 77.

Hill’s attendance problems worsened in May. After taking two vacation days to study for exams (Hill was pursuing a master’s degree), she requested to have May 7th and 8th off. Docs. 68 & 70, ¶¶ 79-81. Hill’s request was granted, and she decided to take a half-day off on the 9th as well. Id., ¶¶ 81-82. On May 11th, Hill sent a text message to Lieutenant Lopez indicating that she was experiencing side effects from her sleep medicine and was not feeling well enough to work. Id., ¶¶ 85-86. Hill was absent again on the 14th. Id., ¶¶ 87-88. On the 15th, Hill was an hour late and asked for permission to flex her hours by working from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Id., ¶¶ 89-90. When Lopez denied the request, Hill left at her normal time and used an hour of vacation time. Id., ¶ 93. Hill also missed the 16th and part of the 18th. Id., ¶¶ 98-99, 102-03. On the 18th, Hill obtained a note from Dr. Anthony indicating that she would “have trouble making it to work on time, occasionally, ” and “would have days where she would miss work entirely.” Doc. 68, Ex. 17.[2]

On May 21, 2012, Lieutenant Lopez held a “coaching session” with Hill. Lopez told Hill that he would be removing her from the Off Duty Detail position in order to lighten her workload. Id., Ex. 54 at 9. Hill stated that she viewed this decision as “punishment” for her previous use of approved leave. Id. She also stated: “I believe that I can do both [positions] very well as long as I’m doing supervisory work and not officer work.” Id. Hill did not indicate that she viewed the Off Duty Detail position as a better accommodation for her disabilities. See Id. Nor did she raise concerns about being on her feet at any time during the meeting, which lasted approximately 100 minutes. See id., Ex. 54. Hill did request the option to work four ten-hour days per week (i.e., “4/10s”) and suggested that Lopez’s recent denial of her request to flex her hours may have violated the ADA. Docs. 70-2 at 30; 68, Ex. 54 at 6-7.

Following this meeting, Lopez scheduled a May 31, 2012 appointment for Hill to meet with Judy Boros and another employee from the City’s Equal Opportunity Department. Id., Ex. 1 at 3. But Hill stopped reporting to work entirely on May 22 and as a result did not attend the meeting. Docs. 68 & 70, ¶¶ 113, 117-19. Hill testified at her deposition that she did not learn of the meeting until after it occurred. Doc. 68, Ex. 43 at 234-35; see also Doc. 71-1, Ex. 2, ¶ 21 (Hill’s affidavit).

On May 23, 2012, Hill’s psychologist, Dr. Stephen Carson, drafted a two-sentence letter recommending that Hill “be placed on stress leave beginning on May 22, 2012 for an indeterminable amount of time.” Doc. 68, Ex. 2. Hill provided this letter to the City on May 30th. Docs. 68 & 70, ¶ 120. On May 31, the City sent a letter to Hill explaining that the Carson letter was insufficient to authorize Hill’s absence because it “failed to identify a medical condition or provide any information as to the nature of the condition, prognosis, course of treatment, symptoms, duration of the condition, or an anticipated date of return to work.” Doc. 68, Ex. 19. The letter requested additional information explaining why Hill was unable to work. Id. The letter further stated that unless Hill supplied such information, her failure to report to work on June 4, 2012 might be classified as job abandonment. Id. Later that day, the City sent Hill another letter extending the deadline to report until June 6. Id., Ex. 7. Around the same, the City sent Hill a letter advising her that her position required her to maintain regular and reliable attendance. Id., Ex. 3.

Hill did not report to work on June 6, 2012. Id., ¶ 129. On June 4, Dr. Carson provided the City with a letter explaining that Hill was experiencing “considerable anxiety” which had exacerbated her sleeping difficulties and depression. Doc. 68, Ex. 21. He recommended that Hill not drive a vehicle, and indicated that it was “difficult [to] pinpoint when she will be able to return to duty, if ever.” Id. On June 6, Dr. Anthony provided the City with a letter stating that it was “difficult to say when exactly Ms. Hill can return to work, ” but that it would likely be possible once her stress levels improved. Id., Ex. 22.

On June 26, 2012, the City sent Hill a letter requesting that she have her doctors complete a “reasonable accommodation medical questionnaire” to “clarify [her] medical conditions.” Id., Ex. 8. The letter also informed Hill that she had exhausted her leave time and would need to request a leave of absence if she wished to remain employed. Id. Failure to obtain such leave, the letter warned, would constitute job abandonment. Id.

Also on June 26, 2012, Hill was examined by Dr. David Lee, a podiatrist, who completed a LTD form at her request. Id., Ex. 24. Dr. Lee indicated that Hill was able to work eight hours a day at “a desk position [with] walking limited to personal travel.” Id. The next day, Dr. Carson wrote a letter clearing Hill to return to work and recommending that she be allowed to work 4/10s so that she could attend medical appointments on her day off. Id., Ex. 26.

Hill returned to work on June 28, 2012, Docs. 68 & 70, ¶ 151. Lopez was not working that week, and Hill’s interim supervisor allowed her to work 4/10s pending resolution of the issue. Id., ¶ 148. When Lopez returned, he informed Hill that she would not be permitted to work 4/10s going forward. Id., ¶¶ 158-59. Hill began using unscheduled leave again on July 10th, leaving two hours early on that day, and failing to report on the 11th or 12th. Id., ¶ 164-69. On July 13, Hill came to work but left two hours early, complaining about her ankle. Id., ¶ 172. She never returned to work again. Id., ¶ 173.

On July 17, 2015, Dr. Carson produced a two-sentence letter virtually identical to the one supplied on May 23rd, again recommending Hill be placed on “stress leave” for an “indeterminable amount of time.” Id., Ex. 30. On July 25, the City sent Hill a letter advising her that Dr. Carson’s letter was not sufficient to authorize her absence, and requesting that she provide acceptable documentation of her medical condition and contact her supervisor immediately regarding her intentions to return to work. Id., Ex. 4. The letter further informed Hill that failure to report to work by July 27, 2012 would be classified as job abandonment. Id. On July 25, Hill provided the City with a new letter from Dr. Carson which contained identical wording to the ...

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