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Gary Chedwick, Individually, and On Behalf of A Group of Similarly v. Upmc D/B/A University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

April 21, 2011

GARY CHEDWICK, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF A GROUP OF SIMILARLY SITUATED INDIVIDUALS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UPMC D/B/A UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Before the Court for disposition are the PLAINTIFF‟S MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION (Document No. 57), the Plaintiff‟s brief and exhibits in support of class certification (Document No. 58), and the Defendant‟s brief and appendix in opposition to class certification (Document No. 62). For the reasons that follow, the Plaintiff‟s Motion for Class Certification will be denied.

Procedural History

The procedural background to this controversy dates back to August 1, 2005, when Carole C. Bolden ("Bolden"), a former employee of Magee-Women‟s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ("Magee"), commenced an action ("Bolden Action") against Magee under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA") [42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.]. Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 1. Bolden alleged that Magee had unlawfully terminated her employment pursuant to a policy providing that an employee could not remain on medical leave for more than six months. Id. at ¶ 36. On May 30, 2006, Bolden sought leave to file an amended complaint in class action based on Magee‟s alleged violations of both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act") [29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.]. Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 15. The amended complaint proposed by Bolden would have added Valentina Tish ("Tish"), another former employee of Magee, as a plaintiff. Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 15-2. The Court denied Bolden‟s request for leave to amend on June 13, 2006. Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 17. In denying the request, the Court explained that the "proposed transformation" of the case into a class action would "unduly delay" its resolution, and that disability-based discrimination claims of the kind asserted by Bolden were not typically amenable to adjudication within the context of a class action. Id. at 1.

Tish responded on June 21, 2006, by filing a separate action ("Tish Action") against Magee, alleging that she had been discharged in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 1. Her complaint included class allegations under both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Id. at ¶¶ 20-29. Magee filed a motion to dismiss on July 26, 2006, seeking the dismissal of Tish‟s ADA claims on the ground that she had not exhausted her administrative remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 3.

During the course of a status conference conducted on August 11, 2006, the Court permitted Bolden to renew her request for leave to file an amended complaint. Four days later, Tish responded to Magee‟s motion to dismiss by filing a motion for joinder pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 8. She sought to join her action with the Bolden Action. Id. Bolden‟s renewed motion for leave to amend was filed on August 25, 2006. Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 23. The Court denied Bolden‟s motion on October 5, 2006, repeating its earlier admonition that the allegations contained in the proposed amended complaint were "not the sort of claims that would ordinarily be appropriate for resolution in a class action." Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 27 at 5. In a memorandum order dated October 17, 2006, the Court granted Magee‟s motion to dismiss Tish‟s ADA claims and denied Tish‟s motion for joinder. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 8.

On October 25, 2006, Tish filed an amended complaint purporting to add Gary Chedwick ("Chedwick"), Barbara Fowler ("Fowler"), Gloria Hamlett ("Hamlett"), and Terri Walsh ("Walsh") as plaintiffs and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ("UPMC"), UPMC Shadyside, UPMC St. Margaret and UPMC Montefiore as defendants. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 11. The UPMC entities filed a motion to strike the amended complaint on November 8, 2006. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 13. The motion to strike was accompanied by an alternative motion to sever filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21. Id. Five days later, Magee moved for summary judgment in the Bolden Action. Civil Action No. 05-1063, ECF No. 28.

In a memorandum opinion and order dated April 24, 2007, the Court granted Magee‟s motion for summary judgment in the Bolden Action. Bolden v. Magee Women's Hospital, Civil Action No. 05-1063, 2007 WL 1228479, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30127 (W.D.Pa. Apr. 24, 2007). In a separate memorandum opinion and order issued that same day, the Court treated Tish‟s filing of an amended complaint in the Tish Action as an implied request for leave to amend, granted that request, and denied the motion to strike that had been filed by the UPMC entities. Tish v. Magee-Women's Hospital, Civil Action No. 06-820, 2007 WL 1221137, at *6-8, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30130, at *15-22 (W.D.Pa. Apr. 24, 2007). In order to alleviate any prejudice to the UPMC entities, the Court granted their alternative motion to sever and directed Chedwick, Fowler, Hamlett and Walsh to refile their actions as separate cases. Id.

Pursuant to the severance order, Chedwick commenced this action against UPMC on June 15, 2007, alleging violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. ECF No. 1. His complaint included class allegations. Id. at ¶¶ 29-39. On August 28, 2007, UPMC moved to dismiss Chedwick‟s class allegations, arguing that they were violative of the severance order. ECF No. 3 at ¶¶ 35-41. The Court rejected UPMC‟s argument on December 12, 2007, holding that the severance order entered in the Tish Action did not preclude Chedwick from seeking class certification in this case. Chedwick v. UPMC, 619 F.Supp.2d 172, 187-190 (W.D.Pa. 2007).

On June 8, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed this Court‟s decision which granted summary judgment in favor of Magee in the Bolden Action. Bolden v. Magee Women's Hospital, 281 Fed. Appx. 88 (3d Cir. 2008). Eight days later, Magee filed a motion for summary judgment in the Tish Action. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF No. 29. The motion was denied on October 27, 2008. Tish v. Magee-Women's Hospital, Civil Action No. 06-820, 2008 WL 4790733, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87010 (W.D.Pa. Oct. 27, 2008). The parties later stipulated to the dismissal of the Tish Action after advising the Court that they had decided to resolve their dispute through settlement. Civil Action No. 06-820, ECF Nos. 47-49.

Hohider v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 574 F.3d 169 (3d Cir. 2009), was decided by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on July 23, 2009. In Hohider, the Court of Appeals reversed a class-certification order which had been entered in a case involving alleged violations of the ADA. Hohider, 574 F.3d at 171. Speaking through Chief Judge Scirica, the Court of Appeals explained that a determination as to whether the defendant had engaged in the pattern of unlawful discrimination alleged by the plaintiffs would "encompass inquiries" that were "too individualized and divergent" with respect to the defined class to warrant certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Id. at 186.

UPMC filed a motion for partial summary judgment on September 30, 2009, contending that Hohider precluded the Court from certifying a class in this case. ECF Nos. 32 & 33. The motion was not accompanied by evidentiary submissions. ECF No. 33 at 1, n. 1. In essence, UPMC argued that cases involving alleged violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act were categorically outside of the certification criteria contained in Rule 23, and that Hohider had foreclosed any possibility that a class could be certified in this case. Id. at 4-6. The Court denied the motion on November 9, 2009, holding that "cases brought under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act [were] not categorically beyond the purview of Rule 23." Chedwick v. UPMC, 263 F.R.D. 269, 276 (W.D.Pa. 2009)(emphasis in original).

Chedwick filed a motion for class certification on November 30, 2010, seeking to certify a class consisting of "all former employees of UPMC for all business units from 2004 through the present who were on a medical leave of absence and automatically terminated after twenty-six weeks." ECF No. 57 at ¶ 3. That motion is the subject of this memorandum opinion.

Standard of Review

The standards for determining whether a class should be certified are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Subsections (a) and (b) of Rule 23 provide:

(a) Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members only if:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;

(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;

(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and

(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

(b) Types of Class Actions. A class action may be maintained if Rule 23(a) is satisfied and if:

(1) prosecuting separate actions by or against individual class members would create a risk of:

(A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual class members that would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class; or

(B) adjudications with respect to individual class members that, as a practical matter, would be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the individual adjudications or would substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests;

(2) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole; or

(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy. The matters pertinent to these findings include:

(A) the class members‟ interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;

(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;

(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and

(D) the likely difficulties in managing a class action.

FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a)-(b). In order to establish entitlement to class certification, a party must satisfy all four of the prerequisites found in Rule 23(a) and at least one of the criteria found in Rule 23(b). Danvers Motor Co., Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 543 F.3d 141, 147 (3d Cir. 2008). A motion for class certification does not justify "a preliminary inquiry into the merits of a suit in order to determine whether it may be maintained as a class action." Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177, 94 S.Ct. 2140, 40 L.Ed.2d 732 (1974). Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which the issues relevant to class certification are entangled with the merits of a claim. Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 469, 98 S.Ct. 2454, 57 L.Ed.2d 351 (1978). A court presented with a motion for class certification may not decline to resolve factual disputes relevant to the applicable class-certification requirements merely because they overlap with the factual issues surrounding an underlying cause of action. In re: Hydrogen Peroxide Antitrust Litigation, 552 F.3d 305, 316 (3d Cir. 2008). Although the factual findings made by a court in this context are conclusive for the purpose of class certification, they do not bind the trier of fact when the merits of the underlying claims are considered. Id. at 318. "Factual determinations supporting Rule 23 findings must be made by a preponderance of the evidence." Id. at 307.

Factual Background

Chedwick allegedly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") as a result of his military service during the conflict in Vietnam. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 11. He was employed by UPMC as an Interface Analyst III prior to the events at issue in this case. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10. On November 19, 2003, Chedwick left his work station without authorization. ECF No. 62-5 at 2. UPMC responded by requiring Chedwick to serve an uncompensated suspension from November 24, 2003, through November 28, 2003. ECF No. 62-5 at 3. John Truxal ("Truxal"), Chedwick‟s supervisor, and Rhonda Larimore ("Larimore"), UPMC‟s Human Resources Manager, met with Chedwick on December 8, 2003, to discuss his past conduct and their expectations concerning his future performance. ECF No. 62-19 at 2-4. During the course of a deposition conducted on September 23, 2010, Chedwick acknowledged that he had left his work station without the permission of his superiors, and that UPMC had been justified in suspending him without pay for five days. ECF No. 62-4 at 11-12; Chedwick Dep. at 32, 35.

Chedwick never returned to work after the meeting of December 8, 2003. ECF No. 62-4 at 12; Chedwick Dep. at 35. During the meeting, he attributed his conduct to his PTSD. ECF No. 62-19 at 2. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA") [29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.] provides that an eligible employee is "entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period for . . . a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D). Chedwick formally requested a leave of absence on January 16, 2004, claiming that he was being treated for "severe depression" and ...


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