United States District Court, D. Maryland
ESTATE OF ALFRED ALLEN, JR.
BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge.
plaintiff, the Estate of Alfred Allen, Jr.,  has sued the
defendant, Baltimore County, Maryland, for alleged violations
of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requests damages
in the form of back pay. He claims the County forced him to
resign from his job despite his ability to perform the
essential functions of his position with or without
reasonable accommodations. After a trial resulted in a hung
jury, the parties now ask the court, pursuant to Rule
52(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to issue
findings of fact and conclusions of law. For the reasons
stated below, the court finds that the County violated the
ADA and Allen is entitled to back pay.
was hired by the Baltimore County Department of Corrections
in 2001, (8/4/15 Trial T. at 191, ECF No. 166), a year after
he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, (id. at 193), an
inflammatory disease that forms harmful nodules in affected
organs if left untreated. (8/5/15 Trial Tr. at 7-8, ECF No.
167). Over the course of nine years with the Department,
Allen's sarcoidosis affected his employment only twice.
This action arises out of the second incident.
sarcoidosis flare-up struck Allen in 2010. (8/4/15 Trial T.
at 198). To recover, Allen requested leave in May of that
year and light duty status when he returned to work in
August. (Id. at 198-99). Allen served as a light
duty officer for seven months; the Department does not have
an express policy limiting the time an employee may spend on
light duty, (8/3/15 Trial T. at 83, ECF No.
months into Allen's light duty service, Department
Director James P. O'Neill saw Allen struggling to walk
and began a formal inquiry into Allen's fitness for duty.
(8/4/15 Trial T. at 13-14). On January 11, 2011, Allen was
examined by Dr. Peter Oroszlan, a doctor chosen by the
Department, who found Allen “unable to perform the
essential duties . . . of a Correctional Officer safely,
consistently and reliably . . . . [I]t is unlikely that his
overall condition . . . will significant[ly] improve in the
near . . . future.” (Pl.'s Ex. 25, ECF No. 195).
Dr. Oroszlan is not a rheumatologist and had never treated
someone with a sarcoidosis case like Allen's, (8/6/15
Trial T. at 54, ECF No. 168). He did not find Allen unable to
perform the duties of his light duty position; indeed, Allen
performed light duty service without incident until the
Department told him he had to leave his position February
2011. (8/4/15 Trial T. at 204, 208).
receiving the results from Allen's medical examination,
Department administration decided, without further
investigation or collaboration with Allen, to send Allen an
“options letter.” The letter presented Allen with
three options: transfer to a position for which he was
qualified, resign, or face termination. (Pl.'s Ex.
Notably, an earlier draft of the letter included a fourth
option for a general leave of absence. (8/4/15 Trial T. at
by the letter, Allen and his wife called Deputy Director
Deborah Richardson to plead for his job back. (8/5/15 Trial
T. at 160-61). Richardson told them she could not withdraw
the options letter, (id.), but Allen could apply for
two open civilian positions in the Department, one in
security and a higher paying one in records, (id. at
147-48). Allen settled on the records clerk position and
asked for two weeks to collect himself before starting his
new job. (8/4/15 Trial T. at 216-17).
weeks later, Allen was asked to, and did, sign a form titled
“Request for Voluntary Demotion.” (Id.
at 100-01). Allen testified, however, that he felt he
“had no other choice but to sign [the form].”
(8/5/15 Trial T. at 100-03). A month later, Allen's
personal doctor, Dr. Stephen P. George, a rheumatologist,
sent a letter to the Department objecting to Dr.
Oroszlan's assessment of Allen's sarcoidosis and
insisting, because he responded well to treatment, that Allen
should be reinstated to his position. (Pl.'s Ex. 36). The
letter came after a March 3, 2011, visit when Dr. George
first learned of Allen's employment changes and felt
obligated to inform the Department of Allen's
“clearly reversible disease.” (8/5/15 Trial T. at
20). According to Dr. George, Allen had shown
“remarkable improvement” by the end of January
2011 and recovered full function by early March.
(Id. at 18-19, 71-72). Indeed, Allen won a perfect
attendance award the same year he received the options
letter. (8/4/15 Trial T. at 11, 193).
months later, Allen filed a charge with the EEOC claiming the
County violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
(Pl.'s Ex. 67). The Equal Employment Opportunities
Commission granted Allen the right to sue, and Allen filed
his complaint in this court in October 2013. In 2014, while
this case was proceeding, the Department reinstated Allen to
his correctional officer position. (Id. at Ex. 37).
After a trial in August 2015 resulted in a hung jury, the
plaintiff withdrew his claim for damages other than back pay.
The parties agreed to a bench trial on the remaining issues
based on the exhibits and testimony the court had already
heard, and submitted proposed findings of fact and
conclusions of law in 2017. Before the court could reach a
decision, however, Allen passed away. Allen's Estate took
his place in this lawsuit. (ECF No. 215).
claims the County violated the ADA by discharging him from
his position as a correctional officer because he could
perform the essential functions of his job with reasonable
accommodations and his reassignment was an involuntary
adverse employment action.
Unlawful Discharge under the ADA
the ADA it is illegal for an employer to “discriminate
against a qualified individual on the basis of
disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The Act
requires Allen to prove: (1) he had a disability; (2) he was
“qualified” to perform his job; and (3) he
suffered an adverse employment action because of his
disability. Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the
Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 572 (4th Cir. 2015). The County no
longer disputes the existence of Allen's disability but
does insist Allen was unable to perform his job adequately
and that he voluntarily accepted what he now argues was an
adverse employment action.
employee is a “qualified individual” if he is
able to perform the essential functionsof his position
“with or without reasonable accommodation, ” 42
U.S.C. § 12111(8), at the time of the alleged adverse
employment action. E.E.O.C. v. Stowe-Pharr Mills,
Inc., 216 F.3d 373, 377, 379 (4th Cir. 2000). A
reasonable accommodation under the Act includes “job
restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, ”
42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B), and “permitting the use
of accrued paid leave or providing additional unpaid leave
for necessary treatment, ” Wilson v. Dollar General
Corp., 717 F.3d 337, 344-45 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting 29
C.F.R. § 1630.2(o). If the accommodation
includes leave, the employee must show, “at the point
at which he would have returned from leave, he could have
performed the essential functions of his job.”
Id. at 346. An accommodation is not reasonable if it
would present an undue hardship to the employer. 42 U.S.C.
requires an employer to engage in an “interactive
process to arrive at a suitable accommodation collaboratively
with the employee, ” Summer v. Altarum Institute,
Corp., 740 F.3d 325, 331 n.4 (4th Cir. 2014), generally
after “an employee communicates to his employer his
disability and his desire for an accommodation for that
disability, ” Wilson, 717 F.3d at 346-47. When
an employer is aware of its employee's disability and
need for an accommodation, however, “it may be
necessary for the covered entity to initiate an informal,
interactive process with the individual with a disability in
need of the accommodation.” 1630.2(o)(3). This
position respects the ADA's statutory focus on notice.
See Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296,
313 (3d Cir. 1999) (“What matters under the ADA [is] .
. . ...