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Parker v. City of Williamsport

December 21, 2005

CASEY PARKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF WILLIAMSPORT, WILLIAMSPORT BUREAU OF FIRE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM

BACKGROUND

On September 29, 2004, plaintiff Casey Parker, filed a five-count complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Parker asserts in the complaint that when the defendants terminated his employment they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 951-963, the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Parker's substantive and procedural due process rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The parties stipulated and dismissed Williamsport Bureau of Fire on December 29, 2004.

On October 12, 2005, defendant City of Williamsport ("City") filed the instant motion for summary judgment. The matter is now fully briefed and ripe for our decision. For the following reasons the court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment and enter judgment in favor of the defendant City of Williamsport and against the plaintiff Casey Parker as to all counts.

DISCUSSION

I. LEGAL STANDARD

It is appropriate for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "If the nonmoving party has the burden of persuasion at trial, 'the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the court will draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Am. Flint Glass Workers Union v. Beaumont Glass Co., 62 F.3d 574, (3d Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party, however, cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment by merely offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather the party must point to specific evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 32; Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Beginning approximately September 11, 2000, and until August 18, 2002, Parker was employed by the City as a Codes Officer. Effective August 19, 2002, Parker relinquished his position as Codes Officer and voluntarily accepted an appointment to the City's Bureau of Fire as a firefighter.

All firefighter candidates underwent a medical examination. As part of the medical examination process, Parker completed a medical history questionnaire. In his questionnaire, Parker represented that: (1) he had not required any special or restricted job assignment due to illness, injury, or physical impairment; (2) he had no current medical restrictions; (3) he was not currently taking medications; (4) he was not currently under medical treatment; and (5) he had no hospitalizations, serious injuries, or operations. On August 9, 2002, Parker completed a Fire Academy application and represented that: (1) he was physically fit to undertake physical training; (2) he was not currently taking medications; and (3) he was not currently under a doctor's care. On August 15, 2002, Parker was examined by a physician and found to be medically qualified for the firefighter position.

In order to continue employment as a firefighter with the City, Parker was required to successfully complete training at the Fire Academy of the Harrisburg Area Community College ("HACC"). If there are any new firefighters hired by the City, they are sent to the Fire Academy in the Fall or Spring for initial training. Parker was enrolled in the 27th HACC Fire Academy along with three other Williamsport cadets in a class of nineteen cadets total.

Before attending the Fire Academy, Parker, along with the other probationary firefighters, was provided with an orientation to the Department including its rules and regulations and was assigned housekeeping chores. During the two week orientation, probationary firefighters would observe at fires and do supportive tasks, but did not engage in fire suppression at fire scenes until completing training at the Fire Academy.

All firefighters who have successfully completed training at the Fire Academy are assigned the task of fire suppression as part of their job responsibilities. Before attending the Fire Academy, all four probationary firefighters were told that they were required to successfully complete the Fire Academy. Similarly, Parker testified under deposition that: (1) during his Summer 2002 interview with Chief Kemp, Deputy Chief Gleason, and Deputy Chief Heinbach, he was told that it was required that he complete training at the HACC Fire Academy; (2) the requirement of completing training at the Fire Academy was told to all four of the probationary firefighters; and (3) a condition of his employment as a firefighter was that he complete and graduate from the Fire Academy.

If a probationary firefighter was absent from the HACC Fire Academy he was required to report the absence to both the Academy and the City's Bureau of Fire. In September 2002, the Fire Academy issued Parker and the other cadets rules and regulations. The Fire Academy rules governing attendance provided:

HACC Fire Academy is an intensive study of basic fire, rescue, emergency medical skills and knowledge. Each area and skill is a building block for those that follow. Therefore, it is essential that each cadet make every effort to attend each class. Any cadet missing three (3) days of classes will be subject to review for continuation in the academy.

On September 3, 2002, the 27th Fire Academy commenced and Parker began his training at the Academy. The Academy program for Williamsport probationary firefighters was scheduled to run twelve weeks, typically Monday through Friday, until November 22, 2002. Tuition and fees are paid by the fire departments who send cadets to the Academy. Following training and testing the cadets are certified as "National Firefighter I" and "National Firefighter II" in accordance with the standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association. HACC normally runs a Fire Academy class in the Fall and in the Spring and some classes are held without any firefighters from the City of Williamsport.*fn1

On Sunday evening, September 8, 2002, Parker called Chief Kemp to request time off from the Academy. Kemp told Parker that it was a requirement of his employment to complete the Academy and that the Academy was strict about attendance requirements. The next day Parker sprained his knee at 9:30 A.M.. The injury was temporary. As a result of his injury Parker missed the remainder of training on September 9, 2002 and the entirety of training on September 10, 11 , 12, and 13, 2002, as well as training on Monday September 16, 2002.*fn2

On September 16, 2002, a physician cleared Parker to resume full duty training at the Academy without restrictions. Parker returned to the Academy on September 17, 2002. Parker worked on making up the classes he missed with the help of fellow cadets.

On September 24, 2002, Academy Instructor James Johnson directed the cadets to complete a ladder transfer exercise. Johnson called Pierich to the training ground because Parker indicated he would have trouble completing the ladder transfer. Parker told Johnson that he was not going to complete or could not do the task. Parker testified that he "had some difficulty" with the ladder transfer; that he told Johnson that "he preferred not to go back up that day" and "didn't really feel comfortable"; and that he was told he could do it tomorrow. Parker then spoke with Pierich about his depression and he left the training ground. All of the other cadets completed the ladder transfer skill requirement that day.

On the following day, September 25, 2002, Parker was absent from the Academy. Parker testified under deposition that he had thoughts about running his Jeep into a tree or anything he could do to hurt himself. He was examined in the emergency room at approximately 7:30 A.M. and was discharged at 8:10 A.M.. Following the examination in the emergency room Parker was prescribed medication, was directed to follow up with Dr. Schwab, and was only to return to normal duty when cleared by his primary physician. Plaintiff was directed to see his primary physician on September 30, 2002.

Later that morning, but before 9:00 A.M., Parker telephoned Pierich from his home in Williamsport. Parker reported that he had been in the hospital emergency room and described receiving psychological treatment. Parker told Pierich he was having "some pretty severe depression" and "had to see" his primary care physician before returning to the Academy. During the conversation, Parker reported that he would have to be absent from the Academy for an extended period. Pierich told Parker that he already had missed a block of time and that missing a larger block would make it impossible to make up all of the skills. Parker specifically told Pierich that he could not return to the Academy until September 30th at the earliest.

Pierich then telephoned Chief Kemp and advised him of Parker's telephone call. This was the first notification that the Bureau of Fire received about Parker's absence from the Academy that day. After Chief Kemp was notified, Parker was directed to meet with him because of his failure to report his absence from the Academy.

On the afternoon of September 25, 2002, Parker, Chief Kemp and Deputy Chief Heinbach met in Chief Kemp's office. The purpose of the meeting was to determine why Parker had not reported to the Academy that day. Parker asserts that at the meeting Chief Kemp verbally abused him using obscenities and told Parker that he should resign or be fired. The meeting lasted less than fifteen minutes and Heinbach took notes of Kemp's and Parker's conversation. During the meeting Parker informed Kemp that he had gone to the emergency room for treatment of depression and provided Kemp with notification that he could not return to work until he was seen by his primary care physician on September 30, 2002. Parker was told to report to Chief Kemp after he had been evaluated by his primary care physician.

Defendant contends, on the basis of Kemp's deposition testimony, that at this meeting Parker was asked to explain his absences and was provided with an opportunity to do so. Plaintiff refutes this claim and asserts that Kemp essentially told him his termination from employment was a foregone conclusion and that he should resign or be fired. Plaintiff purportedly tried to explain to Kemp that he needed time for treatment and attempted to raise the possibility of withdrawing from the Academy and re-enrolling. Kemp, however, made it clear that it was not open for discussion and told Parker that this was his "one shot" to complete training at the Academy. Kemp purports to have told Parker at this meeting that his absence from the Academy could ...


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