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Hummel v. Maricopa County Adult Probation Department

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 18, 2019

Nannette G. Hummel, Plaintiff,
v.
Maricopa County Adult Probation Department, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Honorable John J. Tuchi United States District Judge

         At issue is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48, Mot.), to which Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. 53, Resp.) and Defendant replied (Doc. 57, Reply). Plaintiff Nannette G. Hummel (“Plaintiff”) alleges that Defendant Maricopa County Adult Probation Department (“Defendant” or “APD”) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by terminating Plaintiff's employment instead of granting her request to either extend her medical leave or assign her to light duty. Based on the following, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working at APD as an adult probation officer on January 18, 2005. (Doc. 49, Statement of Facts in Supp. of MSJ (“DSOF”) ¶ 1; Doc. 56, Pl.'s Controverting Statement of Facts in Supp. of Resp. (“CSOF”) ¶ 1.) On October 16, 2012, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment. (¶ 7.) Plaintiff appealed her termination and was reinstated on June 10, 2013. (¶ 10.) Soon thereafter, Plaintiff requested to be transferred from the Mesa office to the Northpoint office. (¶ 20.) APD granted the request on June 13, and Plaintiff began work there on June 18. (¶¶ 21-22.)

         Two days later, Plaintiff began what was initially set to be a two-day leave of absence. (¶ 25.) After Plaintiff began her leave on June 20, however, she requested medical leave and remained off work until January 2014. (¶¶ 27-28.)[1]

         Plaintiff submitted two additional leave requests on July 31, 2013. First, Plaintiff requested FMLA leave from July 22 to August 31 to care for her adult daughter following facial surgery. (¶ 31.) APD denied the request citing insufficient documentation that Plaintiff's daughter was disabled and unable to care for herself; however, APD did authorize Plaintiff to use accrued sick leave. (¶ 32.) Second, Plaintiff requested FMLA leave from August 15 to November 15 to undergo and recover from partial knee replacement surgery. (¶ 33.) APD approved the request on August 8. Because Plaintiff had already accrued the full 480 hours permitted under the FMLA, APD approved leave from August 15 to November 7. (¶ 34.) Plaintiff's surgery took place on August 16. (¶ 35.)

         As her approved leave neared its end, Plaintiff requested additional time. On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff sent an email to APD Human Resources Analyst Mikisha Steel stating that her doctor had extended her leave until January 6, 2014. (¶ 40.) Even though APD understood this as a request for leave beyond Plaintiff's available FMLA hours, Chief Probation Officer Barbara Broderick granted the request. (¶ 41.) Broderick further advised Plaintiff that any absence beyond January 6 would be unauthorized and that to return to work, Plaintiff would need to provide medical documentation clearing her to perform the essential functions of her job. (¶ 42.)

         Plaintiff returned to the office on January 6, 2014. (¶ 43.) At that time, she submitted a doctor's note dated October 31, 2013, which stated that Plaintiff would return to regular duty on January 6. (¶ 44; Doc. 49-1, Ex. P.) Steel informed Plaintiff that the note was insufficient and provided an essential functions form for her doctor to complete before she could return to work. (¶ 45.) Because Plaintiff could not see her doctor until January 27, Broderick approved an additional three weeks of leave. (¶ 46.) Broderick again advised Plaintiff that any absence beyond January 27 would be unauthorized and that she would need to provide a completed essential functions form. (¶ 47.) Following her January 27 doctor appointment, Plaintiff forwarded a letter to Broderick requesting additional leave until February 13 and included a completed copy of the required form. (¶¶ 48-49.) Plaintiff concedes that she was not fit to return to regular duty as of January 27. (¶ 50.) After reviewing the essential functions form completed by Plaintiff's doctor, Broderick denied Plaintiff's request by letter dated January 28. (¶ 51.) The letter further stated that as of January 28, Plaintiff's absences from work were unauthorized and that if she was absent for three or more consecutive days, she would be “automatically considered to have resigned.” (¶ 57.) Three days later, APD ended Plaintiff's employment. (¶ 60.)

         On March 31, 2014, Plaintiff filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that Defendant's decision to end her employment violated the ADA. (Doc. 56, Pl.'s Separate Statement of Facts (“PSOF”) ¶ 39.)[2] EEOC issued a cause determination on December 23, 2015, finding “reasonable cause to believe” Defendant had “failed to provide [Plaintiff] with a reasonable accommodation of additional medical leave and terminated her employment.” (Doc. 7-1, Ex. 2.)[3] After receiving a right to sue letter, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on December 14, 2016, and she amended her complaint on January 4, 2017. (See Doc. 1, Compl.; Doc. 7, Am. Compl.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated the ADA by (1) failing to provide Plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation by either extending her leave or allowing her to work light duty until her doctor released her to full duty and (2) refusing to engage in the interactive process to find such an accommodation. (See generally Am. Compl.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when: (1) the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact; and (2) after viewing the evidence most favorably to the non-moving party, the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Eisenberg v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 815 F.2d 1285, 1288-89 (9th Cir. 1987). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing [substantive] law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A “genuine issue” of material fact arises only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must regard as true the non-moving party's evidence if it is supported by affidavits or other evidentiary material. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Eisenberg, 815 F.2d at 1289. However, the non-moving party may not merely rest on its pleadings; it must produce some significant probative evidence tending to contradict the moving party's allegations, thereby creating a material question of fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57 (holding that plaintiff must present affirmative evidence to defeat properly supported motion for summary judgment); First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968).

         “A summary judgment motion cannot be defeated by relying solely on conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data.” Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). “Summary judgment must be entered ‘against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'” United States v. Carter, 906 F.2d 1375, 1376 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322).

         III. ...


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