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Wilson v. Board of Education of Prince George's County

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

June 18, 2013

WILLIAM WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff William Wilson filed suit against Defendant Board of Education of Prince George's County (the Board) on July 13, 2012, claiming the Board failed to accommodate his disability, failed to engage in an interactive process, and constructively discharged him. Doc. No. 1. Pending before the Court is the Board's Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims. Doc. No. 15. The Court has reviewed the motion papers and finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons articulated below, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Wilson started working as a special education teacher in the ED Transition program at Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School (Wise) on August 15, 2011. Doc. No. 15-2, Wilson Dep., at 40:2-19, 51:15-52:3. The ED program was designed to serve higher functioning special education students with the disability of emotional disturbance. Doc. No. 15-3, Brodus-Yougha Aff. ¶ 4. In October 2011, Wise's principal, Carletta Marrow, asked Wilson to fill an open slot in the CRI program. Doc. No. 15-2, at 66:3-67:4. The CRI program is designed for cognitively low-functioning special education students who need assistance for most activities. Doc. No. 15-3 ¶ 16. Students in the CRI program are provided with internships and are taken on field trips in order to prepare them for life after high school. Id. ¶ 17. Wilson agreed to fill the slot, and sent e-mails to Marrow in October 2011 in which he indicated that he was "very happy" to transfer to the CRI program, and in which he thanked Marrow for giving him the opportunity to participate in the program. Doc. Nos. 15-8, 15-10.

Wilson has a permanent neuropathy in his left foot, causing him severe pain if he stands or walks for extended periods of time. Doc. No. 16-1, Wilson Aff. ¶¶ 10-11. Wilson had surgery in an attempt to correct the pain, but the surgery was unsuccessful. Id. ¶ 14. Because of his neuropathy, Wilson has a Virginia permanently disabled parking placard. Id. ¶ 22. The parties dispute the extent of Wilson's injury. Wilson maintains that his neuropathy is debilitating, putting him in "chronic and constant" pain, forcing him to use an electric wheelchair, and rendering him unable to perform a number of physical activities. Id. ¶¶ 11-21. Notes from Wilson's doctors explain that he suffers from "residual left leg chronic pain/neuropathy/impairment and disability, " and that he must be limited to sedentary work allowing for "frequent episodes of sitting [and] minimal standing." Doc. Nos. 16-3, 16-6. The Board's doctor, Ian M. Weiner, M.D., examined Wilson on January 21, 2013 and concluded that his injury was much less severe, finding that he "did not see any limitations on Mr. Wilson's ability to stand or walk based on his evaluation today." Doc. No. 15-12 at 2. The Board submits additional medical evidence from a physical therapist suggesting that Wilson suffers only a 13% foot impairment, 9% lower extremity impairment, and 4% total body impairment. Doc. No. 15-13.

Wilson maintains that the added walking and standing required by the CRI program, along with additional walking and standing from being forced to do hall and bus duty, caused him significant pain in his foot. Doc. No. 16-1 ¶¶ 9, 23, 28, 45-46. The parties dispute the extent to which Wilson informed his superiors of this problem. Wilson claims that he told his immediate superior, Dr. Dawn Brodus-Yougha, about his condition in November 2011. Doc. No. 16-1 ¶ 23. According to Wilson, he then presented Brodus-Yougha with a doctor's note detailing his disability. Id. ¶¶ 25-27. Brodus-Yougha instructed him to give the note to Marrow. Id. Wilson avers that he did so, though he does not specify the date on which he presented the note to Marrow. Id. Marrow maintains that she was not informed of Wilson's disability until December 28, 2011, when Wilson sent her an e-mail asking to be transferred back to the ED Transition program. Doc. No. 15-9, Marrow Aff. ¶ 18; Doc. No. 15-5. Brodus-Yougha maintains that Wilson never discussed his disability with her in November 2011, and that the first time she learned of Wilson's disability was after Wilson sent the December 28 e-mail. Doc. No. 15-3 ¶¶ 11-13, 26-28. Wilson's December 28 e-mail read:

Good morning Ms. Marrow. I hope you are having a great holiday break. I am up in New York with my mom. I have been doing a lot of soul searching since I have been up here. I realized I enjoyed working with the transition students so much more than I do the CRI students. I have a passion for taking a higher educational level subject and helping students understand the information so they can pass their HSA exams. I feel very out of place in the CRI world academically and with the level of education for the students involved. It is also very difficult for me to walk around during the internship field trips, CBI field trips and for the amount of standing I would have to do at the CRI Internship sites with my physical disability. I have a doctor's permanent standing order for limited walking and standing due to the permanent neuropathy in my left foot. I was wondering if it would be possible to move back to the transition program to take Ms. McDew's classes? Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Doc. No. 15-5. Marrow responded to the e-mail by telling Wilson that before she moved him back to the ED Transition program, she would like to identify a teacher who could take his place in the CRI program. Id. She further instructed Wilson to contact Elizabeth Davis in the Board's ADA office in reference to his disability, to "ensure that [he had] the proper accommodations and modifications in place." Id.

Wilson attempted to e-mail Davis, believing her e-mail address to be elizabeth.davis@pgcps.org, when in actuality her e-mail address was edavis@pgcps.org. Doc. No. 15-2, at 253:20-254:4; Doc. No. 15-6, Davis Aff. ¶ 4. Wilson also put the relevant medical documents in an envelope, and placed the envelope in the School Board's internal mail system with an attached note reading "central office Elizabeth Davis." Doc. No. 15-2, at 126:17-127:5. Wilson never received a response from the ADA office, and he never followed up on his request with Davis. Id. at 254:14-15; Doc. No. 15-4, Request for Admission No. 5. Davis maintains that she never received an e-mail or an interoffice communication from Wilson. Doc. No. 15-6, ¶¶ 6-7. Furthermore, the Board has an administrative policy, Administrative Procedure 4172, that it uses to handle requests for accommodations made by employees. Doc. No. 15-7. Wilson admits that he did not follow the proper procedure in requesting accommodations from the Board. Doc. No. 15-4, Request for Admission No. 8.

In Early January 2008, Marrow denied Wilson's requests to transfer back to the ED Transition program, or alternatively, to transfer to a different school. Doc. No. 16-1 ¶¶ 37-42. Wilson claims that Marrow told him that her refusal was based on his status as a first year, untenured teacher. Id. ¶ 39. Marrow maintains that she refused Wilson's requests to transfer because it would have left her without a teacher for the CRI program. Doc. No. 15-9, ¶ 32. Moreover, Marrow believes that the reason Wilson requested a transfer was not because of his disability, but rather due to his rocky relationship with Brodus-Yougha. Id. ¶ 27. According to Marrow, while Wilson requested transfer a number of times between December 2011 and February 2012, he only mentioned his injury twice before resigning, first in the December 28, 2011 e-mail, and then again in an e-mail on February 10, 2012. Id. Every other time, Wilson's reason for requesting a transfer was "to get Dr. Brodus-Yougha off his back." Id.

Wilson resigned on February 24, 2012. The broad thrust of Wilson's resignation letter was that his resignation was due to the "hostile work environment" created by Dr. Brodus-Yougha. Doc. No. 15-14. The primary focus of the letter was on the bullying and mental distress that Wilson claimed to suffer as a result of working with Brodus-Yougha. Id. Moreover, the letter, at length, discussed Wilson's mother's illness as a reason for his resignation. Id. The letter made one mention of Wilson's disability, stating that Marrow's refusal to transfer Wilson back to the ED program as a result of his disability was a factor in his decision to resign. Id.

Wilson maintains that, prior to his resignation, he appealed Marrow's decision to refuse a transfer to three different individuals: Associate Superintendent Monica Goldson, Director of Human Resources Synthia Shilling, and Superintendent William Hite. Doc. No. 16-1 ¶¶ 43-52. All three appeals were denied. Id. After his resignation, Wilson filed suit, alleging that the school failed to accommodate his disability, failed to engage in an interactive process, and constructively discharged him. Doc. No. 1.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is only appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). The Court must "draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, including questions of credibility and of the weight to be accorded to particular evidence." Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence and the ...


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