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Gardner v. University of Connecticut Health Center

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 1, 2016



          Geoffrey W. Crawford, Judge

         Plaintiff Erin Gardner brings this action against Defendant University of Connecticut Health Center Correctional Managed Health Care ("UCHC CMHC"), alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on this claim, and the court heard argument on the motion on July 29, 2016. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 33) is GRANTED.

         Undisputed Facts

         I. Plaintiff's Seizure Disorder

         Plaintiff suffers from a seizure disorder, which first manifested itself in 1999. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 15.) Plaintiff typically experiences one seizure in her sleep every three to four months. (Id., at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff cannot control when she has seizures, but they are always preceded by at least one "aura" one to twelve hours before.[1] (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18; Doc. 33-4 at 19.) Plaintiff has been informed by others that she acts confused and not like herself after having a seizure. (Doc. 33-4 at 18.) Plaintiff does not recall these moments. (Id.) She only becomes aware that she has suffered a seizure after it has ended. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 19.) She has been prescribed medication to control her seizures. (Id. at ¶ 20.)

         II. Plaintiff's Job at UCHC CMHC

         On December 30, 2011, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a clinical social worker ("CSW") assigned to York Correctional Institution. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 12.) York is a high security all-female correctional institution that houses maximum security inmates. (Doc. 33-6 at ¶ 5.) Correctional officers ("COs") do not escort staff around the York compound. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs position was considered a hazardous-duty position. (Doc. 33-5 at ¶ 8.) The job posting for her position noted a risk of injury from assaultive and/or abusive inmates, and a requirement of possibly having to lift and/or restrain inmates. (Id. at 6.)

         As a CSW, Plaintiff was required to work directly with inmates in the prison environment. (Id. at ¶ 9.) She was tasked with providing them clinical treatment services, including mental health assessments, screenings, and group therapy sessions. (Doc. 33-4 at 6.) When CSWs meet with inmates inside a clinic room, COs might not be aware of what is happening. (Doc. 33-6 at ¶ 11.) It is not the practice of York to have COs stationed inside or outside such rooms. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         III. Incident on June 21, 2012

         On June 21, 2012, Plaintiff had a "partial seizure"[2] while on duty in the Outpatient Medical Unit at York. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 22.) She attributes this daytime seizure to having lower levels of medication in her system as a result of gastrointestinal issues prompted by a temporary diet change. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff was with an inmate at the time of the incident. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Plaintiff only became aware that she had had a seizure when the inmate asked Plaintiff if she was all right, calling attention to the fact that Plaintiff had lost control of her bladder. (Id. at ¶ 24.) The inmate also informed Plaintiff that during the incident Plaintiff had "zoned out" and started grinding her teeth for a few moments. (Id. at ¶ 25.) Plaintiff had facility keys on her person at the time of the seizure. (Doc. 33-4 at 22.)

         After the seizure, Julie Kulp, the Correctional Head Nurse Supervisor, noticed Plaintiff walk slowly toward a CO's desk. (Doc. 33-7 at ¶ 6.) Her pants were wet. (Id.) When Ms. Kulp asked Plaintiff if she was okay, Plaintiff responded, 'Tm wet. I have seizures." (Id.) Ms. Kulp took Plaintiff to a back room, took her vital signs, and provided her with a change of clothes. (Id. at ¶ 7.) She noticed that Plaintiff was not acting completely like herself. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Ms. Kulp then spoke with the inmate who had witnessed the seizure and was informed that Plaintiff had been unresponsive during the incident.[3] (Id. at ¶ 10.) Shortly thereafter, Ms. Kulp completed a medical incident report and drove Plaintiff home. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         IV. Events Subsequent to the June 21 Incident

         On June 26, 2012, Plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave pending a "fitness for duty" evaluation. (Doc. 33-5 at ¶ 10.) The purpose of such an evaluation is to determine whether the individual is capable of performing the essential functions of her job in the particular job setting. (Doc. 33-8 at ¶ 6.)

         On June 27, 2012, Plaintiffs evaluation was conducted by Doctor Mark Buchanan, Director of Work Life Initiatives in UCHC CMHC's Occupational Health Division. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 9.) Dr. Buchanan interviewed Plaintiff about her recollection of the June 21 incident, as well as her medical history as it related to her seizure disorder and neurologic treatment. (Id. at ¶ 10.) He determined that Plaintiff experienced recurrent seizures as a result of her seizure disorder. (Id. at ¶ 11.) He also reviewed Ms. Kulp's medical incident report and interpreted it as indicating that Plaintiff had been disoriented after her seizure, (Id. at ¶ 10; Doc. 33-9 at 10-11.) In assessing her fitness for duty, Dr. Buchanan considered all of this information "in light of the fact that [Plaintiff] held a hazardous-duty position at York that required her to work directly with inmates in the prison environment." (Doc. 33-8 at ¶ 10.) He also took account of UCHC CMHC's policy regarding hazardous-duty employees, [4] (Id.)

         Ultimately, Dr. Buchanan concluded that Plaintiff suffered an unanticipated "loss of seizure control" while on duty on June 21. (Id. at ¶ 11.) He concluded:

Based on my individualized medical judgment, . . . Plaintiff was not fit for duty because her seizure disorder and the likelihood of a recurrence of the June 21stseizure incident created a safety and security risk, making it dangerous for her to continue to work in the hazardous-duty prison environment, both for herself and for others.

(Id. at ¶ 12.) Dr. Buchanan also noted in his post-evaluation report that he informed Plaintiff that "[s]tandard UConn Occupational Medicine Clinic approach to seizure disorder is that this is a disqualification from the hazardous duty environment of CMHC." (Id. at 12.) On June 28, 2012, Plaintiff was ...

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