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Golden v. Indianapolis Housing Agency

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 23, 2017

MARYTZA GOLDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
INDIANAPOLIS HOUSING AGENCY, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE

          RICHARD L. YOUNG, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff, Marytza Golden, was formerly employed by Defendant, the Indianapolis Housing Agency (“IHA”), as a Public Safety Officer. Following her diagnosis of breast cancer in November 2014, Plaintiff sought leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), plus an additional four weeks, in order to treat her condition. IHA terminated her employment when it was determined that she was unable to return to work following her sixteen-week leave.

         In the present action, Plaintiff alleges[1] IHA both failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation and terminated her on the basis of her disability, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. The parties cross-move for summary judgment on both claims, and IHA separately moves to strike the Affidavit of Stephen Golden. For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS IHA's Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and DENIES as MOOT IHA's Motion to Strike the Declaration of Stephen Golden.

         I. Background

         IHA is a federally funded employer within the meaning of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. (Filing No. 59-2, Deposition of Rufus Myers at 22). Plaintiff was employed by IHA as a Public Safety Officer from June 1999 to April 2015. (Filing No. 25, Deposition of Marytza Golden (“Plaintiff Dep.”) at 14, 29). IHA officers are police officers who are required to carry a firearm and whose main functions include responding to calls for service, investigating crimes, protecting the public, protecting IHA assets, responding to 911 calls, providing emergency aid, and protecting and serving the public. (Filing No. 47-18, Indianapolis Housing Agency Job Description; see also Filing No. 47-26, Deposition of Stephen Golden (“S. Golden Dep.”) at 26 (testifying that public safety officers “respond to calls for service, investigate crimes, protect the public, protect agency assets, respond[] ¶ 911 calls, ” make arrests and provide emergency aid)).

         In November 2014, Plaintiff was diagnosed with invasive triple negative ductal carcinoma breast cancer. (Plaintiff Dep. at 51, 89). Plaintiff informed IHA of her serious medical condition and, on December 11, 2014, requested FMLA leave. (Filing No. 47-5, FMLA notes). Her request was granted. (See Filing No. 47-10, Letter from Richard Simmons to Plaintiff). On December 18, she underwent a right side mastectomy and had five lymph nodes removed. (Plaintiff Dep. at 51, 54). Plaintiff's cancer treatment included chemotherapy and the necessity of additional surgeries. (Id. at 51-52).

         On December 19, 2014, Plaintiff's doctor completed a Certification of Health Care Provider (“CHP”) form. At that time, the probable duration of her condition was described as “ongoing.” (Filing No. 47-11, December CHA, Part A). Her doctor described her period of incapacity as “12/18/14 until released, ” and noted that a further treatment plan would be determined post-surgery. (Id., Part B).

         Plaintiff understood that she would be medically unable to return to work at the end of her FMLA leave (March 16, 2015). (Plaintiff Dep. at 68). She therefore contacted Human Resources Generalist Richard Simmons and told him she would like to apply for long-term disability benefits under IHA's group policy with Lincoln Financial Group. (Id.). In the employee statement portion of the application, which she Dated: March 2, 2015, Plaintiff represented that she “cannot perform [her] job descriptions safely” and that she needed hands-on help to safely perform the activities of daily living, including “bathing, cooking, [and] walking stairs.” (Filing No. 47-29, Long-Term Disability Application at 14, Section C). Simmons completed the employer portion of Plaintiff's application and returned it to Plaintiff on March 6, 2015. (Id. at 3). Four days later, Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Michael Mays, completed the Long-Term Disability Claim Job Analysis. (Id. at 4-5). Mays stated that Plaintiff's job could not be modified to accommodate her disability either temporarily or permanently and that it was not possible to offer her assistance in doing her job. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff submitted her long-term disability claim to Lincoln Financial on March 11, 2015. (Id.).

         On March 13, 2015, Simmons sent Plaintiff a letter informing her that her FMLA leave expired on March 16, 2015. (Filing No. 47-6, Letter from Richard Simmons to Plaintiff). Simmons noted that the latest information from Plaintiff's health care provider did not provide an end date to her leave of absence but that, per IHA custom, employees who cannot return to work due to a medical condition may take an additional four weeks of medical leave. (Id.). He enclosed a new CHP form and requested that Plaintiff have her health care provider give IHA updated information as to her condition, and invited Plaintiff to contact the Human Resources Department with any questions. (Id.). Plaintiff took the additional four weeks of leave and thus, was required to return to work on April 14, 2015. (Id.; Plaintiff Dep. at 66).

         On March 31, 2015, Plaintiff's health care provider listed the probable duration of her condition as “ongoing.” (Filing No. 47-9, March CHA, Part A). She noted that Plaintiff was unable to perform her job functions due to the condition, and, as with her prior CHP, listed the estimate for beginning and end dates for the period of incapacity as “12/18/14 - until release.” (Id., Part B).

         On April 13, 2015, Plaintiff came unannounced to IHA's Human Resources office and had a meeting with Director of Human Resources Kathy Walden and Simmons. (Filing No. 47-32, Deposition of Kathy Walden (“Walden Dep.”) at 44-45). They discussed the March 13 letter, her retirement benefits, and her long-term disability benefits. (Id. at 45). At Plaintiff's request, Walden provided her copies of long-term disability documentation, the documentation IHA had received from Plaintiff's health care provider, and the last CHA form IHA had received regarding Plaintiff. (Id.). Plaintiff did not ask for a reasonable accommodation during the meeting. (Id. at 83).

         Later that evening, at 6:10 p.m., Plaintiff sent an e-mail to Walden and Simmons which stated:

I am requesting an unpaid leave of absence per city policy. If you have additional questions please contact me as you are aware I am off work due to diagnosis of cancer and I was informed today by Human Resources that Tuesday, April 14, 2015 will be my last day of employment.

         (Filing No. 47-16, April 13 Email). Walden replied on April 15: “Your unpaid leave of absence request is denied. If you have any additional questions, I can be reached at [phone number].” (Id.).

         In her deposition, Walden testified that she interpreted Plaintiff's email request as a request for leave pursuant to IHA's General Leave of Absence (Unpaid Leave) (“LOA”) policy. (Walden Dep. at 65; Filing No. 59-8, LOA policy). The policy provides, in relevant part:

The Director of Human Resources in conjunction with the Department Director may approve a leave without pay for a specified period of time (not to exceed six (6) months) when it is determined that no other leave form is appropriate. All such leaves are approved only after consideration of the effect of the leave on the department's operations and receipt of the appropriate supporting documentation.
Requests for leave must be filed initially with the Human Resources Department. Except in emergencies, the employer is required to make his/her request at least two (2) weeks in advance of the anticipated leave.
. . .
The employee is expected to return to work as noted on the approved leave request, unless an extension has been granted. If the employee wishes to return to work before the approved date, two (2) weeks' notice must be given to his/her department and the Human Resources Department.

         (LOA policy). The policy applies, Walden explained, to those who seek military leave and to those who ask for a sabbatical, as those forms of leave are not covered by another IHA leave policy. (Walden Dep. at 33). IHA does not provide additional medical leave beyond the twelve weeks of FMLA and four additional weeks of IHA-provided leave. (Id. at 31, 33).

         Plaintiff was approved for long-term disability benefits on April 21, 2015. (Filing No. 47-36, Letter from Lincoln Financial to Plaintiff).

         Effective July 6, 2015, Plaintiff was medically released by her oncologist for light duty work, limited to a maximum shift of eight hours but no more than twenty hours per week, and a lifting restriction of no greater than fifteen pounds. (Filing No. 47-12, Medical Release). On August 19, 2015, Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for a left mastectomy, and was unable to work until September 8, 2015, when she had a medical work release limiting her to working a maximum of ten hours per week with an additional lifting restriction of no more than ten pounds. (Filing No. 47-38, Operative Report; Filing No. 47-13, Medical Release). On November 23, 2015, Plaintiff underwent surgery again, and was medically released to return to work without any restrictions on December 7, 2015. (Filing No. 47-39, Medical Release). Plaintiff became medically unable to work three days later due to another surgery. (Plaintiff Dep. at ...


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