United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Samira Trust brings a curated litany of claims against her
former employer, Harvard University,  alleging, inter
alia, gender and disability discrimination, retaliation,
and interference with her rights under the Family Medical
Leave Act (FMLA). Harvard now moves for summary judgment on
all counts of the Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the
motion will be allowed.
was hired into the position of Academic IT Support at Harvard
University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in the
Division of Continuing Education on March 30, 2015, having
previously been employed as a part-time User Assistant in the
same department. See Pl.'s Responses to
Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Dkt # 34,
¶¶ 3-4 (Pl.'s SOF). The job entailed assisting
students and university personnel with IT issues; the job
description also included “working with an I.T. group
to develop and resolve complex technical problems for a unit,
” and “working with managers to determine project
deadlines and objectives.” Id. ¶ 8. Trust
was required to divide her time between two locations: a
Harvard facility at 53 Church Street in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, where her supervisor was Pierre Julien, and
Sever Library, also in Cambridge, where she reported to Mary
Frances Angelini. Id. ¶ 5. Her offer letter
stated that her “regular schedule [was] 35 hours per
week, Monday through Friday, nine a.m. to five p.m. with one
hour unpaid lunch every day.” Dkt # 28, Ex. A, Trust
Dep. at 28: 5-10. Trust does not dispute that her offer
letter stipulated that she was expected to work from 9 a.m.
to 5 p.m., but she considered the offer letter “just a
formality.” Pl.'s SOF ¶ 13.
Fall of 2015, Harvard became aware that Trust was not
reporting regularly for work; Julien would search for her
without success at the two locations where she had a work
space. Dkt # 28, Ex. B, Julien Dep. at 86:18-24. Both of her
supervisors were led to believe that she was working with the
other, when in fact she was not. At her deposition, Trust
conceded that at the time she worked “really odd hours,
” that some days she would work in the evenings, and on
others only until 2 p.m. Dkt # 28, Ex. A, Trust Dep. at
30:24, 50: 16-18. She also stopped attending the required
staff meetings after September 8, 2015, Pl.'s SOF ¶
19, because she could not access her email to learn about the
meetings and often had conflicting doctors'
appointments. She did not deny knowing that attending
the meetings was a requirement of her position. Dkt # 28, Ex.
A, Trust Dep. at 38:10-23.
suspected that Trust was completing timesheets for work that
she was not performing and, concerned that her sporadic
attendance was undermining the morale of other employees,
initiated the University's progressive disciplinary
process by issuing her a verbal warning on October 19, 2015.
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 22. At a meeting called to discuss her
performance issues, Trust left after less than ten minutes,
claiming that “she was, essentially, sabotaged at the
meeting and felt compelled to leave.” Id.
¶ 23. Her managers then reissued the warning in writing,
noting that Trust had failed to report to work at 53 Church
Street since August 28, 2015, and had failed to report to
Sever Library consistently during her scheduled hours.
Id. ¶ 24. The warning also addressed her
failure to attend staff meetings, laid out steps that she was
expected to take to improve her performance, and set a
deadline of November 18, 2015, to remedy her shortcomings.
Id. ¶ 27. The warning cautioned that failure to
do so could result in further disciplinary action, up to and
including termination. Id. Julien testified that
after the disciplinary process began, Trust stopped coming to
work altogether. See Dkt # 28, Ex. B, Julien Dep. at
91:3-6 (testifying that the last time Julien saw Trust was in
October of 2015 when he issued her the written warning).
Angelini testified that following the verbal warning,
“[t]here was no change [in Trust's behavior] . . .
There were days when I would not see her at all.”
Id. Ex. C, Angelini Dep. at 33:1-7.
onset of the disciplinary process, Trust claims to have begun
experiencing back problems resulting from disc protrusion.
Compl. ¶ 38. However, she did not request accommodations
for the disability until January 26, 2016. Pl.'s SOF
¶ 47 (There is no evidence that Harvard was made aware
of her disability claim prior to that date). For whatever
reason, Trust's work performance did not improve: she
failed continuously to report for work during her scheduled
hours, and she did not attend the staff meetings held between
October 19 and December 18, 2015. Pl.'s SOF ¶¶
33, 35. In response, Trust makes the puzzling claim that
“[she] was not expected to work the schedule set out
for her in her offer letter and in the [warning] letter
provided to her on October 19, 2015.” Id.
issued Trust a second written warning on December 18, 2015.
This warning specifically addressed her absenteeism and
tardiness and her failure to meet the benchmarks laid out in
the previous letter. Trust was admonished that if she did not
show improvement by January 18, 2016, further disciplinary
action would be taken. Id. ¶ 31.
February of 2018, the disciplinary process was stayed when
Trust sought, and was granted, medical leave pursuant to the
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and short-term disability
leave (STD). The leave was the outcome of negotiations that
began when Trust first requested disability accommodations on
January 26, 2016. Id. ¶ 47. Trust requested
that her leave begin on March 3, 2016, “so [she] could
close everything, make sure everything was done before [she]
went to Iran, ” Dkt # 28, Ex. A, Trust Dep. 55:1-9,
where she planned to visit family and receive medical
receipt of the leave request, Harvard's Disability
Services Office notified Trust by email on February 17, 2016,
of the supporting medical documentation that she would be
required to submit. When Trust failed to respond to the
initial email, Karen Millett of Disability Services wrote her
a second time on February 22, 2016, enclosing a disability
accommodation fact sheet. Millett informed Trust that any
questions regarding FMLA or short-term disability benefits
should be directed to Cherie Green, the Leave of Absence
Coordinator. Millett also advised Trust that the interactive
process required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
would begin once Disability Services received the required
documentation from Trust's healthcare provider.
Trust's physician provided Harvard with a note on
February 25, 2016, stating that Trust had a “lumbar
disc herniation, ” and was unable to perform certain
job functions based on her “limited sitting
tolerance.” Pl.'s SOF ¶ 52. Harvard
subsequently granted Trust a leave of absence until April 15,
2016. Id. ¶ 53.
testified that at the time she received the initial leave
approval, she planned to remain in Iran until June of 2016.
Dkt # 28, Ex. A, Trust Dep. at 69:1-24. At some point (the
record is unclear), Trust asked that her leave be extended
until September of 2016. On April 19, 2016, Green emailed
Trust, confirming receipt of the request to remain absent
from work until September, and explaining that for
Trust's position to remain open, her physician would need
to supply Harvard's short-term disability insurer with
additional medical information. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 56. The
next day, Trust replied that she was overseas and would be
unable to obtain the documentation until June at the
earliest. Id. On April 27th - twelve days after
Trust's approved leave had expired - Green again emailed
Trust iterating that additional medical records and
documentation were required before the request to extend her
leave beyond April 15th could be considered. Trust replied
the next day that “Medical documentation will be
provided once I return to the US.” Id.
twelve weeks of FMLA leave for which Trust was eligible was
to expire on May 17, 2016, Anna Anctil, the FAS Senior Human
Resources Consultant, informed Trust by email on May 10,
2016, that for her job to be held open, she would have to (1)
provide Harvard's short-term disability insurer with
documentation supporting her eligibility for continued short-
term disability benefits, or (2) provide Disability Services
with documentation substantiating her need for additional
leave as a reasonable accommodation for her disc protrusion
disability. Dkt # 27, Ex. B. Trust responded by sending
additional medical documentation, and her short-term
disability benefits were extended until June 26, 2016.
However, in the month that elapsed between June 26, 2016, and
July 20, 2016, Trust failed to document a need for a further
extension of her leave. Id., Ex. C.
21, 2016, Trust's physician wrote to Harvard supporting
her request for an accommodation of her disc protrusion. The
doctor recommended that Trust be provided an “ergonomic
chair, standing desk, [and] part-time schedule.”
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 59. Green responded by asking Trust, in
a July 26, 2016 email, for clarification of (1) her
physician's assessment of her functional limitation, the
recommended part-time schedule, and predicted return to work
date; and (2) her completed reasonable accommodation form
(which she had still not submitted). Dkt # 27, Ex. D.
28, 2016, Trust - having returned from Iran - emailed Anctil
attaching a completed reasonable accommodation form and
notifying Harvard that she had a doctor's appointment
scheduled for August 18, 2016. Id. Ex. E. In that
email, Trust expressed her frustration with Harvard's
repeated requests for documentation supporting an extension
of her leave: “I can also assure you that to be on
leave means (Goddess forbid) NOT TO WORK and REST. I
honestly don't know what resting means when I have to
deal with the foul play of immature devolved adults.”
Id. (emphasis in original). Trust closed on an
ominous note: “This is just the beginning. With the
interactive process coming, and having all these ill-intended
adults negotiating . . . a Nebula will be born. Soon all this
nonsense will come to rest. Samira.” Pl.'s SOF
¶ 61. The attached form requested the following
accommodations: “STD, LTD, Unpaid Leave, Mental
Accommodation (no harassment, no threat, no intimidation
while on leave and at work), continued flexible schedule,
starting with part-time then back to full-time (maybe),
treadmill desk (standing desk is included), ergonomic chair,
telecommute.” Dkt # 27, Ex. E at 3.
following day, Millett, in a remarkable exercise of
restraint, politely replied to Trust, explaining that under
Harvard's ADA implementation policy, her doctor's
recommendations required clarification. In order to
“assist [Trust] in the process of determining possible
reasonable accommodations, ” id., Ex. ...