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Allen v. Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 17, 2015

ALFRED ALLEN, JR.
v.
BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND

Page 723

For Alfred Allen, Jr., Plaintiff: Kathleen M Cahill, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Kathleen M Cahill, Towson, MD USA.

For Baltimore County, Maryland, Defendant: Bambi C B Glenn, Lutherville, MD USA; James J Nolan, Jr, Baltimore County Office of Law, Towson, MD USA.

Page 724

MEMORANDUM

Catherine C. Blake, United States District Judge.

Alfred Allen, Jr. filed this lawsuit against Baltimore County (" County" ) for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ). Allen claims the County wrongfully terminated him from his position as a correctional officer at the Baltimore County Detention Center (" Detention Center" ). He also claims the County subjected him to medical examinations and inquiries prohibited by the ADA. Presently pending is a motion for summary judgment filed by Baltimore County. For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted as to Allen's illegal medical examination/inquiry claim but denied as to his illegal discharge/demotion claim.

BACKGROUND

In 2000, Allen was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that causes the growth of lesions anywhere in the body, including the eyes, sinuses, ears, brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, joints, muscles, and skin. (Def.'s App., George Dep. 4, App. 185; Def.'s App., New Patient History and Physical, App. 208.)[1] Because Allen's sarcoidosis affected practically all of these body parts, Allen's was considered a " severe" case. (Pl.'s App., George Dep. 15.) But Dr. Stephen W. George, his treating rheumatologist, told Allen that, " with medication . . . [he] would be okay." (Def.'s App., Allen Dep. 16, App. 266.)

In 2001, Allen began working as a correctional officer at the Detention Center. ( Id. at 5, App. 264.) He remained in that position until early 2011, when the demotion at the center of this litigation occurred. During his ten-year tenure as a correctional officer, Allen generally performed his duties satisfactorily and without any disciplinary incidents. ( See, e.g., Pl.'s App. Ex. 4, Employee Performance Evaluation Form, Nov. 2010 (rating Allen " Successful" in all six correctional officer " Core Competencies" ).) In the eyes of Deborah Richardson--the Detention Center's then-Deputy Director and present Director--Allen was a " man of integrity" and a " good correctional officer." (Pl.'s App., Richardson Dep. 13, 93.)

But Allen's job performance suffered due to his sarcoidosis. On two occasions, Allen's sarcoidosis flared up so badly that he needed to take leave from his job. (Allen Aff. ¶ ¶ 2, 4.)[2] The first flare-up occurred

Page 725

in 2006. In January of that year, Allen experienced " severe back and lower extremity pain" as well as an " inability to walk." (Def.'s App., George Letter to Wicks, Feb. 1, 2006, App. 211.) Allen was admitted to the intensive care unit and was later discharged with antibiotics, and apparently in a wheelchair. ( See id.; Def.'s App., George Dep. 117, App 205a.) Soon thereafter, Dr. George examined Allen and observed that the " serious illness" he had experienced was " due to neurosarcoidosis" and that the disease's effect on his " brain, mid-brain, and spinal cord . . . most likely account[ed] for his rapid functional impairment . . . ." (Def.'s App., George Letter to Wicks, Feb. 1, 2006, App. 212.) To remedy these symptoms, Dr. George prescribed Decadron to Allen. ( Id.) Based on his exchanges with Dr. George, Dr. Kanthi Wickramaratne,[3] Allen's long-time primary care doctor, certified Allen for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ), which the County granted effective January 5, 2006. (Def.'s App., Allen Dep. 57, App. 271; Def.'s App., County Timeline of Events, App. 62.) Allen does not dispute that he could not perform his correctional officer job when he was " sick" at this time. (Def.'s App., Allen Dep. 19, App. 267.)

The Decadron therapy proved effective. Two weeks after he began that treatment, Allen " showed marked improvement" : he had " rapid increase in strength, coordination, [and] motor skills; there was a " decrease in ocular and head pain'; and he " no longer need[ed] [a] wheelchair or cane . . . ." (Def.'s App., George Letter to Wicks, Feb. 15, 2006, App. 213.) During a second follow-up examination two weeks later, Dr. George noted Allen had " shown excellent response to Decadron therapy and has improved strength and coordination. . . . He is remarkably improved." (Def.'s App., George Letter to Wicks, Mar. 1, 2006, App. 214.) By March 28, 2006, Allen had returned to work. (County Timeline of Events.) With the help of his doctors, Allen continued to monitor his sarcoidosis by making regular preventive care visits. ( See, e.g., Def.'s App., Wicks Office Visit, Aug. 21, 2007, App. 140; Def.'s App., Wicks Office Visit, May 14, 2009, App. 144.)

The second flare-up occurred in 2010--and it was this flare-up that initiated the sequence of events that led to this lawsuit. At some point in May of that year, Allen began experiencing " problems with his gait," a feeling of being " off balance[,]" and weak legs. (Def.'s App., George Letter to Wicks, June 3, 2010, App. 216.) Dr. Wicks again certified Allen for leave under the FMLA, stating that Allen was " unable to perform any work" because of " leg edema, knee pain and unsteady gait" linked to his " chronic medical problems with sarcoidosis." (Def.'s App., FMLA Certification 2, App. 71.) The County granted this request effective May 5, 2010. (County Timeline of Events.) Dr. Wicks continued to evaluate Allen's condition about every four weeks, and recommended that Allen be " off work" at least through July.[4] (Def.'s App., Medical Status, June 29, 2010, App. 135.) At the end of that month, however, Dr. Wicks approved Allen to return to work on light duty, effective August 1.

Page 726

(Def.'s App., Medical Status, July 26, 2010, App. 136.)

On August 1, 2010, Allen returned to the Detention Center, this time on light duty. Allen was assigned to a housing unit pod as a " pod control officer." (Def.'s App., Allen Dep. 72, App. 275.) This meant he was in " a bubble" where " [his] duties were to observe [inmates] and watch and document activities." ( Id.) At all relevant times, the County had no policy limiting the duration of a light duty assignment. (Pl.'s App., Gay Dep. 111.)

Throughout most of this new assignment, Allen performed satisfactorily and without any issues. ( See Pl.'s App., O'Neill Dep. 108-09; Allen Aff. ¶ 6.) That apparently changed in early December of 2010, when then-Director James P. O'Neill allegedly observed Allen taking " approximately 10 minutes" to " walk approximately sixty (60) feet" inside the Detention Center's administrative offices. (Def.'s App, O'Neill Decl. ¶ 3, App. 78.) Based on this observation--and in light of his experience in corrections--O'Neill " became concerned for [Allen's] safety as a Correctional Officer" ; O'Neill " did not feel that [Allen] would be able to defend himself if he were attacked by an inmate." ( Id.) As a result, O'Neill instructed a management analyst to email Lee Anne Bronson in the County's human resources department with a request that Allen be directed to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination. ( Id. ¶ 4, App. 78; Def.'s App., Bruno Email to Bronson, Dec. 17, 2010, App. 81.) Soon thereafter, Allen received a letter dated December 20, 2010, instructing him to report to the office of Dr. Peter Oroszlan, the County's occupational medical advisor, on January 11, 2011, for a fitness-for-duty examination. The letter stated that such an examination was necessary because " [he] h[ad] exhausted [his] FMLA benefits" and " [t]o determine if [he] c[ould] safely and reliably perform [his] job duties." (Pl.'s App. Ex. 5, Fitness For Duty Order.)

Shortly thereafter, on December 22, 2010, Allen returned to see Dr. George. (Pl.'s App. Ex. 11, George Letter to Wicks, Dec. 22, 2010.) Dr. George began by noting that he " ha[d] not seen Mr. Allen for 6 months." Dr. George concluded that the " progressive weakness in both legs" that Allen had been experiencing was connected to his sarcoidosis. ( Id.) He thus started Allen on Decadron therapy, as he had done in 2006. ( Id.) Although he " anticipate[d] improvement in [Allen's] symptoms[,]" Dr. George believed Allen " ha[d] had significant atrophy as a result of his delay in reporting [his] worsening symptoms." ( Id.) Nothing in the record suggests Allen told Dr. George about the fitness-for-duty examination at this time.

Meanwhile, on or around December 29, 2010, Major Bruce Flanigan ordered Allen to resume full duty, ( see Pl.'s App., Flanigan Dep. 44-45; Pl.'s App., Howdyshell Dep. 29), even though there is no evidence that either Dr. Wicks or Dr. George had approved that change. Allen complied with the order by " continu[ing] the same pod assignment and simply resum[ing] . . . the additional full-duty functions" of a correctional officer. (Allen Aff. ¶ 13.)

On January 11, 2011, Allen went to Dr. Oroszlan, who conducted the fitness-for-duty examination. In his independent medical evaluation (" IME" ), Dr. Oroszlan noted he had " only 10 pages of medical records available for review," and those pages showed Allen's history only since February 18, 2010. (Def.'s App., Oroszlan IME 1, App. 86.) Dr. Oroszlan's " Summary Assessment" section included two relevant conclusions. First, in light of " the class specification for Correctional Officer[,]" Allen was " unable to perform all the job-related functions of a Correctional

Page 727

Officer safely, consistently, and reliably and without undue harm to himself and others." ( Id. at 5, App. 90.) Second, " it [wa]s unlikely that [Allen's] overall condition and effort tolerance will significant [sic] improve in the near foreseeable future." ( Id.) Dr. Oroszlan forwarded this IME to the County's human resources department. ( See Def.'s App., Bronson Email to Bruno, Jan. 21, 2011, App. 92.)[5]

After receiving Dr. Oroszlan's IME, the County decided to initiate the process of demoting Allen. On around February 16, 2011, Allen received what the parties have referred to as an " options letter," which stated the following:

[I]t has been determined that you are not capable of performing the essential functions of your position as a Correctional Officer. To that end, you must take one of the following actions:
1) Apply for and be granted a transfer to a position for which qualified, and able to perform; or
2) Resign.
If you do not exercise any of the above options by March 7, 2011, we shall take appropriate action to terminate your employment.

( Pl.'s App. Ex. 13, Options Letter (emphases in original).)[6] On the day he received the letter, Allen called Richardson in protest, asking why he could not keep his position. (Pl.'s App., Richardson Dep. 29-31.) Allen was so distressed that he also had his wife speak to Richardson. ( Id. at 31.) Those pleas failed. Richardson instead told Allen about a vacant correctional commitment specialist position that he could have " if he wanted it." ( Id. at 30-31.) Allen said " he would think about it and get back to [her]." ( Id. at 31.)

Meanwhile, on March 3, 2011, Allen returned to Dr. George and explained he had had " an employment physical during his exacerbation [that] rated him unqualified to do his job." (Def.'s App., George Letter to Wicks, Mar. 3, 2011, App. 220.) Dr. George also noted that Allen was " upset since his symptoms ha[d] resolved with treatment of the exacerbation." ( Id.) Because he saw that Allen's sarcoidosis was " much improved following Decadron treatment[,]" Dr. George stated he would " gladly produce a letter for [Allen's] employer to ...


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