239 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2001), 98-15404, Humphrey v. Memorial Hospitals Assoc.

Docket Nº:98-15404
Citation:239 F.3d 1128
Party Name:CAROLYN HUMPHREY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MEMORIAL HOSPITALS ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:February 13, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1128

239 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2001)

CAROLYN HUMPHREY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

MEMORIAL HOSPITALS ASSOCIATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 98-15404

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

February 13, 2001

Submission vacated December 8, 1999 Argued and Submitted February 10, 1999

Submission vacated December 8, 1999

Resubmitted February 7, 2001

Page 1129

Jerry Budin, Modesto, California, for the plaintiff-appellant.

John Edward Fischer, James Francis Curran, and Rhonda Canby of Diepenbrock, Wulff, Plant, and Hannegan LLP, Sacramento, California, for the defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California

Page 1130

Robert E. Coyle, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No.CV-96-06025-REC

Before: Phyllis A. Kravitch,1 Stephen Reinhardt, and Thomas G. Nelson, Circuit Judges.

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

Carolyn Humphrey brought suit against her former employer, Memorial Hospitals Association (MHA), under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its California counterpart, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for failure to reasonably accommodate her disability and wrongful termination. We reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of MHA.

I. BACKGROUND

Humphrey worked for MHA as a medical transcriptionist from 1986 until her termination in 1995. At the time of her termination, she was earning approximately $11.00 per hour. Throughout her employment at MHA, Humphrey's transcription performance was excellent and consistently exceeded MHA's standards for speed, accuracy, and productivity.

In 1989, Humphrey began to experience problems getting to work on time, or at all. She engaged in a series of obsessive rituals that hindered her ability to arrive at work on time. She felt compelled to rinse her hair for up to an hour, and if, after brushing her hair, it didn't "feel right," she would return to the shower to wash it again. This process of washing and preparing her hair could take up to three hours. She would also feel compelled to dress very slowly, to repeatedly check and recheck for papers she needed, and to pull out strands of her hair and examine them closely because she felt as though something was crawling on her scalp. She testified that these obsessive thoughts and rituals made it very difficult to get to work on time. Once she realized that she was late, she would panic and become embarrassed, making it even more difficult for her to leave her house and get to work.

Due to Humphrey's difficulties with tardiness and absenteeism, MHA gave her a "Level I" disciplinary warning in June 1994. This warning required her to call her supervisor before the time she was due to be at work if she was going to be late or absent. Humphrey's mental obsessions and peculiar rituals only grew worse after the warning, and her attendance record did not improve; nor did her call-in rate. In December 1994, she received a "Level III" warning, which documented four tardy days and one unreported absence over a two week period.

When MHA gave Humphrey the Level III warning, she was told that she was expected to schedule and keep counseling appointments with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This counseling consisted of "tips," helpful hints such as getting up earlier and laying out clothes the night before. Humphrey found this somewhat helpful and attended several sessions, but her efforts to follow the "tips " were not particularly successful. After watching an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show devoted to attention deficit disorder, Humphrey began to suspect that her debilitating symptoms and inability to get to work on time might be related to a medical condition. In May, 1995, she asked MHA's EAP nurse, Elizabeth Pierson, if she could see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. Pierson agreed, and set up an appointment for a diagnostic evaluation and psychological testing with Dr. John Jacisin. MHA paid for the consultation through its EAP program.

Humphrey first saw Dr. Jacisin on May 12, 1995. Dr. Jacisin diagnosed her with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).2 He

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sent a letter explaining that diagnosis to Pierson on May 18, 1995, telling her that Humphrey's OCD "is directly contributing to her problems with lateness." In addition, the letter stated:

I believe that we can treat this, although, the treatment may take a while. I do believe that she would qualify under the Americans with Disability Act, although, I would like to see her continue to work, but if it is proving to be a major personnel problem, she may have to take some time off until we can get the symptoms better under control.

Humphrey sought treatment from Dr. Jacisin and from a psychologist, Dr. Litynsky. Dr. Litynsky, like Dr. Jacisin, diagnosed Humphrey with OCD and concluded that it was probable that the OCD caused her absenteeism and tardiness. Humphrey had difficulty paying for the necessary services, however, because her insurance did not cover the treatment. In addition, due to the severe symptoms of her ailment, Humphrey had great difficulty showing up for appointments. Both doctors considered her inconsistency in treatment in 1995 and 1996 to be the result of the disorder as well as her financial problems.3

On June 7, 1995, Humphrey met with Pierson and Humphrey's supervisor, Carol Evans-Bowlsby, to review Dr. Jacisin's letter. What happened at this meeting is disputed. MHA contends that Humphrey rejected the leave of absence alluded to in the doctor's letter. Humphrey says that she was never offered a leave of absence and never rejected one. Instead, she testified that "they asked if I would like to keep working. And I said yes." She did not remember anyone using the term "leave of absence." (As it turns out, this factual dispute is not material to our ruling on appeal.)

Humphrey did want to try to keep working, if possible, and Pierson told her that she could have an "accommodation" that would allow her to do so. Pierson suggested, as an accommodation, that Humphrey have a friend or family member drive her to work every day. Humphrey said that this suggestion would not be feasible. Pierson next offered a flexible start time arrangement in which Humphrey could begin work any time within a 24 hour period on days on which she was scheduled to work. Pierson asked her to think about whether this would help her and whether any other accommodation would be desirable, and asked her to submit any additional requests for accommodation in writing. A few days later, Humphrey sent Pierson a letter accepting the flexible start time arrangement, and saying that she "would still do my best to be at my work station at the earliest possible hour."

Nevertheless, Humphrey continued to miss work. It is disputed whether Humphrey's supervisor warned her about her conduct during the remainder of that summer. It is undisputed, however, that no one from MHA broached the subject of modifying the accommodation during that period. On September 18, 1995, Humphrey, upset about her continuing problems, sent Pierson an e-mail message asking for a new accommodation because the then-current one seemed to be failing:

Dear Liz:

It has now been a few months since I sent you a memo regarding how my disability would best be accommodated as far as my job performance. I have since come to the conclusion that I would be able to put in considerable

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more hours [sic] and be much more productive if I were able to work from my home as a lot of other transcriptionists are doing. . . . I think this would be the ideal way to accommodate my diagnosed disability.

MHA allows certain medical transcriptionists to work out of their homes. Dr. Jacisin was not asked by anyone at MHA for his opinion on the work-at-home request. After Humphrey's termination, Jacisin said that working at home "might accommodate some of her work issues" but might be "antitherapeutic." He testified, in his deposition in this lawsuit, that he felt working at home was an accommodation which would have been worth trying because it was necessary for Humphrey to earn money and increase her self-confidence.

In any event, Humphrey's request was summarily denied. In an e-mail message, Pierson denied her request for work-athome accommodation on the ground of Humphrey's disciplinary warnings for tardiness and absenteeism. Pierson did not suggest an alternative accommodation or indicate that MHA would be receptive to reassessing its arrangements to accommodate Humphrey in light of the apparent failure of the flexible work schedule arrangement. Instead, she wrote:

It is departmental policy that if you are involved in any disciplinary action you are ineligible to be a home based transcriptionist as per the AT HOME ARRANGEMENT FOR TRANSCRIPTIONISTS. Since you are currently involved in the discipline process, you are ineligible for being based at home. During our 6/7/95 meeting, you requested to be accommodated for your disability by having a flexible start time, stating that you would have no problems staying for a full shift once you arrived. You were given this flexible start time accommodation which continues to remain in effect. As for your productivity, your manager indicated that you consistently meet your hourly productivity requirements when you are at work.

Pierson's comment regarding Humphrey's productivity at work was typical of Humphrey's performance evaluations, which recognized her high level of competence but were tarnished by the problems caused by her disability. For example, in her annual performance review completed on September 26, 1995-approximately two weeks before she was terminated -Humphrey exceeded expectations in minutes typed per shift and in errors per 130 lines...

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