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Smith v. ABF Freight Systems

October 29, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)


This is an employment discrimination action filed by Larry D. Smith, Sr. ("Smith"), a former employee of defendant ABF Freight Systems, Inc. ("ABF"). Presently before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 35). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

On December 31, 1978, Smith began working as a truck driver in ABF's Carlisle, Pennsylvania terminal. (Doc. 37 ¶ 6; Doc. 57 ¶ 6.) During the course of his employment with ABF, Smith alleges that he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability and race*fn2 and that he was retaliated against for filing various complaints regarding the alleged discrimination. The court will address the facts underlying each of Smith's claims seriatim.

A. Smith's Disability Discrimination Claim

In January of 1997, Smith suffered a heart attack, and a defibrillator was implanted in his chest. Following a period of recovery, he returned to work in 1998. (Doc. 37 ¶ 8; Doc. 57 ¶ 8.) Because of his heart condition, Smith failed the physical examination mandated by the Department of Transportation for truck drivers. (Doc. 37 ¶ 9; Doc. 57 ¶ 9.) Accordingly, he was reassigned to the position of yard jockey upon his return.*fn3 (Doc. 37 ¶ 10; Doc. 57 ¶ 10.)

Between 1998 and 1999, Smith worked as a yard jockey under medical restrictions imposed by his physician. These restrictions prohibited him from lifting in excess of sixty pounds. (Doc. 37 ¶ 11; Doc. 57 ¶ 11.) In 1999, Smith suffered a second heart attack, which caused him to miss an extended period of work. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 13-14; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 13-14.) When Smith returned to his position as a yard jockey in 2000, his medical restrictions had been modified to prohibit him from lifting in excess of forty pounds.*fn4 (Doc. 37 ¶ 15; Doc. 57 ¶ 15.) Smith admits that ABF accommodated his medical condition at all times between 1998 and 2002. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 12, 16; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 12, 16.)

ABF yard jockeys must complete several different assignments, which include cranking, fueling, stringing, hooking, inbound wagon, and jockey wagon.*fn5

(Doc. 37 ¶ 35; Doc. 57 ¶ 35.) Between 1998 and 2002, Smith was normally given the inbound wagon assignment, but was occasionally given other assignments, including hooking and fueling. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 69-71; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 69-71.) In late 2002, Smith's co-workers complained to supervisors John Roadcap ("Roadcap") and Charles Gregory ("Gregory") about the fact that Smith was regularly given the inbound wagon assignment. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 79-80; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 79-80.) As a result, Roadcap and Gregory informed Smith that they intended to give him other assignments on occasion. (Doc. 37 ¶ 81; Doc. 57 ¶ 81.) The first such assignment occurred on December 18, 2002, when Roadcap asked Smith to fuel. Smith refused the position because of his medical restrictions and left work after completing less than ten minutes of his assignment. (Doc. 37 ¶ 85; Doc. 57 ¶ 85.) On December 19, 2002, Roadcap again gave Smith an assignment other than inbound wagon, but agreed to give Smith the inbound wagon assignment the following day. (Doc. 37 ¶ 86; Doc. 57 ¶ 86.) On January 22 and 23, 2003, Gregory gave Smith the hooking assignment. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 87-90; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 87-90.) Smith protested these assignments and asserted that the changes contravened his medical restrictions and constituted race discrimination.*fn6 (Doc. 37 ¶ 82; Doc. 57 ¶ 82.)

On January 31, 2003, Smith's physician wrote ABF a letter increasing the severity of Smith's medical restrictions. The letter prohibited Smith from "lifting objects heavier than 20 lbs." or completing "repetitive movement with his left arm " and "limit[ed] the rotation of [Smith's] left arm with more than 10 lbs. of pressure to no more than 10x per 8 hour shift." (Doc. 37 ¶ 91; Doc. 57 ¶ 91.) Based on these new medical restrictions, Terminal Manager Andy Upchurch ("Upchurch") met with Human Resources Director Dan Griesse ("Griesse") to discuss Smith's ability to perform yard jockey assignments. (Doc. 37 ¶ 93; Doc. 57 ¶ 93.) Griesse determined that Smith could not safely perform the essential functions of any yard jockey assignment with or without accommodation. As a result, ABF placed Smith on unpaid leave on January 31, 2003.*fn7 (Doc. 37 ¶ 94; Doc. 57 ¶ 94.) On February 10, 2004, Smith retired from ABF. (Doc. 37 ¶ 109; Doc. 57 ¶ 109.) Smith characterizes his early retirement as a "constructive discharge." (Doc. 19 ¶ 42.)

B. Smith's Race Discrimination Claim

Smith asserts that, in October of 2002, a fellow employee named Richard Silcox ("Silcox") intentionally parked his vehicle so close to Smith's vehicle that Smith was unable to enter the vehicle. (Doc. 37 ¶ 20; Doc. 57 ¶ 20.) An argument ensued during which Silcox, who is Caucasian, stated "Boy, you should learn how to park." (Doc. 36-3 at 30.) Smith, who considered the comment to be racially derisive, informed Roadcap about Silcox's remarks. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 21-23; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 21-23.) Smith contends that ABF failed to investigate the matter or to take any disciplinary action against Silcox. (Doc. 37 ¶ 24; Doc. 57 ¶ 24.)

Smith also asserts that, on December 19, 2002, a fellow employee named John Ivanoff ("Ivanoff") called him a "boy" and a "son of a bitch" and stated that someone should "kick his ass" for complaining about a Ku Klux Klan delivery that had occurred fifteen years earlier.*fn8 (Doc. 37 ¶ 25; Doc. 57 ¶ 25.) Supervisor Del Libby ("Libby") heard Ivanoff's inappropriate comments, prepared an incident report, and presented the report to Upchurch, who proceeded to question Smith. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 26-27; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 26-27.) Smith admits that he refused to reveal Ivanoff's identity to Upchurch because he feared that Ivanoff would file charges against him. However, Smith claims that he informed Upchurch that Libby knew Ivanoff's identity. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 28-29; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 28-29.) Smith now claims that ABF failed to take appropriate disciplinary action against Ivanoff. (Doc. 37 ¶ 30; Doc. 57 ¶ 30.)

C. Smith's Retaliation Claim

In February of 2003, Smith filed grievances with his local union, alleging that he was placed on leave because of race and disability discrimination. (Doc. 37 ¶ 110; Doc. 57 ¶ 110; Doc. 19 ¶ 51.) Additionally, in March 2003, Smith filed a charge of discrimination with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Doc. 37 ¶ 110; Doc. 57 ¶ 110.) Because of the PHRC/EEOC filing, ABF placed Smith's grievances on hold, determining that it needed to investigate of all Smith's claims before responding in any forum. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 111, 115; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 111, 115.) Ultimately, the grievances were all processed and denied by ABF and the union. (Doc. 37 ¶¶ 120-21; Doc. 57 ¶¶ 120-21.)

D. Procedural History

Smith filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a), 2000e-3(a), the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701,*fn9 the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), PA. STAT. ANN. tit. 43, §§ 951-963. (See Docs. 1, 19.) Specifically, Smith alleges that ABF:

(1) discriminated against him on the basis of disability, (2) discriminated against him on the basis of race, (3) created a racially hostile working environment, (4) constructively discharged him, and (5) retaliated against him for asserting claims of race and disability discrimination. (Doc. 37 ¶ 1; Doc. 57 ¶ 1.) Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment (Doc. 35), alleging that Smith has failed to proffer evidence sufficient to support any of his claims. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. ...

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