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Sanchez v. City and County of Denver

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 4, 2019




         On March 25, 2015, Plaintiff Michael Sanchez was injured while working for Defendant Denver Water. He sues Denver Water for discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and Travelers Indemnity Company for bad faith breach of a workers' compensation insurance contract. Denver Water moves for partial summary judgment on the ADA and ADEA claims, asserting it isn't liable for any conduct after August 21, 2015 because Mr. Sanchez failed to exhaust administrative remedies. (Doc. 39.) For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the motion.


         The facts relevant to this motion are not in dispute.[1] Plaintiff Michael Sanchez was employed as a water service worker for Defendant Denver Water, a municipal utility owned and operated by the City and County of Denver. On March 25, 2015, he was injured on the job when he pulled a hydraulic drill from the side cabinet of a truck, slipped, and twisted his lower back.

         On August 21, 2015, Mr. Sanchez filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging discrimination based on age and disability from March 25 to August 20, 2015:

Since January 4, 1996, I have been employed and have worked my way up from Meter Reader to Service Worker 3. Throughout my employment, I have performed my job duties in a satisfactory manner. On March 25, 2015, I was injured while on the job.
On August 11, 2015, Joe Duran, Distribution Operations Supervisor, denied me reasonable accommodation, while two younger employees in their 20's were given accommodation lasting up to 7 months.
On August 11, 2015, Workers' Compensation Dr. Ma-cauley, indicated that he could not see me working longer than 5 years. I believe he was referring to my age.
On August 11, 2015, I was placed on involuntary FMLA dating back to March 25, 2015. I believe it is because of my disability and age.
I am aware of other positions within Water Control that can accommodation [sic] my disability, yet I was told that currently light duty positions were not available.

         In his Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”), Mr. Sanchez alleges that from August 5, 2015 to March 2016, Denver Water “continued to receive medical documentation indicating that Mr. Sanchez's injury was work related and Mr. Sanchez could return to work with temporary restrictions” but “continued in its refusal to engage in the interactive process and would not consider allowing Mr. Sanchez an accommodation of a light duty/modified duty work assignment” or transfer him to another position, despite several requests. (Am. Compl., Doc. 27 ¶¶ 125- 26.) Specifically, on November 12 and December 7, 2015 two different doctors indicated an injury to Mr. Sanchez's lower back; he alleges those reports were “ignored.” (Id. ¶¶ 128-31.) And on January 14 and March 14, 2016, Mr. Sanchez “again asked Denver Water to accommodate his disability by letting them know that he was willing to do any light duty.” (Id. ¶ 134.)

         On March 31, 2016, Denver Water terminated Mr. Sanchez. On November 10, 2017, he filed an amended charge of age discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation, adding the following to the factual allegations contained in his original charge:

Since March 25, 2015 and continuing until my discharge on March 31, 2016, I was been [sic] denied reasonable accommodation. . . . On March 31, 2016 I was discharged from my position in retaliation for participating in a protected activity.

         The amended charge was identical to the initial charge, except that Mr. Sanchez ticked the “retaliation” box and added the quoted language. The other discriminatory acts alleged were repeated verbatim. (Compare Doc. 39-1 with Doc. 43-1.) The amended charge did not contain any mention of the November 12 and December 7, 2015 doctors' reports or the January 14 and March 14, 2016 requests for accommodation referenced in the Complaint.

         On December 19, 2017, Denver Water received the amended charge from the EEOC. In a cover letter accompanying it, the EEOC stated:

Please be advised that on May 8, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received Plaintiff's letter asking to amend the charge to include retaliation, which would have constituted a timely charge. As a result of an administrative error by EEOC staff, the charge was misfiled and the EEOC failed to notify you of this charge within ten days of our receipt of the charge.

(Doc. 39-2.) On January 18, 2018, Denver Water responded to the merits of the amended charge:

In response to Charging Party Michael Sanchez's Amended EEOC Charge, please accept the following information related to the single new allegation in the Amended Charge. . . . Mr. Sanchez was terminated by Denver Water effective March 31, 2016 after it was determined that Denver Water could not reasonably accommodate the medically-based restrictions on his physical activities imposed by his physician.

(Doc. 43-2.) Denver Water did not raise any objection, at that time, to the timeliness of Mr. ...

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