United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Linda Lane contends that the Department of Defense Missile
Defense Agency discriminated against her because she is
disabled and retaliated against her after she reported acts
of discrimination. Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, the Secretary of Defense has asked the
Court to enter judgment in the Department’s favor on
Ms. Lane’s claims. According to the Secretary, there is
no genuine dispute of fact as to whether the Department of
Defense Missile Defense Agency suspended and terminated Ms.
Lane because of her disability or in retaliation for filing
an EEO complaint. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court
grants the Secretary’s motion for summary judgment in
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine
dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary
judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must
cite “to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only
the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in
the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). When considering a
summary judgment motion, a district court must view the
evidence in the record and draw reasonable inferences in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Asalde v.
First Class Parking Sys. LLC, 898 F.3d 1136, 1138 (11th
Cir. 2018). Accordingly, the Court presents the evidence in
the light most favorable to Ms. Lane.
Lane’s Employment History with MDA and Ms. Lane’s
Lane worked as a contract specialist for the Department of
Defense Missile Defense Agency (MDA) at Redstone Arsenal in
Huntsville, Alabama. (Doc. 68-1, p. 11, tp. 41; Doc. 68-1, p.
12, tp. 45). She was responsible for evaluating contractor
proposals, negotiating the government’s contract
position, and preparing written documentation for contract
files. (Doc. 74-8, p. 3).
2009, while working for MDA, Ms. Lane began suffering from
severe anxiety and panic attacks. (Doc. 68-1, p. 28, tp.
108). Ms. Lane did not request a formal accommodation until
November of 2012. (Doc. 74-9, pp. 1-6).
October 2011, Ms. Lane’s supervisors recorded her
absence from a mandatory contract course. (Doc. 74-49, p. 1).
After Ms. Lane missed the class, her second-level supervisor,
Barnett Klehman, stated in an email to Ms. Lane’s other
MDA supervisors: “Either she is mentally ill (which I
think is a definite possibility), or she is trying to
manipulate the system.” (Doc. 74-49, p. 1). Mr. Klehman
added: “We need to start the official documentation
trail; at this point there is no longer any reason to try to
help this employee, and we need to be prepared for a long and
arduous process leading to separation.” (Doc. 74-49, p.
months later, Mr. Klehman said to Ms. Lane, “Good luck
on getting your next 10 years.” (Doc. 74-26, p. 13,
¶ 14). Ms. Lane perceived Mr. Klehman’s comment as
a direct threat to her employment with MDA. (Doc. 74-26, p.
13, ¶ 14). In June 2013, Masha Thornton replaced Mr.
Klehman as Ms. Lane’s second-level supervisor. (Doc.
68-17, p. 2).
in March of 2012, Marie Hickox became Ms. Lane’s
first-level supervisor. (Doc. 68-1, p. 12, tp. 45). In
September 2012, Ms. Hickox emailed Ms. Lane’s other
supervisors and requested a “Record-Discussion”
about Ms. Lane. (Doc. 74-35, p. 1). Ms. Hickox stated that
Ms. Lane “ha[d] performed satisfactorily” but was
beginning “a downhill slide, ” and “[t]here
is a concern that she is unstable.” (Doc. 74-35, p. 1).
Ms. Lane contends that Ms. Hickox encouraged her to leave
MDA. (Doc. 74-12, p. 2).
November 7, 2012, Ms. Lane requested a reasonable
accommodation for her disabilities via a form prepared by her
treating psychiatrist, Dr. Regina Doody. (Doc. 74-9, pp.
1-6). Dr. Doody diagnosed Ms. Lane with panic disorder, ADHD,
and depression. (Doc. 74-9, p. 1). Dr. Doody reported that
because of anxiety and panic attacks, Ms. Lane found it
difficult to function in the office environment, perceived
MDA as a hostile work environment, and desired the option to
telecommute for her job and perform her work duties from home
when necessary because of panic attacks and anxiety. (Doc.
74-9, p. 2). Dr. Doody reported that Ms. Lane “states
she is intermittently incapacitated to leave home for
work” because of anxiety and panic attacks. (Doc. 74-9,
November 27, 2012, Ms. Hickox and the MDA disability program
manager, Denise Walker, granted Ms. Lane the accommodations
of telework (Ms. Lane could request to work remotely when
necessary), a flexitour (ability to work credit hours to
accumulate leave), and modified requirements for requesting
sick leave (Ms. Lane could call in sick at any time before
1:00 p.m.). (Doc. 74-13, p. 1). In a memorandum memorializing
a meeting that she attended with Ms. Lane and Ms. Walker, Ms.
Hickox wrote that Ms. Lane must be able to perform the
essential functions of her position from home. (Doc. 74-13,
in January 2013, Ms. Lane teleworked almost every day. (Doc.
74-10, p. 14, tp. 51). Ms. Lane reported to Redstone
approximately once every two weeks to perform duties that
required her to be in the office. (Doc. 74-10, p. 22). On
January 18, 2013, Ms. Lane filed an EEO complaint. (Doc.
74-46, p. 5; Doc. 68-1, p. 15, tp. 56). Ms. Lane amended her
complaint four times, and her complaint was investigated from
September 17, 2013, to April 15, 2014. (Doc. 74-46, p. 5).
April 26, 2013, Ms. Lane met with Ms. Hickox and Ms. Walker.
(Doc. 74-10, p. 15, tpp. 54-55; Doc. 74-15, pp. 1-4). Ms.
Lane informed them that telework worked for her and that she
wanted to telework as much as possible. (Doc. 74-10, p. 15,
tp. 55). In a memorandum memorializing the meeting, Ms.
Hickox wrote that she had approved Ms. Lane’s telework
in January 2013 “with the understanding from [Ms. Lane]
that it would be irregular and infrequent.” (Doc.
74-15, p. 1). Ms. Hickox and Ms. Walker informed Ms. Lane
that MDA needed her to transition back into working at the
office for the majority of her work schedule. (Doc. 74-15, p.
1). Accordingly, Ms. Lane came to the office one day the
first week after the meeting, two days the second week, three
days the third week, and then four days the fourth week.
(Doc. 74-15, p. 1). Ms. Lane was supposed to work in the
office full-time by June 10, 2013. (Doc. 75-15, p. 1).
Friday, June 7, 2013, Ms. Lane submitted a note from Dr.
Doody dated May 29, 2013, in which Dr. Doody stated, “I
am the treating physician for [Ms. Lane]. I am requesting
that Ms. Lane be allowed to work from home for the next eight
weeks due to her complaint of experiencing some episodes of
anxiety and panic attacks.” (Doc. 74-16, p. 1). Ms.
Lane also submitted a note from her chiropractor, Martin
Bryant, D.C., in which Dr. Bryant stated, “I have
recommended [Ms. Lane] not be required to lift more than 2
pounds” because of neck pain, back pain, and headaches.
(Doc. 74-17, p. 1). Ms. Hickox denied Ms. Lane’s
request to telework for eight weeks. (Doc. 74-18, p. 1). In a
memorandum provided to Ms. Lane, Ms. Hickox explained that
she denied the request because she believed Ms. Lane’s
previously approved accommodations were sufficient, the May
29, 2013 note from Dr. Doody did not demonstrate a nexus
between Ms. Lane’s disability and the accommodation
specifically requested, and the note did not describe the
functional limitations that interfered with Ms. Lane’s
ability to perform her essential duties. (Doc. 74-18, p. 1).
Ms. Hickox approved Ms. Lane’s request for a lifting
restriction of two pounds. (Doc. 74-18, p. 1). Ms. Hickox and
Ms. Walker did not confer with Ms. Lane before denying her
request for eight weeks of telework. (Doc. 74-10, p. 16, tpp.
August 3, 2013, Ms. Lane reported to Ms. Hickox via email
that Ms. Lane’s ex-husband, David Lane, who worked at
Redstone, stalked Ms. Lane in the parking lot. (Doc. 74-20,
pp. 5-6). Ms. Hickox responded, “I will find out and
let you know what, if anything, I can do about the
incident.” (Doc. 74-20, p. 5). Ms. Lane responded,
I don’t appreciate you asking me yesterday whether I
was still taking my medication. I found that very offensive.
. . . Due to this incident I am requesting to once again work
from home and away from what I perceive as a hostile work
(Doc. 74-20, p. 5). In another email, Ms. Lane stated,
“I don’t being [sic] asked by you whether I am
taking my meds.” (Doc. 74-20, p. 4). And in another
email, Ms. Lane stated, “your first question to me was
‘You haven’t been taking your medication lately
have you?’ I find that very insulting.” (Doc.
74-20, p. 3). Throughout these emails, Ms. Lane requested
telework, advanced annual or sick leave under the FMLA, or
administrative leave. (Doc. 74-20, pp. 3-5). Ms. Hickox
explained to Ms. Lane the process for requesting FMLA leave
and for documenting the stalking incident. (Doc. 74-20, pp.
2-3). Ms. Hickox informed Ms. Lane that Redstone security
would investigate the stalking incident and provide an escort
for Ms. Lane to and from the parking lot. (Doc. 74-20, p. 2).
Ms. Lane responded, “it’s almost laughable that
MDA will conduct a fruitful investigation” because,
according to Ms. Lane, MDA previously had covered up
misconduct against her, destroyed her career, accused her of
imagining the stalking, and humiliated her. (Doc. 74-20, p.
this email exchange, Ms. Lane submitted to Ms. Walker an FMLA
form requesting telework and a doctor’s note. (Doc.
74-23, p. 1; Doc. 74-21; Doc. 74-22). Ms. Hickox issued a
memorandum denying Ms. Lane’s request to telework.
(Doc. 74-23, p. 1). Ms. Hickox wrote:
I am not willing to grant this accommodation because I
believe the previously approved accommodations are sufficient
to reasonably accommodate your disability. Certain parts of
your duties require your presence in the office. Further,
based on the September 12, 2013 doctor’s FMLA form your
doctor did not recommend 100% telework; therefore I am not
willing to approve you for 100% telework.
(Doc. 74-23, p. 1). Ms. Hickox requested bi-weekly meetings
with Ms. Lane “in order to review the situation and
maintain an open line of communication.” (Doc. 74-23,
October 17, 2013, Ms. Lane learned that she and a fellow
contracting officer, Glenda Heard, would be participating
together in a contracting class required for Ms. Lane’s
position. (Doc. 74-27, p. 6). A year earlier, Ms. Lane had
accused Ms. Heard of threatening to cut her. (Doc. 74-4, p.
11, tpp. 142-43). Ms. Lane asked Ms. Hickox if “there
[was] any chance that [she] might be assigned at a later
date” and indicated that she would have a panic attack
if she encountered Ms. Heard. (Doc. 74-27, pp.
5-6). Ms. Hickox denied the request. (Doc.
74-27, p. 6). Ms. Lane missed the class. (Doc. 74-27, p. 5).
Lane submitted a note from Dr. Doody dated October 23, 2013.
(Doc. 74-24). In the note, Dr. Doody stated that Ms. Lane
reported experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms and
panic. (Doc. 74-24, p. 1). Dr. Doody requested that MDA
permit Ms. Lane to telework “whenever possible until
January 2, 2014.” (Doc. 74-24, p. 1). Ms. Lane
submitted another note from Dr. Doody in which Dr. Doody
requested that MDA permit Ms. Lane to telework until December
1, 2013. (Doc. 74-28, p. 1). Ms. Hickox denied the requests
because she believed the accommodations already provided were
sufficient. (Doc. 74-29, p. 1).
December 16, 2013, Ms. Hickox proposed suspending Ms. Lane
for three days for failure to follow directions to attend the
contracting class. (Doc. 74-30, p. 1). In a memorandum of
proposed suspension, Ms. Hickox stated that Ms. Lane failed
to attend the class required for her position and did not
submit medical documentation to excuse her absence as
instructed. (Doc. 74-30, p. 1). Ms. Hickox stated that Dr.
Doody’s note was insufficient because it did not
reference Ms. Lane’s failure to attend the class. (Doc.
74-30, p. 1). Ms. Thornton sustained the charges and
suspended Ms. Lane from January 21 to January 23, 2014. (Doc.
74-40, p. 1).
in January and February 2014
a.m. on January 28, 2014, Ms. Lane sent Ms. Hickox an email
explaining, “since it’s snowing outside in Athens
and Huntsville right now, I’m requesting telework
today. I plan to finish my pre-class assignment on Bundling
which requires a paper and power point presentation which is
due on 3 February. Please advise your approval.” (Doc.
74-31, p. 9). Ms. Hickox responded, “I have not been
made aware of any road closures and the base is open as
usual. Before I approve for this reason, please let me know
if there are any announced road closures. Otherwise, you need
to report to the office.” (Doc. 74-31, p. 9). At 9:15
a.m., Ms. Lane responded, “[n]o road closures. Working
from home will allow me to work on this assignment and
hopefully complete it today. Please advise.” (Doc.
74-31, p. 9). Ms. Hickox responded, “[s]ee previous
email below, ” referring to her first response. (Doc.
74-31, p. 8). At 9:27 a.m., Ms. Lane responded, “I
believe you approved me for telework on a situational basis
and now [are] refusing this request. Please provide your
rationale for disallowing this telework request.” (Doc.
74-31, p. 8). Ms. Lane questioned whether Ms. Hickox refused
the telework request in retaliation for a prior EEO complaint
that Ms. Lane filed against Ms. Hickox and Ms. Thornton.
(Doc. 74-31, p. 8). Ms. Lane stated, “I’m
requesting that I be allowed to work from home due to the
hostile environment that I work in which is directly related
to the ongoing anxiety I’m now coping with.”
(Doc. 74-31, p. 8). Ms. Hickox denied the request again
because the MDA office was open, and the roads were clear.
(Doc. 74-31, p. 8).
At 11:15 a.m., in a message to Ms. Hickox, Ms. Lane stated,
I don’t think you understand. I’m just not able
to come in. How you and Ms. Thornton have treated me is
nothing more than retaliation. I’m asking you again to
allow me to work from home. The stress is unreasonable for ...