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Thompson v. AT&T Corp.

January 12, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge


Before the Court for consideration and disposition is DEFENDANT AT&T'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support (Document Nos. 21& 23). The issues have been fully briefed. See Document Nos. 30 & 38. For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


Defendant AT&T ("Defendant") operates a Customer Sales and Service Center ("CSSC") in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. Pltf's Resp. to Def's Facts at ¶ 1. The CSSC is one of several AT&T call centers that handles billing and customer service calls from Defendant's local and long distance customers. Id. at ¶ 2. Plaintiff Dana Thompson ("Plaintiff") was hired by Defendant as a customer service representative and commenced work on September 20, 1999.

Id. at ¶ 11.*fn1 Plaintiff has a history of seizures and panic attacks and has been diagnosed with epilepsy. See id. at ¶ 147-151.

Satisfactory attendance and adherence to one's schedule at the CSSC was critical. Employees were expected to "be at work on all scheduled work days, arrive at work on time and remain at work during scheduled hours, and start and return on time from meal periods and other authorized breaks." Id. at ¶ 13. The CSSC maintained a strict conformance policy, which required customer service representatives to adhere strictly to their daily schedule in order to assure that they were on-line and taking customer calls. Id. at ¶ 27.

Employee absences at the CSSC fell into two (2) categories: "chargeable" and "non-chargeable." Id. at ¶ 15. "Chargeable" absences were counted against an employee's attendance record for disciplinary purposes; "non-chargeable" (i.e., excused) days included excused unpaid days, funeral leave and leave which qualified under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.

On September 16, 2000, Plaintiff, while at work, experienced either a panic attack or an anxiety attack before her shift began. Id. at ¶ 54. Plaintiff subsequently applied for intermittent FMLA leave due to panic attacks and/or seizures; Defendant's FMLA Center approved the request for possible absences of 1-2 days per month, doctor appointments every 1-2 months, and other appointments as needed. Id. at ¶¶ 61, 63. Plaintiff submitted additional requests for FMLA leave during the course of her employment with Defendant. Defendant generally granted those requests until Plaintiff had exhausted all of the leave to which she was entitled. However, there is a dispute as to whether Defendant properly counted a few of Plaintiff's absences as "FMLA" days.

In early September 2000, Shelley Haddox ("Haddox") became Plaintiff's supervisor. Id. at ¶ 53. Plaintiff and Haddox often clashed in the workplace due to issues regarding Plaintiff's attendance. The record reflects that from time to time Plaintiff was unable to conform to her daily schedule and meet Defendant's strict attendance requirements, and as a result she received a few verbal warnings, a written "Attendance Warning" and a written "Warning for Misuse of Company Time." Id. at ¶¶ 97, 120. The record also reflects that Haddox had little sympathy for Plaintiff's epileptic condition or the symptoms of epilepsy, i.e., Plaintiff's seizures, panic attacks and the related absences from work. There is also evidence that Haddox harbored a very negative attitude toward employees who used FMLA leave such as Plaintiff.*fn2

Plaintiff complained to Defendant's "EO" office that she was harassed and discriminated against by Haddox. Id. at ¶ 209. Plaintiff also filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on February 22, 2002 in which she alleged race, sex and disability discrimination, as well as retaliation, due to her strained relationship with Haddox. Id. at ¶ 215. On September 19, 2002, the EEOC rendered a Determination in which it found that Haddox discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of her disability. Specifically, the EEOC found that Plaintiff was denied a transfer to a customer service specialist ("CSS") position due to unlawful discrimination by Haddox.*fn3 Complaint, exh. C. at unnumbered 2.

On September 30, 2002, Plaintiff was "work completed," i.e. terminated, by A.R. Lewis ("Lewis"), who was Defendant's Attendance Manager. Id. at ¶ 228. According to Defendant, Lewis was directed by the management team of the CSSC to "work complete" those term employees who were unsatisfactory in either their attendance or performance. Id. at ¶ 221. Defendant also contends that said employees, including Plaintiff, were "work completed" due to the lack of a business need, i.e., lower customer call volume. Id. at ¶ 222.

On January 8, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Complaint which alleges unlawful discrimination and failure to accommodate, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., as amended ("ADA"), unlawful interference with rights and unlawful retaliation, in violation of the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S.A. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). On June 17, 2003, Plaintiff filed another Complaint at Civil Action No. 03-905 (the "Second Complaint"). The Second Complaint incorporated her earlier Complaint and added an additional claim for unlawful retaliation, in violation of the ADA. The Second Complaint was subsequently consolidated with the instant case. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims.

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).


A. Alleged Violations of the ADA and the PHRA

1. Unlawful Discrimination

A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA by demonstrating: (1) she is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA, i.e., a "qualified individual with a disability";*fn4 (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) she has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Gaul v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Shiring v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 827, 831 (3d Cir.1996)).*fn5

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's discrimination claim must fail because she does not have a "disability" under the ADA, as defined by 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). Pltf's Br. at 3. Under the ADA, a "disability" is:

(A) a physical*fn6 or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

(B) a record of such impairment; or

(C) being regarded as having such ...

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