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Young v. Peralta Community College District

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 7, 2017

RONA YOUNG, Plaintiff,


          JAMES DONATO United Mates District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Rona Young sued her former employer, Peralta Community College District (“District”), for failure to provide her with reasonable accommodations after she injured her right knee. The Court previously dismissed Young's claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District now seeks summary judgment on her remaining disability discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The motion is granted.


         The material facts are not meaningfully disputed. Young worked as a Public Information Officer in the District for nearly 16 years, and retired in November 2010. Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. A at 4, 7. She has experienced a number of health challenges over the years, including physical injuries that resulted in several corrective surgeries and physical therapy, and cancer. Dkt. No. 77 (Young Decl.) ¶ 1. In these difficult times, the District accommodated Young with medical leave, modified duties, and ergonomic equipment. Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. A at 7-9; Dkt. No. 83-1 (Williams Decl.), Exh. AA (Young Depo.) at 218:2-17, 250:13-22.

         The injury at issue here happened in August 2009, when Young hurt her right knee while working at Merritt College. Dkt. No. 77 ¶¶ 13-14. In response, the President of Merritt College and Young's supervisor, Dr. Robert Adams, the District's Chancellor, and Young all agreed that she could work from home as needed. Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. A at 4; Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 105:7-12, 129:4-22. In October 2009, Young submitted a note from a treating physician, Dr. Kenneth Kim, which said that “she will need provisions for a motor-powered wheelchair or provisions for her to work from home” for an additional period of time. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 121:17-122:6, 156:19-22; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. C. The District continued to allow Young to work at home, and she met weekly with Dr. Adams throughout this time to talk “about the wheelchair; about what was going to happen to my leg.” Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 144:1-18; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. A at 4.

         In January 2010, Young submitted a note from another treating physician, Dr. Jacob Rosenberg, advising “TTD unless accommodation met. Needs scooter or motorized wheelchair to get around campus.” Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 140:23-142:9; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. E. Young understood “TTD” to be shorthand for “total temporary disability, ” meaning that she would be out on medical leave and that she would receive her salary paid out of her sick leave, vacation or other accrued time. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 148:19-21, 149:17-21. The District does not disagree with this understanding. In response to Dr. Rosenberg's note, Gregory Valentine, the District's Risk Manager, told Young that the District would place her on TTD. Id. at 150:2-6, 167:23-168:2.

         In March 2010, Young submitted two more notes from Dr. Rosenberg, which again recommended “TTD” unless Young could be accommodated with modified work and a wheelchair through May 15, 2010. Id. at 167:4-18, 172:5-173:10; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exhs. G, J. Valentine told Young in an email and possibly a phone call that the District preferred continued leave out of concerns about “safety hazards” and “logistical requirements” from the temporary use of a motorized wheelchair. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 169:4-10; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. H. In May 2010, Young underwent knee surgery and submitted a doctor's note stating that she would be unable to work for up to 3-4 months during recovery. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 175:1-8; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. K. The District again put her on leave during this time. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 175:5-7.

         While all of this was happening, the District experienced significant budget cuts for the 2010-2011 year and eliminated a number of jobs. Dkt. No. 69-3 (Lengel Decl.) ¶¶ 3-4. In May 2010, Young's position as the Public Information Officer was eliminated at Merritt College. Id. ¶ 5. Because of her seniority in the District, she was offered a transfer to the same job at the College of Alameda. Id. She accepted the transfer. Id.; Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 199:11-15, 214:4-6. Dr. Jannett Jackson, the Interim President of the College of Alameda and Young's new supervisor, called to welcome Young and told her “This is a flat campus. So you might -- so you could use a wheelchair here.” Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 212:21-213:11.

         In August 2010, Young submitted a doctor's note releasing her to work with medical restrictions “to do desk work four hours per day but continue to be unable to walk around campus.” Id. at 206:22-207:1, 209:3-9, Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. N. The District had internal discussions about this request. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 217:1-9; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. P. Specifically, on August 31, 2010, Valentine sent an internal email with a suggested “action plan” for Young to return to work with accommodations once additional information about her work restrictions was confirmed. Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. P. The email stated that Dr. Jackson should contact Young, although Young says that she never received notice of these conversations. Id.; Dkt. No. 77 ¶ 7.

         On September 3, 2010, Young re-injured her knee at her doctor's office, and subsequently submitted a doctor's note stating that she should be “[o]ff work pending trial of medication . . . until October 15, 2010.” Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 219:2-5, 220:20-25, 221:25-223:16; Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. S. The District continued her medical leave through September 30, 2010, after which Young submitted another note indicating that her status had not changed and she would be evaluated again in a month. Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. T; Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 223:17-21, 224:3-8 see also Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. A at 5.

         On November 9, 2010, Young told the District that she was electing to retire and submitted retirement paperwork. Dkt. No. 69-2, Exh. A at 4; Dkt. No. 83-1 at 228:25-229:19. Young made this decision with the help of union representatives, and states that she retired out of concern that she might lose her job and the possibility of lifetime medical benefits. Dkt. No. 83-1, Exh. AA at 228:25-230:25, 232:9-233:18, 236:12-19. She speculates that if her physician had classified her as “permanent and stationary, ” she would not have been accommodated, but there is no evidence that this classification was ever made or formalized with the District. Id.; Dkt. No. 77 ¶ 18.

         On May 16, 2011, Young filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Dkt. No. 1 at 6, Exh. G. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on August 29, 2014. Dkt. No. 27, Exh. A. Young filed this suit on December 5, 2014. On August 10, 2015, after briefing by the parties, the Court dismissed the ADEA and Title VII claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Dkt. No. 29.

         Before getting to the merits, the Court notes that Young is proceeding pro se and that her complaint and summary judgment filings reflect the difficulties non-layers often encounter in dealing with complex employment laws. In the interest of justice, the Court has construed Young's claims as broadly as is fair and reasonable, and the District has taken a similar approach by construing Young's complaint to state several different grounds for relief under the ADA, even though some of them are not clearly articulated. It seeks summary judgment on the complaint as a whole. Dkt. No. 69.

         Young has submitted hundreds of pages of exhibits, but does not cite to any of these materials in her opposition brief. Dkt. No. 78. She directs the Court to her seven-page declaration, with the implicit invitation that the Court undertake the burden of finding supporting evidence. Id. at 3-4. While the Court has liberally construed Young's claims and arguments, it will not “scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact, ” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation omitted), or accept wholly conclusory statements as true, Surrell v. Cal. Water Serv. Co., 518 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2008). These rules apply to pro se plaintiffs as ...

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