The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley
Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17) in this disability discrimination case. Having been fully briefed and argued, the case is ripe for disposition.
Plaintiff worked as a delivery driver for Defendant PTG logistics from September 2000 until May 2001, when he was fired. (Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 17-2) (hereinafter "Defendant's Statement") at ¶ 4).*fn1
Plaintiff operated out of Defendant's Kirkwood, NY facility. He was one of five drivers there. (Id. at ¶ 5).
While working at Kirkwood, defendant's main delivery customer was a company called Door Fabrication. (Id. at ¶ 6). Plaintiff's main responsibility while working at PTG was to deliver doors manufactured by Door Fabrication to home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe's in New York and Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). Plaintiff also testified that he occasionally delivered trailers for drop-off to Maryland. (Plaintiff's Counterstatement of Material Facts (Doc. 26-2) (hereinafter Plaintiff's Statement) at ¶ 7). Plaintiff was not required to do any loading or unloading for these deliveries. (Id.).
Part of plaintiff's job was to install load straps on his truck's freight trailer to ensure that the load remained in a particular area of the truck. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 9). After every delivery, plaintiff would have to re-insert load straps, pulling them to secure the load and prevent it from sliding around on the trailer. (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff also had to unload the trailer himself at some delivery points. (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff did this unloading while employed at PTG, and testified that he had to do this as part of his job at PTG. (Id. at ¶ 13). Plaintiff denies that these requirements were arduous, or that he actually had to unload trailers at delivery sites. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶¶ 9-12).
Five or six weeks into his employment at PTG, the company began requiring drivers to move freight around in their trailers to accommodate new loads. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 16). Plaintiff contends that these requirements were not arduous, that he rarely had to lift even ten pounds and that such work consisted largely of "sliding" a cargo pallet so a forklift could pick it up. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 14, 16).
Plaintiff injured himself during his employment with defendant. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 17). He harmed his knee while unloading a truck. (Id.). Plaintiff insists that he was not unloading the truck himself, but simply "sliding" cargo along when he slipped on plastic in the trailer. (Plaintiff's statement at ¶ 17). His toe was caught underneath a cargo pallet and his knee "popped" while his leg slid. (Id.). This injury set in motion the events that led to plaintiff's original lawsuit against PTG Logistics. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 31). PTG fired plaintiff after his injury, and plaintiff sued, contending that his discharge was wrongful under Pennsylvania law. (Id.). Plaintiff alleged that he had been terminated in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. (Id.). The parties eventually settled the case. (Id. at ¶ 32). The settlement agreement contained a clause that required PTG to hire Coleman as a CDL Class A driver in Kirkwood, New York beginning on March 8, 2004. (Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiff was required to report to the PTG office two weeks before that date to be screened for his reemployment. (Id.). The agreement specified that "employment is contingent upon [plaintiff] passing all PTG driver requirements and all pre-employment screens in accordance with the Department of Transportation, including but not limited to a pre-employment drug screen and Department of Transportation physical." (Id.).
Plaintiff returned to PTG on March 4, 2004, seeking reemployment pursuant to this agreement. (Id. at ¶ 35). At that meeting, plaintiff received a description of the physical requirements for the job he sought. (Id. at ¶ 36). PTG established specific physical requirements for a driver holding plaintiff's job (CDL-A driver). (Id. at ¶ 22). He had to "be able to bend, twist, stretch, climb, and squat as necessary. Must be able to handle customer load requirements. Must be able to lift 75 lbs. Must be able to pull a pallet jack, crank dollies, hook & unhook trailer." (Job Description (Doc. 17-5) at 1). This 75-pound lifting requirement was necessary because PTG's customers expect drivers to be able to help unload the freight and because the Federal Department of Transportation requires drivers to re-examine cargo during deliver and prevent cargo from shifting or falling off the vehicle. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 22).
Another physical requirement of the job is the ability to pull a pallet jack. (Id. at ¶ 23). Drivers must also be able to crank a dolly and hook and unhook a trailer from the tractor. (Id. at ¶ 24). Defendant insists that all drivers must also be able to lift 75 lbs; the requirements of the job for moving freight make this skill essential. (Id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiff argues that defendant had several jobs available which did not require any lifting and that the seventy-five pound lifting requirement had been added to the job to prevent plaintiff from being rehired. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 25). Defendant contends that hiring an assistant for a driver who could perform these lifting jobs would be cost-prohibitive. (Id. at ¶ 28). Plaintiff disputes this contention, arguing that in his experience driving for other companies customers willingly pay for such an assistant. (Plaintiff's statement at ¶ 28).
On March 1, 2004, Dr. Kyung I. Kim signed a note that allowed plaintiff to return to light duty work, but prohibited him from lifting, pushing or pulling. (Exh. 5 to Plaintiff's Statement (Doc. 28-9)). The form also included as a remark the "Talladega Series wide [?] rear 9052/905-1910." (Id.). The note does not explain the meaning of that remark. (Id.). On March 4, 2004, plaintiff went to defendant's Kirkwood, NY facility to fill out an employment application. (Id. at ¶ 35). He looked over the job description for a CDL driver position. (Id. at ¶ 36). He informed one of defendant's employees, Jerry Beech, that he could handle all of the physical requirements of the job, except for the 75-pound lifting requirement. (Id. at ¶ 37). He cited the limitations on lifting stated by Dr. Kim. (Id. at ¶ 37). According to plaintiff he also told Beech that he could not sit for long periods because of an injury to his hip which was exacerbated by his knee injury. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 37). He could work, however, if allowed to use a Talledega seat and allowed to make runs that did not require him to unload the trailer. (Id.).
Plaintiff includes an exhibit to his brief that contains medical records. One of those records is from Dr. Kim, based on an examination performed on 2/26/04. (See Exh. 4 to Plaintiff's Statement). In his report of that examination, Dr. Kim diagnoses plaintiff with "degenerative osteoarthritis left hip along with early degenerative arthritis both knee joints. Open reduction internal fixation requiring a special chair driving the truck. Denies any radiating pain, but also pain in both knee joints especially the medial side. History of arthroscope procedure both knees in the past.." (Id.). He notes that "I think patient has been driving truck using a special chair that has helped to alleviate the pain in the hip area and back area. Patient I don't think is able to do heavy lifting, pushing, pulling. I think as long as the patient is using the special chair presently the patient is using Tetalladaga [sic] series wide ride, 9052/905-1910. No lifting, pushing and pulling." (Id.).
Dr. Kim performed another examination on June 25, 2004. (See Id.). He noted that plaintiff had found another job and was able to perform his new truck-driving job with a special chair. (Id.). Plaintiff had occasionally been lifting up to fifty pounds, and Dr. Kim recommended that "he can try to go back to work and lift up to 50 lbs." (Id.). On March 18, 2004, Dr. Kim issued another report, this time restricting plaintiff to lifting 20 pounds or less. (Id.). A return to work form prepared by Dr. ...