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Lehman v. United States Steel Corp.

September 17, 2007

BERNARD S. LEHMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Bernard Lehman ("Plaintiff") filed this civil action against Defendant United States Steel Corp. ("Defendant"), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title I, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, et seq. ("ADA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951, et seq. ("PHRA"). Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. No. 23-1).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In August of 2002, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant to perform mechanical maintenance work at the Irvin Works facility in Dravosburg, Pennsylvania. Document No. 25 at ¶ 9. In early 2004, Plaintiff moved to the position of rail tractor driver. Id. at ¶ 23. When not driving the tractor, Plaintiff performed maintenance tasks. Id. at ¶ 27. After he began driving the tractor, Plaintiff learned that he had arthritis. Id. at ¶ 29. In September or October of 2004, Plaintiff's condition worsened and he received treatment from several chiropractors. Id. at ¶¶ 30-32. After such treatment, Plaintiff and one of the chiropractors determined that the aggravation of Plaintiff's condition was caused by the constant "jarring" of the tractor that Plaintiff operated. Id. at ¶ 33. On November 21, 2004, Plaintiff provided his supervisor, Fred Lindauer ("Lindauer"), with a doctor's note recommending that Plaintiff be excused from working with "any heavy equipment which causes micro-trauma to the neck [and] back due to an existing spinal condition - indefinitely." Id. at ¶ 46-47. Lindauer arranged for Plaintiff to be examined by Dr. Danek, a physician hired by Defendant, to determine Plaintiff's ability to perform his job. Id. at ¶ 47. Plaintiff met with Dr. Danek on November 22, 2004. Id. at ¶ 48. Dr. Danek reported that Plaintiff had a history of skull fracture and deafness in one ear, which Plaintiff sustained while in the military, and a surgically repaired fracture from a non-work related fall in 2003. Id. at ¶ 49. Dr. Danek also reported that Plaintiff had mild to moderate degenerative disc disease. Document 31-2 at ¶ 49. Plaintiff reported to Dr. Danek that Plaintiff's chiropractor had told him that he had degenerative joint disease of the neck. Document 25 at ¶ 50. Dr. Danek also noted that Plaintiff stated that he felt fine since undergoing chiropractic care. Id. Plaintiff contends that this statement may have been made in reference to a particular day, and may not be indicative of his overall condition. Document 31-2 at ¶ 50. Dr. Danek issued a Physical Examination Report indicating that Plaintiff could return to work, but was restricted from performing tractor work and that Plaintiff should visit a specialist regarding his condition. Document 25 at ¶ 53. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff's alleged disability prevented him from doing his job. Compare Document 25 at ¶ 55 with Document 31-2 at ¶ 55. As the result of Dr. Danek's recommendation, Department Manager Dennis Shannon ("Shannon") removed Plaintiff from the schedule until he could drive the tractor again. Document 25 at ¶ 56. Between the time of Dr. Danek's recommendation and the time he was removed from the schedule, Plaintiff continued to drive the tractor. Id. at ¶¶ 59-60.

The Plaintiff remained out of work through the month of January 2005, during which time he performed a series of home maintenance tasks. Id. at 61-64. On January 21, 2005, the Plaintiff filed a grievance with his union in order to return to work. Id. at ¶ 86. On January 31, 2005, Plaintiff returned to work as an Assistant Annealer, a position not restricted by his arthritis. Id. at ¶96. However, the Plaintiff has brought this lawsuit under the ADA and PHRA in response to the alleged discrimination which caused Plaintiff's unemployment from the period of late November of 2004 through late January of 2005. Plaintiff alleges that he is "disabled" pursuant to the ADA and that Defendant failed to participate in the "interactive process" of accommodating Plaintiff upon learning of his alleged "disability." Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew all other theories of recovery alleged in the complaint. Docket No. 31-3 at p. 3.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment may only 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). Pursuant to Rule 56, the Court must enter summary judgment against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In evaluating the evidence, the court must interpret facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007). Initially, the burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence in the record creates no genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). The dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). While 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 admissible evidence in the record would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. 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. The nonmoving party "cannot simply reassert factually unsupported allegations contained in its pleadings." Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989).

Upon reviewing Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and brief in support thereof (Doc. Nos. 23, 24), Plaintiff's brief in opposition (Doc. No. 31-3), and Defendant's Reply (Doc. No. 35), it is clear that a genuine issue of material fact remains in dispute and summary judgment is inappropriate at this time. Accordingly, as set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

III. ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that summary judgment is appropriate in this case because 1) Plaintiff cannot show that he is "disabled" pursuant to the ADA and PHRA; and 2) Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant failed to accommodate Plaintiff's request for reassignment.*fn1

A. Analysis of Disability Discrimination Claims

Under the ADA, an employer cannot discriminate "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual with 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). Discrimination comes in two forms: (1) subjecting the employee to an adverse employment action motivated by prejudice or fear; or (2) failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999).

In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, Plaintiff must establish that (1) he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job; and (3) he has suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Gaul v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998). In this case, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case because he has not demonstrated that he is a ...


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