United States District Court, D. Arizona
Theresa Watson and Thomas Watson, wife and husband, Arizona residents, Plaintiffs,
Yavapai County, a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, Defendant.
V. Wake United States District Judge.
the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 47) and the parties’ accompanying statements of
facts and briefs. For the reasons that follow, the Motion
will be granted.
Watson has suffered from back and neck pain since a 2004 car
accident. During her employment with Yavapai County
(“the County”), this pain required her to take
frequent breaks at work or sometimes stay home altogether.
February 2013, Watson’s boss assigned her to a
different position in an effort to meet a looming deadline.
In March 2013, Watson’s pain drastically increased.
Conflict arose between Watson and her boss. Watson requested
more breaks and time off, and she frequently complained to
her boss and Human Resources. Watson’s boss met with
her, reorganized her break schedule, and admonished her
negative attitude. In May 2013, Watson was fired.
claims the County discriminated against her because of (1)
her disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), (2) her ADA-protected activity, (3) her
use of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”), and (4) her FMLA-protected activity.
County seeks summary judgment on all these claims. In the
County’s view, Watson’s disability was
accommodated to the extent her doctor instructed, and Watson
was fired for discourtesy and insubordination.
motion for summary judgment tests whether the opposing party
has sufficient evidence to merit a trial. Summary judgment
should be granted if the evidence reveals no genuine dispute
about any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material
fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under
the governing law, and a factual dispute is genuine “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 (1986).
movant has the burden of showing the absence of genuine
disputes of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). However, once the movant shows an
absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s
case, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion.
The party opposing summary judgment must then “set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial” and may not rest upon the pleadings.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. To carry this burden, the
nonmoving party must do more than simply show there is
“some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view
the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party, must not weigh the evidence or assess its credibility,
and must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255. Where the record, taken as a whole, could not
lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving
party, there is no genuine issue for trial.
Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.
following facts are drawn from the County’s Statement
of Facts (Doc. 48) and Watson’s Statement of Facts
(Doc. 52), though they are presented in a sequence different
from that of either party’s Statement. Unless otherwise
indicated, these facts are undisputed. All evidence is viewed
in the light most favorable to Watson.
Watson’s employment and doctor’s notes before
2000, Watson was hired as a clerk in the Yavapai County
Assessor’s Office (“the Office”). In 2004,
she injured her back and neck in a car accident. She has
experienced episodes of pain ever since.
2005, Watson visited Dr. Terry Bagley to address her pain.
Dr. Bagley prescribed daily stretching exercises and
medication. (Doc. 48-3 at 44.) He also certified that Watson
“may need 2-3 days per month off of work.” (Doc.
48-4 at 2.)
2007, Dr. Bagley prescribed work restrictions for Watson,
including “no sitting > 1½ - 2 hours at a
time” and “frequent stretch breaks (15 min. every
2 hours).” (Doc. 48-5 at 63.) These restrictions were
2009, Pam Pearsall took office as the elected County
Assessor. Watson’s job at that time required her to
answer phone calls from angry customers. Watson asked to be
relieved from constantly answering phones. In response,
Pearsall created a new position combining customer service
with other duties. In this new position, Watson continued to
complain, and Watson’s supervisor reported her negative
attitude to Pearsall.
same year, Dr. Bagley certified Watson’s possible need
for “2-3 days” of work leave every “1-2
months.” (Doc. 48-5 at 56.) He re-certified this work
leave in 2010, 2011, and 2012. (Doc. 48-4 at 12, 19; Doc.
52-2 at 23-24.)
2010, Pearsall assigned Watson to a “floater”
position, designed to assist different departments in the
Office as needed. Watson’s new supervisor, Tina
Bourdon, received reports from other employees about
Watson’s negative comments and reported Watson’s
negative attitude to Pearsall.
same year, Dr. Bagley prescribed updated work restrictions
for Watson, including “frequent stretch breaks (few
minutes every hr.).” (Doc. 48-4 at 15.)
2011, Watson asked to work from home. At Bourdon’s
suggestion, Pearsall approved a work-from-home arrangement in
which Watson needed to come in to the office only one day per
December 2012, Pearsall offered Watson a new position in the
Office’s Business and Personal Property section
(“the Property section”). Watson declined, in
part because the position would require her to come in to the
office more often. Pearsall then offered the position to
someone else, who accepted.
Watson’s return to working in the office, failure to
attend a workshop, and 30-hour suspension
early 2013, the Property section supervisor, Karen Parker,
asked Pearsall for additional personnel to help the section
meet a deadline. Accordingly, Pearsall assigned Watson to the
Property section for her one day of in-office work per week.
Parker then asked Pearsall for more of Watson’s time.
Accordingly, on February 7, Pearsall changed Watson’s
work-from-home arrangement to require her to come in to the
office two days per week, to help the Property section. (Doc.
48-2 at 26.)
February 12, the Department of Revenue held a workshop in
Phoenix regarding property tax issues. Members of the
Property section were invited. Watson told Parker she would
like to attend, and Pearsall approved Watson’s
attendance. However, Watson did not attend.
learning of Watson’s absence, Pearsall interviewed
Watson and her co-workers. She concluded that Watson
deliberately skipped the workshop because she was angry about
having to come in to the office an additional day each week.
In response, on February 25 Pearsall rescinded the
work-from-home arrangement entirely, and on February 28 she
decided to suspend Watson for 30 hours without pay. (Doc.
48-2 at 34, 36.) Pearsall gave Watson a “Notice of
Intent” to suspend her, along with a “Statement
of Facts” in support of suspension. (Id. at
36-42.) According to the statement, Watson
“demonstrated insubordination towards several
supervisors when she refused to attend an assigned
workshop.” (Id. at 39.) The statement also
noted that Watson had recently made “negative
comments” to co-workers about her work assignment, her
supervisor’s decisions, and one of her co-workers.
Watson’s increased FMLA leave, complaint to Human
Resources, and meetings with her boss
March 2013, Watson’s back pain drastically increased.
She took a week of FMLA leave starting March 3. During that
week she visited Dr. Bagley. Dr. Bagley wrote a note stating
that Watson “may need several days off per week at her
discretion, ” to be “re-evaluated in 30
days.” (Doc. 48-4 at 25.) Upon receiving this note, the
Office’s Human Resources department amended
Watson’s FMLA status, noting her “leave
circumstances have changed considerably.” (Doc. 52-2 at
March 9, Watson wrote a fourteen-paragraph letter to the
Office’s Human Resources director, Alan
Vigneron. (Doc. 48-3 at 15-16.) The letter purports
to be a “continuation” of Watson’s
“first formal complaint dated June 8, 2009.”
(Id. at 15.) The letter complains about a multitude
of perceived wrongs, most of which are not unlawful. For
example, the letter claims that the Office has created a
“hostile work environment pursuant to Yavapai County
policy, ” has engaged in “a pattern of harassment
against [Watson], due to a personality conflict, ” has
written comments about Watson based on old information that
“has been proven to be false, ” has held Watson
“to a different standard then [sic] other employees in
the office, due to a personality conflict, ” has
demonstrated “hostility towards any employee who
questions or rebuts any statements or policies, ” and
has disciplined Watson based on “false
accusations” and incomplete “research.”
(Id.) The letter also claims that Watson was
well-regarded under the Office’s 2005 administration,
but that in 2007 she was viewed as “the worst
employee” because she criticized the Office’s new
procedures for business and personal property. (Id.)
The letter further claims that Pearsall falsely accused
Watson of writing about an article in the newspaper,
retaliated against Watson for asking why she was assigned to
the Property section, and created a “toxic work
environment” by hiring family and friends.
(Id. at 15- 16.) Only after making all these claims
does the letter refer to unlawful activity: namely, that
Pearsall threatened to demote Watson “due to [her]
having an ADA, which [Pearsall] stated made other employees
more valuable.” (Id. at 16.)
March 14, Vigneron showed Watson’s letter to Pearsall.
That same day, Pearsall emailed Vigneron asking whether
Watson has an ADA accommodation, “to make sure we
don’t violate any accommodation that we are suppose
[sic] to be providing her.” (Doc. 52-2 at 34.) Vigneron
replied that Watson had an accommodation as of 2008 and that
they “need to go through the interactive process
March 18, Pearsall contacted Watson to schedule daily
meetings with her.
March 22 through March 25, Watson took four more days of FMLA
March 26, Watson’s daily meetings with Pearsall began.
According to Watson, these meetings were spent discussing her
requests for accommodations and work restrictions, and the
meetings also gave Pearsall an idea of how often Watson used
FMLA leave. (Doc. 52, ¶¶ 31, 33, 36, 56.)
Watson’s continued FMLA leave, additional complaint to
Human Resources, verbal warning from her ...