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Evanson v. Shelter

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 31, 2014

KAREN S. EVANSON, Plaintiff,

Stephanie M. Balmer, FALSANI BALMER PETERSON QUINN & BEYER, for plaintiff.

Scott A. Witty, HANFT FRIDE PA, for defendant.


JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

Plaintiff Karen Evanson brings claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Minnesota Human Rights Act ("MHRA") alleging that her former employer, Defendant Safe Haven Shelter ("Safe Haven") discriminated against her by failing to provide her with reasonable accommodations and creating a hostile work environment. Evanson also alleges that Safe Haven retaliated against her for requesting reasonable accommodations. The matter came before United States Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois on Safe Haven's motion for summary judgment. In an October 2, 2013 Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court grant Safe Haven's motion and dismiss Evanson's claims. Evanson filed timely objections to the R&R. The Court will sustain Evanson's objections to the extent she contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that she did not request a reasonable accommodation from Safe Haven within the statute of limitations. Although Evanson requested a reasonable accommodation within the statutory time period, the Court concludes that, based on the evidence presented, no reasonable jury could find that Safe Haven discriminated or retaliated against Evanson because of her disability. Accordingly, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation and grant Safe Haven's motion for summary judgment.



A. The Woman's Advocate Position

In May 2007, Evanson was hired by Save Haven as a part-time woman's advocate ("advocate"). (Aff. of Susan Utech, ¶ 3, Apr. 5, 2013, Docket No. 15.) On November 1, 2008, Evanson became a full-time employee. ( Id.; Decl. of Kathleen A. Norton, Ex. 2 (Dep. of Karen S. Evanson ("Evanson Dep.") 16:11-15), June 27, 2013, Docket No. 28.) Safe Haven is a non-profit organization that provides a safe environment and resources for women and children that are the victims of domestic abuse. (Utech Aff. ¶ 2.) As an advocate, Evanson's responsibilities included fielding incoming crisis calls from domestic violence victims, completing new resident intakes, establishing safety plans for residents, assisting residents in obtaining services, distributing supplies, providing transportation, and attending to other needs of shelter residents. ( Id. ¶ 4, Ex. B; see also Evanson Dep. 17:14-21.)[2] Additionally, advocates are required to maintain accurate records regarding the shelter's residents and services provided at Safe Haven. (Utech Aff. ¶ 5.)

In a January 2007 performance evaluation Evanson received "fair" marks for work quality, initiative, and skill building on a scale of excellent, very good, good, fair, and unsatisfactory. (Decl. of Karen S. Evanson, Ex. A at 6, Apr. 26, 2013, Docket No. 23.) She received "good" ratings for flexibility and job knowledge, and an "excellent" rating for punctuality. ( Id. ) The evaluation noted that Evanson "needs to call supervisors for problems or questions - not other staff" and that she needed to begin getting "out of [the] office more" and "documenting contacts with women" at the shelter. ( Id. ) A June 2007 evaluation also yielded "fair" marks for work quality and initiative, with "good" ratings for skill building and job knowledge, and "excellent" ratings for dependability, flexibility, and punctuality. ( Id., Ex. A at 8.) The evaluation noted that Evanson "needs to complete stats after every shift worked" and her goal for the coming year should include "training on the phone, computer." ( Id. ) Additionally the evaluation indicated that when Evanson was not "busy in [the] office [she] should be on [the] floor working/talking with women. No knitting, reading... in [the] office." ( Id. ) The evaluation again noted that Evanson "needs to ask [her] supervisor if [she] has questions." ( Id. )

B. Evanson's Stroke

Evanson suffered a stroke in November 2007. (Evanson Dep. 21:5-9, 23:15-18, 24:17-18.) Following the stroke she requested, and was granted, leave from Safe Haven, and returned to work in January 2008. ( Id. 26:19-27:7; Utech Aff. ¶ 6.) Evanson testified that after experiencing the stroke her "[s]hort-term memory was gone." (Evanson Dep. 25:5-6.) She also testified that upon returning to work she began having issues performing the essential functions of her position as an advocate. ( Id. 27:25-28:3.) Specifically, she had trouble with "[a]nything that had to do with the computer if it was something that I didn't do on a daily basis." ( Id. 28:4-10.) Evanson did not, however, complain about any difficulties or request any accommodations from Safe Haven in the period of time shortly after returning from her leave. (Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 3, Apr. 26, 2013, Docket No. 22.)

C. Alice Program

In December 2008, Safe Haven began using a new software program called "Alice" to collect and store data regarding residents and services. (Utech Aff. ¶ 7.) Prior to the implementation of Alice, the information tracked by Safe Haven's advocates regarding residents and services was maintained on paper forms. (Evanson Dep. 37:8-22.) The process of implementing Alice extended into 2009. (Utech Aff. ¶ 8; Norton Decl., Ex. A (Dep. of Susan T. Utech ("Utech Dep.") 13:11-13).) Evanson could not recall whether any training on Alice was provided, but did remember someone explaining to her how to use Alice. (Evanson Dep. 36:15-37:4, 38:15-24.) Utech testified that although there was one formal training session for Safe Haven staff members on use of Alice, learning the program had "mostly been trial and error." (Utech Dep. 13:17-14:6.)

D. Accommodations

Evanson testified that because of issues with her short term memory, she could not remember how to use Alice on a day to day basis. (Evanson Dep. 28:22-29:1, 39:3-19.) At some point in 2009, shortly after Alice's implementation, Evanson explained to her supervisors, Bonnie Kolodge and Janet Olson, that she was having difficulty with Alice. ( Id. 31:24-32:4, 39:25-40:8. 44:17-23.)[3] Evanson testified that after she raised the issue of her difficulties with Alice, Safe Haven instructed her to write down the relevant data, and Safe Haven would then have a different advocate enter that information into Alice. ( Id. 40:11-18, 41:16-20; see also Utech Aff. ¶ 11.) Evanson did not believe this was an adequate accommodation because she "felt that it was not up to my fellow advocates to do my job." (Evanson Dep. 40:19-24, 41:21-23.) Evanson testified that she told her supervisor she disagreed with the accommodation because she did not want to place that burden on her coworkers. ( Id. 41:21-42:17.) Thereafter, Kolodge instructed Evanson to give the handwritten forms Evanson completed to her supervisors rather than her coworkers. ( Id. 47:13-21.) Evanson testified that this alleviated her concern at the time about coworkers performing her job. ( Id. 47:22-48:3.) Specifically, Evanson testified that if she was giving the handwritten forms to supervisors she had "no reason to be concerned about [her] coworkers doing [her] work because supervisors would, in fact, be entering that information." ( Id. 62:21-25.) But although she had been instructed to give her handwritten forms to supervisors, Evanson sometimes gave the forms to coworkers instead. ( Id. 51:16-24.) Evanson testified that the accommodation was "making a lot of the... girls resent me in the office." ( Id. 48:15-16.)[4]

Evanson continued to use this accommodation of handwriting information for others to enter into Alice until her resignation in 2013. ( Id. 43:7-13.) Evanson testified that, other than the handwriting option, she could not think of a possible accommodation that would have allowed her to perform the job function of entering data into Alice. ( Id. 42:18-43:6.) Evanson never proposed a different alternative to Safe Haven or requested an alternative accommodation because she "didn't know what else could be done." ( Id. 42:18-43:2; see also Utech Aff. ¶ 14.)

In a September 16, 2009 memo to Kolodge entitled "Help!" Evanson stated "[a]s you know, I write everything down so I don't forget (I had a stroke, you know!')." (Evanson Decl., Ex. D at 16.) In the memo Evanson explained:

I had a hot-line call this morning and I asked [redacted coworker name] if she would put it in Alice. She was upset by this and asked me if Bonnie was the one that was supposed to do this? I would then, not let her help me. I don't like to depend on the other staff. I am afraid they will resent me. Maybe they don't understand. What can I do? Help!

( Id. )[5]

E. Continued Difficulties with Alice

The next incident related to Evanson's accommodations occurred on June 14, 2011, when Dawn King wrote Evanson an email. (Evanson Decl., Ex. N at 27.) In the email King referenced a hotline call that Evanson had received several days earlier. ( Id. ) When King had asked Evanson if she had information regarding the call that King could enter into Alice, Evanson indicated that she did not, and had not written down anything about the call. ( Id. ) When Evanson then began filling in a hotline call form she stated "I wish I would have known[n] that I was going to have to write this down." ( Id. ) King concluded:

I have attached the email that was sent to you in April which clearly states that the protocol here at the shelter is that every hotline call must be documented and entered into Alice. Because you can not use the Alice computer program and we wish to accommodate your inability to do so, the procedure that was outlined for you was that you would document the call and then turn the form in to me so that I can enter that information in to Alice on your behalf. I would like to use this opportunity to reiterate that we are to document every single hotline call that we receive. It is essential to the organization that we have this information so that staff here at the shelter and at the Family Justice Center can access information regarding our shelter residents and clients in the community If you have any further questions, or feel that you need to be

accommodated in some other way, please let me know. ( Id. )

On August 1, 2011, several supervisors met with Evanson. Safe Haven contends that the meeting was held to "discuss possible solutions to her need for accommodation." (Utech Aff., Ex. E at 8; see also id. ¶ 11.) The supervisors claim that they told Evanson they were concerned that she was unable to identify a call as a crisis call and was not filling out a hotline call form and giving it to a supervisor "which was the accommodation we had made for her in the past so that she would not have to input the call into our computer system." ( Id., Ex. E at 8.) Evanson then indicated that "she didn't have a problem with writing the calls down but that she was simply forgetting to do so." ( Id. ) The supervisors also discussed Evanson failing to document communications with residents of Safe Haven. ( Id. ) Evanson indicated that she could not remember to document these communications. ( Id. ) The supervisors indicated that "[w]e said that maybe we could brainstorm some ideas as to how we could help her remember, and she again stated that she just forgets." ( Id. ) The supervisors indicated that at some point in the meeting Evanson "stood up and stated, I just don't remember, and I'm not going to be able to'. She then opened the door and left the room." ( Id. )[6]

Utech wrote a letter to Evanson regarding the August 1 meeting in which she explained

As you know your short term memory loss has made it difficult for you to perform the requirements of this job and we have made reasonable accommodations, such as allowing you to complete hotline call[s] on written forms that others enter into the Alice database for you.
However, recently it has become apparent that this accommodation is no longer working. The meeting we had on August 1, 2011 was to work with you to determine other accommodations which would allow you to continue to perform requirements of the job. Not only... is it important that you be able to answer phone calls and relay the information you discuss to others in the organization but you must also be able to identify residents and ways you have worked with them. We were discussing accommodations that could be made when you abruptly left the meeting.
You appeared angry and hostile and before you left the meeting you indicated that you did not wish to work on accommodations, thereafter delivering another medical note ...

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