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Batlidze v. Harris Beach L.L.P.

May 8, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge


Plaintiff Khatuna Batlidze ("Batlidze" or "plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, commenced this action against defendant Harris Beach L.L.P. ("Harris Beach") under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") on November 19, 2004.*fn1 The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by a Memorandum Opinion of August 9, 2006. Batlidze v. Harris Beach, LLP, 05 Civ. 86, 2006 WL 2280456 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2006). Following a final pretrial conference on July 13, 2007, and subsequent supplemental discovery and depositions, defendant requested leave to file a renewed motion for summary judgment; that request was granted by Order dated October 26, 2007. The motion was filed on December 14, 2007, and plaintiff submitted opposition on February 22, 2008. For the following reasons, the defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment is granted.*fn2


The following facts are undisputed or based on the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, unless otherwise noted.*fn3 Plaintiff Batlidze was born in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. Following a visit to the United States for a vacation in 1990, she returned to the United States on August 2, 1992. According to the deposition testimony of Dr. Alan H. Friedman ("Dr. Friedman"), plaintiff's ophthalmologist, plaintiff had suffered from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma prior to arriving in the United States, and had initially received treatment abroad. Following her 1992 arrival in the United States, she sought further treatment at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and was treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant.

Following her 1992 arrival in the United States, plaintiff applied for permanent resident status, and her application was denied; she was, however, able to obtain a stay of deportation based upon her medical condition.*fn4 She also obtained an Employment Authorization Card from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A copy of the most recent Authorization Card Batlidze received has been submitted by the defendant, and it states that it was valid between May 2, 2000 and May 1, 2001. Batlidze testified at her deposition that her application to renew her 2000-2001 authorization was denied, and that she never obtained a subsequent authorization.

Batlidze was hired by defendant Harris Beach as a file clerk in May of 2000. Batlidze states in her opposition papers that she "kept defendant Harris Beach informed at all times about my immigration and work authorization status," and that "[w]hen I volunteered that my work permit was no longer valid, they told me not to worry about it."

On November 2, 2000, Batlidze had her initial visit with Dr. Friedman, at which Dr. Friedman noted marked swelling of her eyelids and masses in both eye sockets. Following additional tests, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, and underwent radiotherapy in January of 2001.

In September 2002, Batlidze was assigned to work on Harris Beach's microchip litigation team. Beginning in November 2002, she was required to scan a large number of documents on a computer, and worked late for several weeks. During this time, she returned to Dr. Friedman, who noted "marked irritation of the eye." Although Dr. Friedman's notes from the November 2002 visit mention her scanning work, he testified that he did not advise her to stop scanning or using a computer. In her opposition papers, Batlidze denies that she complained to Dr. Friedman or any one at Harris Beach -- at that time or ever --that the scanning or computer work bothered her eyes. By contrast, Kim Swetland ("Swetland"), Harris Beach's New York office manager, avers that in February 2003 Batlidze complained that the scanning work was bothering her eyes.

Due to personality conflicts between Batlidze and at least one other member of the microchip litigation team, Harris Beach transferred Batlidze to its asbestos litigation team in April 2003, which at that time had two other clerks assigned to it. Also around that time, Batlidze told Swetland that she would be on medical leave in May to have laparoscopic surgery (which was unrelated to her eye problems). Batlidze was told that she would begin work with the asbestos litigation team upon her return.*fn5 Swetland avers that the transfer was viewed by Harris Beach as a step that would alleviate the discomfort she had reported in connection with her scanning work. Batlidze, again, denies making such complaints and reports that upon being told in April that she would be transferred to the asbestos team, she "immediately asked [Swetland] to transfer me to any other department . . . because Asbestos was the largest filing project at Harris Beach and thus required extensive filing of documents which contained a lot of paper dust." Batlidze states that she was told that a possible reassignment would be discussed upon her return in June.

Batlidze returned to Harris Beach from her medical leave in June 2003. The parties offer differing accounts regarding who approached whom, but it is undisputed that Batlidze and Swetland had a conversation in early June during which Batlidze said that, due to the lymphoma she had had in her eyelids, the dusty asbestos files were bothering her eyes, and that she was not able to work on the asbestos team. Swetland asked Batlidze to provide a letter from her ophthalmologist regarding her condition.

In response to Swetland's request, Dr. Friedman sent a letter to Swetland on June 6, 2003, and reported that while radiation therapy had cured Batlidze's lymphoma, the treatment had "left her with severe dry eyes." He reported that he had last examined Batlidze on June 5, that her condition had gotten "considerably worse" since her prior visit, and that she suffered from blurred vision, redness and extreme discomfort in her eyes. He recommended that Batlidze "temporarily refrain from filing which involves exposure to dust," and "highly recommend[ed]" that she "be given duties other than filing." Swetland avers that, "[a]fter receiving this letter I told Ms. Batlidze to refrain from any work activities that irritated her eyes."*fn6

Swetland replied to Dr. Friedman by letter dated June 23, which stated that

[b]ased upon the information you have provided, we are unable to ascertain whether there are any duties or responsibilities which we can provide Ms. Batlidze without exacerbating her eye problems.

Ms. Batlidze is employed as a file coordinator. The duties of this position include: collecting, alphabetizing and filing [various documents]; retrieving files from our file room; creating files . . .; scanning of documents into the computer as necessary; other related filing duties. For a period of time, we did assign Ms. Batlidze to computer duties ...

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