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Lee-Thomas v. Prince George's County Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 26, 2017




         Presently pending and ready for resolution is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Board of Education of Prince George's County (“Defendant” or “the Board”). (ECF No. 41). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         I. Background[1]

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Hope E. Lee-Thomas (“Plaintiff”) suffers from a hearing impairment, chronic vertigo, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (ECF No. 41-2, at 23, 25). She has been a Paraprofessional at Andrew Jackson Academy, a school in the Prince George's County Public Schools system (“PGCPS”), since March 25, 2014. (ECF No. 41-8, at 1-2). Prior to her current placement, Plaintiff had worked for Defendant at other PGCPS schools and had previously notified Defendant of her need for accommodations for her disabilities. (ECF No. 43, at 3).

         On May 19, 2014, Plaintiff filed a formal request for a disability accommodation. (ECF No. 41-2, at 21-24). These requests are referred to as “4172” requests within PGCPS because the Board's processes related to disability accommodations are described in a formal policy called Administrative Procedure 4172. (See Id. at 14). In her 4172 request, Plaintiff asked for: (1) an upright support chair, (2) handrails in both adult bathrooms, (3) an amplified, flashing telephone in her classroom, (4) a portable loop system in her classroom, (5) a portable loop system in the multi-purpose room, and (6) an American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreter or a Communications Access Realtime Translation (“CART”) system for any meetings, programs, or workshops held outside of these two rooms. (Id. at 21). On May 30, Elizabeth Davis, PGCPS's Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Compliance Officer, responded by including Plaintiff on an email to another PGCPS employee asking him to set a time to “fit” her for an ergonomic chair. (ECF No. 43-1, at 40). Defendant did not contact Plaintiff about any of the other requested accommodations before the end of the school year on June 18. (ECF Nos. 41-2, at 37; 43, at 4; 44-1, at 3).

         In the absence of any further information about her requested accommodations, Plaintiff submitted a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which was received on July 16. (ECF No. 41-3). That same month, Amana Simmons had taken over as the EEO Compliance Officer for PGCPS. (ECF No. 41-2, at 1). On the same day that Plaintiff filed her EEOC charge, Ms. Simmons contacted Plaintiff to determine whether she had received the accommodations she sought in her 4172 request. (Id. at 3). Plaintiff notified Ms. Simmons of her pending EEOC charge, and no further action was taken during the summer vacation to provide Plaintiff with the requested accommodations. (Id.).

         When she returned to work for the new school year on August 18, Plaintiff contacted Ms. Simmons about her 4172 request. When Ms. Simmons attempted to set up a meeting, Plaintiff refused to meet without her union representative, who was out of town for the week. (Id.). The next day, Plaintiff notified Ms. Simmons that she was having trouble understanding the material presented during a Professional Development workshop held in the multi-purpose room, which had not been outfitted with a portable loop system as Plaintiff had requested. (Id. at 3-4). Defendant had provided two ASL interpreters for the workshop. Plaintiff, however, is not fluent in ASL and relies on reading the lips of interpreters, and the interpreters at the training were not mouthing the words. (Id. at 4). When no ASL interpreter was present at a training on August 20, Plaintiff's principal, Veronica Richardson, allowed her to leave the training. (Id. at 30-36).

         In an email dated August 21, Ms. Simmons told Plaintiff that she had obtained Plaintiff's classroom assignment from Dr. Richardson, and that: (1) a portable loop system would be installed in her classroom, (2) Dr. Richardson had relieved her of the obligation to attend meetings in the multi-purpose room, (3) a technology support employee would ensure that her telephone had blinking lights, (4) there was already a handrail installed in the bathroom closest to her classroom, (5) Ms. Simmons was submitting a work order to have a handrail installed in one of the bathrooms in the office, and (6) they were still determining the status and location of the ergonomic chair that Plaintiff had been fitted for in May. (Id. at 31). Plaintiff and Ms. Simmons met to follow up on these accommodations on September 4. (Id. at 38). At the meeting, Ms. Simmons confirmed that there was a blinking light on Plaintiff's telephone, that the portable loop system would be installed in her classroom, and that a new ergonomic chair would be ordered and delivered. Although a handrail had already been installed in the women's faculty bathroom, Ms. Simmons agreed that Defendant would install a handrail in the men's faculty bathroom “in the event that she needs to use the men's restroom.” Plaintiff's requests to have a loop system installed in the multipurpose room or to use CART were still “being evaluated” after the meeting. (Id.). On September 9, the loop system was installed in Plaintiff's classroom. (Id. at 39). On November 21, she received the ergonomic chair. (ECF No. 43-2, at 3).

         On January 29, 2015, the EEOC issued Plaintiff a right to sue notice on her 2014 charge. (ECF No. 41-4). On February 27, Plaintiff filed an updated charge with the EEOC. (ECF No. 41-5). Where her 2014 charge complained only about her requests for a portable loop system and an amplified, flashing-light telephone (ECF No. 41-3), Plaintiff's 2015 charge also included her requests for handrails, an upright chair, an ASL interpreter, CART, and a portable loop system for the multipurpose room (ECF No. 41-5). The EEOC responded by reopening its investigation and revoking its right to sue notice. (ECF No. 41-6). On April 20, the EEOC issued a right to sue notice for Plaintiff's updated charge. (ECF No. 41-7).

         In May 2015, Ms. Simmons and Plaintiff again began to discuss the Board's responses to Plaintiff's requests for accommodation. (ECF No. 41-2, at 5, 40). As part of these discussions, Ms. Simmons told Plaintiff that the school's building engineers had advised her that it was not feasible to install a portable loop system in the multi-purpose room. (Id. at 42). Instead, ASL interpreters would be provided if and when Plaintiff “desire[d] to attend special programs or other meetings” in that room. (Id.). Ms. Simmons further stated that CART was still being evaluated. (Id.). Plaintiff met with Ms. Simmons again on June 16 and recapped these issues before the summer break. (Id. at 6-7).

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed her complaint in this court on July 9, 2015, alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (ECF No. 1 ΒΆΒΆ 14-17). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on October 26. (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff responded and filed an amended complaint. (ECF Nos. 16; 16-1; 20). Defendant consented to Plaintiff amending her complaint, withdrew its motion to dismiss, and filed its answer on December 7. (ECF Nos. 17; 18). After ...

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