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O'HARA v. FIRST COMMONWEALTH PROFESSIONAL RESOURCES

November 21, 2005.

LISA J. O'HARA, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST COMMONWEALTH PROFESSIONAL RESOURCES, INC., t/d/b/a FIRST COMMONWEALTH FINANCIAL CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TERRENCE McVERRY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court for disposition are Defendant's MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 24), with brief in support (Document No. 25) ("Motion" and "Brief," respectively), and PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 29) ("Response"). After considering the filings of the parties, the evidence of record and the relevant statutory and case law, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

Background

  Plaintiff Lisa J. O'Hara ("O'Hara") began to work for defendant First Commonwealth Professional Resources, Inc. ("FCPR") on October 9, 2000. Def's Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 1. O'Hara was subsequently promoted to Vice President and Manager, Organizational Learning. Id. at ¶ 2. Upon her promotion O'Hara reported to Thaddeus Clements ("Clements"), Senior Vice President of Human Resources, who was instrumental in promoting her. Id. at ¶ 3.

  On September 27, 2002, Plaintiff slipped and fell on wet steps as she was leaving work; the fall injured her left leg, ankle and foot. Id. at ¶ 5. Due to her injuries, Plaintiff was unable to work. Id. Shortly after her injury occurred, Plaintiff began to receive workers' compensation benefits, which Defendant did not contest. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.

  As a result of the fall and injury, Plaintiff developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome ("RSDS"), for which she underwent sympathetic nerve block procedures. Pltf's Stmt of Facts at ¶ 10. RSDS "is a chronic, painful, and progressive neurological condition that affects skin, muscles, joints and bones," and "usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg, or following surgery." Id. at ¶ 11. The condition "is characterized by various degrees of burning pain, excessive sweating, swelling, and sensitivity to touch," and "[p]ain may begin in one area or limb and then spread to other limbs." Id. at ¶ 12. According to Plaintiff's affidavit, her leg is "constantly in pain," is "extremely sensitive to touch and temperature changes," is "generally cold but also develops hot spots," and "chills for no reason." O'Hara aff. at ¶¶ 2-5. RSDS limits Plaintiff's ability to regulate her body temperature, walk, climb, crouch, stoop, bend and kneel, and it limits the amount of time that she can sit and stand during the day. Pltf's Stmt of Facts at ¶ 14. To combat the symptoms of RSDS, Plaintiff takes medication; the medication reduces the symptoms, but does not remove the condition. Id. at ¶ 15.

  Plaintiff is required by her doctor to wear a brace on her left leg. Id. at ¶ 19. When pain prevents her from wearing her brace, Plaintiff uses a cane to walk. Id. at ¶ 21. If Plaintiff must go up and down stairs, she must move sideways. Id. Additionally, when walking Plaintiff has difficulty judging distance with her foot because it feels like it is not there, which causes her to trip. Id. Finally, Plaintiff's ankle is very unstable, cannot be moved independently, and occasionally goes numb. Id. at ¶ 20.

  Plaintiff initially began treating with Dr. David Bizowski but discontinued treating with him after three months because she felt that her condition was not improving. Def's Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 10. Plaintiff then began treating with Dr. Carl Hasselman. Id. On February 24, 2003, Dr. Hasselman released Plaintiff to return to work with restrictions; however, Plaintiff was not informed that she was released to return to work until early March. Id. at ¶ 13; Pltf's Stmt of Facts at ¶ 47. Specifically, Plaintiff is not to sit for more than eight (8) hours, stand for more than one (1) hour at a time for a total of four (4) hours, or walk for more than thirty (30) minutes at a time for more than two (2) hours a day. Pltf's Stmt of Facts at ¶ 48. Additionally, Dr. Hasselman recommended that Plaintiff not carry any weight, climb stairs, stoop, bend, kneel, crouch or squat. Id.

  Prior to her return to work, Plaintiff spoke with Sharon Twaddle, Defendant's workers' compensation liaison in its Human Relations Department, who told her to contact Clements regarding the accommodations that Plaintiff would need to return to work. Pltf's Stmt of Facts at ¶ 50. On March 10, 2003, Plaintiff called Clements to request accommodations. Id. at ¶ 51. During their conversation, Plaintiff informed Clements of the specific restrictions set forth by Dr. Hasselman and reviewed the restriction sheet line-by-line. Id. at ¶¶ 52-53. Clements responded by asserting that Plaintiff never performed any of the tasks outlined in Dr. Hasselman's restrictions. Id. at ¶ 54.*fn1

  Plaintiff and Clements had another conversation regarding Plaintiff's accommodations the next day. O'Hara dep. at 97. What occurred during the conversation is in dispute. Plaintiff contends that when she broached the subject of accommodations, Clements became angry and reiterated his position that Plaintiff never performed any of the tasks outlined in Dr. Hasselman's restrictions. Id. at 98, 100. Plaintiff told Clements that it appeared as if he was having a problem with her disability, and that she would be hanging up the phone shortly. Id. at 101-02. After telling Clements that she would be hanging up the phone three times, Plaintiff ended the call. Id. at 102-03. The next day, on March 12, 2003, Clements sent Plaintiff a letter informing her that she was terminated as of March 11, 2003 due to disrespectful, uncooperative and unprofessional behavior. Def's Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 29.

  O'Hara filed an Amended Complaint in which she has alleged unlawful retaliation,*fn2 disability discrimination and failure to accommodate,*fn3 in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., as amended ("ADA"), tortious discharge,*fn4 and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA").*fn5 Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts of the Amended Complaint.

  Standard of Review

  Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
[Summary Judgment] 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 judgment as a matter of law.
  An issue of material fact is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court must view the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists rests with the movant. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The "existence of disputed issues of material fact should be ascertained by resolving all inferences, doubts and issues of credibility against the moving party." Ely v. Hall's Motor Transit Co., 590 F.2d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 1978) (quoting Smith v. Pittsburgh Gage & Supply Co., 464 F.2d 870, 874 (3d Cir. 1972)). Final credibility determinations on material issues cannot be made in the context of a motion for summary judgment, nor can the district court weigh the evidence. Josey v. John R. Hollingsworth Corp., 996 F.2d 632 (3d Cir. 1993).

  When the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party's burden can be "discharged by `showing' — that is, pointing out to the District Court — that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party has carried this burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party who cannot rest on the allegations of the pleadings and must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). When the non-moving party's evidence in opposition to a properly supported motion for summary judgment is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," the court may ...


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