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Adams v. Commonwealth

August 25, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiff Joseph B. Adams ("Adams") brings this action alleging that defendants discriminated against him on the basis of disability and gender during his tenure as a police cadet at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. Adams contends that his efforts to obtain employment with the Pennsylvania State Police were foreclosed due to a breathing disability that precluded him from passing the physical fitness examination imposed on all cadets. Adams also claims that he was the victim of unconstitutional gender discrimination. Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 33) asserts that the disability claims must fail because Adams is not disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act and that he lacks prima facie evidence of gender discrimination. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion will be granted, and this matter will be closed.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

In late 1990, Adams was diagnosed with a tumor in his chest that restricted venous blood flow to his heart. (Doc. 34 ¶ 1; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 1; Doc. 42, Ex. D at 12.)*fn2

Physicians removed a portion of the tumor surgically, and Adams underwent a regimen of postoperative radiation and chemotherapy treatments to treat the remaining growth. (Doc. 34 ¶ 2; Doc. 34, Ex. A at 13; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 2.) The tumor was eradicated in March 1991, and the cancer has never recurred. (Doc. 34 ¶ 3; Doc. 34, Ex. A at 13-14; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 3.) Adams's treatment resulted in fibrosis-or permanent scarring-in his right lung. (Doc. 33, Ex. E at 2.) Dr. Darby G. Hand ("Dr. Hand"), who treated Adams at the Police Academy, testified that this scarring caused a condition known as reactive airway disease, which produces asthma-like symptoms including shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and wheezing. (Doc. 34 ¶ 3; Doc. 34, Ex. A at 13; Doc. 34, Ex. B at 6-7; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 3.) According to Adams, the condition renders it "harder for me to breathe . . . with extended exertion[ and] physical activity. I breathe harder than the next person. Walking can also affect it if [I am] walking up hills." (Doc. 33, Ex. A at 24.) However, he explained that he has no difficulty mounting a flight of stairs, (id.), and he performs cardiovascular exercise two to three times per week, (id. at 30). These workouts typically consist of running on a treadmill or outdoors for a period of fifteen minutes. (Id. at 28-29.) He also rides a stationary bike, (id. at 29), can bench presses 165 pounds for ten repetitions, (id. at 30), and occasionally plays catch with his nine-year-old nephew, (id. at 37).

A. Adams's Breathing Condition and Its Effect on His Police Training

In autumn 2003, defendant the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") accepted Adams as a cadet, and he matriculated at the Police Academy on November 2, 2003. (Doc. 34 ¶¶ 4-5; Doc. 42-2 ¶¶ 4-5.) PSP imposes minimum physical fitness standards on all police cadets. (Doc. 34 ¶¶ 6-7; Doc. 42-2 ¶¶ 6-7.) To graduate from the Academy, a cadet must sprint three hundred meters in fifty-six seconds and perform thirty push-ups, thirty-seven sit-ups, and an eighteen-inch vertical jump. (Doc. 34 ¶ 8; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 8.) The cadet must also run 1.5 miles in 14:05 minutes or less. (Doc. 34 ¶ 8; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 8.) Cadets who cannot complete these requirements do not graduate and are dismissed from service. (Doc. 34 ¶ 12; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 12.)

Adams successfully completed all physical fitness requirements except the 1.5 mile run. (Doc. 34 ¶ 10; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 10.) Despite attempting the run on eight separate occasions over a six-month period, his best time was 15:05. (Doc. 34 ¶ 11; Doc. 33, Ex. A at attach. 1; Doc. 42-2 ¶ 11.) Police Academy instructors required him to participate in five training sessions per week, two more than cadets who attained passing times. (Doc. 33, Ex. A at 11.)

Adams asserts that these additional sessions aggravated his breathing condition and that he would have completed the 1.5 mile run had he been permitted to rest for one or two days before performing the physical fitness exam. (Id. at 34.) He spoke with defendant Corporal Charles S. Mory ("Mory"), who supervised the physical training program, "a couple of times" about the possibility of receiving a rest period. (Id. at 35.) Mory refused his requests. (Id.) Adams also spoke with two of Mory's subordinates; however, they lacked authority to approve rest periods for him. (Id. at 36.)

Adams further contends that Police Academy staff possessed erroneous information about his condition. Defendant Michael Selgrath ("Selgrath"), the commander of the basic training program, erroneously believed that surgeons had removed one of Adams's lungs during his cancer treatment. (Doc. 42, Ex. E at 5, 12.) Selgrath relayed this inaccurate information to defendant Robert Einsel ("Einsel"). (Id. at 17.) It is unclear what role, if any, Einsel played in the Police Academy's training program, and Selgrath testified that he could not recall any conversation with Einsel or Adams that addressed the feasibility of providing additional rest periods before performing the 1.5 mile run. (Id.)

Adams's treating physicians testified that a less intensive training schedule would not have increased his ability to complete the run. Dr. Hand stated that Adams's reactive airway disease impaired his maximum respiratory capacity and that prescription medication was the only means of increasing his breathing capabilities. (Doc. 33, Ex. B at 14-15.) Dr. Hand prescribed an albuterol inhaler and a steroid injection for Adams; however, these measures produced only marginal gains in respiratory capacity. (Doc. 33, Ex. A at 17-19; Doc. 33, Ex. E at 3-4.)

Dr. Michael S. Marrone, who originally diagnosed Adams's tumor but has not treated him since the late 1990s, likewise testified that "all the training in the world and all the methods in the world, short of carrying an oxygen tank on your back, would not . . . help" boost Adams's lung capacity. (Doc. 42, Ex. D at 14.) Defendants' expert witness concurred with these opinions and explained that scar tissue in Adams's lung had decreased his maximum respiratory capacity and that "more rest before Mr. Adams attempted the 1.5 mile run test would not have allowed him to achieve an acceptable or appreciably changed result."*fn3 (Doc. 33, Ex. E at 5.) Adams has not proffered any expert testimony that additional rest periods would have enabled him to gain the respiratory capacity necessary to complete the test within the allotted time.

B. Adams's Allegations of Gender-Based Differential Treatment

Adams advances a claim of gender discrimination based upon defendants' treatment of Collette Rarrick ("Rarrick"), a female cadet whom Adams alleges failed to complete the vertical jump component of the physical fitness exam. Cadets receive two opportunities to complete the jump each time they are tested. (Doc. 33, Ex. C at 9.) Adams, who was present during Rarrick's exam, testified that he witnessed Rarrick fail the jump requirement on both attempts. (Doc. 33, Ex. A at 19, 21.) Police Academy records contradict Adams's recollection and indicate that Cadet [Rarrick] passed event by just barely brushing the blade set at 18ó on 2nd jump[,] causing it to vibrate. She had not contacted frame. Cadet insisted verbally [that] she had touched blade as well. A third attempt was made at the same mark to remove any doubt but she failed by at least 1ó.

(Doc. 33, Ex. C attach. 2.) Academy instructors apparently concluded that Rarrick had successfully completed the jump on her second attempt, and the assessment sheet for her final examination indicates that she passed the requirement. (Id.)

C. Procedural History

Adams filed the instant suit in November 2006, advancing claims under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12107, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 951-963.

Adams contends that defendants discriminated against him on the basis of disability and gender and refused to accommodate his disability by allowing him to rest for several days prior to the physical fitness exam. He also alleges that the exam unnecessarily excludes individuals with disabilities from working as state troopers because it does not represent the minimum qualifications necessary to perform the duties imposed upon a law enforcement officer. Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that Adams is not disabled under the ADA and that the fitness exam is an appropriate mechanism for evaluating cadets' fitness for duty. They also assert that he lacks prima facie evidence of gender discrimination. The parties have fully briefed these issues, which are now 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 nonmoving 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-movant on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. ...

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