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Huffsmith v. Yellow Transportation

August 15, 2006

THOMAS HUFFSMITH, PLAINTIFF
v.
YELLOW TRANSPORTATION, INC., FORMERLY KNOWN AS YELLOW FREIGHT SYSTEM, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition in this employment discrimination case is the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Yellow Transportation, Inc. (hereinafter "defendant" or "Yellow Transportation"). The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Background

Defendant Yellow Transportation is a trucking company with more than 300 terminals located throughout the United States, including one in Pittston, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 19, Ex. 4, Gromniak Dec. at ¶ 2). Defendant employed Plaintiff Thomas Huffsmith at the Pittston terminal from 1988 until his termination in April 2003, and he held the position of combination driver throughout his employment. (Gromniak Dec. ¶ 7). Combination drivers load/unload goods and drive tractor-trailer combinations.*fn1 (Gromniak Dec. ¶ 6). David Gromniak served as the manager of the terminal where plaintiff worked, and John Kupchik served as plaintiff's immediate supervisor. (Gromniak Dec. ¶ 9).

At all relevant times, plaintiff suffered from major depression. In March 28, 2003, plaintiff advised management that he suffered from major depression by submitting a document entitled "Employee's Statement of Injury."*fn2 Shortly thereafter, on April 9, 2003, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment. This termination is the basis for the instant lawsuit. Defendant contends that it terminated plaintiff for failure to follow a direct work order. Plaintiff claims that his termination was the result of disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (hereinafter "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, (hereinafter "PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 955(a).

Thus, plaintiff filed the instant three-count complaint asserting causes of action for violation of the ADA and the PHRA and for wrongful termination. At the close of discovery, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to the ADA for unlawful employment discrimination, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Standard of Review

The granting of summary judgment is proper "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. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof 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. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

In analyzing summary judgment motions in cases involving employment discrimination under the ADA, a burden-shifting analysis is utilized which the United States Supreme Court set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under the McDonnell Douglas analysis, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. A presumption of intentional discrimination then arises, and the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment action. Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44, 50 n.3 (2003). If the employer meets this burden, the presumption of intentional discrimination disappears, and the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to offer evidence demonstrating that the employer's explanation is pretextual. Id.

Discussion

In 1990, Congress enacted the ADA to ensure that otherwise qualified individuals would not be discriminated against in employment based upon a disability. 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630, App. At 347-48 (1997). Under the ADA, [n]o 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 of employment. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (1995).

Plaintiff asserts that the defendant did in fact discriminate against him because of his disability. Defendant moves for summary judgment raising the following four issues: 1) Is plaintiff a qualified individual with a disability? 2) Did Yellow Transportation have a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff's employment? 3) Did plaintiff provide notice of his limitations sufficient to trigger Yellow Transportation's obligation to engage in the interactive process to develop an accommodation? and 4) Is plaintiff's proposed accommodation unreasonable as a matter of law? We will address these issues in seriatim.*fn3

I. Is Plaintiff a Qualified Individual with a Disability?

Defendant first attacks the initial step in the burden shifting analysis set forth above. Yellow Transportation claims that plaintiff has not established a prima facie case.

To establish a prima facie case under the ADA the plaintiff must show that:

(1) he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) he is qualified to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodations; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action as a result of discrimination based on his disability. Shaner v. Synthes, 204 F.3d 494, 500 (3d Cir.2000)

For purposes of its motion for summary judgment, defendant assumes that plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the ADA and that he suffered an adverse employment action.*fn4 The issue Yellow Transportation disputes, therefore, is whether plaintiff was qualified to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodations. Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that he is a ...


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