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Donald Medvic v. Compass Sign Co.

August 10, 2011

DONALD MEDVIC,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMPASS SIGN CO., LLC DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Compass Sign Co., LLC, Plaintiff's Response, and Defendant's Reply. For the following reasons, the motion will be GRANTED IN PART, and DENIED IN PART.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Donald Medvic ("Plaintiff") initiated this lawsuit against his former employer, Defendant Compass Sign Co., LLC ("Defendant") by filing a Complaint on October 5, 2010. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff asserted two claims against Defendant for alleged violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq. ("ADA"). First, Plaintiff claimed that Defendant subjected him to a hostile work environment. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 24, 29). Second, Plaintiff asserted that Defendant unlawfully terminated Plaintiff's employment because of his "known or perceived health problems." (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 24, 29). On November 19, 2010, Defendant filed an Answer (Doc. No. 5).

Discovery in this matter closed on April 4, 2011. (Doc. No. 8). On May 9, 2011, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 17). Defendant argues that summary judgment on the unlawful termination claim is appropriate because Plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, was not regarded as disabled by Defendant, and was not terminated because of a disability. See Def.'s Mem. Law. Supp. Mot. Summary Judgment, at 10-17. Defendant further argues that summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim is appropriate because the alleged harassment is not severe and pervasive enough to give rise to an actionable hostile work environment claim. See Id. at 18-21.

On May 23, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 18). On May 27, 2011, Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 19).

On June 17, 2011 the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. 632(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, and the matter was referred to me. (Doc. No. 32). The matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

A. The Parties

Plaintiff, Donald Medvic, worked as a sheet metal mechanic for Defendant, Compass Signs, LLC., from October 2007 to May 12, 2009. Comp. ¶8; see also Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, ¶¶ 10, 25. Since his early childhood, Plaintiff has suffered from a speech impediment that causes him to stutter and makes it difficult for him to communicate orally.Compl.¶¶ 14, 15, see also Affidavit of Medvic at 6.Although Plaintiff knows what he wants to say, at times his stutter can prevent him from doing so for several minutes. Pl's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 2, see also Affidavit of Medvic at No. 9. Plaintiff has also suffered from anxiety since childhood, and his anxiety exacerbates his stutter. Pl's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 4. See also Yorio Dep. at 72. Stuttering cannot be cured, but can be alleviated; Plaintiff has sought and received treatment by taking Xanax, which helps his stuttering by lessening his anxiety. Pl's Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 5, see also Expert Report from David Yorio.

Defendant is a Pennsylvania company that is in the business of manufacturing signs. Defendant is owned by Phil Doerle ("Doerle"), who started the company in 1998 after a career in the sign manufacturing industry. See Doerle Dep. Defendant employs both union and non-union workers, including union members from Sheet Metal Workers, Local #19. Def. Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 10. Plaintiff was a member of the Sheet Metal Workers, Local #19. Id. at ¶ 11. Defendant and Local #19 have a collective bargaining agreement that governed the terms and conditions of Plaintiff's employment. Id. at ¶ 6. The Local #19 collective bargaining agreement does not contain a seniority provision mandating that any reduction in force must be based on specified criteria, such as seniority. Id. at ¶ 7.

B. Plaintiff's Employment History and Hiring at Compass

Prior to becoming employed by Defendant, Plaintiff worked in the sign business, finding employment at a number of different sign companies. Medvic Dep. at 16. At none of these companies did Plaintiff request an accommodation for his speech impediment. Def.'s Mem. Law. Supp. Mot. Summary Judgment at 4. Plaintiff was either laid off from those companies for reasons unrelated to his speech impediment, or he left those positions voluntarily, or the company closed. Medvic Dep. at 18-23.

In 2006 Plaintiff was laid off by Abco Signs, his then-employer. Medvic Dep. at 52. In July 2007, Chris Buechner, an acquaintance of Plaintiff who was working as a foreman for Defendant, asked Plaintiff to reach out to him when he was looking for work. Medvic Dep. at 50. Plaintiff took Buechner up on this offer, and visited Defendant to apply for a job. Medvic Dep. at 52.

As owner and president of Defendant, Doerle made the hiring decisions for Defendant.

Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 13. Doerle knew Plaintiff because he had previously hired Plaintiff when Doerle was a manager at another company, Simpson Sign. Doerle Dep. at 48-49; see also Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 13. Doerle decided to hire Plaintiff in October 2007. Compl. ¶ 12.

C. Employment at Compass

Plaintiff began his employment with Defendant in October 2007.*fn2 Compl. ¶12. Plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Buechner. Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts, ¶ 14. During his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff never asked for a reasonable accommodation, and no accommodation for Plaintiff's speech impediment was ever offered or made. Def.'s Mem. Law. Supp. Mot. Summary Judgment at 4. However, Defendant was aware of the speech impediment because it was "obvious;" indeed, Buechner testified that he had trouble communicating with Plaintiff because of his stutter. Buechner Dep. at 66. On at least one occasion, during his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff's co-workers had to assist Plaintiff in ordering while out for dinner because Plaintiff was unable to effectively do so. See Sangmeister Dep. at 40-41.

Plaintiff never asked for an accommodation regarding his anxiety, and none was ever offered or made. Id. None of Plaintiff's superiors were aware that Plaintiff suffered from anxiety until after Plaintiff's layoff, although Plaintiff did disclose his anxiety to one co-worker, David Sangmeister, during his employment with Defendant. Sangmeister Dep. at 39.

Plaintiff asserts that his speech impediment did not affect his ability to perform his job, and Defendant agrees that his stutter did not interfere with his job performance. Doerle Dep. at 49-52; Buechner Dep. at 65-68; Betteridge Dep. at 21-24; Sangmeister Dep. at 41-44; Roller Dep. at 37-40; Gallagher Dep. at 21-24 On one occasion, Buechner and Doerle discussed giving a customer a warning about Plaintiff's stutter, but ultimately did not do so, because Doerle felt that Plaintiff "always found his way."Doerle Dep. at 50.

While Plaintiff's speech impediment did not affect his job performance, Plaintiff's performance was not without its problems. Defendant cites numerous examples of problems with Plaintiff's performance.*fn3 Despite these problems Plaintiff was not terminated and continued to work for Defendant through 2009. Compl. ¶20.

Many of the facts concerning Plaintiff's work environment are in dispute. Both parties agree that there was a great deal of joking among co-workers. See Medvic Dep. at 93:5-15.

However, Plaintiff states that only he was made fun of concerning a disability.*fn4 Medvic Dep. at 93:5-15. Plaintiff specifically claims that on one occasion he was asked by Doerle and Buechner to "sing for them." Medvic Affidavit at No. 12. Plaintiff also contends that Buechner repeatedly belittled him when he had trouble speaking, by saying things such as "spit it out" and often walking away angrily before Plaintiff could finish his sentences.*fn5 Compl. ΒΆ 17. In addition, Buechner informed Plaintiff that if any problem occurred on the job site, that Plaintiff would be the one who would be terminated. Buechner Dep. at ...


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