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Evelyn Ramage v. Rescot Systems Group

December 6, 2011

EVELYN RAMAGE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
RESCOT SYSTEMS GROUP, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K. Pratter

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Evelyn Ramage was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2008. She requested and received leave from her employer, Rescot Systems Group, Inc. ("Rescot") to recover from surgery to remove the tumor. Ms. Ramage claims that prior to her surgery, during her recovery, and upon her return to full-time employment, her supervisors and co-workers subjected her to discriminatory treatment on account of her purported disability and her request for leave. Additionally, only two and a half months after her return from leave, Ms. Ramage was fired from Rescot for engaging in unprofessional behavior, which she claims was a pretext for discriminatory retaliation.

Ms. Ramage filed this action against Rescot, Omnicare ESC LLC, and Omnicare Inc. *fn1 (collectively, the "Defendants") claiming actual disability discrimination, perceived disability discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), actual disability discrimination, perceived disability discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment under Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA"), and interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). Following discovery, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all of Ms. Ramage's claims.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny the Defendants' Motion with respect to Ms. Ramage's claims of retaliation under the ADA, PHRA, and FMLA, and grant the Defendants' Motion for the remainder of the claims in Ms. Ramage's Complaint.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND *fn2

Ms. Ramage began working with Rescot, a small office with a casual environment, in September 2001 as a receptionist/administrative assistant and remained in that position for her entire time with the company. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 1-2, 94-95). Ms. Ramage was responsible for answering the telephone and completing standard administrative duties such as filing, billing, and mailings. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 4-5). From March 27, 2006 until September 26, 2008, her immediate supervisor was Christine Tinari, who reported to Glen Lloyd, the President of the company. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 7-8).

During her tenure with Rescot, Ms. Ramage had various health problems. In 2007 and early 2008 she missed work due to a back injury and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Def. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 27-33). Additionally, throughout her employment with Rescot, Ms. Ramage suffered from migraine headaches, but never missed work on account of them. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 16; Pl. Ex. A, Pl. Dep. 172:17-173:5). Beginning in March 2008, Ms. Ramage began to lose vision in her left eye, lost some peripheral vision, and "was banging into walls." (Pl. Ex. H, 6/24/2008 Medical Records; Pl. Dep. 153:11-14). On May 23, 2008, Ms. Ramage learned that the cause of her vision loss was a brain tumor. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 18). After informing her superiors of her condition, on May 27, 2008, Ms. Ramage underwent surgery to remove the tumor. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 18-19). Once the tumor was removed, Ms. Ramage regained vision in her left eye, and was subsequently only limited in peripheral vision "underneath [her] nose." (Pl. Ex. H; Pl. Ex. I, 8/28/2008 Medical Record; Pl. Ex. P, 9/19/2008 Medical Record; Pl Dep. 170:18-19; 171:15-172:16). She continued to experience migraine headaches, though the headaches were much less severe, and she was able to control their effects with Excedrin. (Pl. Dep. 172:20-173:5).

On account of the surgery and her recovery therefrom, Ms. Ramage took a medical leave of absence from Rescot under the FMLA from May 26, 2008 until July 7, 2008. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 19, 29). Additionally, she took intermittent FMLA leave from July 7, 2008 until July 14, 2008 while working part-time. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 20, 30). Upon her return to work full-time, Ms. Ramage attended follow-up appointments for ongoing medical treatment on a near-weekly basis and took paid time off on other days for matters related to her brain surgery. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 22, 32).

Before, during, and after her recovery from brain surgery, Ms. Ramage claims she endured sustained harassment and abuse at the hands of her supervisors and co-workers. Ms. Ramage testified that when she began experiencing vision problems in March 2008, Ms. Tinari commented that "if you don't stop knocking into the walls and stuff, I'm going to have to put you out on disability or something." (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 33; Pl. Dep. 153:18-21). During her leave of absence, Ms. Tinari repeatedly called Ms. Ramage's treating physician to inquire when she would return, a practice Ms. Ramage says made her feel guilty about missing work. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 36-37; Pl. Dep. 117:17-22). When Ms. Ramage addressed with Ms. Tinari the perceived pressure from a co-worker for her to return to the office, Ms. Tinari told her to "blow it off." (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 39; Pl. Dep. 168:19-169:15).

After returning to the office and communicating to her supervisors that she would need additional time off related to her surgery, Ms. Ramage claims that management and her co-workers alike subjected her to negative treatment and made her feel stupid, like "a moron," and even ignored her. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 41, 46, 47; Pl. Dep. 129:19-130:1, 181:8-182:2). Some Rescot employees, she claims, acted with hostility toward her. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 44; Pl. Dep. 174:17-20). For example, her co-worker, Joanne Sullivan, who Ms. Ramage described as being "the office bully," *fn3 would walk by Ms. Ramage's desk and "growl." (Pl. Dep. 178:10-18). She further testified that Ms. Tinari, told her, "gee, last year you were out of work around this time for a back injury, and now this year it's for a brain tumor, I wonder what you're going to do next year to top this." (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 38; Pl. Dep. 65:9-13).

Ms. Ramage claims that this negative treatment also included receiving new responsibilities which she felt uncomfortable doing, such as booking travel, *fn4 and having her existing work notes removed without explanation. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 51-53, 63). Ms. Ramage addressed her concerns over Ms. Tinari's and Ms. Sullivan's treatment of her with Mr. Lloyd on the day before her termination. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 77; Pl. Dep. 59:24-60:8). According to Ms. Ramage, Mr. Lloyd stated not only that "any monkey" could perform Ms. Ramage's job and that he considered eliminating it, but also, that "he brought [the] possibility up" that her condition "might put the company in a higher insurance bracket, possibly." (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 77, 80; Pl. Dep. 184:2-18; 135:20-22).

On September 26, 2008, just one day after her conversation with Mr. Lloyd, Rescot terminated Ms. Ramage's employment citing "unprofessional behavior." Prior to her termination, Ms. Ramage had been reprimanded for unprofessional behavior on multiple occasions. For example, in October 2006, Rescot issued a written warning regarding Ms. Ramage's inappropriate e-mail communications and revoked her ability to send "blast," or replyall, e-mails to employees. (Def. Stmt. Facts ¶ 5). Additionally, her performance reviews for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 demonstrated that Ms. Ramage acted in an unprofessional manner, had a tendency to "overreact to minute issues and minimize[ ] large issue[s]," and escalated situations unnecessarily. (Def. Stmt. Facts ¶ 11-15). The day before her termination, Ms. Ramage sent an e-mail to Ms. Sullivan, on which another employee was copied, stating, inter alia , "[s]o chill out, OK?" and other comments that Ms. Tinari deemed inappropriate for the workplace. (Pl. Ex. AA). Ms. Tinari felt that this e-mail, along with Ms. Ramage's previous unprofessional actions, was sufficient grounds for Ms. Ramage's termination. After seeking the approval of Mr. Lloyd, *fn5 Ms. Tinari terminated Ms. Ramage from Rescot the next day. (Pl. Stmt. Facts ¶ 122-123).

Ms. Ramage contends that she was fired not because of Rescot's professed reason, but rather due to her disabilities, perceived disabilities, and her FMLA leave. Accordingly, Ms. Ramage filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC") on February 23, 2009. After the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter, on March 15, 2010, Ms. Ramage filed a Complaint against the Defendants alleging that they (1) discriminated against her in violation of the ADA and PHRA, (2) terminated her in retaliation for exercising her rights under FMLA and/or requesting an accommodation under the ADA and PHRA, (3) subjected her to a hostile work environment under the ADA and PHRA, and (4) interfered with her rights under the FMLA. *fn6 After conducting discovery, the Defendants filed this Motion for Summary Judgment.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Upon motion of a party, summary judgment is appropriate if, "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," the moving party persuades the district court that "there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party." F ED. R. C IV. P. 56(c); Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could possibly hold in the non-movant's favor with regard to that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if its resolution could affect the result of the suit under governing law. Id.

In evaluating a summary judgment motion, the court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," and make every reasonable inference in that party's favor. Hugh v. Butler Cnty. Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005). If, after making all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 217, 322 (1986); Wisniewski v. Johns--Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. ADA and PHRA Discrimination Claims *fn7

This Court applies the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis to claims of discrimination on the basis of disability. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03 (1973). Under this framework, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. To set forth a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, Ms. Ramage must demonstrate that (1) she is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation by the employer; and (3) she has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Shaner v. Synthes, 204 F.3d 494, 500 (3d Cir. 2000); Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999). In the event Ms. Ramage establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse employment action. Shaner, 204 F.3d at 500 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802). Should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff then must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were a pretext for discrimination. Id.
The Defendants argue that Ms. Ramage has failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination because she is not a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA and, consequently, does not qualify for its protections. "A person qualifies as 'disabled' under the ADA if [s]he: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of h[er] major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment." Keyes v. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Phila., 415 Fed. App'x 405, 409 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 12102(2)). Ms. Ramage asserts that she qualifies as disabled under the ADA because she suffered from an impairment ...

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