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GEUSS v. PFIZER

December 16, 1996

JAMES D. GEUSS
v.
PFIZER, INC., et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CAHN

 Cahn, C.J.

 December 16, 1996

 I. INTRODUCTION

 Following a five day trial, a jury found that Defendants Pfizer, Inc., Quigley Co., and Minteq International, Inc. (collectively, "Pfizer") intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff James Geuss in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. *fn1" The jury awarded Geuss $ 65,000 in back pay, $ 89,000 in front pay, $ 11,250 in compensatory damages, and $ 150,000 in punitive damages. *fn2" Pfizer now seeks judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, or, in the alternative, a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59.

 II. FACTS *fn3"

 During the fall of 1991, Geuss' supervisor changed from Richard Griffin to Amy Hale. Hale assigned Geuss more laboratory duties and less administrative work. Geuss' asthma attacks increased once he began working for Hale. Geuss and employees of Pfizer had several discussions beginning in early 1992 concerning the extent of Geuss' asthma and whether any accommodations could be made. The parties did not agree on a solution to Geuss' problem. On or around October 5, 1992, Geuss began staying home from work because his doctor, Dr. Eric Schenkel, recommended that he stay at home until he felt better. Pfizer concluded there was nothing more it could do for Geuss and told him to report to work on October 26, 1992, or be suspended without pay. On October 26, Geuss reported to work with a note from Dr. Schenkel that stated Geuss could not work because the work environment exacerbated his asthma. Pfizer suspended Geuss without pay beginning on October 26, 1992, but he continued to receive medical benefits until April 1993. Geuss filed his disability discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on October 29, 1992, and this case was tried in May 1996. *fn4"

 III. LEGAL STANDARD

 A motion for judgment as a matter of law "should be granted only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability." Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

 In cases where a party is requesting a new trial based upon the weight of the evidence, a district court should grant a new trial only if "a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand." Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1352 (3d Cir. 1991). "This stringent standard is necessary to ensure that a district court does not substitute its judgment of the facts and the credibility of the witnesses for that of the jury. Such an action effects a denigration of the jury system and to the extent that new trials are granted the judge takes over, if he does not usurp, the prime function of the jury as the trier of facts." Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., 100 F.3d 1061, 1996 WL 659353, at *16 (3d Cir. 1996) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A court may also grant a new trial if the verdict was the result of erroneous jury instructions, was excessive or clearly unsupported by the evidence, or was influenced by extraneous matters such as passion, prejudice, sympathy or speculation." Rush v. Scott Specialty Gases, Inc., 930 F. Supp. 194, 197 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (citations omitted).

 Defendants make a myriad of arguments in support of its motions. Essentially Defendants argue:

 
(1) Geuss is not disabled;
 
(2) Even if he is disabled, he is not a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA;
 
(3) Geuss never requested a specific, reasonable accommodation;
 
(4) Even if discrimination occurred, the damages the jury awarded were excessive; and,

 The court will address each of these arguments in turn.

 IV. DISCUSSION

 A. GEUSS' DISABILITY

 The jury specifically found that Geuss' asthmatic condition substantially limited his ability to breathe. (Jury Interrog. No. 1). Pfizer takes issue with this finding, arguing that Geuss failed to prove he is disabled. In support of its position, Pfizer submits that Geuss provided insufficient evidence that his impairment substantially limited his ability to work or breathe, and that Geuss cannot be found disabled because he only provided subjective evidence of his disability. The court rejects Defendants' arguments.

 For the purposes of the ADA, "disability" means:

 
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
 
(B) a record of such an impairment; or,
 
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment.

 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). Only the first prong of the definition is at issue in this case. "An individual is substantially limited in a major life activity if he is 'unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform' or is 'significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which [he] can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.'" Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102, 105 (3d Cir. 1996), quoting 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j). Major life activities include breathing and working. 29 C.F.R. § 1630(i).

 "The existence of an impairment is to be determined without regard to mitigating measures such as medicines, or assistive or prosthetic devices." 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. § 1630.2(h). In this case, Dr. Schenkel testified that Geuss had moderately severe asthma. It is difficult to determine the full extent of Geuss' impairment without medication because he has taken medication for his asthma on a daily basis for as long as he can remember. There is also no suggestion in the record that there ever will be a time when Geuss will be able to live without asthma medication. Geuss testified what happened when his medication was unavailable:

 
And, I ended up getting an asthma attack and we had to drive a great distance. By the end of the drive home, I was wheezing so badly that I was on the verge of passing out. Suzanne -- I didn't even get out of the car. Suzanne ran into the house, grabbed the asthma medicine and I had an oxygen tank at that time and she gave me my medicine and I took my oxygen and I finally came around.

 (Trial Tr. 5/7, 65-66). Geuss testified that he had 1-2 asthma attacks a day in the week before the trial and this frequency of attacks was fairly typical. *fn5" (Trial Tr. 5/7, 60-61). Even minor instances of physical exertion, such as running approximately 100 feet to his young son who had skinned his knee, have triggered asthma attacks. (Trial Tr. 5/7, 56-57). His difficulty in breathing forces him to avoid certain pets, cigarette smoke, perfume, and fresh paint, and his house is cleaned about three times a week so dust does not accumulate. (Trial Tr. 5/8, 27-32). All of these limitations have been present throughout Geuss' life even though he takes medication daily.

 Pfizer relies primarily on two cases, Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102 (3d Cir. 1996), and Heilweil v. Mount Sinai Hospital, 32 F.3d 718 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1147, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1063, 115 S. Ct. 1095 ...


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