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Williams v. Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 6, 2014


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For Teressa Williams, Plaintiff: Aaron M. Dulles, Suzanne Garrow, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Hugh D. Heisler, Heisler, Feldman & McCormick, & Garrow, PC, Springfield, MA.

For Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corp., Inc., Defendant: Donald W. Schroeder, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gauri Patil Punjabi, Jillian M. Collins, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, PC, Boston, MA.

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MICHAEL A. PONSOR, U.S. District Judge.


Plaintiff Teressa Williams has brought suit against her former employer alleging

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disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8), and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B. She has also asserted a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. On January 17, 2014, Defendant Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, Inc., filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 34.) Plaintiff responded, on February 24, 2014, with a cross-motion for partial summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 45.) Because Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine dispute that she was disabled, that Defendant suspended her for a retaliatory reason, or that she was constructively discharged, the court will allow Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's cross-motion.


A. Facts

Defendant, Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, Inc., is a private, non-profit organization that operates a residential program in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It provides services to teenage girls who have certain behavioral problems, have experienced trauma as a result of abuse or neglect, have been adjudicated delinquent, or have been in the custody of the Department of Youth Services (" DYS" ). All employees of Defendant are required to complete " Therapeutic Crisis Intervention" (" TCI" ) training and then pass an annual examination. If an employee fails the examination, he or she is permitted to re-take it. However, Defendant has a practice of disciplining employees who fail to appear for the exam and who fail to contact it to reschedule. (Shanley Aff. ¶ 12, Dkt. No. 38 at 2.)

In July 2009, Plaintiff Teressa Williams met Melissa King, an employee of Defendant, at a job fair. Shortly thereafter, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a per diem childcare worker and subsequently promoted her to full-time status. In September 2009, Plaintiff completed a TCI training course and passed the required certification test. In preparation for that exam, Plaintiff informed the TCI trainer -- an individual who did not work directly for Defendant -- that she needed special assistance. Thus, the trainer worked one-on-one with her, engaged in role-playing activities with her, and highlighted important information that would appear on the test. Defendant was not aware that this extra help was provided to Plaintiff. (King Dep. 72:3-73:15, Dkt. No. 37, Ex. 1 at 7; Prude Dep. 25:8-21, Dkt. No. 37, Ex. 3 at 5; Shanley Aff. ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 38 at 2.)

In February 2010, Plaintiff resigned from her full-time position but continued to work in a per diem capacity. Then, in April 2010, after Ms. King was promoted to Program Director, Plaintiff was offered the position of Assistant Supervisor. As part of the promotion, she was required to re-take the TCI examination. She took a refresher course on September 15 and 16.

Immediately before the exam on September 16, Plaintiff informed Ms. King that because of certain learning problems she did not believe she could pass. Plaintiff told Ms. King that she had a different style of learning and that group instruction was difficult for her. Ms. King offered -- and Plaintiff accepted -- the opportunity to complete the test in a separate, quiet area. Defendant also provided Plaintiff extra

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time to complete the exam. Nonetheless, in the middle of taking the test Plaintiff stated that she could not do it, stood up, and left.

After this incident, Plaintiff informed her immediate supervisor, Angela Prude, about her learning problems. According to Plaintiff, she emphasized her need for extra one-on-one training. Ms. Prude and Ms. King informed Plaintiff that they would provide any accommodation she needed.

In late September 2010, Plaintiff was involved in a car accident and was out of work for one week. Before she took this leave of absence, she became aware of a number of incidents respecting the staff and children at the facility. She heard about -- but did not witness -- bullying, inappropriate physical contact, and drug use. On September 29, Plaintiff anonymously reported these incidents, pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 51A, to Defendant and DYS.

The next day, Ms. King, who was, according to Plaintiff, annoyed about the report, convened a staff meeting to discuss it. Subsequently, Plaintiff contends, another employee told Ms. King that Plaintiff was the source of the anonymous letter.

On October 5, 2010, Ms. Prude called Plaintiff to confirm her return date and to inform her that she would need to retake the TCI exam on October 7. Plaintiff told Ms. Prude that she had a doctor's note prohibiting her from working more than eight hours straight and that she was already scheduled to work the night shift on October 6. Ms. Prude, however, told Plaintiff that the date could not be changed because her TCI certification had expired. During the call, Plaintiff also expressed concerns about her ability to pass the examination, and Ms. Prude indicated that she would identify key portions of the exam for review and leave notes in Plaintiff's mailbox.

When Plaintiff arrived to work on October 6, 2010, she found no notes in her mailbox. She called Ms. Prude, and together they reviewed the material. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff then informed Defendant that she would still not attend the exam. Plaintiff states that she left a note for Ms. King early on October 7, explaining her need for additional help. Ms. King contends that she did not receive the note until the late afternoon of October 7.

On October 7, Plaintiff failed to take the test. As a result, Ms. King spoke with David Strong, the Director of Juvenile Justice Programs for Defendant, who told Ms. King to terminate Plaintiff. After Ms. King did so, Plaintiff contacted Mr. Strong and explained why she was unable to take the examination at that time. That same day, Human Resources advised Mr. Strong to rescind the termination, as he had failed to obtain appropriate approval. Mr. Strong did so and informed Plaintiff that she was suspended with pay until she passed the test.

The next day, October 8, Mr. Strong called Plaintiff and told her that she could take the TCI exam on October 12. The precise details of their conversation are disputed, though both parties agree that Plaintiff became upset and hung up on Mr. Strong. Plaintiff claims she called back and explained her disabilities to Defendant; Defendant insists that, while Plaintiff talked generally about struggling with learning, she never specified what more she wanted Defendant to do to assist her.

On October 12, 2010, Plaintiff again failed to appear for the TCI examination. That same day she filed for unemployment benefits. Three days later, Mr. Strong sent Plaintiff a letter stating that she was suspended without pay until she passed

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the exam or until they met to discuss the situation. After responding with a single letter on October 22, in which she disagreed with Defendant's characterization of their prior communication, Plaintiff ceased all contact with Defendant. ...

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