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Credeur v. State of Louisiana

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 23, 2017

RENEE CREDEUR, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, Through the Office of the Attorney General, Defendant-Appellee

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana

          Before REAVLEY, ELROD, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          JAMES E. GRAVES, JR., Circuit Judge.

         Renee Credeur was employed by the Office of Attorney General for the State of Louisiana ("DOJ") as a litigation attorney. During the course of her employment, she developed serious health problems due to complications from a kidney transplant. On account of her illness, the DOJ granted her temporary accommodations to work from home with the goal of eventually reintegrating her into the office. After several months of telecommuting, the DOJ denied Credeur's continuing request to work from home, but provided an alternative accommodation with certain conditions. Credeur rejected this alternative accommodation and renewed her request to work from home. The DOJ denied her request. Credeur sued the DOJ for failure to accommodate, harassment, and retaliation in violation of the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law ("LEDL"). She appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in the DOJ's favor. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Credeur has established a prima facie case on any of her disability-based claims, we AFFIRM.

         I. BACKGROUND

         From 2008 to 2014, Credeur worked as an assistant attorney general in the Medical Malpractice Section of the DOJ's Litigation Division. Credeur underwent a kidney transplant in May 2010 and was granted an ADA accommodation to work from home for approximately six months. In 2013, Credeur experienced additional health problems due to complications from the kidney transplant. From March to August 2013, Credeur utilized leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). After she exhausted FMLA leave, Credeur requested the accommodation of working from home. She provided the DOJ with a medical evaluation by her physician, Dr. Slakey, who was treating her for kidney transplant complications. Dr. Slakey recommended that Credeur "begin working from home doing as much as possible and slowly incorporate herself back to office hours as she gains strength and endurance."

         The DOJ granted Credeur an accommodation to work from home, memorialized in a memorandum dated October 13, 2013 (the "Strategy Memo"). The Strategy Memo noted the DOJ's intent to comply with the ADA by providing Credeur "reasonable accommodations as necessary throughout her recovery" with the goal of eventual "reintegration of her normal work hours and duties." It obligated Credeur to communicate regularly with her supervisor, Glen Reynaud, regarding her work product and hours and provide him with medical updates every 30 days. Credeur did not provide any medical updates until December 11, 2013.

         In January 2014, the DOJ emailed Credeur with an "ADA Supplemental Request for Medical Status, " stating that "specific measures will have to be taken to account for [Credeur's] hours worked and leave requested" and providing a certification for Credeur to fill out and submit "before the end of each pay period." In response to this request, Credeur provided the DOJ with evaluations from three different physicians, Drs. Slakey, Weitz, and Ward. The evaluations conflicted with respect to Credeur's capacity to work in the office. Both Dr. Slakey and Dr. Weitz stated that Credeur could begin working in the office-Dr. Slakey released Credeur to work up three to four hours a day and Dr. Weitz said that she could work in the office "as tolerated." Dr. Ward, on the other hand, stated that Credeur would not be able to work in the office at all for six months.

         Reneé Free, the DOJ's Director of Administrative Services, emailed Credeur on February 27, 2014, seeking clarity regarding the conflicting evaluations. The email stated:

Although the Doctor's evaluations conflict in some areas, it appears that Dr. Ward will not release you to return to the office for six months. Your initial request to work from home was granted with the specific goal of reintegration of your normal office work hours and duties. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a litigation attorney to work from home on a long term basis.
Unless we receive an updated medical status evaluation from your current treating physical rehabilitation physician by Thursday, March 13, 2014, we will have no alternative but to reevaluate your employment with the Department of Justice considering your inability to perform the essential job functions of a litigation attorney.

         Credeur emailed a response, explaining that the DOJ could disregard Dr. Ward's evaluation because his evaluation was "unreasonable" and she had discharged him as her doctor. She added that she received a release from her surgeon "to work part time initially and work up my endurance, " which was improving, and that she was "allowed to take depositions, fly for depositions and attend hearings and trials."

         Free met with Credeur on March 3, 2014. Free summarized the meeting in an email, which stated that Credeur was required "to work up to 3-4 hours per day in the office (as tolerated)" and to "not work from home." Credeur was directed to complete leave slips for the remaining hours she was not able to work in the office. Credeur's supervisor, Reynaud, then reassigned some of Credeur's cases because she was having trouble keeping up with her caseload and in an effort to accommodate her reduced work schedule. Credeur's difficulty fulfilling other administrative tasks during her work-at-home accommodation was also a concern to the DOJ. Among other things, Credeur failed to complete certain safety training exercises that all DOJ attorneys were required to perform periodically.

         Credeur did not return to the office until March 20, 2014, at which time the DOJ presented her with a "Last Chance Agreement" ("Last Chance Agreement" or "Agreement") to inform her of certain deficiencies in her performance and the corrective actions required of her.[1] Among other things, the Agreement cited her failure to adhere to the DOJ's office hours policy and to submit leave slips for the hours she did not work, her email correspondence reflecting "unprofessional" behavior toward her superiors, and substandard billing practices, such as block billing. The Agreement listed eight required actions, including, "You will not work from home, " and "The hours you work/bill will be in the office between the hours of 8:30 am and 5:00 pm unless authority is granted otherwise." The Agreement stated that the consequences of failure or refusal to comply would be cause for termination. Credeur refused to sign the Agreement, despite repeated requests from Reynaud to do so and reminders that signing was "not optional."

         Credeur did not return to work. Instead, she requested and received FMLA leave.[2] On April 7, 2014, while on leave, Credeur emailed the DOJ that she had a contagious infection following a hospitalization and requested that she be able to work from home. Credeur asked to work from home, rather than remain on leave, because her files were getting behind and she needed to get them caught up. Two weeks later, the DOJ received a medical evaluation from Dr. Killackey, which stated that Credeur could not work in the office or attend court hearings, conferences, and depositions until she was cleared of infection, which would be reevaluated on May 20, 2014. The DOJ denied Credeur's request to work from home, but allowed her to take unpaid leave after her FMLA leave expired in June.

         On August 12, 2014, Free sent Credeur a letter formally denying her request to work from home and explaining that DOJ litigation attorneys "cannot work from home on a long term basis" as it "places considerable strain on supervisors and staff." The letter further stated: "Considering that you are not allowed to attend hearings, conferences or depositions, we have accommodated you by reassigning cases which will require any of these activities." Finally, the letter reiterated that Credeur had failed to provide the requisite medical evaluations every 30 days and requested that she submit an updated "medical excuse/evaluation" by August 26, 2014.

         On August 22, 2014, Credeur provided the DOJ with a medical release to work at the office without restrictions. She returned to the office and remained employed with the DOJ until her voluntary resignation on December 31, 2014.

         On August 20, 2014, two days before she returned to work, Credeur filed suit against the DOJ in Louisiana state court. The DOJ removed the case to federal court and subsequently moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to the DOJ.[3] On Credeur's failure to accommodate claim, the district court found that Credeur was not a "qualified individual" within the meaning of the ADA because she could not perform an essential function of her job-regular attendance in the office. Alternatively, the district court held that "no reasonable juror could find that the DOJ failed to reasonably accommodate Credeur's known limitations." On Credeur's harassment claim, the district court found that the conduct complained of did not constitute harassment, or, even if such conduct was harassment, it was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms or conditions of employment. Finally, the district court dismissed the retaliation claim because the evidence did not demonstrate that the DOJ took any adverse action against Credeur. After entry of final judgment in favor of the DOJ, Credeur timely appealed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. E.E.O.C. v. LHC Group, Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Rogers v. Bromac Title Servs., LLC, 755 F.3d 347, 350 (5th Cir. 2014). All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

         B. Failure to ...


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