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Wade v. Electric Boat Corp.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2019

SALLY WADE, Plaintiff,


          Robert N. Chatigny United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Sally Wade brings this action against her former employer, Electric Boat Corporation (“Electric Boat”), for discrimination on the basis of her religion and her perceived disability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”), and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”). Defendant moves for summary judgment. Oral arguments on the motion were conducted on April 29, 2019. For reasons discussed below, defendant’s motion is granted.

         I. Background

         The undisputed facts are as follows. Electric Boat, which designs and builds nuclear submarines for the U.S. government, hired plaintiff in 1990. As of February 2016, she and her husband, Daniel Wade, were both employed with Electric Boat as Structural Design Senior Specialists. Plaintiff required a security clearance at the “secret” level.

         The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (“NUWC”) is the U.S. Navy’s research and development center for submarines and similar systems. NWUC has a division in Newport, Rhode Island. On February 24, 2016, Mr. Wade sent an email to Brandon Schopflin, a NUWC employee, and copied plaintiff on the email. The email stated in relevant part:

I spoke with some coworkers here at Electric Boat to get your contact information.
I called you on 2/9/16, I had some questions for you regarding pulsed electromagnetic radio frequencies.
My Wife Sally Wade and I have worked at Electric Boat Corp for the past 26 years and 21 years. We are both Structural Senior Design and Senior Specialists. We are hard working dedicated employees.
On Sunday[, ] January 31st[, ] 2016 we both experienced very powerful pulsed microwave frequencies and have been bombarded with them ever since. We are now dreadfully aware and educated of the [e]ffects of Radio Frequencies [(“RF”)] used in weaponry. We have had many physical ailments from the RF.
We want to know what we can do to protect ourselves from the frequencies and how it came to be that we are targeted with these sophisticated weapons.

         Mr. Wade provided contact information for himself and plaintiff.

         On February 26, Schopflin forwarded the email to two other NWUC employees, Carlos Lopes and Robert Gregory. Gregory forwarded the email to additional NWUC employees, writing that Mr. Wade’s email raised “the sort of statements/concerns that the [Washington Navy Yard] shooter had while in Newport.” One of the recipients forwarded it to Stephen White, an Electric Boat employee, who circulated it to security personnel at Electric Boat. Electric Boat’s Manager of Security, Kyle Snurkowski, noted in an email, “We need to take some quick action I think with these two people.” While the comparison to the Washington Navy Yard shooter was first raised by a NWUC employee, it was also a concern for Electric Boat Director of Security Vincent Lisi, who had investigated that mass-shooting incident while employed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[1]

         Lisi ordered Louis Heller to commence a security investigation on February 26, 2016. Plaintiff does not dispute that Electric Boat had a duty to investigate the Navy’s concerns regarding Mr. Wade’s email. Lisi also had plaintiff and Mr. Wade’s security badges disabled so they could not access the facility. Plaintiff was placed on unpaid leave the next day.

         Heller interviewed several witnesses between February 26 and 29, including plaintiff and her husband. Plaintiff stated in her interview that she and her husband

think that we are being followed by vehicles without registration plate lights or obscured registration plates. We feel that [our former neighbor] is using RF on us. Twice, I’ve thought that I might have felt these RF while at work. I later dismissed my feeling and attributed it to nearby machines or a train going by. I have many health issues that I feel are attributed to [my former neighbor’s] actions.

         Electric Boat Medical Director Dr. Robert Hurley interviewed plaintiff and her husband on February 29, 2016. Dr. Hurley noted that plaintiff claimed to be subjected to electromagnetic pulse waves, manifesting in physical symptoms, and that she and her husband had purchased an RF detector. In Dr. Hurley’s view, plaintiff’s thought process was not logical, her judgment and insight were poor, and she showed signs of paranoia and delusions. Plaintiff told Dr. Hurley that she was not open to counseling, did not believe in medical science, and was very religious. Dr. Hurley told plaintiff she would need to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she suffered from a treatable condition resulting in paranoia and delusions. Plaintiff agreed to surrender her badge and submit to an evaluation by a company-appointed psychiatrist.

         Drs. Jamison Rogers and Wade Myers, who are not employed by Electric Boat, evaluated plaintiff on August 9, 2016. Dr. Rogers additionally interviewed plaintiff by phone on August 26, 2016. The evaluators issued a report on October 4, 2016, diagnosing plaintiff with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent Episode, Mild. They determined that plaintiff could perform the essential functions of her job. However, they issued several recommendations for treatment and indicated that two would be required for plaintiff to be medically cleared to return to work: treatment with a psychotherapist and treatment with a general adult psychiatrist. They specified that plaintiff should be permitted time off to attend outpatient mental health appointments during the week.

         Dr. Hurley discussed the report and its conclusions with plaintiff around October 21. Plaintiff ultimately refused the required treatment, saying it went against her religious beliefs. She initiated this lawsuit in December 2016.

         In May 2017, plaintiff sent a letter to Senior Manager of Human Resources Douglas Baker requesting that she be permitted to meet with a pastor for “spiritual counseling” as opposed to treating with a psychiatrist. After receiving no response, plaintiff submitted her resignation on July 21, 2017.

         On September 21, 2017, counsel for Electric Boat sent a letter to plaintiff’s counsel. The letter stated that after plaintiff’s May 2017 letter, Electric Boat reached out to Dr. Rogers, who indicated that counseling with a pastor was insufficient. Rather, psychotherapy with a licensed provider remained a requirement. However, defendant’s letter noted that Dr. Rogers had removed the additional requirement of treatment with a psychiatrist and that Dr. Rogers had suggested a faith-based psychotherapy practice, Charis Counseling Centers (“Charis”), and indicated that treatment with that practice would satisfy the requirement. Electric Boat reiterated this offer and/or asked for alternative proposals on October 20, 2017; November 6, 2017; January 16, 2018; January 25, 2018; February 1, 2018; and February 5, 2018. Plaintiff’s counsel responded on October 20, 2017 and February 5, 2018, rejecting the offer of counseling at Charis without explanation. Accordingly, plaintiff was never medically cleared to return to work at Electric Boat. II. Legal Standard “Summary judgment is proper only when, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, ‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’” Doninger v. Niehoff, 642 F.3d 334, 344 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). The non-moving party may defeat summary judgment by pointing to a genuine dispute of material fact, but may not do so through conclusory ...

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