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Rossum v. Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 11, 2017



          GEORGE J. HAZEL United Stales District Judge.

         Diane K. Van Rossum ("Plaintiff") filed suit against her former employer. Baltimore County. Maryland (the "County" or "Defendant"), claiming that the Defendant, through its agents, violated provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") of 1990, as amended. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Following a jury trial and judgment in favor of the Plaintiff on all counts, the Defendant now submits a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law; or. in the Alternative, Motion for a New Trial. See ECF No. 134. The issues have been briefed, P, CT No. 134-1. ECF No. 143. ECF No. 144. and no hearing is required. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons explained below. Defendant's motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Following a jury trial held from January 23. 2017 through January 30. 2017. the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs claim that the Defendant violated provisions of the ADA regarding physical symptoms she suffered from while working in her assigned workspace.[1]See ECF No. 126. Specifically, the jury found that 1) Defendant failed to provide Plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, 2) Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff because of her disability, and 3) Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff because of her protected activity of seeking accommodation. Id. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $250, 000 in compensatory damages and $530, 053 in economic damages. Id. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a)(2). the Defendant moved for Judgment as a Matter of Law at the close of Plaintiffs ease. The Court denied the motion on the record. See KCF No. 141 25:1-5. ECF No. 141 36:9-12.


         The Defendant renews its Rule 50(a)(2) motion pursuant to Rule 50(b). or in the alternative, moves for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59. "In ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law. the court is to inquire whether there is any 'legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for" the opponent of the motion." Weisgram v. Marley Co., 528 U.S. 440. 453 (2000) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1)). In doing so. the Court is to "assume that testimony in favor of the non-moving party is credible, 'unless totally incredible on its face." and ignore the substantive weight of any evidence supporting the moving party." Clime v. Wal-Mart Stores. Inc., 144 F.3d 294. 301 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted).

         If a party makes a motion for judgment as a matter of law before the case is submitted to the jury, and the court does not grant the motion, 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 within 28 days after the entry of judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). In ruling on the Defendant's renewed motion, this Court may "(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict: (2) order a new trial: or (3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law, " Id. Alternatively, this Court may grant a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) if "(1} the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict." Cline. 144 F.3d at 301.


         The Defendant claims that the "pretrial rulings by the Court, trial rulings, evidence, jury instructions and answers to questions on the verdict sheet led to a verdict unsupported by law and evidence." See ECF No. 134-1 at 6.[2] Specifically, the Defendant asserts that the evidence does not support the jury's determination that 1) the Plaintiff can both receive an award of Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") and make a successful claim against the Defendant under the ADA, 2) the Defendant took an adverse employment action against the Plaintiff, and 3) the Plaintiff was entitled to economic and compensatory damages. Each of these assertions is addressed in turn.

         A. SSDI Award

         To bring a claim against an employer for failure to make a reasonable accommodation for a disability under the ADA. Plaintiff must be a "qualified individual." See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). The ADA defines qualified individual as "an individual who. with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." § 12111(8). The Defendant asserts that the Plaintiff was not a qualified individual that could work with a reasonable accommodation because when applying for SSDI benefits, she indicated that she was too disabled to work. See ECF No. 134-1 at 9-10.

         As previously described by Judge Bredar. the Supreme Court, in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 797-798 (1999) "provided clear guidance with respect to the SSDI/ADA scenario." ECF No. 62 at 7. Judge Bredar summarized that guidance. noting:

As the Court explained, "when the [SSA] determines whether an individual is disabled for SSDI purposes, it does not take the possibility of' reasonable accommodation" into account, nor need an applicant refer to the possibility of reasonable accommodation when she applies for SSDI." Nevertheless, the Court recognized that, in some cases, a prior SSDI claim may genuinely conflict with an ADA claim: accordingly, the Court held that "an ADA plaintiff cannot simply ignore the apparent contradiction that arises out of the earlier SSDI total disability claim" but must instead "proffer a sufficient explanation" from which a reasonable juror could conclude that-assuming the truth of. or the plaintiffs ...

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