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Irving v. Chester Water Authority

June 17, 2010

JEROME M. IRVING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHESTER WATER AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.16); Plaintiff's Answer to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 18); and Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 19). For the reasons set forth below, this Court will grant Defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jerome M. Irving was an employee hired by Defendant Chester Water Authority ("CWA") in 1994. For approximately ten years, from 1997 through 2007, Plaintiff worked in the position of Repairman Specialist. (Pl.'s Dep. 12:4-13, May 11, 2009, Def.'s Ex. A.) That position involved several duties, including inspecting and maintaining booster stations that control system pressure, and performing water quality testing on a daily basis. (Pl.'s Dep. 12:19-13:13, Def.'s Ex. A.) On June 3, 2005, Plaintiff was attempting to repair a jockey pump that was suspended from a ceiling. (Pl.'s Dep. 15:20-25, Def.'s Ex. A.) The pump, weighing between 100 and 300 pounds, fell from the ceiling and into Plaintiff's arms. (Pl.'s Dep. 15:20-25, 16:20-17:9, Def.'s Ex. A.) At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was working in an underground pit. (Pl.'s Dep. 20:16-24, Def.'s Ex. A.) The pit had a concrete lid weighing 50 to 60 pounds. (Pl.'s Dep. 23:10-23, Def.'s Ex. A.) Although there was a summer intern nearby to assist him, Plaintiff was the only one permitted in the pit pursuant to regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"). (Pl.'s Dep. 18:10-16, Def.'s Ex. A.)

Plaintiff continued to work for a week after the incident, and then began to develop severe pain in his lower back. (Pl.'s Dep. 33:2-34:4, Def.'s Ex. A.) After reporting the incident to the supervisor of his department, Plaintiff obtained treatment from an Occupational Health physician, in accordance with his supervisor's instructions, and underwent therapy for two to three weeks. (Pl.'s Dep. 35:13-36:22, Def.'s Ex. A.) Plaintiff was placed on light duty for a 60-day period, pursuant to Defendant's policy, which provides a "temporary transitional accommodation" to allow employees to return to work after injury. (Def.'s Ex. B.) The offer of light-duty work is conditioned upon the availability of productive work and a statement from the employee's doctor that there is a reasonable medical likelihood that the employee can return to full duty at the end of the 60-day period. (Def.'s Ex. B.) Defendant extended the 60-day period for Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Dep. 40:23-41:10, Def.'s Ex. A.)

On August 9, 2005, Plaintiff sought treatment from his own physician, Dr. Raymond Wolfe (Pl.'s Dep. 41:15-42:9, Def.'s Ex. A), who diagnosed him with degenerative disc disease with stenosis (Wolfe Dep. 13:23-24, Apr. 25, 2006, Def.'s Ex. K). A medical release form, signed by Dr. Wolfe on November 18, 2005, indicated that Plaintiff "reached maximum medical improvement and has a permanent disability." (Def.'s Ex. C.) In addition, Dr. Wolfe placed permanent restrictions on Plaintiff, including restrictions on lifting, pushing, or pulling greater than 50 pounds; digging with a shovel; and using heavy tools (e.g., jackhammer). (Def.'s Ex. C.)

Further, Dr. Wolfe indicated that there are certain activities-bending, crawling, operating heavy equipment (e.g., forklifts and cranes), squatting, and working at heights-that Plaintiff can perform only occasionally. (Def.'s Ex. C.) Plaintiff requested employment at the CWA within Dr. Wolfe's restrictions, but Defendant advised him that it could not accommodate his request because the restrictions would affect his ability to perform the functions of a Repairman Specialist. (Def.'s Exs. F, G, H.) Specifically, Defendant noted that digging with a shovel and using heavy tools are functions of the position; his capacity to operate valves and fire hydrants would be affected by the restrictions on lifting, pushing, or pulling over 50 pounds; and, his ability to perform pump and motor maintenance would be limited by the restrictions on bending, crawling, and squatting. (Def.'s Ex. F.) On August 3, 2006, Defendant notified Plaintiff that his seniority with the CWA was terminated. (Def.'s Ex. I.)

Plaintiff filed a worker's compensation claim on August 9, 2005 and, ultimately, was awarded worker's compensation benefits. (Def.'s Ex. L.) At a hearing on his petition, held May 18, 2006, Plaintiff testified that his position includes changing pumps and valves, as well as opening and closing hydrants. (Worker's Comp. Hr'g Tr. 6:1-4, May 18, 2006, Def.'s Ex. J.) In addition, he testified that he would often change pumps, ranging from six to eight inches in diameter; disconnect the pumps by unbolting them with flanges; move the pumps; and repair and replace the pumps. (Worker's Comp. Hr'g Tr. 6:5-11, Def.'s Ex. J.) He also testified that he had to climb into pits and either take apart and rebuild valves, or remove and replace pumps. (Worker's Comp. Hr'g Tr. 6:12-15, Def.'s Ex. J.) He further explained that the valves can range in weight from 60 to 400 pounds. (Worker's Comp. Hr'g Tr. 6:19-20, Def.'s Ex. J.) He noted that he usually would have assistance from another employee with lifting the heavier pumps and valves. (Worker's Comp. Hr'g Tr. 6:25-7:3, Def.'s Ex. J.) Additionally, he testified that, since the incident, he did not feel physically capable of performing certain pre-injury job duties, such as taking apart a pump, which he described as a "one man job;" crawling in and lifting a hydroconstant; and using a jackhammer to open a pit lid. (Worker's Comp. Hr'g Tr. 21:13-22:19, Def.'s Ex. J.) At the close of the hearing, the judge concluded, inter alia , that the testimony of Defendant's representatives supported a finding that a light-duty position was not available to Plaintiff after the 60-day period; Dr. Wolfe's testimony was more credible than the testimony of an independent medical examiner, who concluded that Plaintiff could return to work without restrictions; and Defendant was unable to accommodate the restrictions placed on Plaintiff after the 60-day light-duty program. (Def.'s Ex. L, 4:11-12.)

Plaintiff subsequently filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and brought the instant Complaint, alleging that Defendant violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 ("ADA"), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17 ("Title VII"), when Defendant refused to allow him to continue working at the CWA within his doctor's restrictions and refused to accommodate his disability though light-duty positions were available and other injured employees were accommodated. Defendant contends that Plaintiff's charges should be dismissed with prejudice based on his inability to perform the essential functions of his position and the unavailability of accommodations for his permanent restrictions.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where the movant establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Levy v. Sterling Holding Co., LLC, 544 F.3d 493, 501 (3d Cir. 2008). A factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless it is both genuine and material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 337 (3d Cir. 2002). The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the non-moving party to carry its burden of proof. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).

Once the movant has carried its burden under Rule 56, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Under Rule 56(e), the opponent must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. See Martin v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295 (3d Cir. 2007). At the summary judgment stage, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Jiminez v. All American Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 253 (3d Cir. 2007). In doing so, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Horsehead Indus., Inc. v. Paramount Commc'ns, Inc., 258 F.3d 132, 140 (3d Cir. 2001). The court must award summary judgment on all claims unless the non-movant shows through affidavits or admissible evidence that an issue of material fact remains. See, e.g., Love v. Rancocas Hosp., 270 F. Supp. 2d 576, 579 (D.N.J. 2003); Koch Materials Co. v. Shore Slurry Seal, Inc., 205 F. Supp. 2d 324, 330 (D.N.J. 2002).

DISCUSSION

Defendant asserts the following grounds in support of its Motion ...


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