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Larimer v. Eljer

December 20, 2007


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


Now pending before the Court is DEFENDANT ELJER, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 15), with brief in support. Plaintiff, Alan Larimer, has filed a response and Defendant Eljer, Inc. (Jacuzzi) ("Eljer"), filed a reply brief. The issues are ripe for disposition.

Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff asserts disability discrimination claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa.C.S.A. § 951 et seq. On July 1, 2005 Eljer purchased all of the operating assets of the Eljer Plumbingware, Inc. facility in Ford City, Pennsylvania. Larimer had been an employee of EljerPlumbingware from August 1986 through June 2005. He had held several different positions, including "draw and clean," kiln operator and car builder. Larimer's last position was that of car builder, although he had been on medical leave since November 2004.

Eljer sent letters offering the opportunity to apply for employment to all former employees of Eljer-Plumbingware, including those who had been out on medical leave. The offers of employment were contingent upon: (1) filling out an application; (2) passing a drug test; (3) being available to start work when scheduled; and (4) providing a medical certification that they were able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Eljer held open for six months the offers made to applicants who were unable to satisfy these conditions. Eljer hired every applicant who satisfied these conditions into the position each had last held at Eljer-Plumbingware.

On June 30, 2005, Larimer submitted an application for employment to Eljer. He listed his desired position as "car builder/laborer/high lift." The application further stated that Larimer was able to perform the essential functions of his current job "with reasonable accommodation." In response to a question regarding whether he was able to begin work immediately, Larimer stated: "Currently on STD and should/could be released relatively soon, provided accommodation is offered." The terms "laborer" and "high lift" are both duties that Larimer performed when he was a "car builder" and were part of the "car builder" job. The car builder position is physically demanding. A car builder stands for over five hours per shift and lifts weights from ten to over fifty pounds up to forty times per shift. Plaintiff acknowledges that the car builder position is not a "light duty" job, but rather is a "heavy duty" job.

On July 2, 2005, Eljer offered Larimer employment in a position equal to that which he had held at Eljer-Plumbingware. Since Larimer's last job had been as a "car builder," the offer from Eljer was for a car builder position. Larimer accepted the offer in person the same day, and passed a drug test. He described to Leroy Harnish, Eljer's Human Resources Manager, the type of accommodations he would need, including the use of a breathing mask and occasional breaks to catch his breath in addition to the scheduled breaks for all employees. Harnish allegedly replied that there was no position available for him and that Larimer should apply for disability benefits from his former employer. Harnish further stated that Plaintiff would need to obtain a medical release back to full duty in order to return to work.

On July 14, 2005, Larimer submitted a note from his physician, Seema Guglani, M.D., which stated: "May return to work light duty. Call with any questions." Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Harnish merely told Larimer upon receipt of Dr. Guglani's note that there were no positions available for him and that there was nothing further to discuss. Harnish did not attempt to contact Dr. Guglani, nor did he ask Larimer for any further information. Plaintiff never provided a medical certification that would have cleared him for heavy duty work. Eljer held the job offer open for six months, until January 2006, and then withdrew the offer.

On February 10, 2006, Plaintiff applied for disability assistance, stating that he was "unable to work at jobs requiring excessive heavy lifting, push/pull or up/down steps/grades due to limited lung capacity." On March 13, 2006, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Social Security Disability ("SSD") benefits. On the application, Plaintiff stated: "My disability began on November 23, 2004." Larimer explains that he was asked on the form only for his last day of work, not the date on which he became disabled, and that his mental and physical conditions had been brought under control by June 2005, before deteriorating again in November 2005. The Social Security Administration approved Plaintiff's claim and determined that he became disabled on November 23, 2004.

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.

In interpreting Rule 56(c), the United States Supreme Court has stated:

The plain language . . . mandates entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a 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. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to material fact," since a complete failure of proof ...

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