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Dagher v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 28, 2017

JOUHAD DAGHER, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge.

         Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“Defendant”) submits before this Court its Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (“the Motion”). ECF No. 58. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, the Court GRANTS the Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Jouhad Dagher (“Plaintiff”) initiated a civil action against Defendant on November 26, 2015, alleging that Defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 (“the Rehabilitation Act”), by failing to accommodate Plaintiff's disability in the workplace and discriminating against Plaintiff based on Plaintiff's disability.[1] ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleged that his pre-existing malignant hypertension, left ventricular hypertrophy, and chest pains were exacerbated by the “poor ventilation… poor air quality and extreme temperatures” in his office throughout the time he was employed by Defendant. Pl.'s Compl. 3. These conditions allegedly resulted in labored breathing and spikes in blood pressure which led to three separate hospital visits during Plaintiff's employment. Id. at 3-6. Plaintiff repeatedly requested to telework, acting on a recommendation from his physician and explaining that his symptoms did not flare up at home. Id. Defendant denied Plaintiff's requests to telework. Id. At trial, Defendant admitted to terminating Plaintiff due to his frequent absences from work.

         On May 22, 2017, after a five-day trial, the jury returned a special verdict finding that: (1) Defendant had failed to make reasonable accommodations for Plaintiff based on a disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, and (2) Defendant had not unlawfully discriminated against Plaintiff based on disability in the form of unlawful termination. Plaintiff was awarded $53, 000 for Defendant's alleged failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability. ECF No. 55. Defendant now seeks judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), renewing its motion made at the conclusion of Plaintiff's case during the trial, that Plaintiff is not disabled under the definition of the Rehabilitation Act. The Court GRANTS the Motion for the reasons discussed below.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(a), a motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury. If the Court does not grant a motion made under Rule 50(a), “the Court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the Court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion, ” and the moving party may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

         The standard by which judgment as a matter of law is deemed proper mirrors the standard required for a legitimate grant of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). This standard is met when the moving party shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). No genuine issue as to any material fact is found when “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [opposing] party on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). The Supreme Court has noted that the primary difference between summary judgment and motions for judgment as a matter of law is merely procedural. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Bill Johnson's Rests., Inc. v. N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n.11 (1983)). Ultimately, in order to obtain judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must prove that a reasonable jury could not have found for the non-moving party based on the great weight of the evidence. See Id. at 251.

         When considering a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014). If the adverse party is able to show that there is indeed a genuine issue of material fact, a motion for judgment as a matter of law will not be granted. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250. Otherwise, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if “there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict.” Id. A plaintiff's failure to prove all the elements of a claim is grounds for judgment as a matter of law because a reasonable jury would not have a legal basis for deciding the case in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 255-56.

         In the instant case, Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to establish that he is disabled within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act based on the legal standard required in this circuit. The Court grants the Motion for the reasons discussed below.

         II. Plaintiff is not an individual with a disability under the Rehabilitation Act.

         In order to establish a prima facie failure to accommodate case under the Rehabilitation Act, [2] a plaintiff must show that: (i) he or she was an individual who had a disability characterized and covered by the Rehabilitation Act, (ii) the employer had notice of his or her disability, (iii) with reasonable accommodation, he or she could perform the essential functions of the position, and (iv) the employer refused to make those reasonable accommodations. See Rhoads v. F.D.I.C., 257 F.3d 373, 387 n.11 (4th Cir. 2001). For an individual to qualify as disabled, an individual must: (i) have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity, (ii) have a record of such an impairment, or (iii) be regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 12102. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, implementing the equal employment provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, requires that a disabled individual must be affected by his or her impairment to the extent that the impairment “substantially limits the ability… to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ii). Major life activities include activities such as walking, standing, breathing, and working. 42 U.S.C. § 12102.

         To determine if an individual has a disability when the impairment is affected by that individual's work environment, courts apply the foreclosure test. Rhoads v. F.D.I.C., 257 F.3d 373, 389 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Gupton v. Va., 14 F.3d 203, 205 (1994)). Before applying the foreclosure test, courts must determine whether the foreclosure test is applicable under Rhodes. Id. If it ...


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