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Alson Alston v. Microsoft Corp

March 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sidney H. Stein, U.S. District Judge.


Pro se plaintiff Alson Alston brought this action against Microsoft Corporation and ten individual Microsoft employees. Plaintiff alleges that Microsoft wrongfully terminated his employment due to his race and his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The parties have now filed extensive submissions on cross motions for summary judgment on the wrongful termination ADA and Title VII claims.*fn1 Because Alston has failed to present evidence of any genuine dispute of material fact that could allow a reasonable factfinder to find in his favor, his motion for summary judgment is denied and Microsoft's motion is granted.


A. Plaintiff's Employment at Microsoft from 1995 to April 2003

Plaintiff, who is African-American (Ex. C to Decl. of Rosemary Alito dated August 18, 2011 ("Alito Decl.") at 4), began his employment with Microsoft in 1995 as a Senior Applications Developer in its Issaquah, Washington office. (Def.'s Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def.'s 56.1") ¶ 1); (Pl.'s Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 1.) Plaintiff remained in Issaquah for two years before transferring to Microsoft's Consulting Services practice in Washington, D.C. to work as a Senior Consultant. (Deposition of Alson Alston dated August 13, 2009 at 41:10-41:14 ("Alston Dep."), Ex. A to Alito Decl.) He started as a "Senior Consultant I" and was later promoted to "Senior Consultant II." (Ex. A to Alito Decl. at 42:1-42:7.) In August of 1999, plaintiff transferred to Microsoft's Financial Services Practice in New York City. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.) The parties dispute whether plaintiff's position in New York was at the Senior Consultant I or Senior Consultant II level. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.)

B. Plaintiff's Extended Leave of Absence from April to September 2003

Alston claims that, in 2003, while still employed in the Financial Services Practice, he became ill while on an assignment in Miami. (Compl., Ex. C to Alito Decl. Part II.E ¶¶ (f), (g); Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 4; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 4.)*fn2 On April 15, 2003, plaintiff sought and received approval for a five-week leave of absence. (Ex. J to Alito Decl. D000000199-200.) Plaintiff subsequently requested and received approval for five separate extensions of that leave, resulting in a paid leave of absence of five months between April and September 2003. (Id. at D000000201-13.) In each of plaintiff's leave requests, on a Microsoft "Statement of Impairment" form, plaintiff's physician, Dr. Ronald Davidson, wrote that plaintiff exhibited "[s]ymptomatology related to poorly controlled Hypertension and diabetes" including "In ability to focus, to reduced ability concentration, Headaches, discomfort, shortness of breathe [sic] upon exertion," which "impact[ed]" his "ability to work." (Id. at D000000199, D000000201, D000000204, D000000206, D000000208, D000000212.) His doctor set forth in his last "Statement of Impairment" form dated August 1, that his estimate of when Alston "will be able to resume employment" was August 30, 2003. (Id. at D000000212.)

Three weeks later, Microsoft wrote Alston that it anticipated that he would return to work on September 2, 2003. (Ex. K to Alito Decl.) Microsoft added that, due to business needs, it would also begin to take steps to fill his position. (Id.) After receiving the letter, plaintiff contacted Microsoft's Human Resources manager and began to make arrangements to return to work. (Exs. L, M to Alito Decl.)

One week after Microsoft sent the letter to Alston, his physician provided Microsoft with a medical release indicating that plaintiff was being released by the doctor to return to work on September 15, 2003, but that he "should not work more than 40 hours per week (including traveling time), should be kept out of job related stressful situations, such as intense interpersonal interactions and high profile presentations . . . " (Ex. N to Alito Decl.) The doctor wrote that these restrictions had an "expected duration" of one month. (Id.)

In an email to plaintiff, Microsoft agreed to temporarily accommodate these restrictions by allowing Alston to work no more than 40 hours a week, and exempting him from making high profile presentations. (Ex. O to Alito Decl.) However, Microsoft noted that "the job and level of a Senior Consultant typically requires working more than a 40-hour work week and outside of a 9-5 schedule due to the demands of customers who require the needs of their project schedules to be met." (Id.) The email stressed the realities of Alston's job requirements, explaining that "because you are a Consultant that lives remotely, travel is required due to the fact that you need to be onsite at customer locations . . . ." and that " a Senior Consultant will, at times be required to give high profile presentations and on short notice." (Id.) Microsoft emphasized that "[t]he restrictions your doctor has suggested as accommodations will mean you are not performing essential job functions of a Senior Consultant II. Accordingly, this accommodation will be temporary." (Id.) Alston's response to Microsoft's email expressed his agreement with Microsoft's approach: "I should also state that, per our last telephone conversation, these constraints represent a mutually satisfactory business interpretation of my doctor's actual restrictions . . . ." (Ex. P to Alito Decl.)

C. Plaintiff's Return to Work in September and October of 2003

Shortly before plaintiff returned to work, plaintiff learned that his supervisor, Albert Kim, would not be awarding him a bonus based on his performance that year. (See Ex. Q to Alito Decl.) Dr. Davidson wrote Teresa Ulus, a benefit manager for Microsoft, that Alston felt "traumatized" by this information, and Davidson requested that Alston not be required to attend a meeting with Kim that was scheduled for his first day back at work, Monday, September 15, 2003. (Id.) Alston requested that the meeting be replaced by a brief telephone discussion that avoided any topics related to his performance. (Id.) The letter stated that, "given his fragile health balance, being confined to a room for 2.5 hours while absorbing a deluge of unpleasant news must be avoided at all costs." (Id.)

Microsoft denied this request, and Alston met with Kim on September 15. (Ex. R to Alito Decl.) At this meeting, Kim updated plaintiff on the status of the financial services practice, upcoming engagements, business initiatives, and discussed plaintiff's mid-year review. (Id.)

A few days after his return to work, plaintiff was asked to assist with an on-site project for a Microsoft client beginning on September 22. (Ex. T to Alito Decl.) Alston was informed that "the work will not exceed 40 hours a week (travel included)." (Id.) Microsoft avers that plaintiff objected to this assignment and that, as a result, his start at the client was postponed to September 30, 2003 (see Def.'s Mem. of ...

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