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Supinski v. United Parcel Service

January 16, 2009

EDWARD M. SUPINSKI, JR., PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM

This disability discrimination/retaliation action comes before the Court on objections of Plaintiff Edward M. Supinski, Jr., to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation proposing that summary judgment be awarded Defendants. Having carefully reviewed the record de novo and given plenary consideration to the parties' contentions, the Court, as a matter of law, finds that (a) Mr. Supinski is unable to show that his shoulder impairment substantially limits one or more of his major life activities; (b) none of the named Defendants took adverse employment action against him in retaliation for his request for an accommodation of his shoulder impairment; and (c) the individual Defendants, Cathy Cline and Tracy Newcomer, did not take any actions against Plaintiff in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 951, et seq. The Court also finds, however, that Mr. Supinski has presented sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial on the question of whether Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) regarded Plaintiff as disabled and violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §12101, et seq., and the PHRA by refusing to consider him for any available position at the local UPS facility.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff began working for UPS in 1979. In October of 2000, while employed as a full time Package Car Driver for UPS, Mr. Supinski sustained a work-related massive cuff tear in his right shoulder. As a result, he underwent surgery and a period of physical therapy.

On October 4, 2001, Mr. Supinski's attending physician, Dr. Shawn Hennigan, released Mr. Supinski to return to work with the following "permanent" restrictions: "Seventy pounds lifting limit to waste level, twenty-five pounds lifting limit to shoulder level, twenty pounds lifting limit over head." (Dkt. Entry 38-6 at 47.)*fn1 Mr. Supinski thereafter sought to return to work with UPS, either in his capacity as a Package Car Driver with appropriate accommodations for his physician-imposed restrictions or in some other position within his physical limitations.

In accordance with UPS protocol for processing ADA accommodation requests, Mr. Supinski's request to return to work was forwarded by the Central Pennsylvania District Occupational Health and Workforce Planning Managers to the appropriate Regional Workforce Planning and Regional Occupational Health Managers. (Dkt. Entry 55-4 at 3-4.) Based upon the medical documentation submitted by Mr. Supinski, the UPS regional managers determined that he was "not a qualified individual with a disability as determined by the ADA." (Dkt. Entry 55-4 at 5.) By letter dated November 11, 2002, Defendant Tracy Newcomer, the District Workforce Planning Manager, informed Mr. Supinski that, having "carefully evaluated your request for a job-related accommodation concerning your self-reported physical or mental condition," UPS is "unable to conclude that you are eligible for a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the [ADA]." (Dkt. Entry 38-6 at 21.)

Mr. Supinski thereafter filed a charge of disability discrimination with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr. Supinski's complaint asserted that he was "being discriminated against because of . . . disability," contending that "[t]here are jobs available that I could perform with my restrictions." (Dkt. Entry 38-6 at 18.)

Mr. Supinski continued to seek reinstatement as an active UPS worker after filing his charge of discrimination. In particular, Mr. Supinski sought employment in positions at UPS that would not require lifting more than 70 pounds to his waste, more than 25 pounds from his waste to his shoulders, and more than 20 pounds above his shoulders. For example, in November of 2003, the Business Representative for the Teamsters Local of which Mr. Supinski is a member wrote to UPS requesting full-time inside work for Mr. Supinski. (Dkt. Entry 47-5 at 1.) Plaintiff pursued, without success, grievances against UPS for its failure to accommodate his lifting restrictions. (Dkt. Entry 47-7 at 1; Dkt. Entry 47-8 at 1.) During a workers' compensation hearing, Mr. Supinski identified specific UPS positions that he was capable of performing. (Dkt. Entry 47-15 at 6-7.)

UPS processed at least one other request of Mr. Supinski to return to work in positions within his physical limitations through its ADA protocol. (Dkt. Entry 38-11 at 4-5.) By letter dated September 22, 2005, Mr. Supinski was again informed:

UPS has carefully evaluated your request for a job-related accommodation concerning your self-reported physical or mental condition. We are writing to inform you that based upon the medical information that we have received, we are unable to conclude that you are eligible for a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Dkt. Entry 38-15 at 2.)

Following exhaustion of administrative remedies, Mr. Supinski commenced this action. An Amended Complaint, filed on March 14, 2007, contains four counts. Count I alleges a violation of the PHRA by UPS in failing to accommodate Mr. Supinski's physical limitations and in retaliating against him for seeking an accommodation. Count II charges UPS with wrongful discharge in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim, a cause of action which Plaintiff has withdrawn. Count III asserts a violation of the ADA and the PHRA for "disability discrimination/failure to accommodate/retaliation." Finally, Count IV asserts aider and abettor liability of Defendants Cline and Newcomer under the PHRA.

Following completion of discovery, Defendants moved collectively for summary judgment. As noted above, the Magistrate Judge to whom this matter had been referred for pretrial management recommended that the summary judgment motion be granted. Mr. Supinski's objections to the Report and Recommendation have been briefed by the parties. This matter is ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Where, as here, objections to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation are filed, the court must perform a de novo review of the contested portions of the Report. See, e.g., Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989)(citing 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(C)). Although review is de novo, the Court is permitted to "rely upon the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and recommendations to the extent [it], in the exercise of sound discretion, deem[s] proper. Owens v. Beard, 829 F.Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993)(citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984)). To trigger de novo review, however, the objections must be specific. See, e.g., Goney, 749 F.2d at 6-7. In this regard, Local Rule of Court 72.3 requires "written objections which . . . specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for those objections." Where only general objections are asserted, review may properly be limited to ascertaining whether there is "clear error" or "manifest injustice" in the Report and Recommendation. See Shields v. Astrue, No. 3:CV-07-417, 2008 WL 4186951, at *6, 9 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 2008).

In this case, Plaintiff has asserted a number of general objections that do not meet the required standard of specificity for de novo review. For instance, Objection No. 1 -- "it is not fair that a different office of this same Court, Western District Court of PA, has allowed plaintiffs to proceed on similar claims as Supinski" (Dkt. Entry 58 at 1) -- does not provide a cognizable basis for reviewing the Report and Recommendation.*fn2 The second objection asserted by plaintiff -- "Plaintiff objects to the R & R in its entirety," (Dkt. Entry 58 at 1) -- certainly does not warrant de novo review. Nor do objections 6, 8, 10, and 11*fn3 offer any basis for a plenary consideration of the record and the parties' contentions, and do not warrant any discussion.*fn4

Objections 3 through 5, 7, and 9 do, however, place in issue the findings critical to the recommendation that summary judgment be entered in Defendants' favor. Accordingly, as noted above, the record has been reviewed de novo for purposes of determining whether there is a genuine dispute of those facts deemed material to Plaintiff's claims under governing law. Because the gist of the summary judgment motion is that Plaintiff is unable to present evidence sufficient to warrant a trial on his claims, the entire record has been examined in the light most favorable to Mr. Supinski for the purpose of ascertaining whether ...


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