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WILLIAMS v. PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY

October 28, 2002

EDWARD R. WILLIAMS, ET AL., PLAINTIFF,
V.
PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, Judge

  MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Edward R. Williams ("plaintiff") brought suit against defendant Philadelphia Housing Authority ("PHA") based on claims arising out of plaintiff's employment as a police officer with and subsequent termination by PHA. The plaintiff was temporarily suspended without pay as a result of a heated altercation he had with a superior officer, during and after which plaintiff made a number of profane and threatening remarks. Plaintiff's hiatus from PHA lasted from his suspension, on May 19, 1998, until he was fired, on December 29, 1998. During the period between plaintiff's suspension and subsequent termination, plaintiff underwent various psychological examinations. The examining psychologists concluded that plaintiff suffered from severe depression, and that as a result, plaintiff should be prohibited from carrying a firearm for a temporary period of time.

Based on these events, PHA refused to allow plaintiff to return to work at PHA until plaintiff received medical clearance to carry a firearm once again. In turn, plaintiff requested that PHA allow him to work in a capacity where it would not be necessary to carry a weapon. PHA refused, citing safety concerns, contending that plaintiff would have access to firearms in all available employment positions for which he qualified at PHA.

After the altercation with Captain Geiger, plaintiff stopped coming to work. While out of work, plaintiff drew down all available medical leave to which he was entitled.*fn1 After he had exhausted all of his medical leave, plaintiff requested in writing and PHA granted a leave of absence on two occasions. After the second leave of absence expired, although directed to do so by PHA, plaintiff did not request any additional leave. As a result of plaintiff's failure to request additional leave, his employment with PHA was terminated on December 29, 1998.

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges disability discrimination under the ADA, retaliation in violation of the ADA and disability discrimination in violation of the PHRA. Before the court are: 1) defendant's motion for summary judgment on all of these claims and 2) plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on its claim of disability discrimination for failure to accommodate.

For the reasons stated below, the court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment as to all counts, and correspondingly deny plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment as to failure to accommodate.

II. CHRONOLOGY AND BACKGROUND*fn2

The plaintiff was employed by the PHA as a housing police officer since March 14, 1974. On May, 19, 1998, plaintiff was suspended without pay. According to both parties, plaintiff was suspended as a direct result of a heated confrontation between plaintiff and Captain Edward Geiger, one of plaintiff's superior officers.

On the same night, following the confrontation, plaintiff called a Delaware County Psychological Services Counselor. He spoke with the counselor for approximately thirty minutes. During this conversation, the plaintiff stated that he understood "why people go postal." He also talked about "smoking people" and "having the means to do it." In response to these statements, the counselor insisted that plaintiff go immediately to an emergency room, and informed the plaintiff that if he did not comply voluntarily, he (the counselor) would be forced to involve the police. After responding in a profane and vulgar manner, the plaintiff hung up the phone.

Two days after the incident with Captain Geiger, on May, 21, 1998, Captain Geiger wrote to plaintiff directing him to report to the PHA radio room for duty. Plaintiff, however, never reported to the radio room as directed, but instead, began calling out sick on a daily basis.

On two separate occasions, July 29, 1998 and September 22, 1998, PHA advised plaintiff that he had exhausted his available leave and that unless he requested an additional leave of absence, he would be deemed to have voluntarily resigned. In turn, plaintiff twice requested, and was granted,*fn3 additional leaves of absence.

Meanwhile, plaintiff underwent a psychological examination by Dr. Laurene Finley, the PHA designated psychologist.*fn4 In a letter dated October 10, 1998, Dr. Finley wrote, in relevant part:

Mr. Williams is fully capable of working, for a temporary period, in either an administrative and/or clerical capacity. He should not carry a weapon, however, for a minimum period of three months. He can work around other officers who will be carrying their weapon. . . . [I]t is anticipated that [plaintiff] will be able to fully return to active duty, resuming his usual job responsibilities after this approximate three month period. However, a more definite frame cannot be provided at this time, pending a reevaluation.

On October 13, 1998, plaintiff requested that PHA temporarily reassign him to work in the PHA training unit. Assistant Chief Hughes, on behalf of PHA, responded, in writing, that "it is the position of this police department . . . [that] the specific position you are requesting is not open to you due to your on-going treatment with Dr. Lauren[e] Finley. . . ." Assistant Chief Hughes further noted that "[t]his department has also concluded that once you have completed all of your treatment . . . with authorization to carry firearms once again, you are to report back to uniform patrol duty."*fn5

On October 21, 1998, plaintiff requested an assignment "in the [PHA] radio room until [his] 3 month evaluation [was] over . . . ." If assigned to the radio room, plaintiff would not have been required to carry a gun. Plaintiff's request, however, was denied once again.

Noting safety concerns, as well as the anticipation that plaintiff would return to work as a police sergeant in as early as 90 days, as the basis for its decision, PHA denied the request. PHA also noted that plaintiff would have access to firearms in the radio room, and would be working closely with others who carried firearms. PHA maintained that, in light of plaintiff's insubordinate and threatening behavior towards Captain Geiger, coupled with plaintiff's talk of "smoking people," "going postal," and "having the means to do it," placing plaintiff in the radio room would have created a risk to other PHA employees. Finally, PHA claimed that no other positions were available at PHA for someone with plaintiff's qualifications.

On December 3, 1998, Carl Marinelli, PHA's assistant General Manager of Human Resources, informed plaintiff that, once again, he had exhausted all his leave time at PHA, and that to maintain his employment, he needed to request an additional leave of absence. Mr. Marinelli's letter further informed the plaintiff that if he did not request an additional leave of absence by December 18, 1998, his employment with PHA would be terminated. Included within the letter was Mr. Marinelli's telephone number. Plaintiff however, by his own admission, never called Mr. Marinelli or otherwise responded to the letter.*fn6

On December 29, 1998, Mr. Marinelli wrote plaintiff a second letter, informing plaintiff that his employment with PHA had been terminated. The letter stated that PHA had terminated plaintiff's employment based upon plaintiff's failure to request an additional leave of absence or otherwise contact PHA in response to the December 3, 1998 letter. PHA maintains that plaintiff's failure to respond to this letter was the sole reason behind PHA's decision to terminate plaintiff's employment.

During the time between plaintiff's initial suspension on May 19, 1998 and the termination of his employment on December 29, 1998, the plaintiff continued to coach his son's little league team and in that role, he interacted, as necessary, with the participating children and their parents. Additionally, plaintiff remained involved in the community until he accepted a job in late 1999 that required him to work nights. Furthermore, plaintiff indicated that during this time period, he applied for jobs with SEPTA, Avis Rent-a-Car, Budget Rent-a-Car, and PGW, and that in his opinion, he could have performed the essential functions of those jobs, as well as those necessary to work in PHA's radio room, throughout 1998.*fn7

On March 31, 2001, the plaintiff filed the instant action, alleging the following causes of action: 1) discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); 2) retaliation in violation of Title VII and the ADA; 3) discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act("PHRA"); 4) intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress; 5) defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy; 6) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; 7) wrongful discharge; 8) discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); 9) loss of consortium (brought on the part of Angelynne Williams); and 10) punitive damages.

On June 8, 2001, the court dismissed plaintiff's claims: 1) under Title VII; 2) for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; 3) for defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy; 4) for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; 5) for discrimination under the ADA; and 6) for punitive damages.

On December 20, 2001, the court dismissed plaintiff's claims for wrongful discharge and loss of consortium.

Before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment. PHA has moved for summary judgment on the remaining counts: 1) disability discrimination under the ADA; 2) retaliation in violation of the ADA; and 3) disability discrimination in violation of the PHRA.*fn8 Subsequently, the plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on the disability discrimination claim, to the extent that it is based upon a failure to accommodate.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Standard for Summary Judgment.

Summary judgment may be granted "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The role of the trial court is to determine whether there are material factual issues that merit a trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In making that determination, the court must give the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that might be drawn from the underlying facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, (1986); Sempier v. Johnson and Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 727 (3d Cir. 1995) (en banc). Summary ...


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