Imam v. Cumberland County, NC
ORDER denying 22 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Chief Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 11/6/2019. (Stouch, L.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
CUMBERLAND COUNTY, NC,
This cause comes before the Court on defendant' s motion for summary judgment. [DE 22].
For the reasons discussed below, defendant' s motion [DE 22] is DENIED.
In 2002 , plaintiff began employment in defendant's Information Services Technology
Department (" IT department"). DE 27-2, ~ 1. As a Systems Programmer, plaintiff was responsible
for back-end system-related functions for defendant's mainframe server, making sure server
applications ran properly. DE 27-1,
5. Plaintiff was able to perform his tasks remotely, and as a
result, he often telecommuted from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. Id.
In March 2016, plaintiff met with his immediate supervisor to discuss an IT modernization
plan that would move applications off the mainframe. DE 27-2, ~ 3.
On August 11 , 2016 , plaintiffs physician, Dr. David Adams, diagnosed him with deep
vein thrombosis ("DVT") in his right leg. Id.~ 5. On August 16, 2016, Dr. Adams sent defendant
a letter stating that plaintiff had been diagnosed with DVT and requesting that plaintiff be
permitted to work from home for two weeks until the blood clot in his leg stabilized. DE 27-1 , 1
19. Defendant granted plaintiffs request. Id.
On September 6, 2016- following the conclusion of Dr. Adams's telecommuting
request- defendant proposed a modification to defendant ' s job description, adding "operational
duties ." Id. 1129- 30. Operational duties could not be performed remotely, but only required about
one or two hours of work each day to complete. Id.
told plaintiff of his new responsibilities. Id.
11 24, 26.
This was the first time defendant
At the time of the proposed modification, two
Cumberland County employees were responsible for the operational duties, and there were other
employees trained on how to complete them. Id.
1 27- 29.
Plaintiff refused to accept the new
responsibilities because of his workload and DVT. Id. 131 .
On September 15 , Dr. Adams sent another letter to defendant advising that plaintiffs DVT
had additional complications and requesting that defendant permit plaintiff to telecommute for an
additional two to three months . Id. 132. Defendant refused this request, indicating that plaintiffs
new job functions required him to work on-site daily. Id. 133.
On October 20, plaintiff met with hi s supervisors and human resources personnel to discuss
the operational duties and his objections to them. Id.
1 34. On October 24, defendant again denied
plaintiffs request that he work remotel y because of the operational duties, which defendant
indicated comprised 30% of his duties . Id.
11 34, 35 . Defendant' s IT director
that he was expected to report to work on November 3. Id.
1 36. After plaintiff failed to do so, a
pre-disciplinary conference was held on November 9, and plaintiff was terminated on November
14. DE 27-2 , 124.
Following plaintiff's termination, the employees who had been performing the operational
duties continued to do so for an additional six months, at which point the duties transitioned to two
other employees already on staff. DE 27-1 , ~ 38.
In December 2017, plaintiff brought claims for discrimination and retaliation under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 , et seq. DE 1. The Court denied
defendant 's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) in October 2018. Discovery ended on June 28,
2019 . Defendant now moves for summary judgment. DE 22.
A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless there are no genuine issues of
material fact and the mo vant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed . R. Civ. P. 56(a). The
moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 3 17, 323 (1986). If that burden has been met, the nonmoving party must then come forward and establish the specific material facts in dispute to survive
summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 58788 (1986).
In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must view the
evidence and the inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris,
550 U.S . 372, 378 (2007) . However, " [t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of
the nonmoving party's position is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment; "there
must be evidence on which the [fact finder] could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party]."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,252 (1986). "A dispute is genuine if a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party . . . and [a] fact is material if it might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law." Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Judd, 718 F.3d
308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quotations and citations omitted).
To establish his claim for disability discrimination, plaintiff must prove (1) that he has a
disability, (2) that he is qualified for the employment in question, and (3) that he suffered adverse
employment action because of his disability. Jacobs v. N. C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d
562, 572 (4th Cir. 2015) (quotations omitted).
Here, genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether defendant took adverse
employment action against plaintiff- by changing his job responsibilities and terminating his
employment- because of his disability. In mid-August 2016, Dr. Adams advised defendant that
plaintiff had been diagnosed with DVT, which "could cause extension of the close, pulmonary
embolism and even death[,]" and that he needed to avoid commuting for it to stabilize. DE 27-1,
19. Defendant granted the request, but almost immediately following plaintiffs return, defendant
changed plaintiffs job description and added responsibilities requiring him to be on-site. " [C]lose
temporal proximity weighs heavily in favor of finding a genuine dispute as to causation." Jacobs,
780 F.3d at 575 .
When Dr. Adams requested a second time that plaintiff have time off from commuting
because of complications with the DVT, defendant refused to accommodate plaintiff, stating that
his responsibilities had changed. Plaintiffs employment was ultimately terminated when he did
not show up on-site. DE 27-2, ~ 24. Defendant claims plaintiff was reassigned because the other
staff were overburdened. DE 27-1,
24. Yet the same individuals who performed the operations
responsibilities before they were assigned to plaintiff performed them for an additional six to seven
months following plaintiffs termination. Id. ~ 38 . When they were ultimately reassigned, they
were assigned to other personnel already on staff. Id. Accordingly, there is a genuine issue of
material fact as to both defendant' s motivation for assigning additional duties to plaintiff- which
led to his termination-and to the reason defendant could not accommodate plaintiff's second
request for additional telecommuting.
To state a claim for retaliation under the ADA, plaintiff must show ( 1) he engaged in
protected activity and, (2) because of this, (3) the employer took an adverse employment action
against him. Jacobs , 780 F.3d at 577. Plaintiff engaged in protected activity by requesting
accommodations for his DVT. Shortly after the first request, plaintiff was assigned on-site duties,
and after the second request, plaintiff was terminated. The temporal proximity and the fact that
other employees continued to perform the operational duties for an extended period of time after
plaintiff's termination creates a genuine issue of material fact as to the reason defendant took these
adverse employment actions against him.
For the above reasons, defendant ' s motion for summary judgment [DE 22] is DENIED.
SO ORDERED, this
___f_ day of November, 2019.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE
CHIEF UNITED ST A TES DISTRICT JUDGE
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