United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
November 24, 1999
THEODORE W. WILLMORE, SR.
AMERICAN ATELIER, INC.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Theodore Willmore, instituted this suit under the
Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et. seq.
("ADA") seeking both monetary damages and reinstatement to his
former position with American Atelier, Inc. as a furniture
scruffer. Defendant has now filed a motion for summary judgment
on the grounds that, (1) plaintiff is not a disabled person
within the meaning of the ADA and, (2) its decision to terminate
his employment was due solely to his insubordinate and
belligerent behavior on the day of his termination. For the
reasons which follow, the motion for summary judgment shall be
According to the averments in his complaint, Theodore Willmore,
Sr. was hired by American Atelier, Inc. on May 4, 1998. A short
time later, on June 3, 1998, Mr. Willmore contends that he
seriously injured his back when he fell while working but he
apparently nevertheless continued to work. On June 22, 1998, the
somehow injured his hands while working, and was terminated later
that same day. By this lawsuit, Plaintiff contends that Defendant
terminated his employment because of his hand and back injuries
and that since these injuries effectively disabled him, his
termination was therefore in violation of the ADA.
Standards for Summary Judgment Motions
The standards to be applied by the district courts in ruling on
motions for summary judgment are set forth in Fed. R.Civ.P. 56.
Under subsection (c) of that rule,
. . . The judgment sought shall be rendered
forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law. A summary judgment, interlocutory in character,
may be rendered on the issue of liability alone
although there is a genuine issue as to the amount of
Pursuant to this rule, a court is compelled to look beyond the
bare allegations of the pleadings to determine if they have
sufficient factual support to warrant their consideration at
trial. Liberty Lobby, Inc. v. Dow Jones & Co., 838 F.2d 1287
(D.C.Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 825, 109 S.Ct. 75, 102
L.Ed.2d 51 (1988); Aries Realty, Inc. v. AGS Columbia
Associates, 751 F. Supp. 444 (S.D.N.Y. 1990).
Generally, the party seeking summary judgment always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions
on file, together with any affidavits, which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In considering a summary judgment motion, the
court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and all reasonable inferences from the facts
must be drawn in favor of that party as well. U.S. v. Kensington
Hospital, 760 F. Supp. 1120 (E.D.Pa. 1991); Schillachi v. Flying
Dutchman Motorcycle Club, 751 F. Supp. 1169 (E.D.Pa. 1990).
Where, however, "a motion for summary judgment is made and
supported [by affidavits or otherwise], an adverse party may not
rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's
pleading, but the adverse party's response . . . must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if
appropriate, shall be entered against [it]." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
The non-moving party must raise "more than a mere scintilla of
evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a summary judgment
motion and it cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory
allegations, or mere suspicions or beliefs in attempting to
survive such a motion. Tziatzios v. U.S., 164 F.R.D. 410, 411,
412 (E.D.Pa. 1996) citing Celotex v. Catrett, supra, 477 U.S.
at 325, 106 S.Ct. at 2553-54, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510-11, 91 L.Ed.2d 202;
Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3rd
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits certain employers
from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their
disabilities. Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471,
119 S.Ct. 2139, 2143 (1999). The core anti-discrimination section
of the ADA provides that:
No covered entity shall discriminate against a
qualified individual with a disability because of the
disability of such individual in regard to job
application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or
discharge of employees, employee compensation, job
training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges
Deane v. Pocono Medical Center, 142 F.3d 138, 142
(3rd Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Under the
Definitions section of the Act, a "covered entity
means an employer, employment agency, labor
organization, or joint labor-management committee."
42 U.S.C. § 12111(2). A "qualified person with a
disability," in turn, is defined as ". . . an
individual who, with or without reasonable
accommodation, can perform the essential functions of
the employment position that such individual holds or
desires . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8).
In light of the preceding definitions, the Courts have held
that disability discrimination cases, like other types of
employment discrimination, are to be analyzed under the burden
shifting framework first articulated in McDonnell Douglas
Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d
668 (1973) and Texas Department of Community Affairs v.
Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). To
establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA,
the plaintiff must therefore show three elements: (1) that he is
a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that he is
otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the
job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer;
and (3) that he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment
decision as a result of discrimination. Taylor v. Phoenixville
School District, 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3rd Cir. 1999); Gaul v.
Lucent Technologies, Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3rd Cir. 1998).
Turning to the first prong of the prima facie case, we must
initially determine whether or not Mr. Willmore is a disabled
person within the meaning of the ADA. Under 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2),
"a disability" is defined as:
(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.
The EEOC's regulations define "substantially limits" as "(I)
Unable to perform a major life activity that the average person
in the general population can perform; or (ii) Significantly
restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which an
individual 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." Taylor v. Phoenixville, 184 F.3d at 307,
citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1). The regulations also include the
following factors for evaluating when someone is substantially
limited in a major life activity: "(I) the nature and severity of
the impairment; (ii) the duration or expected duration of the
impairment; and (iii) the permanent or long term impact, or the
expected permanent or long term impact of or resulting from the
impairment." Id., citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(2). Thus the
determination whether a person has a disability under the ADA is
clearly an individualized inquiry. See: Sutton, 527 U.S. at
___, 119 S.Ct. at 2147.
It appears from the Plaintiff's Affidavit in Opposition to the
defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment that the "disabilities"
upon which this lawsuit is based arose when he first injured his
back when he tripped over a cart on June 9, 1998 and on June 22,
1998 when he hit the outside of his left hand on a piece of
furniture and it began to swell up. Mr. Willmore received medical
care for both of these injuries, but as plaintiff's deposition
reveals, his physician directed only that he should not lift
heavy objects and should not "overdo it" with regard to walking
as a result of the back injury. Plaintiff further testified that
he was told by the defendant's company doctor that he should
refrain from working until his hand was further examined. There
is no evidence that either injury was expected to result in a
long period of disability or that Plaintiff lost any time from
work as a result of his injuries. While the
plaintiff claims that he had a little bit of difficulty in
sleeping, standing and "moving with the flow" at work from the
back injury and that his ability to grip items with his left hand
is impaired, in evaluating the nature and severity of these
problems, we cannot find that they rise to the level of a
"substantial limitation" within the meaning of the ADA nor is
there any evidence that Mr. Willmore was unable to perform any
major life activities as a consequence of the condition of either
his hand or his back.
Similarly, there is no evidence that Mr. Willmore had a record
of such an impairment nor is there any evidence that he was
regarded as disabled by his former employer. Indeed, while
American Atelier may have had notice that Mr. Willmore had
suffered a back injury some three weeks before his termination,
his hand injury was allegedly suffered on the same day that he
was terminated and shortly after the plaintiff had confrontations
with both a co-worker and the company controller. Given that
there is no evidence that the plaintiff either missed any work as
a result of his back injury, that he either required or requested
any special accommodations as a result of either of his injuries,
or that American Atelier "mistakenly believed" that plaintiff's
"actual, non-limiting impairment substantially limited one or
more of his major life activities," we cannot find either a
record of his having such an impairment or that he was regarded
as having one. See Also: Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc.,
527 U.S. 516, 119 S.Ct. 2133, 2137, 144 L.Ed.2d 484 (1999).
Accordingly, we cannot find that the plaintiff was "disabled"
within the meaning of the ADA.
Turning next to the second and third prongs of the prima
facie test, while we would find that Mr. Willmore was clearly
qualified to perform the essential functions of his job (given
that he continued to perform it despite his alleged injury), we
find no evidence that the basis for the plaintiff's termination
was anything other than insubordination and threatening behavior
to both a co-worker and a superior. Indeed, Mr. Willmore's
threatening and belligerent behavior was attested to at the
depositions of James Balko and James Phillips and was further
corroborated by the numerous written employee warning notices
which plaintiff received over the brief course of his employment
with the defendant company. Plaintiff himself admitted in his
deposition that he had a verbal confrontation with Mr. Phillips
and that when he was called in to explain what had happened with
Mr. Phillips to Mr. Balko, the company controller and head of
personnel matters, Mr. Balko "wasn't too pleased," his attitude
"was not good." Although in an affidavit, the plaintiff asserts
that he "was fired from American Atelier due to my disabilities,
i.e. injuries to my back and hand, and John Hoffmeister and James
Banko's perception of my disabilities, causing them to think that
my disabilities rendered me a liability to the company,"
plaintiff has simply adduced no evidence to support his
allegations or to refute the defendant's evidence, despite having
had ample opportunity to do so through the discovery process. The
plaintiff having failed to demonstrate two of the three prongs
necessary to establish a prima facie case, we conclude that
summary judgment is now appropriately entered in favor of the
defendant and against the plaintiff.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 24th day of November, 1999, upon consideration of
the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's
Response thereto, it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion is GRANTED
and judgment as a matter of law is hereby entered in favor of the
Defendant and against the Plaintiff pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 56.
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