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Valenzia v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 17, 2014

TIMOTHY VALENZIA,
v.
BALTIMORE CITY BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Timothy Valenzia filed this action alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") by his former employer, the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners ("the Board"). Specifically, Valenzia asserts that one of the Board's African American managers terminated Valenzia because he is white and in spite of his requests for reasonable accommodation of his disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). The Board has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Board's motion will be granted.[1]

BACKGROUND

This action arises out of Timothy Valenzia's employment by and subsequent termination from the Baltimore City Public Schools ("BCPS"), which is managed and operated by the defendant Board. Valenzia, a white male, worked in facilities management for BCPS from September 25, 2001, until he was terminated effective April 30, 2010.

During his first four years, Valenzia performed his job satisfactorily and without any disciplinary incidents. At the time, Valenzia worked under the supervision of Tony Corbett, with whom Valenzia had a "good to excellent" working relationship. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2, Valenzia Dep. 50, ECF No. 26-4.) Early in that relationship, Valenzia disclosed to Corbett that he was a diabetic. ( Id. at 53.) Corbett accommodated Valenzia's diabetes-related needs by allowing him to eat food while at work and monitor his blood sugar throughout the workday. ( Id. at 54-55.) During this period, however, Valenzia began to suffer from periodic blood sugar seizures, some of which occurred on the job and required hospitalization, as a result of his diabetic condition. ( Id. at 58.) Valenzia also began experiencing a "deteriorating memory or ability to organize and communicate [his] thoughts." ( Id. ) Despite these medical difficulties, Corbett noted no problems with Valenzia's performance. ( Id. at 50.) Valenzia acknowledges that he was never subject to adverse treatment as a result of his diabetic condition. ( Id. at 54-57.)

On October 24, 2004, Valenzia was promoted to Project Supervisor, the position from which he would eventually be terminated. In that role, Valenzia was newly responsible for supervising and monitoring various renovation, construction, and contract maintenance projects for BCPS. (Valenzia Dep. 47; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1, Jones Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. B, ECF No. 26-3.) Valenzia also was required to input status updates into a computer system known as ACT so that the Manager of Contract Maintenance could keep track of pending projects. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 3, Teller Decl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 26-5.) At some point in 2005, Corbett left his job with BCPS and Valenzia began reporting to Vernon Smith, a white manager in the Repair Shop division. Under Smith's supervision, on August 7, 2006, Valenzia experienced his first disciplinary action, a suspension for sending a string of inappropriate emails relating to a change in department procedure. (Valenzia Dep. 66-67.)

In 2007, Valenzia began reporting to Louis Teller, another white manager. (Teller Decl. ¶ 3.) From this point, Valenzia's performance began to decline. According to Teller, Valenzia "fail[ed] to properly review and monitor the outside contractors' work." ( Id. at ¶ 6.) He also failed to make timely updates into the ACT system. ( Id. at Ex. A.) As a result of Valenzia's deficient performance, Teller placed Valenzia on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") in February 2009. ( Id. at ¶ 6.) As part of this PIP, Teller temporarily relieved Valenzia of responsibility for supervising outside contractors and instead assigned him to work on an inhouse project. ( Id. ) To give Valenzia a chance to improve and avoid losing his job, Teller took on the supervisory work of which Valenzia had previously been in charge. ( Id. ) But subsequent PIP reviews showed that Valenzia's performance had not improved. ( Id. at Exs. B, C.)

Valenzia's account of this period differs significantly. According to Valenzia, the entire impetus for Valenzia's being placed on a PIP came from Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kevin Seawright, an African American male. Valenzia alleges that Seawright "had objections to [his] performance[, ]... wanted to have [his] job terminated, " and directed Teller to put Valenzia on a PIP "as a preliminary step in securing [his] termination." (Pl.'s Opp'n Summ. J. Ex. 1, Valenzia Decl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 39-1.) Teller, acting under Seawright's orders, restricted Valenzia to working on the single in-house project even though Valenzia knew he was responsible for other projects, putting Valenzia in a "hopelessly difficult position." (Valenzia Decl. ¶ 14.) During subsequent reviews, Teller revealed that even though Teller was willing to take Valenzia off of the PIP, he was continuing the PIP at Seawright's insistence. (Valenzia Dep. 82-83.) The PIP was simply a means of documenting Valenzia's missteps to justify his eventual termination.

In August 2009, with the opening day of school around the corner, the facilities department experienced an increased workload. (Teller Decl. ¶ 7.) Already stretched thin, Teller spoke with Seawright about how to handle the increase. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) Upon learning that Valenzia was not presently supervising contractors, Seawright told Teller that Valenzia needed to be held to the same performance standards as the other Project Supervisors[2] and that he should therefore be restored to supervising the work of contractors, "one of the essential functions of his job." ( Id. ) Accordingly, Teller started a new PIP in September 2009, restoring Valenzia's contract supervision duties. ( Id. at ¶ 9.)

But Valenzia's subpar performance continued. For example, as part of his new PIP, Valenzia was required to keep a written record of contractor hours worked on a major electrical project; yet he failed to produce any documentation upon Teller's request and the project ended up costing $4, 000 over budget. (Valenzia Dep. 128-30.) On September 2, 2009, Teller gave Valenzia an official written reprimand for "willful neglect of duties" after he failed to follow up on an important project involving the installation of fire alarm covers in a school.[3] (Teller Decl. Ex. H.) Later PIP reviews revealed that "[u]pdates for assigned projects have not been given in a timely or accurate manner, " "[p]roject supervision and maintenance of multiple projects/tasks has been unacceptable, " and "improvement has not been made." ( Id. at Exs. E, F.)

As a result of these deficiencies, Teller could no longer assign Valenzia the same amount of work as his peer managers or offer Valenzia any more help without overloading himself or the rest of the department. ( Id. at ¶ 13.) Accordingly, on December 2, 2009, Teller sent an email to Manager of Labor Relations Jerome Jones recommending Valenzia's termination. ( Id. at ¶ 14, Ex. J.) Teller's recommendation was based purely on his "own personal observations, and not on the opinion or suggestion of anyone else." ( Id. at ¶ 14.) According to Teller, "[n]one of the other Project Supervisors under [his] supervision had anywhere near as many performance problems as did Mr. Valenzia." ( Id. )

The following months in 2010 saw a continuation of mishaps-mishaps that eventually led to Valenzia's termination. On February 2, 2010, Teller assigned Valenzia to hire a contractor to repair a broken light fixture hanging from the ceiling of a school's gymnasium; despite the urgency of the situation, Valenzia did not complete the assignment until March 22, 2010. (Teller Decl. ¶ 12.) Also in March, Teller learned that Valenzia had failed to follow up on a heater installation project that had been assigned to Valenzia on December 4, 2009. (Valenzia Dep. 138-42; Teller Decl. ¶ 15.) Valenzia could not produce any documentation regarding his management of that project, even though Teller had specifically directed him to retain such records. (Teller Decl. ¶ 16, Ex. K.) At Seawright's direction, Teller suspended Valenzia. ( Id. )

Valenzia's account of this tumultuous period also differs. He claims that while he was on a PIP, he had repeatedly informed his supervisors about his ongoing memory, organizational, and communication problems-the same problems he had originally disclosed while under Corbett's supervision.[4] (Valenzia Decl. ¶ 12.) Instead of accommodating Valenzia's medical limitations, Teller and Seawright ignored his pleas for help and pressed on with the plan to gather evidence that would justify his eventual termination. ( Id. at ¶ 13.)

On March 25, 2010, Teller sent Jones another email seeking Valenzia's termination. (Teller Decl. ¶ 17, Ex. J.) Jones scheduled a pretermination hearing for Valenzia, which was held on April 14, 2010. (Jones Decl. ¶ 11.) At this hearing, Valenzia "said nothing" about any ADHD diagnosis or memory problems; nor did Valenzia request any disability-related accommodations. (Teller Decl. ¶ 18; Jones Decl. ¶ 12.) As the presiding hearing officer, Jones determined that Valenzia should be terminated due to his "repeated and sustained performance problems." (Jones ...


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