United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
RICHARD A. JONES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on one of his claims. No party requested oral argument. For the reasons stated herein, the court GRANTS Defendants' motion in part and DENIES it in part. Dkt. # 31. The court DENIES Plaintiff's motion. Dkt. # 27. This order ends with instructions on preparing for trial. Trial will begin April 27.
For more than 20 years, Plaintiff Mohammed Siddiqui, a native of India, was a veterinary specialist at the Washington National Primate Research Center ("NPRC"), a subsidiary of the University of Washington. On October 29, 2012, Mr. Siddiqui injected ketamine, an anesthetic, into an infant primate in preparation for a surgery. Dr. Keith Vogel, a veterinarian who has worked at the NPRC since the late 1990s, assisted in the surgery. Although the surgery was successful, the primate was slow to awaken afterward.
A. The Overdose of the Primate and the Roles of Dr. Vogel, Dr. Hotchkiss, and Mr. Siddiqui
Dr. Vogel reviewed the surgery log, which suggested that the ketamine dose had been 8 times the correct dose. He contacted Mr. Siddiqui, who contended that he had given the correct dose. Dr. Vogel then reviewed the drug log, which is a log showing all withdrawals from the bottle of ketamine from which Mr. Siddiqui withdrew the dose in question. The initial entry for the dose in question showed 8 times the correct dose. Mr. Siddiqui modified the entry to show a correct dose. Mr. Siddiqui did not attempt to hide the change; he crossed out the first entry and initialed the new entry, consistent with NPRC procedures for correcting mistakes on drug logs. Further investigation revealed that the bottle from which the ketamine was extracted, which Dr. Vogel believed should have had additional liquid in it if Mr. Siddiqui's assertions about the dosing were correct, was missing from the drug cabinet. Dr. Vogel later discovered the empty bottle in a medication discard bin. Dr. Vogel conferred with Dr. Charlotte Hotchkiss, who is ultimately responsible for the maintenance of drug logs at NPRC, who agreed that there should have been additional liquid in the bottle.
Dr. Vogel and Dr. Hotchkiss concluded that Mr. Siddiqui had administered an overdose of ketamine and, when confronted with the mistake, had not only falsely denied it, but had modified the drug log to make it appear to be consistent with his denial.
Mr. Siddiqui urges a different conclusion. He contends that he gave the correct dose of ketamine. He does not explain why both his entry on the surgery log and his initial entry on the drug log showed an overdose by a factor of 8. He contends, however, that when Dr. Vogel initially questioned him, he examined the drug log, found that it contained inaccurate information (reflecting the overdose) and thus modified it in accordance with NPRC procedures. He contends that the ketamine bottle was empty, and that any discrepancy between the recorded extractions on the drug log and the amount in the bottle is simply the result of ordinary inaccuracies that are often present in drug logs. For example, each withdrawal from the bottle results in some loss of fluid, because the syringes used for withdrawal take up fluid in their needle tips and hubs that is not expelled when fluid is ejected from the syringe.
B. Director David Anderson Decides that Mr. Siddiqui Should No Longer Work at the NPRC.
Dr. Vogel reported the alleged overdose incident to Dr. David Anderson, the Director of the NPRC. Dr. Anderson conferred with both Dr. Vogel and Dr. Hotchkiss, neither of whom made any recommendation as to what should be done to Mr. Siddiqui. No evidence contradicts Dr. Anderson's assertions that he made his decisions about the consequences of Mr. Siddiqui's actions without recommendations from anyone else. Anderson depo. at 25-26.
On the morning of November 1, 2012, Mr. Siddiqui arrived at work to discover a note directing him to come immediately to Dr. Anderson's office. The note suggested nothing about the purpose of the meeting. Other than Dr. Vogel's discussion with Mr. Siddiqui about the overdose before Dr. Vogel examined the drug log, there is no evidence that Mr. Siddiqui was aware anyone suspected him of making false statements. There is no evidence that he knew anyone had discovered the discrepancies in the drug log. So far as the record reveals, Mr. Siddiqui had no reason to suspect he faced discipline when he received the note directing him to Dr. Anderson's office.
Dr. Anderson and Mr. Siddiqui were the only people who spoke at the meeting. Dr. Vogel and Dr. Hotchkiss were present, but silent. According to Dr. Anderson, he called the meeting because he was concerned about the overdose incident and its aftermath, but had not yet made up his mind about any consequences. He wanted to hear Mr. Siddiqui's side of the story. At the meeting, he told Mr. Siddiqui what Dr. Vogel and Dr. Hotchkiss had discovered, and asked him "if there were any alternative explanations he could bring forward that would provide another explanation for how all of these things could have happened...." Anderson depo. at 20. Mr. Siddiqui provided no alternative explanation. According to Mr. Siddiqui, Dr. Anderson opened the meeting by demanding that Mr. Siddiqui resign because of the overdose and the falsification of the drug log. Mr. Siddiqui denied both the overdose and improper alteration of the drug log, to no avail.
All evidence shows that Dr. Anderson made an independent assessment of the case against Mr. Siddiqui. Dr. Vogel and Dr. Hotchkiss were responsible for relaying to him the objective facts: the primate's slow recovery, the surgery log indicating an overdose of ketamine, Mr. Siddiqui's denial that he had given an overdose, the alteration of the drug log, and the absence of fluid in the ketamine bottle. Dr. Anderson's testimony leaves no doubt that he drew his own conclusions from those facts. He knew from his own clinical experience that the primate's recovery was exceptionally slow, which suggested an overdose. Anderson depo. 38-44. He knew that the surgery log showed an overdose. He was aware of no other explanation for the primate's slow recovery, and Mr. Siddiqui offered none. He knew that Mr. Siddiqui had denied the overdose nonetheless. He knew from his clinical experience that ordinary drug loss could not account for the discrepancy between amount of ketamine that should have been in the bottle and Mr. Siddiqui's assertion that the bottle was empty. Anderson depo. 47-48, 53. Based on all of this information, he concluded that Mr. Siddiqui overdosed the primate, lied about it, and falsified records to cover up his mistake. He decided, without advice or recommendation from anyone, that Mr. Siddiqui's employment at the NPRC must end. There is no dispute that, assuming the accuracy of the conclusions that Dr. Anderson drew, Mr. Siddiqui had committed misconduct for which termination was appropriate.
C. Dr. Anderson Offers Mr. Siddiqui the Option to Resign in Lieu of Termination or Termination Proceedings.
The evidence is conflicted as to what happened next at the November 1 meeting. According to Dr. Anderson, he knew that he could not terminate Mr. Siddiqui on his own, because a host of University procedures and state regulations dictated a termination process in which his recommendation to terminate was merely the first step. He told Mr. Siddiqui that he would initiate the termination process. Anderson depo. 32-33. As an alternative, he offered Mr. Siddiqui the opportunity to resign. Id. Other than informing Mr. Siddiqui that a termination would likely make him ineligible for re-employment at the University, he did not give Mr. Siddiqui information about the advantages and disadvantages of electing resignation over a termination process. He asked Mr. Siddiqui to make a decision by the following morning. Id. at 142. According to Dr. Anderson, Mr. Siddiqui did not ask for the opportunity to provide documents to prove his version of the overdose and its aftermath. Id. at 141. He did not ask to speak with an attorney or anyone else. Id. He did not ask for more time to make his decision. Id.
Mr. Siddiqui's version of the November 1 meeting is different. As the court has noted, he contends that Dr. Anderson immediately announced his conclusions about the overdose and Mr. Siddiqui's role and demanded his resignation. He did not listen to Mr. Siddiqui's protestations that he was drawing the wrong conclusions. Mr. Siddiqui asked Dr. Anderson for a warning and a second chance, but Dr. Anderson did not reply. Id. at 197, 199, 226. He testified that he explained to Dr. Anderson that the alteration of the drug log was not dishonest, but to no avail. Id. at 225. Mr. Siddiqui asked to get legal advice, and Dr. Anderson said that he would fire him if he did not resign. Mr. Siddiqui chose to resign. Dr. Anderson told him to write a resignation letter, turn in his keys, and leave the building. Mr. Siddiqui denied at his deposition that Dr. Anderson offered him any benefit as an incentive to resign. Siddiqui depo. at 46-47. In a declaration he filed earlier in this case, he stated that Dr. Anderson told him that "a permanent record would be made of [his] deficient health care services and the only way to avoid that permanent record was to resign effective immediately, " and that he believed that if he did not resign, "Dr. Anderson would interfere in [his] job search." Siddiqui Decl. (Dkt. # 15) ¶ 1.
A jury could believe Mr. Siddiqui's version of events, and it could also draw two inferences that are critical to the court's decision today. First, a jury could infer that Dr. Anderson required Mr. Siddiqui to decide to resign during the meeting or termination proceedings would begin immediately. Second, a jury could infer that Dr. Anderson represented, falsely, that he would and could actually fire him, as opposed to merely making the recommendation that would start a termination process and placing him on administrative leave pending the outcome of that process. Siddiqui depo. at 144-45, 47. A jury could believe that Dr. Anderson told Mr. Siddiqui that his "choice" was either to resign or to be immediately fired without recourse.
What is not in dispute is that shortly after leaving Dr. Anderson's office, Mr. Siddiqui sent him a one-sentence email declaring that he was resigning "effective immediately[, ] due to personal reasons." Augenthaler Decl. (Dkt. # 35), Ex. A. More than three months later, he attempted without success to rescind his resignation.
D. Mr. Siddiqui Sues Dr. Anderson, Dr. Vogel, and the University; His Remaining Claims are for Denial of Procedural Due Process and Race Discrimination.
Mr. Siddiqui sued Dr. Anderson, Dr. Vogel, and the University. He contends that Dr. Vogel and Dr. Anderson violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by denying him procedural protections guaranteed him by the Due Process Clause and by discriminating against him on the basis of his race or national origin in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. He contends that all three Defendants are liable for violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination ("WLAD") by discriminating against him on the basis of his race or national origin. Faced with Defendants' motion for summary judgment on all his claims, Mr. Siddiqui conceded that he would not pursue "State law claims of age or reprisal discrimination or class of one' minimum scrutiny Equal Protection." ...