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Alexander v. Montana Developmental Center

Supreme Court of Montana

November 13, 2018

CHRISTOPHER LEE ALEXANDER, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
MONTANA DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER, Department of Public Health and Human Services, State of Montana, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 5, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, In and For the County of Jefferson, Cause No. DV-2016-75 Honorable Luke Berger, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: J. Ben Everett, Everett Law, PLLC, Anaconda, Montana

          For Appellee: Mary W. Tapper, Department of Public Health and Human Services, Office of Legal Affairs, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          McKinnon, Justice Laurie

         ¶1 Christopher Lee Alexander (Alexander) appeals an order from the Fifth Judicial District Court, Jefferson County, granting Montana Developmental Center's (MDC) motion for summary judgment.

         ¶2 Alexander presents the following issue for review:

Did the District Court err in concluding that no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether MDC engaged in an interactive process with Alexander or provided him with a reasonable accommodation?

         ¶3 We affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶4 Alexander is a former employee of MDC, an intensive, short-term treatment facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities and co-occurring mental illnesses. In 2015, the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 411, which required MDC to close in June 2017.[1]2015 Mont. Laws 2077.

         ¶5 In 2007, MDC promoted Alexander to shift manager, a position responsible for all aspects of management for one or more residential treatment units at MDC during assigned shifts. Alexander's duties as a shift manager included supervising psychiatric aides, implementing and monitoring client care and programming, and managing living units and classrooms. When necessary, MDC required shift managers like Alexander to physically restrain clients, which sometimes led to physical confrontations. Between 2007 and 2014, Alexander reported fifteen incidents in which he was attacked or injured by a client while on duty. After one such incident, Alexander underwent shoulder surgery. He returned to work in November 2014, but his treating physician, Dr. DiGiovine, restricted him from physical contact with clients. MDC accommodated Alexander's medical restrictions during his recovery.

         ¶6 In July 2015, Dr. DiGiovine found Alexander's shoulder could not recover further. He informed Alexander and MDC that Alexander's medical restriction against restraining clients was permanent. Derrek Shepherd (Shepherd), the Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator and the Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, then discussed possible accommodations with Alexander such as a shoulder brace that would allow him to safely restrain clients again. Alexander spoke with Dr. DiGiovine about it, but Dr. DiGiovine concluded a shoulder brace or other support offered Alexander no significant protection from reinjury.

         ¶7 In September 2015, Alexander proposed an alternative accommodation to MDC that would allow him to remain as shift manager: Alexander asked MDC to staff at least two direct support professionals with him at all times to ensure he would not need to engage in physical confrontations with clients. Shepherd and Donna Gilmer (Gilmer), MDC's Human Resources Manager, discussed Alexander's proposed accommodation, but they found it unworkable. They expressed concerns that even if they could staff Alexander's unit as he had requested-which they found difficult to achieve because of staffing issues confronting MDC due to its impending closure-the additional direct support professionals could not ensure Alexander would not need to restrain clients. ...


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