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Stoppi v. Wal-Mart Transportation

August 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)


Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. Having been fully briefed and argued, the matter is ripe for disposition.


This case concerns Plaintiff Kimberly Stoppi's employment with Defendant Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC. Plaintiff claims that defendant discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12112, et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., when she was not interviewed for a management position at the Wal-Mart transportation center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Plaintiff originally applied for a position at the Wal-Mart Transportation Center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania in June 2006. (Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 20) (hereinafter "Defendant's Statement") at ¶ 1). Prior to gaining employment at Wal-Mart, plaintiff worked as a waitress and a truck driver for several companies.

(Id. at ¶ 4). In 2002, she attended Schuylkill Training and Technology Center, obtaining a commercial driver's license. (Id. at ¶ 5). On June 22, 2006, Wal-Mart offered plaintiff a position as Driver Coordinator/Router at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Pottsville. (Id. at ¶ 6).

When plaintiff began her employment, Wal-Mart provided her with a job description for the Driver Coordinator/Router position. (Id. at ¶ 7). On June 22, 2006 plaintiff signed the job description, acknowledging the essential functions of the job and averring that she could perform those functions with or without accommodations. (Id. at ¶ 8). Among those "essential functions" were "accurately and efficiently recording the activities of Wal-Mart truck drivers and planning deliveries to Wal-Mart stores in a cost efficient and timely manner." (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff's job consisted of coordinating 20 to 30 Wal-Mart truck drivers in making deliveries to area Wal-Mart stores. (Id. at ¶ 10). Other duties include planning the loading of drivers' trucks. (Id.).

Plaintiff began working for defendant on July 10, 2006. (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff received a six-month performance evaluation on January 10, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 12). That performance review noted that plaintiff needed to learn routing and trailer planning. (Id.). Plaintiff notes that the review also found among her strengths customer service, dependability, teamwork and dedication. (Plaintiff's Counterstatement of Material Facts (Doc. 30) (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Statement") at ¶ 12). Her overall performance rating was "good." (Id.). Plaintiff signed this evaluation, agreeing with management's assessment. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 13).

Plaintiff received her first annual evaluation on July 10, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 14). The parties disagree about how this document should be interpreted. Defendant points out that the evaluation stated that plaintiff needed to improve her reaction to other employees' actions and focus her attention to details. (Id.). Further, plaintiff continued to need training on routing and trailer planning. (Id.). Plaintiff admits that the evaluation found that she needed to improve her reaction to other employees, but points out that the evaluator also found she usually worked well with others. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 14). She adds that the evaluation concluded her work was mostly error free, that she was thorough in performing her daily tasks, and that she needed "'to continue to focus' on attention to detail." (Id.). Though the evaluation stated that plaintiff needed to obtain training in routing and trailer planning, the evaluation also emphasized that plaintiff "'always [sought] to learn new and different tasks, for example trailer tracking.'" (Id.). Plaintiff's overall performance rating was "good." (Id.). Plaintiff reviewed and signed the evaluation. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 15).

Plaintiff's July 10, 2008 performance review indicated that she needed to improve her communication and teamwork with other employees. (Id. at ¶ 16). The review also contended that plaintiff needed to pay greater attention to detail. (Id.). Finally, the review documented plaintiff's absenteeism. (Id.). Still, the plaintiff received an overall rating of "good." (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 16). Plaintiff reviewed and signed the evaluation. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 17). She acknowledged she need to improve both her attendance and communication with co-workers. (Id.).

Plaintiff received another evaluation on July 10, 2009. (Id. at ¶ 18). That review indicated that she needed to focus on routing processes and procedures. (Id.). The report also noted a continued problem with absenteeism. (Id.). Still, plaintiff's overall rating was "good." (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 18). Plaintiff reviewed and signed this evaluation. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 19). Defendant contends that plaintiff's signature demonstrates that she agreed with this assessment. (Id.). Plaintiff denies that she agreed with this assessment in signing the review. (Id.). Plaintiff failed to report to scheduled work hours and had "significant attendance problems" in 2008 and 2009. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 20). Plaintiff admits that she frequently missed work during this period, but blames her attendance problems on the harassment she allegedly suffered from Jack Brong. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 20).

Plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early thirties. (Id. at ¶ 21). There are several types of bipolar disorder. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 23). All of these types involve episodes of depression and mania to some degree. (Id.). The primary symptom of the disorder is dramatic and unpredictable mood swings. (Id. at ¶ 24). The manic phase can involve inflated self-esteem, poor judgment, agitation or irritation, inability to concentrate, frequent absences from work, delusions, paranoia, psychosis and poor work performance. (Id. at ¶ 25). The depressive phase has symptoms that include anxiety, loss of interest in daily activities, problems in concentration, irritability, frequent absences from work, and poor job performance. (Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff displays a number of symptoms, including: difficulty concentrating and interacting with others; problems with manual tasks; difficulty sleeping, thinking and responding to criticism; fatigue; loss of motivation; irritability; mood swings; dissociation; feeling overwhelmed; anxiety; confusion; poor concentration; panic attacks and paranoia. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28).

Plaintiff has at points refused to take her medication or participate in psychotherapy, and has disregarded her doctor's advice on other portions of her treatment (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff explains that she decided to stop taking her medication because she did not think its continued use necessary and lacked health care to pay for it. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 29). Defendant contends that plaintiff routinely skips or cancels therapy sessions and has refused therapy altogether. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 30). Plaintiff denies this. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 30). Defendant also alleges that plaintiff frequently stops taking her medication, against her doctor's advice. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 31). Plaintiff admits that she has stopped taking medication on her own, but not against her doctor's advice. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 31).

When defendant hired plaintiff she was not taking any medication for her disorder. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 32). The parties disagree about whether plaintiff had orders from a doctor to take this medication, or if she was not being treated at that point. (Id.; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 32). In or around September 2007, plaintiff resumed treatment for her condition. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 33). Plaintiff notes that she resumed treatment two months before she took a leave of absence for six weeks. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 33). During this period, plaintiff was treated as an outpatient. (Id.). The parties disagree about whether plaintiff stopped treatment in October 2008. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 34; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 34). Plaintiff stopped taking her medication on her own in April or May 2009. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 35). She did so despite doctor's orders to the contrary. (Id.). She resumed taking the medication in October or November 2009. (Id.). While the parties agree that plaintiff needs therapy and medication to treat her condition, plaintiff contends that this need is not constant, and that she can determine when further treatment is necessary. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 36; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 36).

Defendant granted plaintiff a leave of absence related to her medical condition in November 2007. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 37). The leave of absence began on November 12, 2007 and lasted six weeks. (Id. at ¶ 38). Defendant granted plaintiff a second leave of absence beginning on November 14, 2009. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40). Plaintiff returned to work on January 3, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 40). While the parties agree that defendant granted plaintiff's request for a leave of absence, they disagree about whether defendant interfered with plaintiff's rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 41; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 41). Plaintiff contends that she engaged in protected activity by requesting leave, and that defendant engaged in discriminatory conduct in retaliation for this request. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 41). Plaintiff contends that defendant prevented her from interviewing for a management position despite her qualifications and singled her out for unwarranted discipline. (Id.). Plaintiff also alleges that defendant subjected her to harassment and a hostile work environment on account of her illness. (Id.).

At the time she applied for her job at Wal-Mart, plaintiff did not disclose to WalMart that she suffered from bipolar disorder. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 2). The parties disagree about whether plaintiff requested an accommodation for her bipolar disorder. Defendant insists that she did not. (Id. at ¶ 3). Plaintiff contends that she was not aware that defendant had an ADA policy where she could work with an ADA coordinator to find accommodations for her disability. ("Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 3). Instead, she spoke with her supervisor, Jack Brong, and asked to be seated away from a window while she adjusted to her medication. (Id.). Taking the medication apparently weakened plaintiff's eyesight and made her hands unsteady. (Id.). Plaintiff testified that Brong refused this request and insisted that she perform at one-hundred percent or take a leave of absence. (Id.). Other supervisors repeated this injunction. (Id.). Plaintiff instead stopped taking her medication, suffering as a result. (Id.).

Plaintiff contends that she complained to Operations Manager Paul Brown about Brong's alleged harassment and retaliation. (Id. at ¶ 93). Brown responded by asking plaintiff if she felt she was "above the law." (Id.). Plaintiff and another worker, Kim Marlow, complained to a supervisor about Brong's alleged daily harassment. (Id. at ¶ 94). Plaintiff reported that she came to work "on pins and needles." (Id. at ¶ 95). Brong's treatment of plaintiff helped create these moods: "I don't know if he's just going to yell at me, I don't know if he's just going to ignore me. I don't know, you know, what he is going to dig upon on me today because yesterday was a bad day." (Id.). Plaintiff contends defendant did nothing to address this situation. (Id. at ¶ 95).

Plaintiff returned to work, full time, with no job restriction on December 26, 2007. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 42). Wal-Mart reinstated plaintiff to her position as Driver Coordinator/Router the next day. (Id. at ¶ 43). She received the same pay, benefits and seniority as when she left. (Id.). The parties disagree, as above, on whether plaintiff actually requested an accommodation for her disability. (Id. at ¶ 44; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 44). The parties disagree about whether defendant failed to accommodate her disorder. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 45; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 45).

When plaintiff returned to work in December 2007 there was a vacancy in a management position at the facility. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 46). Tom Lynch, Human Resources Manager, told plaintiff of this position. (Id. at ¶ 47). Plaintiff contends that he asked her if she wanted to interview for the job. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 47). Plaintiff was enthusiastic about the possibility of applying. (Id. at ¶ 48). Wal-mart chose not to interview plaintiff for the position. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 51). The parties disagree about why defendant made that decision. Defendant contends that plaintiff lacked recent supervisory or management experience, and that it exercised business judgment in choosing to interview other employees with more relevant experience. (Id. at ¶¶ 49, 51). Plaintiff contends that she was "well-qualified for the position"; she had nearly five years experience in transportation, had trained new employees, and was a "manager at a travel plaza." (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 49). Employees who received interviews lacked the experience in transportation that she had; one interviewee had worked in a bingo hall prior to working for the defendant and another worked in a dentist's office. (Id. at ¶ 50). Ultimately, defendant did not fill the management position. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 56).

Area Manager Jack Brong became plaintiff's supervisor in early 2008. (Id. at ¶ 57). Brong did not supervise plaintiff prior to or during her 2007 leave of absence. (Id. at ¶ 58). He never made any derogatory remarks to plaintiff regarding her illness or her leave of absence. (Id. at ¶ 59). Brong also never reduced plaintiff's hours or pay because of her performance, and never disciplined her in a way that would affect her wages or hours. (Id. at ¶ 60). Brong's evaluation of plaintiff in 2009 was fair. (Id. at ¶ 61). The parties disagree, however, over whether Brong retaliated against plaintiff for seeking leave and because of her disability. Plaintiff alleges that Brong harassed and retaliated against her. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 61). She contends that she was singled out by Brong for harassment. (Id.). Brong "constantly threatened Plaintiff with write-ups and termination and he was trying to get Plaintiff fired." (Id.). Plaintiff testified that Brong would confront her in the office in front of co-workers, threatening her and treating her like a child. (Id.). He would point his finger in plaintiff's face and warn her that she would be held accountable if another mistake occurred. (Id.). The mistakes, however, were never the plaintiff's work, but instead that of other employees. (Id.). Plaintiff felt that this treatment came because of her illness and the leave she took. (Id.). Plaintiff also received less desirable work assignments and found some of her previous work assigned to other employees when she returned after her ...

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