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O'Brien v. Person Directed Supports

September 13, 2010


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



Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Plaintiff Melinda O'Brien brings this action against her former employer, Person Directed Supports, Inc. ("PDS"), as well as individual defendants who served as PDS's Executive Director, Chief Operating Officer, and Office Manager. Plaintiff claims that she was terminated from her job while on an approved FMLA leave and managing both physical and mental illnesses. She further alleges that defendants failed to accommodate her conditions. She brings claims alleging retaliation and failure to accommodate under the ADA and the PHRA, and interference with her rights and discrimination under the FMLA. Because material facts are still in dispute, defendants' motion is denied.


Summary judgment should be granted if the record, including pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and answers to interrogatories, demonstrates "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). In making that determination, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The question is whether "the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. It is not the role of the trial judge "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial," id. at 250, because "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Id. at 255. At "the summary judgment stage, in other words, 'all that is required [for a non-moving party to survive the motion] is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve [at trial] the parties' differing versions of the truth.'" Jackson v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 846 F.2d 230, 233 (3d Cir. 1987) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)).


A. Plaintiff's Allegations*fn1

Plaintiff is a former employee of PDS, which is a non-profit corporation that offers residential and related services to persons with mental and physical disabilities. (Pl.'s Resp. To Def.s' Statement of Facts ¶¶ 2-3). Plaintiff began her career at PDS in April 2004; by November of that year, she had been promoted to a supervisory position. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 7).

Plaintiff suffers from Crohn's Disease, which affects her intestinal and digestive track. (Id. at ¶ 9). On January 18, 2007, plaintiff did not report to work and presented a note from her doctor stating that, because of an aggravation of her Crohn's Disease, she could not return to work until February 5, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff returned to PDS on February 5, 2007, but could not complete the day. (Id. at ¶ 15). Plaintiff presented a note from her doctor which excused her from work due to her gastrointestinal disorder. (Id. at ¶ 16). Plaintiff returned to work on February 7, 2007, but left again on February 12. She presented a doctor's note stating that because she was suffering from depression, she would be unable to work between February 12 and February 25, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 17).

On February 21, 2007, plaintiff presented PDS with a FMLA request form completed by her doctor. (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff requested full leave of between one and six months because of extreme anxiety and severe depression. (Id.) Plaintiff asked that PDS provide her with any accumulated pay that she was entitled to at the beginning of her leave up front, with the understanding that the balance of her leave would be unpaid. (Id. at ¶ 19). Defendants did not advise plaintiff when her FMLA leave would end, but she understood that it would conclude some time in May 2007. (Pl.'s Counterstatement at ¶ 25).

Also on or about February 21, 2007, PDS received a questionnaire from the Unemployment Benefits office pertaining to an application for benefits submitted by plaintiff. (Pl.'s Resp. To Def.s' Statement of Facts at ¶ 21). Plaintiff had applied for benefits at the suggestion of defendant Cheri Trescott, the office manager of PDS. (Pl.'s Counterstatement at ¶ 28). The Notice of Determination prepared by the Commonwealth in response to Plaintiff's claim for benefits found that plaintiff was last employed at PDS on February 21, 2007, and that her health problems "were so great that she was unable to accept any type of work." (Pl.'s Resp. To Def.s' Statement of Facts at ¶ 22). On March 19, 2007, the Commonwealth denied plaintiff's request for benefits because plaintiff could not show that she was "able and available for suitable work." (Id. at ¶ 23).

Plaintiff claims that while her application for unemployment benefits was pending, no one from PDS contacted her to see if she intended to resign her position or to continue her medical leave. (Pl.'s Counterstatement at ¶ 30). Once she received notice that her application for benefits had been denied, plaintiff contacted both her doctor and PDS to see if she could return to work before her FMLA leave concluded. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). Defendants advised plaintiff that she would need medical clearance to return to work. (Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Gonzalez, advised her that she could return to work if her position was modified or changed. (Id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiff informed Trescott that she would return to work on March 23, 2007 with a medical release in hand, prepared to discuss potential modifications to her position or placement in another position. (Id. at ¶ 36).

Plaintiff did appear at PDS' office on March 23, 2007, and presented her medical clearance to Trescott. (Id. at ¶ 39). Plaintiff and Trescott did not discuss any potential accommodation of plaintiff's ongoing illness or adjustment of plaintiff's duties. (Id. at ¶ 41). Plaintiff and Trescott did not discuss any potential termination of plaintiff's employment. (Id. at ¶ 40). After the meeting, however, ...

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