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Ricky A. Shaw v. Cumberland Truck Equipment Co

March 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Ricky Shaw ("Shaw") brought this action against defendant Cumberland Truck Equipment Company ("CTE") pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Presently before the court are the following motions. CTE moves for entry of judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or in the alternative, CTE seeks a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, or alteration of the verdict pursuant to Rule 59(e) and a stay of judgment pursuant to Rule 62(b). (See Doc. 82). In addition, Shaw moves for prejudgment interest pursuant to Rule 59(e). (See Doc. 87). For the reasons that follow, the court will grant in part and deny in part CTE's motion and grant Shaw's motion.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

1. Factual Background*fn1

In July, 2010, CTE hired Shaw as a warehouse worker in CTE's heavy duty truck parts warehouse ("Warehouse B") in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (T1 at 82:21; T2 at 11:23-25; Doc. 1 ¶ 9). Shaw's position involved, inter alia, unloading trucks and putting away stock. (T2 at 97:25-98:4, 106:25-107:22). Tim Kline ("Kline") served as Shaw's immediate supervisor in Warehouse B. (Pl.'s Ex. 17 at 5:24-61; T1 at 82:24-83:1). From 2004 until Shaw's termination, Pat Whitmyer ("Whitmyer"), served as Parts Logistics Manager for CTE, and supervised Kline and the operations in Warehouse B. (T1 at 80:8-81:17, 83:4-10).

Kline provided Shaw with positive yearly performance reviews, and Shaw testified that he satisfactorily performed all duties required of his position. (See Pl's Exs. 1-5; T2 at 99:12-13; 144:7-10). Whitmyer approved Kline's complimentary performance evaluations for Shaw. (See Pl's Exs. 3, 5). Shaw received his last exemplary performance review on January 10, 2007. (Pl's Ex. 5). The review scored Shaw's job performance on eleven different factors including productivity. (Id.) Kline gave Shaw a score of "79," on the top end of the "good" performance rating category for productivity. The review defined good as "competent and dependable level of performance. Meets performance standards of the job." (Id.)

In 2006, Shaw began experiencing increased pain in his arthritic knees. (T2 at 121:25-122:2). Shaw testified that the condition caused him to walk slowly, but that he did not struggle to walk. (T2 at 150:16-17). Shaw occasionally used a cane at work with Kline's approval. (T2 19:10-20; Pl's Ex. 17 at 27:6-8). On a few occasions in early 2007, Chuck Hoffman ("Mr. Hoffman"), CTE's Director of Parts Operations, observed Shaw struggling to walk across the parking lot with a limp.*fn2 (T1 at 52:23-53:19-20). Hoffman worried that Shaw had diminished reflexes and therefore might be a danger to himself or others in Warehouse B. (T1 at 53:16-18; 54:15-18). Hoffman reported his perceptions to Bryan Sheldon, CTE's corporate controller; Brenda Hoffman ("Ms. Hoffman"), CTE's director of human resources; and Whitmyer, but he did not speak to Shaw. (T1 at 53:25-54:2, 55:23-25, 111:3-112:6; T2 25:17-19). Sheldon also had concerns that Shaw could pose a danger to himself or others. (T1 at 180-10-14). CTE's management decided to continue to observe Shaw, because they did not know whether Shaw's difficulties were temporary or permanent. (T1 at 53:21-24, 66:17-25; T2 at 15:11-16, 24:18-25). After a couple of weeks, CTE's management concluded that Shaw's condition was not improving. (T2 at 18:17-19:3).

Ms. Hoffman and Sheldon contacted CTE's legal counsel to receive guidance on how to handle Shaw's situation. (T1 at 163:25-164:6; T2 at 31:12). After conferring with counsel, Hoffman and Sheldon determined that Shaw needed to be evaluated at Concentra Medical Center (Concentra"), an independent medical facility. (T1 at 165:12-14). On February 26, 2007, Ms. Hoffman sent Shaw to Concentra, with an authorization form and a job analysis form outlining the physical requirements of Shaw's warehouse position. (T2 at 35:58, 37:12-16, 38:8-11, 152:7-16). CTE requested that Concentra conduct a fitness-for-duty exam on Shaw. (Pl's Ex. 7).

A physician's assistant, Jeffrey Hollenbach ("Hollenbach"), conducted a physical examination of Shaw at Concentra. (T3 at 18:23-19:17). Dr. Andrew Walker ("Dr. Walker") reviewed Hollenbach's findings and concluded that Shaw was unable to perform his job duties. (Pl's Ex. 7). After speaking with Dr. Walker, CTE management placed Shaw on medical leave. (T2 at 38:18-39:19, 55:21:22) Ms. Hoffman informed Shaw that he had failed his physical examination and therefore could not return to work. (T2 at 160:1-17). Ms. Hoffman provided Shaw with paperwork for leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and told him to apply for short-term disability benefits. (T2 at 19 21:25, 20:6-10 160:1-17).

These developments shocked Shaw. (T2 160:4-5). Shaw had not been informed of any concerns about his job performance or health and testified that he had been working without significant problems. ( T1 178:15-179:18; T2 at 160:3-11; 168:18-23; Pl's Ex. 11). On February 28, 2007, Shaw returned to work and provided Ms. Hoffman a letter outlining his position. (T2 at 162:16-23; Pl's Ex. 11). Sheldon ordered Shaw to stop working. (T1 158:16-19). Sheldon and Ms Hoffman met with Shaw in CTE's corporate office. (T1 at 169:2-6; T2 at 166:1-9). Shaw informed Ms. Hoffman and Sheldon that he could perform his job. (T1 at 158:24-159:8). Shaw explained that the job analysis form did not reflect his actual responsibilities in Warehouse B, and he testified that Sheldon and Hoffman refused to modify his job description. (T2 at 166:1-19). Ms. Hoffman and Sheldon stated that they believed Shaw posed a danger to himself and others in Warehouse B. (T3 at 119-20-25). Ms. Hoffman and Sheldon advised Shaw to apply for short-term benefits and informed him that he could request another physical examination. (T1 at 174:10-15; T2 at 166:1-9). Shaw's wage records indicate that CTE terminated his employment on February 28, 2007.*fn3

2. Procedural History

Shaw commenced this action on February 26, 2009. (Doc. 1). The court held a trial in the above-captioned matter from May 16, 2011 through May 19, 2011. (Docs. 67, 68, 71, 72). The jury unanimously returned a verdict in favor of Shaw finding by preponderance of the evidence that: (1) Shaw had a "disability" within the meaning of the ADA; (2) Shaw, with or without reasonable accommodation, could perform the essential functions of his job; (3) Shaw's "disability" was a motivating in CTE's decision to engage in an adverse employment action against Mr. Shaw; (4) CTE was aware of the need for an accommodation for Shaw and CTE failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for Shaw; (5) providing an accommodation to Shaw would not cause an undue hardship on CTE's business; (6) Shaw engaged in conduct protected by the ADA by requesting an accommodation; and (7) at the time the protected conduct took place, or thereafter, CTE engaged in an adverse employment action against Shaw because of the protected conduct. (Doc. 74). The jury awarded Shaw compensatory damages in the amount of $30,000, back pay damages in the amount of $98,500, front pay damages in the amount of $175,000, and punitive damages in the amount of $50,000. (Id.) On June 17, 2011, CTE filed a motion (Doc. 82) for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, a new trial, alteration of the verdict or a stay of judgment. The motion has been fully brief and is ripe for disposition. (Docs. 100, 103, 104).

II. Standards of Review

1. Judgment as a Matter of Law

In considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 50(b), the court must determine whether, "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability." Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). The relevant inquiry "is not whether there is literally no evidence supporting the unsuccessful party, but whether there is evidence upon which a reasonable jury could properly have found its verdict." Gomez v. Allegheny Health Servs., Inc., 71 F.3d 1079, 1083 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). The court must "refrain from weighing the evidence, determining the credibility of witnesses, or substituting our own version of the facts for that of the jury." Marra v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 497 F.3d 286, 300 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

2. New Trial

The court may exercise its discretion to grant a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Procedures"when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks our conscience" because the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence. Williamson v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Although the court need not view the evidence in the "light most favorable to the verdict winner," a court should not "replace the jury's view of evidence for its own." Collins v. Chandler, Civ. No. 05-739, 2009 WL 3595129, at *1 (D. Del. 2009) (citations omitted). In addition, a new trial may be granted when the "court commits an error of law which prejudices a substantial right of a party." Paul Morelli Design, Inc. v. Tiffany and Co., 200 F. Supp .2d 482, 484 (E.D. Pa. 2002). The moving party bears the burden of proof. McMillan v. Weeks Marine, Inc., 478 F. Supp. 2d 651, 655 (D.Del. 2007).

3. Amend or Alter Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) allows the court to amend or alter judgment to correct clear errors of law or prevent manifest injustice. North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995). The court must evaluate "whether the evidence and justifiable inferences most favorable to the prevailing party afford any rational basis for the verdict." Bhaya v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 832 F.2d 258, 259 (3d Cir. 1987) (citation omitted).

III. Discussion

A. Judgment as a Matter Of Law

CTE contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on each of Shaw's claims: discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. CTE also argues that there is no basis for the jury's award of punitive damages. The court will address these issues seriatim.

1. Discrimination Claim

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability on the basis of that individual's mental or physical impairments. See, e.g., Hohider v. UPS, 574 F.3d 169, 186 (3d Cir. 2009); Skerski v. Time Warner Cable Co., A Division of Time Warner Entertainment Co., 257 F.3d 273, 278 (3d Cir. 2001); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12112. To make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must establish the following: (1) that he or she has a disability "within the meaning of the ADA;" (2) that he or she "is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer;" and (3) that he or she "has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination." Williams v. Phila. Hous. Auth. Police Dep't, 380 F.3d 751, 761 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Gaul v. Lucent Technologies, 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998)). CTE contends that Shaw failed to establish each element of the prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA as a matter of law. (Doc. 100, at 11-30). The court will discuss each of these elements in the subsections that follow.

a. Disability Within the Meaning of the ADA

The ADA defines a disability as "(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). Major life activities include, inter alia, seeing, walking, standing, concentrating, and working. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). An impairment "substantially limits" a person's ability to perform a major life activity if it prevents or restricts him or her from performing that activity compared to the average person in the general population. Id. § 1630(j).

In the instant action, Shaw alleged that CTE "regarded" him as disabled in the major life activities of walking and working. (Doc. 103, at 12-21). A plaintiff can demonstrate an employer regarded him or her as having a disability by demonstrating either that "despite having no impairment at all, [the employer] erroneously believed that [plaintiff] had an impairment that substantially limited one or more of her major life activities" or that he or she "had a non-limiting impairment that [the employer] mistakenly believed substantially limited one or more of her major life activities." Eshelman v. Agere Sys., 554 F.3d 426, 434 (3d Cir. 2009). The court must focus on "the reactions and perceptions of the persons interacting or working" with the plaintiff and not on the plaintiff's "actual abilities." Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102, 108-09 (3d Cir. 1996).

CTE contends that Shaw failed to establish that CTE regarded him as disabled. According to CTE, Shaw's only basis for believing that CTE regarded him as disabled was (1) that CTE encouraged him to apply for disability benefits and

(2) that CTE would not permit him to work. CTE argues that these facts are insufficient, as a matter of law, to establish that CTE regarded Shaw as disabled. Nor could Shaw show that CTE regarded him as disabled based on the fact that its managers were aware of an impairment and directed Shaw to submit to a medical examination, CTE contends.

CTE addresses each of these facts separately, and argues that none of them are sufficient to establish a "regarded as disabled" claim. In ruling on the pending motion, however, the court does not evaluate the sufficiency of each piece of evidence in isolation. Rather, the court reviews the entire record.

The evidence in this case included, in pertinent part, all of the following. First, CTE's managers made repeated observations about Shaw's ability to walk. They believed that his ability to walk and his reflexes were impaired, at least to some extent, and they were concerned that his ability to perform his job duties was also impaired. Indeed, they considered him a palpable danger-to himself and to other employees-in the workplace. Second, they required him to submit to a comprehensive fitness-for-duty examination. Third, they refused his requests to return to work as well as his requests to clarify his job description to reflect more accurately his actual job duties. Finally, they encouraged him to take FMLA leave and short-term disability leave. Considering this full sequence of events, and viewing the ...

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