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Dumka v. Duke

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 6, 2017

ELAINE DUKE, Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.


          Honorable Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge.

         In October 2010, Frasney Dumka was fired from her job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Dumka claims that FEMA violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq, .[1] by failing to accommodate her disability, by treating her differently based on her disability, and by retaliating against her because she requested accommodations. R. 25, Am. Cmplt. ¶¶ 54-72. FEMA now moves for summary judgment, arguing that the record demonstrates that there are no issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. R. 63, Def. Mot. Summ. J. For the reasons explained below, the government's motion is granted as to Dumka's disparate-treatment and retaliation claims (Counts 2 and 3), but denied for her failure-to-accommodate claim (Count 1).

         I. Background

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The facts outlined here are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         Frasney Dumka suffers from a disability stemming from a brain injury sustained in a bike accident that happened in the 1970s. R. 66, DSOF[2] ¶ 4. The parties agree that Dumka suffers from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Dumka also testifies that she suffers from a cognitive learning disability that hinders her ability to understand certain information. R. 68, Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 4, R. 68, PSOF Exh. A at 18:5-19:6, Exh. B at 16:18-18:5; DSOF Exh. 3 at ¶ 5. The exact nature of Dumka's disability is unclear, but the government does not contest that she is disabled within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. See generally R. 65, Def. Mem; see also R. 67, Pl. Resp. at 2.

         In April 2010, Dumka was hired as a “disaster assistance employee” with FEMA. DSOF ¶ 2. Disaster assistance employees are activated to work for FEMA during disasters, and are paid only for the time that they work. Id. at ¶ 3. During her application process with FEMA, Dumka was open about her disability and discussed her need for accommodation with multiple individuals at FEMA.[3] Id. ¶ 6; Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 6; R. 68, PSOF ¶¶ 1, 4-6, 9-10. Dumka was told that she should inform her site supervisor about her disability and need for accommodation. DSOF ¶ 7.

         Dumka's first (and last) FEMA deployment began on August 30, 2010. DSOF ¶ 8. Her supervisor during the deployment was Cassandra Ringsdorf; Ringsdorf's second-in-command was Jean McGhee. DSOF ¶¶ 9-10. On the evening of Dumka's first day of deployment, she informed Ringsdorf about her disability. DSOF ¶ 13. In her deposition, Dumka claims that she told Ringsdorf that she needed to be allowed to ask questions and to be shown “hands on” (rather than simply be told) how to do things the first time. Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 13; PSOF ¶ 12; PSOF Exh. A at 42:17-44:10; Exh. B at 121:8-126:11. The government, on the other hand, characterizes Dumka's requested accommodation as merely being allowed to ask questions, DSOF ¶ 13, but the government does not point to any facts contradicting Dumka's testimony that she asked to be shown how to do things. See R. 73, Def. Resp. PSOF ¶ 12.

         Dumka asserts that after telling Ringsdorf about her disability, she felt ignored and shunned by Ringsdorf and McGhee. PSOF ¶ 13. For example, on the second day of the deployment, Dumka rode in a car with Ringsdorf and McGhee and they did not talk to her. DSOF ¶ 15. Dumka also attempted to participate in activities at her worksite, but felt ignored. PSOF Exh. A at 45:7-49:4. Dumka believed that the lack of communication was preventing her from learning how to do her job. PSOF ¶ 13. At a lunch with Ringsdorf and McGhee, Dumka tearfully confronted Ringsdorf and asked if she was being ignored because of her disability. Pl. Resp. DSOF at ¶ 15. Ringsdorf responded by scolding Dumka. PSOF ¶ 13.

         During the deployment, Dumka struggled with understanding how to fill in her timesheet-an issue that would eventually lead to her termination. The facts here are the subject of some dispute. Dumka's version of the story is that she asked Ringsdorf for help filling out her timesheet, but Ringsdorf refused, telling Dumka to figure it out on her own when she got home. PSOF ¶ 14. Dumka did get help from another FEMA employee, Joe Gibson, who helped her fill in her timesheet for the first day of deployment. Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 16. Gibson was too busy to help her fill out the other days, so he introduced Dumka to two other employees, Watson and Robinson. Id. Watson offered to help Dumka with her timesheet the following morning before Dumka's flight home to Indiana. Id. As Dumka was leaving the office for the day, Ringsdorf overheard her say “See you tomorrow” to Watson and Robinson. Id. Hearing this, Ringsdorf told Dumka not to come back the next day. Id. Dumka explained that she needed help with her timesheet because of her disability, but Ringsdorf again told Dumka not to come back to the worksite. Id.; PSOF Exh. A at 50:13-52:23. The government denies that Ringsdorf told Dumka she could not return for help, but does not cite evidence refuting Dumka's testimony. Def. Resp. PSOF ¶ 14. Despite the friction between Dumka and Ringsdorf over the timesheet, Dumka states that Ringsdorf gave her a positive review at the end of her deployment. DSOF ¶ 17.

         Dumka's problems with her timesheet continued after she returned home from her deployment. The main problem[4] was that the timesheet claimed-as compensable work-the time between Dumka's arrival at her hotel on August 30 and her arrival at the FEMA worksite. According to the government, those were hours that are not compensable. DSOF ¶ 26.[5] Upon receiving Dumka's timesheet, McGhee alerted Ringsorf and Dumka's “cadre” manager, Kent Huizinga, that she believed Dumka might have “padded her timesheet.” DSOF Exh. 21. This triggered a back-and-forth between Dumka, Huizinga, and other FEMA employees over whether and how Dumka needed to correct her timesheet. DSOF ¶¶ 30.

         There is some (mostly irrelevant) dispute about the details of these conversations, but the parties agree that on September 15, Huizinga emailed Dumka and told her that she needed to correct her time entry for August 30 to reflect “actual time worked.” DSOF ¶ 31. Dumka responded by email that her timesheet was correct and that she had already reduced her hours by over forty-five minutes that she was entitled to claim “according to policy.” DSOF ¶ 32. Huizinga asked Dumka to send him a copy of this policy, and Dumka responded by requesting a phone call so she could confirm that she was doing everything correctly. DSOF ¶ 33-34. Huizinga called Dumka at home on September 16 or 17 and told her that she could not claim the time spent at her hotel before reporting to her worksite. DSOF ¶ 35.

         The government claims that during the course of Huizinga's interactions with Dumka, he became concerned that she “refused to have her timesheet properly reflect her time worked.” DSOF ¶ 35. Dumka, on the other hand, denies that she ever refused to change her time. Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 35. Dumka states that she told Huizinga that she could not understand because of her disability, and asked if she could come to Chicago to meet with him so he could show her in person how to complete the timesheet. PSOF ¶ 17; PSOF Exh. A at 78:11-79:11; PSOF Exh. B at 169:3-14, 185:25-186:16. Huizinga refused to meet in person, and instead continued to ask Dumka over the phone whether the time she claimed was “correct.” PSOF ¶ 17. Dumka told Huizinga that she did not understand, and that he could correct her timesheet however he wanted: “You know, I don't know what to do. Whatever you do is okay with me. I just wanna do it right.” Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 35; PSOF Exh. B at 184:21-185:9. Dumka submitted another signed timesheet on September 16 still claiming the disputed hours as time worked. DSOF ¶ 37.

         In early October 2010, Dumka received a notice of termination stating that she was being terminated for submission of a false timesheet and for “inappropriate conduct.” DSOF ¶ 38. The notice stated that Dumka had made inappropriate comments while on deployment, including referring to a coworker as the “little or short Italian guy, ” commenting on another employee's Hispanic heritage and skin color, and referring to homosexuals[6] as “queers.” DSOF Exh. 22. Dumka emphatically denies making these comments, though she does admit that she referred to another employee as someone who “looks Italian.” Pl. Resp. DSOF ¶ 39; Exh. A 88:17-93:5. There is no documentation of the alleged “inappropriate conduct” before the government issued the October notice of termination. PSOF ¶ 18.

         II. Summary ...

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