Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst., Civil Action No. 15–1034 (TJK)

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia
Writing for the CourtTIMOTHY J. KELLY, United States District Judge
Citation304 F.Supp.3d 123
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 15–1034 (TJK)
Decision Date30 March 2018
Parties Apprill WALDEN, Plaintiff, v. PATIENT–CENTERED OUTCOMES RESEARCH INSTITUTE, Defendant.

304 F.Supp.3d 123

Apprill WALDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
PATIENT–CENTERED OUTCOMES RESEARCH INSTITUTE, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 15–1034 (TJK)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed March 30, 2018


304 F.Supp.3d 127

Andrew Nyombi, Ikechukwu Emejuru, Emejuru & Nyombi LLC, Silver Spring, MD, for Plaintiff.

Steven William Ray, Amanda Sue DiSanto, Isler Dare P.C., Vienna, VA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TIMOTHY J. KELLY, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Apprill Walden alleges that her former employer, Defendant Patient–Centered Outcomes Research Institute ("PCORI"), violated the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 2–1401.01 et seq. , by discriminating against her on the basis of her disability and retaliating against her after she requested accommodations for that disability, a protected activity under the statute. ECF No. 1 ("Compl."); ECF No. 26 ("Opp."). PCORI denies these allegations and moves for summary judgment. ECF No. 23 ("Mot."). For the reasons set forth below, PCORI's motion will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

PCORI is an independent, non-profit organization established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. No. 111–148, 124 Stat. 119 (2010). Mot., Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Def.'s SOF") ¶ 1. The organization's mission is to help patients, clinicians, and others make informed health care decisions by, among other things, funding "patient-centered comparative clinical effectiveness research" and disseminating the results of that research to the public. Id. ¶ 2. PCORI's in-house communications department is responsible for publishing research results, interfacing with the media, and keeping the organization's staff members apprised of any relevant news. Id. ¶ 4; ECF No. 23–1 ("Stencel Decl.") ¶ 7.

304 F.Supp.3d 128

In May 2014, PCORI hired Walden to serve as the communications department's "Senior Media Relations Specialist," a position it created to reduce the amount of work it typically outsourced to an external communications firm. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 7–8. The position's responsibilities included assisting in the day-to-day management of media relations activities, responding to press inquiries, preparing staff for interviews, and monitoring news coverage. Id. ¶ 14; ECF No. 26–1 ("Walden Dep.") at 24–25. The position paid an annual salary of $75,000. Def.'s SOF ¶ 9. Walden was expected to "complete assignments with sufficient levels of accuracy on or before deadlines." Stencel Decl. ¶ 125. As a full-time employee, she was entitled to 240 hours of paid time off ("PTO") per year, accruing semi-monthly, to use on vacation, sick leave, medical appointments, or for other reasons. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 16–17.

In June 2014, prior to starting her job at PCORI, Walden was involved in a car accident, resulting in injuries to her neck, back, and spine. Opp., Statement of Disputed Facts ("Pl.'s SOF") ¶ 2. These injuries limited her ability to "work, walk, stand, drive and sit for long periods." Id. After starting work on June 16, 2014, Walden informed her direct supervisor, Christine Stencel, that she needed to attend regular medical appointments and physical therapy sessions as part of her rehabilitation. Walden Dep. at 43–44; Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 10, 12. During Walden's first two weeks, Stencel allowed her time off to attend medical appointments and to move into a new apartment, despite the fact that she had not yet accrued any PTO. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 21–22.

From June through November 2014, Walden took time off to go to medical appointments and physical therapy sessions. Id. ¶¶ 29, 31. During this time period, according to her medical records, she attended at least twenty-four such sessions. Id. ; ECF No. 28 ("Pl.'s Med. Rec.") at 29–30, 33–34, 36–39, 41, 43–44. But Walden asserts that Stencel occasionally denied her requests to use PTO to attend to these matters. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 10. Stencel claims that Walden was often given permission to leave for medical reasons during normal working hours without having to use her PTO. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 29–30. Stencel also claims that she made "every effort" to grant Walden's requests for PTO, whether her reasons were medical or non-medical. Stencel Decl. ¶ 110. In any event, Walden also asserts that Stencel was "uncomfortable" with her disability, Pl.'s SOF ¶ 8, and sent her a "barrage of emails to distract her" while she attended these appointments, id. ¶ 13.

Walden also claims that Stencel told her to "skip" medical appointments "multiple times," and that this happened on "at least ten" occasions. Walden Dep. at 76–77. In particular, Walden cites one incident where Stencel allegedly stated that she should "probably skip" her physical therapy session because a project was due the next day. Id. at 78–79. Walden states that "most of the time" she was not able to make up the physical therapy appointments she skipped and was sometimes "charged a fee for not showing up" or "a late fee for arriving there late." Id. at 77–78. For her part, Stencel denies ever asking Walden to skip medical appointments and, in fact, claims to have discouraged her from doing so. Stencel Decl. ¶ 113. According to Walden's medical records, during her tenure at PCORI, she missed seven physical therapy sessions (in August and September 2014), at least four of which she appears to have cancelled to complete work assignments. Pl.'s Med. Rec. at 36, 38–39, 41, 43; Def.'s SOF ¶ 32. But Stencel asserts that, at the time, she was not aware that Walden missed these sessions for that reason. Stencel Decl. ¶¶ 114–115.

304 F.Supp.3d 129

Walden asserts that when she began working at PCORI, the amount of work she was assigned was manageable. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 5. But according to PCORI, at that time Walden was assigned discrete tasks that comprised only a subset of her position's full responsibilities. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 42–44, 51. Stencel asserts that she intended to—and did—assign Walden additional responsibilities over time as Walden became more familiar with PCORI. Id. ¶ 44. One of Walden's job responsibilities was tracking news coverage about PCORI, which the parties call "media monitoring." Id. ¶¶ 14, 48; Walden Dep. at 144. Around "the July timeframe," Walden received additional media-monitoring tasks that she characterizes as duplicative. Walden Dep. at 141–142. For example, Walden asserts that she was asked to track media mentions of PCORI using two different electronic formats. Id. at 142–43. According to Walden, after she had already completed the assignment in one of the two formats, Stencel said that "it was no longer needed." Id. at 142.

PCORI asserts that Walden did not demonstrate proficiency in the tasks that were assigned to her in her first few months, and that Stencel was dissatisfied with Walden's performance. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 45–50. Stencel often rewrote documents Walden drafted, identified mistakes Walden made, and sent Walden detailed feedback about how to improve. Id. ; see Stencel Decl., Exs. 2–18, at 17–123. Nonetheless, Walden asserts that, during this time period, Stencel "on occasion" told her that she "was doing a good job." Walden Dep. at 189; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 11. PCORI admits that, throughout the course of her employment, Walden received "some positive comments about her work," but asserts that much of the feedback she received was negative. Def.'s SOF ¶ 66.

In early October 2014, Walden met with PCORI's Director of Communications, William Silberg, and Director of Human Resources, Mitch Eisman, to voice several concerns, including that Stencel had unduly increased her workload and required her to skip medical commitments. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 13. Later that month, on October 28, Walden met with Eisman and Stencel to request accommodations for her disability: an arrangement where she could work at home part-time, and an ergonomic chair and standing workstation for her use when she was in the office. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 33–34; Walden Dep. at 45. Walden's doctor had recommended that she work at home three days per week for at least eight weeks. ECF No. 26–4; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 16; Walden Dep. at 45. Eisman and Stencel agreed to Walden's requests, but authorized her to work at home only two, not three, days per week. Def.'s SOF ¶ 36.

On November 13, Stencel and Walden discussed the work-at-home arrangement in greater detail. Id. ¶ 35. Walden claims that Stencel used this discussion to "interrogate" her and demand that the arrangement include "periodic check-ins." Opp. at 19–20. But in any event, the next day, Stencel formally approved the arrangement, and it went into effect three days later. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 35–36. The arrangement was originally scheduled to end in January 2015, but PCORI allowed it to continue indefinitely, and it remained in effect until Walden's last day working there in April 2015. Id. ¶ 37; Walden Dep. at 118.

Once the work-at-home arrangement began, Walden was generally able to attend her physical therapy sessions, which were usually twice per week. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 38–39; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 18. However, Walden alleges that after the meeting to discuss her accommodation, she began receiving an increased workload, including assignments

304 F.Supp.3d 130

that were duplicative....

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  • Webster v. U.S. Dep't of Energy, Case No. 1:15-cv-1261-RCL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 10 Marzo 2020
    ...a change in the employee's benefits, responsibilities, or job titles.2 See, e.g., Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst. , 304 F. Supp. 3d 123, 136-37 (D.D.C. 2018). Even after the opportunity for full discovery, Ms. Webster has been unable to demonstrate that the performance re......
  • Dougherty v. Cable News Network, Civil Action No.: 17-769 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 30 Agosto 2019
    ...and 3) that he suffered an adverse action because of his disability. Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst. , 304 F. Supp. 3d 123, 132–33 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing Swanks v. WMATA , 179 F.3d 929, 934 (D.C. Cir. 1999) ). If the plaintiff can make out his prima facie case, the burden ......
  • Tyes-Williams v. Whitaker, Civil Action No. 17-1191 (TJK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 15 Enero 2019
    ...Wanamaker v. Columbian Rope Co. , 108 F.3d 462, 464 (2d Cir. 1997) ); see also Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst. , 304 F.Supp.3d 123, 134 (D.D.C. 2018) ; Lurensky v. Wellinghoff , 167 F.Supp.3d 1, 20–21 (D.D.C. 2016) ; Taylor v. Mills , 892 F.Supp.2d 124, 148–49 (D.D.C. 201......
  • Albert v. Perdue, Civil Action No. 17-1572 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 20 Septiembre 2019
    ...and nondiscriminatory reason" for "negative annual performance reviews." Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst., 304 F. Supp. 3d 123, 134 (D.D.C. 2018). Concluding that Defendant has met its burden, the Court moves to the third stage of McDonnell Douglas. At this juncture, it ma......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Webster v. U.S. Dep't of Energy, Case No. 1:15-cv-1261-RCL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 10 Marzo 2020
    ...a change in the employee's benefits, responsibilities, or job titles.2 See, e.g., Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst. , 304 F. Supp. 3d 123, 136-37 (D.D.C. 2018). Even after the opportunity for full discovery, Ms. Webster has been unable to demonstrate that the performance re......
  • Dougherty v. Cable News Network, Civil Action No.: 17-769 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 30 Agosto 2019
    ...and 3) that he suffered an adverse action because of his disability. Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst. , 304 F. Supp. 3d 123, 132–33 (D.D.C. 2018) (citing Swanks v. WMATA , 179 F.3d 929, 934 (D.C. Cir. 1999) ). If the plaintiff can make out his prima facie case, the burden ......
  • Tyes-Williams v. Whitaker, Civil Action No. 17-1191 (TJK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 15 Enero 2019
    ...Wanamaker v. Columbian Rope Co. , 108 F.3d 462, 464 (2d Cir. 1997) ); see also Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst. , 304 F.Supp.3d 123, 134 (D.D.C. 2018) ; Lurensky v. Wellinghoff , 167 F.Supp.3d 1, 20–21 (D.D.C. 2016) ; Taylor v. Mills , 892 F.Supp.2d 124, 148–49 (D.D.C. 201......
  • Albert v. Perdue, Civil Action No. 17-1572 (JEB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 20 Septiembre 2019
    ...and nondiscriminatory reason" for "negative annual performance reviews." Walden v. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Inst., 304 F. Supp. 3d 123, 134 (D.D.C. 2018). Concluding that Defendant has met its burden, the Court moves to the third stage of McDonnell Douglas. At this juncture, it ma......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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