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Ricasa v. State, Department of Human Services

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 11, 2019

DOMINGO P. RICASA, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES; PANKAJ BHANOT, in his official capacity as Director, State Of Hawaii, Department Of Human Services, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS STATE OF HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND PANKAJ BHANOT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 31)

          HELEN GILLMOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Domingo P. Ricasa filed a Complaint against his former employer, the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services and Pankaj Bhanot, in his official capacity as Director of the State of Hawaii, Department of Human Services.

         Plaintiff began employment with the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services as a Youth Corrections Officer in 2000.

         In 2015, Plaintiff sustained work injuries and was absent from work. Defendants searched for alternative positions that Plaintiff could perform based on his physical limitations following his injuries. Defendants reassigned Plaintiff from his work as a Youth Corrections Officer to a another position with the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court asserting disability, sex, and age discrimination claims. Plaintiff seeks both monetary damages and injunctive relief.

         Defendants seek summary judgment on each of Plaintiff's claims.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims for sex discrimination and hostile work environment pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are barred by both the statute of limitations and exhaustion requirements.

         Defendants argue that even if Plaintiff's claims are not barred by State sovereign immunity, statute of limitations, and exhaustion, Plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie claim of discrimination or retaliation for any of his claims.

         Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services and Pankaj Bhanot's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31) is GRANTED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint. (ECF No. 1).

         On March 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed a FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT. (ECF No. 6).

         On June 19, 2019, Defendants filed a MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 31) and a CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS. (ECF No. 32).

         On June 24, 2019, the Court issued a briefing schedule and required Plaintiff to file his Opposition by July 15, 2019. (ECF No. 39).

         On July 12, 2019, Plaintiff requested a one-week extension to file his Opposition until July 22, 2019. (ECF No. 41).

         On July 15, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff's request for an extension of time to file his Opposition. (ECF No. 40).

         On July 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed his OPPOSITION (ECF No. 43) and CONCISE STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION. (ECF No. 44).

         On August 7, 2019, Defendants filed their REPLY. (ECF No. 46).

         On September 4, 2019, the Court held a hearing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31).

         BACKGROUND

         In September 2000, Plaintiff began employment with the Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services as a Youth Correctional Officer. (Declaration of Plaintiff Domingo Ricasa (“Pla.'s Decl.”) at ¶ 3, attached to Pla.'s Concise Statement of Facts (“CSF”), ECF No. 44-1).

         Plaintiff's First Work Injury In July 2012

         On July 2, 2012, Plaintiff incurred a work injury to his back and knees. (Pla.'s Decl. at ¶ 5, ECF No. 44-1). More than two years later, on November 17, 2014, Plaintiff returned to work after he had been cleared to return to work without restrictions. (Id. at ¶ 7).

         Plaintiff's Complaint Against Co-Workers On January 8, 2015

         Plaintiff claims that on January 8, 2015, he was discriminated against by co-workers. (State of Hawaii Administrative Investigations Decision, written by Investigator Hal Fitchett, re: January 8, 2015 incident, attached as Ex. 4 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 33-1). Plaintiff reported that on January 8, 2015, he made two radio calls to other Youth Corrections Officers to assist him with moving a ward in the facility. Plaintiff asserts that the other Youth Corrections Officers ignored his calls and that his supervisors did not assist him or discipline the other officers who ignored his calls. (Id. at p. 4). Plaintiff filed a complaint on the same date, because he believed his co-workers intentionally did not answer his radio calls. (Id.) He also believed that his co-workers were laughing at him. (Id. at p. 22, ECF No. 34-1).

         Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services conducted an investigation into Plaintiff's claims regarding the January 8, 2015 incident. It determined that there was insufficient evidence to support Plaintiff's allegations. (Id. at pp. 21-22, ECF No. 34-1; Hashimoto Decl. at ¶ 6, ECF No. 32-1).

         Plaintiff's Second Work Injury Occurred On January 8, 2015

         On January 8, 2015, Plaintiff incurred a back injury. (State of Hawaii, Supervisor's Accident Report, attached as Ex. 1 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 32-3). Plaintiff's supervisor, Mitchell Simao, completed an accident report that indicated Plaintiff had similar injuries in 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was absent from work from January 9, 2015, through March 1, 2015, due to his injuries sustained on January 8, 2015. (Declaration of Brenna Hashimoto (“Hashimoto Decl.), Human Resources Officer for the Department of Human Services, at ¶ 6, ECF No. 32-1).

         A decision by the Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Disability Compensation Division, determined that Plaintiff suffered headaches and a back strain caused by his job duties, which included opening doors, answering phones, and using radios. (State of Hawaii, Disability Compensation Decision, dated August 26, 2015, attached as Ex. 2 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 32-4).

         On February 27, 2015, Plaintiff's physician, Dr. Joseph DiCostanzo, M.D., evaluated Plaintiff and deemed him able to return to work at full capacity on March 2, 2015. (Plaintiff's Industrial Work Status Report completed by Dr. Joseph DiCostanzo, dated February 27, 2015, attached as Ex. 3 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 32-5).

         Plaintiff's Return To Work And The March 23, 2015 Investigation Into Plaintiff's Conduct

         Plaintiff returned to work on March 2, 2015.

         On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff was notified by his supervisor, Mitchell Simao, that Plaintiff was subject of an investigation. The investigation was for allegations that Plaintiff had used his personal cell phone to take photographs of staff, wards, and the facility grounds. (State of Hawaii Administrative Investigation Report, written by Investigator John Cavaco, dated September 22, 2016, at p. 2, attached as Ex. 5 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 35-1).

         Plaintiff's Third Work Injury In June 2015

         Less than three months later, on June 14, 2015, Plaintiff suffered another work injury. (Work Injury Report dated June 14, 2015, attached as Ex. 6 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-1). A physical altercation occurred between two wards. When Plaintiff attempted to control the wards, he fell to the floor and injured his knees and elbow. (Work Injury Report dated June 14, 2015, at p. 3, attached as Ex. 6 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-1).

         Plaintiff was absent from work for approximately six weeks. Plaintiff's physician, Dr. Joseph DiCostanzo, M.D., evaluated Plaintiff and deemed him able to return to work at full capacity on July 30, 2015. (Plaintiff's Industrial Work Status Report completed by Dr. Joseph DiCostanzo, dated July 30, 2015, attached as Ex. 8 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-3). Plaintiff returned to work on August 3, 2015, and he worked until September 23, 2015.

         Plaintiff's September 11, 2015 Complaint Against A Co-Worker

         On September 11, 2015, Plaintiff made a complaint against a fellow Youth Corrections Officer. (Letter dated April 27, 2016 from the Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services to Plaintiff Re: September 10, 2015 Complaint, attached as Ex. 9 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-4).

         Plaintiff alleged that Officer Koehler engaged in workplace violence and threatened Plaintiff, while they were on duty together on September 10, 2015. (Id.)

         The Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services conducted an investigation and found that “video graphic evidence of the alleged work place violence incident does not corroborate [Plaintiff Ricasa's] account of the events as report by [Ricasa] in [his] complaintant statement dated September 11, 2015.” (Id. at p. 2). The investigation also found that witness statements did not corroborate Plaintiff's account. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's September 29, 2015 Complaint Of Discrimination

         Less than three weeks later, on September 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed another complaint. Plaintiff reported that he believed he had been sexually harassed six months earlier on March 24 and 25, 2015, and April 1, 2015.

         Plaintiff's September 29, 2015 complaint alleged that following the notice that he was under investigation for taking pictures on his personal cell phone, male wards made inappropriate verbal comments and unwelcome sexual and physical contact with Plaintiff. (Pla.'s Decl. at ¶ 20, ECF No. 44-1).

         Plaintiff believed that the wards were “being manipulated to be involved to participate in an unfounded allegation of taking pictures of them.” (State of Hawaii Administrative Investigation Report, written by Investigator John Cavaco, dated September 22, 2016, at p. 3, attached as Ex. 5 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 35-1). Plaintiff reported that he believed the male wards verbally and physically harassed him due to the allegations that Plaintiff Ricasa had taken their pictures. (Pla.'s Decl. at ¶ 9, ECF No. 44-1).

         Plaintiff asserts that he reported the wards' behavior to his direct supervisor Mitchell Simao, Youth Facility Administrator Mark Patterson, and his second-level supervisor Cynthia Hubbell. (Pla.'s Decl. at ¶ 20, ECF No. 44-1). Plaintiff claims that nothing was done to prevent the wards from harassing him. (Pla.'s Decl. at ¶¶ 20-22, ECF No. 44-1).

         Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services conducted an investigation into Plaintiff's September 29, 2015 complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation. (State of Hawaii Administrative Investigation Report, written by Investigator John Cavaco, dated September 22, 2016, attached as Ex. 5 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 35-1). Investigator John Cavaco concluded that there was no evidence to support Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. (State of Hawaii Administrative Investigation Report, written by Investigator John Cavaco, dated September 22, 2016, at p. 19, attached as Ex. 5 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 35-1).

         Plaintiff Referred To The Defendants' Return To Work Priority Program

         Plaintiff ceased working on September 23, 2015, and for the remainder of the year, claiming that he began to suffer residual effects from his previous knee and back injuries. (Hashimoto Decl. at ¶ 10, ECF No. 32-1). Plaintiff received workers' compensation and was found to be temporarily disabled from September 23, 2015 through March 27, 2016. (State of Hawaii, Disability Compensation Decision, dated December 21, 2018, attached as Ex. 7 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-2).

         In late 2015, Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services referred Plaintiff to its Return To Work Priority Program. (Declaration of Jennifer Mori-Kilbey (“Mori-Kilbey Decl.”), State of Hawaii Return to Work Program Specialist at ¶ 6, ECF No. 32-2). The Return To Work Priority Program offers assistance to Hawaii state employees who have suffered from work injuries. (Id. at ¶ 2). The Program consults with the employee's treating physician to determine whether an employee can return to work in his position with or without accommodations. (Id.) If a determination is made that no accommodation is available, the Program engages with the employee to assist the employee to find an alternative State position. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-5).

         Plaintiff's First Functional Capacity Evaluation In January 2016

         On January 21, 2016, Plaintiff underwent a Functional Capacity Evaluation by his treating physician Dr. Joseph DiCostanzo. (January 21, 2016 Evaluation by Dynamic Evaluation Center, at pp. 1-4, attached as Ex. 10, ECF No. 36-5).

         On February 12, 2016, Dr. DiCostanzo opined that, based on the evaluation, Plaintiff could not perform the duties of a Youth Corrections Officer. (Letter from Dr. DiCostanzo to Ms. Mori-Kilbey dated February 12, 2016, attached as Ex. 11 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-6).

         Plaintiff Assigned To Temporary, Light Work Duty In March 2016

         Dr. DiCostanzo's February 12, 2016 evaluation determined that Plaintiff could perform temporary, light work duty. The evaluation found that Plaintiff could not work as a full-time, full duty Youth Corrections Officer. (Letter from Dr. DiCostanzo to Ms. Mori-Kilbey dated February 12, 2016, attached as Ex. 11 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-6).

         Based on this finding, Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services provided Plaintiff with a temporary, light duty assignment with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation beginning on March 28, 2016, until Plaintiff, once again, went on medical leave in April 2016. (Letter from Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services to Plaintiff, dated March 22, 2016, at p. 2, attached as Ex. 17, ECF No. 36-12).

         Plaintiff performed a second temporary, light duty assignment from September 1, 2016 until October 31, 2016. He performed a third, temporary, light duty assignment from November 26, 2016 to December 30, 2016. (Light Duty Report at p. 4, attached as Ex. 18 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-13).

         Plaintiff's Second Functional Capacity Evaluation In November 2016

         On November 28, 2016, Plaintiff underwent a second Functional Capacity Evaluation by his treating physician Dr. Joseph DiCostanzo. (November 28, 2016 Evaluation by Dynamic Evaluation Center, at pp. 2-6, attached as Ex. 20, ECF No. 36-15).

         Dr. DiCostanzo opined that Plaintiff could not perform the duties of a Youth Corrections Officer and no accommodation could enable him to do so. (Letter from Dr. DiCostanzo to Ms. Mori-Kilbey dated December 12, 2016, at pp. 2-3, attached as Ex. 22 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 37-2).

         Plaintiff continued to suffer residual effects from his knee and back injuries. He was deemed to be temporarily disabled by the State of Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Disability Compensation Division, from January 1, 2017 through September 5, 2017. (State of Hawaii, Disability Compensation Decision, dated December 24, 2018, at p. 2, attached as Ex. 7 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 36-2).

         Defendants' 2017 Search For An Alternative Position For Plaintiff

         While Plaintiff remained on workers' compensation disability leave, on June 28, 2017, Defendants' Return To Work Priority Program proceeded to search for an alternative state position in which Plaintiff could work based on his treating physician's opinion that he could no longer work as a Youth Corrections Officer with or without accommodation. (Letter to Plaintiff from the Return To Work Priority Program, dated June 28, 2017, attached as Ex. 24 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 37-4).

         Plaintiff's July 19, 2017 Charge Of Discrimination

         On July 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination With the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (July 19, 2017 EEOC Charge of Discrimination, attached as Ex. 32 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 37-12).

         Plaintiff indicated that he was discriminated against due to his sex, age, disability, and in retaliation. (Id.)

         Defendants' Identification Of A New, Permanent Position For Plaintiff To Begin In September 2017

         On August 28, 2017, State of Hawaii Return To Work Priority Program identified a vacant Eligibility Work I position that Plaintiff could perform. The position is in the Benefits, Employment and Support Services Division of the Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Human Services. (Letter from Defendant Department of Human Services to Plaintiff, dated August 28, 2017, attached as Ex. 31 to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 37-11).

         Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. DiConstanzo, cleared Plaintiff for the Eligibility Worker position. (Id.) Plaintiff was instructed to report to his new position on September 6, 2017. (Id.)

         The record is silent as to whether Plaintiff returned to work.

         October 17, 2017 EEOC Right To Sue Letter

         On October 16, 2017, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a right to sue letter to Plaintiff. (October 16, 2017 Right to Sue Letter, attached as Ex. A to Pla.'s First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 6-2).

         Three months later, on January 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court. (Complaint, ECF No. 1).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). To defeat summary judgment there must be sufficient evidence that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the ...


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