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Aniskevich v. Blue Ridge Pressure Castings

October 14, 2009

BONITA ANISKEVICH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BLUE RIDGE PRESSURE CASTINGS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mannion, M.J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER*fn1

Before the court is defendant Blue Ridge Pressure Castings, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 41).For the reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT the motion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On or about November 20, 2007, plaintiff Bonita Aniskevich originally filed her three-count complaint in the civil division of the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1 at 1). She asserted claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (count 1 or the "ADA Count"), under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (count 2 or the "PHRA Count"), and under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (count 3 or the "LMRA Count"). Each count was brought against both her employer, defendant Blue Ridge Pressure Castings, Inc. ("Blue Ridge"), and against her union, defendant United Auto Workers Local 1098 ("Local 1098"). (Doc. No. 1 at 5, 11). The plaintiff argues that after long service on the job her health began to decline and she suffered an on-the-job injury. (Doc. No. 35 at 1). She sought accommodations from her employer, including regular rest periods during the business day and training for a different position, but these efforts were rebuffed by her employer, defendant Blue Ridge. Moreover, during these negotiations with Blue Ridge, plaintiff maintained that Local 1098, her union, failed to represent her in good faith.

Defendant Blue Ridge removed the action from state court into the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1 at 1). Once in federal court, plaintiff filed an amended complaint and a second amended complaint. (Doc. No. 8 & Doc. No. 11). Thereafter, Judge Ditter, who presided over this action in the Eastern District, transferred this case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania because Carbon County is in the Middle District, not the Eastern District. (Doc. No. 14). Once transferred to this district, this case became ultimately assigned to the undersigned. (Doc. No. 23). Subsequently, defendant Blue Ridge filed an answer to the second amended complaint, (Doc. No. 16), and defendant Local 1098 filed a summary judgment motion, (Doc. No. 28), which this court granted, thereby terminating defendant Local 1098 from this action. (Doc. No. 43).

On May 29, 2009, defendant Blue Ridge filed a summary judgment motion, (Doc. No. 41), with a statement of facts, (Doc. No. 41-3), and supported by a memorandum of law, (Doc. No. 42). Plaintiff responded with an opposition brief only, (Doc. No. 47), to which defendant Blue Ridge replied. (Doc. No. 48).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co. v. Ericksen, 903 F. Supp. 836, 838 (M.D. Pa. 1995). At the summary judgment stage, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (a court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations). Rather, the court must consider all evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007).

To prevail on summary judgment, the moving party must affirmatively identify those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. The moving party can discharge the burden by showing that "on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts," but must show sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in its favor. Boyle v. County of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). However, if the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [the non-movant's] case, and on which [the non-movant] will bear the burden of proof at trial," Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment because such a failure "necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23; Jakimas v. Hoffman La Roche, Inc., 485 F.3d 770, 777 (3d Cir. 2007). Where, for example, the non-movant opposes summary judgment merely by standing on its own pleadings, and offers no other evidence in regard to a contested material fact, then the movant's motion will be granted. See First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968) ("What Rule 56(e) does make clear is that a party cannot rest on the allegations contained in his complaint in opposition to a properly supported summary judgment motion made against him."); Arnold Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. General Motors Corp., 786 F.2d 564, 575 (3d Cir. 1986).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant Blue Ridge is a job shop that engages in the design, production and delivery of aluminum die cast parts and components, largely for the automotive and truck industries. Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶2). From November 4, 1988 through May 30, 2008, plaintiff Bonita Aniskevich was employed as a "utility worker" at defendant Blue Ridge. (Doc. No. 41-3 at ¶ 35; Doc. 41-4 at ¶53). A "utility worker" at Blue Ridge is the basic laborer position that performs all secondary non-skilled and semi-skilled job duties in the facility supporting the processing of die cast parts.*fn2 Def.'s Ex. A;(Doc. 41-4 at ¶6). Since 2000, the utility worker position at Blue Ridge required standing, moving and walking one hundred percent of the time while working. Id. at ¶12.

In 2006, as a utility worker at Blue Ridge, plaintiff was assigned to operate two machines, and the operation of the two machines required her to go back and forth between them, and consequently, plaintiff did not have the opportunity to sit while she was working. Def.'s Ex. C; (Doc. 41-6 at 38).

From late 2005 through 2006, plaintiff was experiencing pain in the heel of her left foot while she was working. Def.'s Ex. C; (Doc. No. 41-6 at 42-43). On April 26, 2006, plaintiff was released from work to get a cortisone shot in the heel of her left foot to help alleviate the pain. Def.'s Ex. F; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 1). On May 11, 2006, plaintiff was again released from work to go to the doctor for her heel pain, and it was determined she had plantar fasciitis, inflammation of tissue in the sole of the foot, and that she tore a tendon in the heel of her left foot. Def.'s Ex. C & G; (Doc. No. 41-6 at 46). Plaintiff then had two operations, on May 30 2006 and in the fall of 2006, on her heel to try and correct the injury. Def.'s Ex. C; (Doc. No. 41-6 at 47-48).

As a result of her heel injury, plaintiff had requested and was granted a period of medical leave of absence from May 30, 2006 through December 28, 2006.*fn3 Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. 41-4). Towards the end of plaintiff's medical leave of absence, plaintiff presented defendant Blue Ridge with return-to-work medical releases. On November 27, 2006, plaintiff presented the first return-to-work medical release to Donna Correll, the individual in charge of human resources at Blue Ridge. Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶37). The medical release from Dr. Bernstein, a nerve surgery specialist, provided that plaintiff could return to work if she could sit and rest fifteen minutes for every hour of work. Def.'s Ex. I; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 4). Correll told plaintiff that Blue Ridge could not accommodate the medical restrictions because there was no sedentary work available at Blue Ridge, and that if she accommodated plaintiff's request, Blue Ridge would have to accommodate every request for sedentary work, which Blue Ridge could not do.*fn4 Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶37-38) & Def.'s Ex. C; (Doc. No. 41-6 at 52). Plaintiff was also told that she was a liability to Blue Ridge because of the pain she was experiencing and the medications she was taking. Def.'s Ex. R; (Doc. No. 41-9 at 3).

On December 19, 2006, Dr. Bernstein gave plaintiff a second return-to-work medical release that provided plaintiff could be released to work on December 28, 2006 "guarded." Def.'s Ex. J; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 4). Relying on plaintiff's explanation of the word "guarded," that plaintiff could not overdo it, overwork it or bump her foot, Correll allowed plaintiff to return to work effective December 28, 2006. Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶41). Accordingly, plaintiff worked December 28, 29, 30, 2006 and January 3, 2007. Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶43). However, during that time Correll attempted to contact Dr. Bernstein to determine what exactly "guarded" meant. Def.'s Ex. A; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶42).

On January 3, 2007, plaintiff presented a third return-to-work medical release, which provided plaintiff needed "guarded duty, as light ambulatory as possible." Def.'s Ex. A & L; (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶44). On January 3, 2007, Correll attempted to contact Dr. Bernstein again, and spoke to him at the end of the day. (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶45-47). Following her conversation with Dr. Bernstein, Correll called plaintiff and instructed her not to return to work until her foot healed. (Doc. No. 41-4 at ¶ 48). Plaintiff has not returned to work since January 3, 2007.

On January 29, 2007, Dr. Bernstein's doctor's note indicated that "patient [plaintiff] continues sedentary duty." Def.'s Ex. M; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 8). On March 12, 2007, Dr. Bernstein's, fourth return-to-work medical release provided that patient could return to work if allowed to rest her left limb ten minutes per hour, and sitting position if available. Def.'s Ex. N; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 9). On April 10, 2007, Dr. Sorrento provided plaintiff a fifth return-to- work medical release that stated plaintiff could return to work if allowed to rest left foot for ten minutes per hour in sitting position while working. Def.'s Ex. O; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 10). As a result of the April 10, 2007 medical release, by letter dated April 20, 2007, Correll informed plaintiff that Blue Ridge did not have work available with the restrictions Dr. Sorrento provided and, she further stated "Please keep us advised as you have been of any updates. We will continue to evaluate the restrictions. We look forward to your return to work." Def.'s Ex. P; (Doc. No. 41-8 at 12).

On April 17, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for social security disability insurance benefits ("SSDI"), and on August 14, 2007, it was determined that plaintiff did not qualify for SSDI. Def.'s Ex. R; (Doc. No. 41-9 at 1) & Def.'s Ex. T; (Doc. No. 41-9 at 22).

On September 26, 2007, plaintiff filed an appeal to the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). In the "Disability Report-Appeal," plaintiff stated: "the pain in my feet is worse than before. I have required more medications." Def.'s Ex. U; (Doc. No. 41-9 at 27). In response to the question, "How do your illnesses, injuries or conditions affect your ability to care for your personal needs?," plaintiff responded, "On a good day I can care for my personal needs. On a bad day, I cannot. On bad days, I pretty much stay in bed and don't do much of anything." Def.'s Ex. U; (Doc. No. 41-9 at 31). Moreover, in response to the question,"What changes have occurred in your daily activities since you last completed a disability report?," plaintiff responded:

"My whole lifestyle has changed. I used to work and be self supporting. I used to cut my grass for my home and walk my dog. Now, I just go get my prescription medications, go to MDs, etc. I need to wear sneakers all the time and keep my feet propped up. My daughter helps me by doing the laundry and cleaning the house. My feet hurt all the time and it feels as if there is railroad spike in my heel and back of foot. I have a burning pain all the time and need to keep my foot elevated. I cannot walk around the block. Normally, I got to bed by 10 pm and remain in bed to 10 am. I feel tired all of the time because of my medication. I ...


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