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Robert Decker v. Alliant Technologies

May 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K.PRATTER ,j.


Plaintiff Robert Decker brings a two-count complaint against his former employer, Alliant Technologies LLC, claiming discriminatory discharge and failure to accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Alliant moved for summary judgment as to all claims. Def.'s Mot. (Doc. No. 26). For the following reasons, the Court denies the Motion.

I. Factual Background*fn1

Alliant is an information technology consulting company. See Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 3 (Doc. No. 26-2) (hereinafter, "Def.'s SUMF"); Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 3 (Doc. No. 38) (hereinafter, "Pl.'s SUMF"). The company hired Mr. Decker in July 2004 as an Account Manager in its Sales Department. See Def.'s SUMF ¶ 1; Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 1; Compl. ¶ 5; Ans. ¶ 5. In that position, Mr. Decker was responsible for "prospecting and selling to accounts within his assigned territories, as well as 'grandfathered' accounts from other territories," and "was expected to produce a certain level of gross profits per month." Pl.'s SUMF ¶¶ 2, 15; see Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 2, 15. When he was hired, Mr. Decker signed a form acknowledging that he was employed on an at-will basis and that he could be terminated at any time for any reason. See; Pl.'s SUMF ¶¶ 4-5; Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 4-5.*fn2

Mr. Decker was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") in late 2004, and bipolar disorder type II in 2005. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 7; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 7.*fn3 Mr. Decker believes that his ADHD and bipolar disorder adversely impacted his job performance from mid-2004 until late 2005. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 8; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 8.

Mr. Decker tried different medications to manage his conditions, apparently without success. However, in late 2005, a physician, Dr. Becker,*fn4 adjusted Mr. Decker's medications. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 9; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 9; Decker Dep. at 12:13-16 (Doc. No. 33-1). At that time, Dr. Becker informed Mr. Decker that that it would take three to four weeks for the medications to work properly. According to Mr. Decker, after Dr. Becker regulated the medications, the mental and emotional symptoms associated with his conditions ceased. See Def.'s SUMF ¶ 9; Decker Dep. at 12:13-12:21, 14:1-14:9, 152:1-152:7. Mr. Decker believed his conditions stopped affecting his job performance by the end of 2005. See Decker Dep. at 37:21-38:11, 40:18-41:2.

In September 2005, Mr. Decker communicated for the first time with his employer about his medical conditions. See Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 10, 14; Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 10; Decker Dep. at 14:20-14:23, 13:7-13:11. At that time, he informed his supervisor, Scott McKinney, that he suffered from ADHD. See Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 10, 14; Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 10; Decker Dep. at 13:7-13:11, 39:20- 40:3, 12:11-12:14, 14:12-14:23. Mr. Decker told Mr. McKinney that he had "been trying different medications throughout the year" to address his condition in order to "be more productive . . . at work" and that his doctor "seems to have nailed [the ADHD condition] down, [the doctor's treatment is] working so I shouldn't have any more issues going forward, I should be able to do my job more effectively." See Decker Dep. at 12:17-13:1. Mr. McKinney reacted skeptically, claiming that he did not believe that Mr. Decker suffered from any medical condition, and that if Mr. Decker did have a condition, that it was not affecting his performance. See id. at 14:24-15:12; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 14. According to Mr. Decker, he responded that he could not understand why Mr. McKinney did not believe him and offered to provide medical records to show that he was diagnosed with ADHD. Decker Dep. at 15:5-15:6, 16:2-16:11. Again, as recounted by Mr. Decker, Mr. McKinney "basically blew [Mr. Decker] off and told [him] whatever and that was about it." Decker Dep. at 16:10-16:11.

For over a year, from January 2005 to February 2006, Mr. Decker did not meet his monthly gross profit goals. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶¶ 15-16; Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 15-16. In January 2006, Mr. Decker met for a performance review with Josh Montone, who had replaced Mr. McKinney as Mr. Decker's supervisor. See Decker Dep. at 38:13-39:13, 43:19-43:21; Montone Dep. at 7:7-9, 9:20-10:7 (Doc. No. 33). At the meeting, Mr. Decker expressed that he was disappointed with his prior performance, but that his future performance would improve because he was on a medication for adult attention deficit disorder and no longer affected by the symptoms. See Decker Dep. at 38:15-39:13; Montone Dep. at 9:20-10:1, 11:5-11:9. Mr. Decker has testified that, after speaking with both Messrs. McKinney and Montone in late 2005, he did not feel that he needed accommodation in order to perform his job duties successfully. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 13; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 13.

On February 6, 2006, Alliant placed Mr. Decker on a performance plan ("PIP"). See Def.'s SUMF ¶ 17; Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 17. The PIP was instituted for Mr. Decker because his sales were "sub-par" and the PIP allowed Mr. Decker's work performance to be tracked. Montone Dep. at 15:1-15:9; see also Brennan Dep. at 13:2-13:13 (Doc. No. 33-2). Under the PIP, Mr. Decker was required to submit four sales proposals and book five appointments per week from February 6, 2006 until April 1, 2006. Def.'s Mot., Ex. E (Doc. No. 40). Additionally, Mr. Decker needed to establish "a pipeline to substantiate gross profit dollar totals which [would] lead to an average of $30,000/month for the next quarter." Id.

Mr. Decker acknowledged that his prior work performance warranted enactment of the PIP and that the plan was reasonable. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶¶ 18, 19; Def.'s SUMF ¶¶ 18, 19. Mr. Decker recognized that if he failed to meet the goals set forth in the PIP, he could be terminated. See Def.'s SUMF ¶ 20; Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 20.

Upon the start of the PIP, Mr. Decker met with Mr. Montone weekly and provided written e-mail updates about his sales proposals and appointments. See Decker Dep. at 53:1-53:14, 53:18-53:20; Montone Dep. at 16:6-16:9. According to Mr. Decker, Mr. Montone indicated that his performance was improving. See Decker Dep. at 53:21-53:25. However, Alliant managers testified that, during the course of the PIP, Alliant management assessed Mr. Decker's performance and determined that Mr. Decker was not going to be able to meet the PIP. See Brennan Dep. at 21:11-21:15, 23:25-24:6, 25:15-26:4; Flitcroft Dep. at 8:18-8-20; 20:4-20:13 (Doc. No. 33-1); Montone Dep. at 17:25-18:14.

On March 14, 2006,*fn5 Jay Brennan, Alliant's Vice President of Human Resources, informed Mr. Decker that his employment was being terminated. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 21; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 21. Mr. Brennan also spoke with Mr. Decker over the telephone about this issue twice that day. During the earlier of these conversations, Mr. Brennan learned for the first time of Mr. Decker's ADHD when Mr. Decker informed him about his condition. See Brennan Dep. at 10:22-11:7, 14:17-15:1, 15:13-16; see also Decker Dep. at 61:25-62:3, 57:6-57:18. According to Mr. Brennan, Mr. Decker stated that he had previously told Mr. Kinney about it as well. See Brennan Dep. at 15:13-15:16. Mr. Decker also raised that the PIP was to run until April 1, 2006. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 22; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 22. During the call, Mr. Brennan indicated that he and Mr. Montone would address that timing issue. See Def.'s SUMF ¶ 22; Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 22.

Thereafter, Mr. Brennan called Mr. Decker, with Mr. Montone on the telephone line. See Pl.'s SUMF ¶ 23; Def.'s SUMF ¶ 23. According to Mr. Decker, Mr. Brennan notified Mr. Decker that he was not going to meet the goals set forth in PIP by the deadline; therefore, Mr. Decker's accounts were to be transferred to other employees and he was to be terminated. See Decker Dep. at 67:4-67:10; 144:19-144:24. Mr. Decker disputed the assessment of his performance that Mr. Brennan had presented, claiming that he was fulfilling the PIP's requirements for appointments and sales proposals, and that he had prospective deals in the pipeline. See Decker Dep. 67:14-67:22. He contended that he should be permitted to have the remainder of the time until the PIP ended. See id. 67:19-67:22.

Mr. Decker testified that the conversation concluded with him asking whether he was going to be terminated regardless of his work performance at the end of the PIP, and Mr. Brennan stating that he would have to consult with Bruce Flitcroft, President and CEO of Alliant Technologies, before any other actions were taken. See Decker Dep. 92:10-92:22.

Mr. Brennan testified that after these conversations with Mr. Decker, Mr. Brennan spoke with Messrs. McKinney and Montone to ask them about Mr. Decker's comments about his medical condition and what Mr. Decker had said to them. See Brennan Dep. at 15:13-17:6. Both said that Mr. Decker had represented that he was taking medication for ADHD and that his condition did not affect his work performance. Id.

After Mr. Brennan and Mr. Montone spoke with Mr. Decker, they had a conversation with Mr. Flitcroft, and persuaded him to agree to allow Mr. Decker to continue his PIP though the end of March and for Alliant to recant the termination. See Flitcroft Dep. at 8:18-9:4, 12:14-12:18; see also Montone Dep. at 17:6-17:15. Mr. Flitcroft testified that, after he decided to extend Mr. Decker's employment throughout the duration of the PIP, in his view it was possible for Mr. Decker to redeem his performance in the remaining days of the PIP to save his job. See Flitcroft Dep. at 13:7-13:17.

Following these events, the record contains diverging testimony as to whether Alliant notified Mr. Decker that it had recanted the termination at that time and was allowing him to complete the PIP. Mr. Brennan testified that on March 20, 2006, he called Mr. Decker in the afternoon and informed him that he was still employed and would be through the end of the PIP, at which time Alliant would offer him the option to become an independent contractor or to extend the PIP. See Brennan Dep. at 20:7-20:14.

In contrast, Mr. Decker testified that after speaking with Mr. Brennan and Mr. Montone, a week passed without Mr. Decker hearing anything more on the subject of his employment status. Decker Dep. at 97:8-97:16. During that time, Mr. Decker "figured some kind of miscommunication on the other side so I just kept plugging away" and working as if he had not had the conversation with Mr. Brennan. Decker Dep. at 101:15-102:18.

Thereafter, during the last week of the PIP, from March 27 to March 31, 2006, Mr. Decker had some communications and meetings with Mr. Flitcroft. See Decker Dep. at 62:19-62:23; see also Flitcroft Dep. at 9:16-9:18. One of the conversations occurred on the morning of March 27, 2006, after Mr. Decker sent an email the day before asking whether management had come to a decision on his termination, and requesting a termination letter in the event that he was being terminated. See Decker Dep. at 92:22-93:9; 94:12-94:17.*fn6 According to Mr. Decker, during the conversation, Mr. Flitcroft "wanted to know where my head was at" to which Mr. Decker responded "I'm trying to figure out if I'm still here [employed with Alliant] or not." Id. at 94:20-94:22. Mr. Decker also testified that Mr. Flitcroft informed him that he could continue to work under the PIP and would not be terminated if he met certain metrics of his PIP. See Decker Dep. at 96:17-96:21; 99:18-100-11.

During this same or another conversation between Messrs. Flitcroft and Decker, Mr. Flitcroft told Mr. Decker to "get his head screwed on straight" and to "clear his head." See Flitcroft Dep. at 10:3-10:6; Decker Dep. at 95:2-95:3, 96:4-96:5. Both Messrs. Flitcroft and Decker understood the general conversation in which these phrases were used to mean that Mr. Flitcroft thought Mr. Decker was misunderstanding and confusing the issues involving Mr. Decker's employment status at Alliant. See Flitcroft Dep. at 10:7-10:16; Decker Dep. at 95:3-96:5.

However, according to Mr. Decker, Mr. Flitcroft also expressed awareness of Mr. Decker's medical condition during this conversation:

Q: What was [Mr. Flitcroft] trying to communicate to you that [your employment status] was? What was the miscommunication he was trying to communicate to you?

A: He told me that I had until April 1st, that I always knew that I had until the 1st and that I quit on them, because I hadn't worked the past week because I was mixing things up with what was going on and that I need to get my head screwed on straight and he goes I know you have this -- I can't think of the word he used, something around your disease, ailment he said, around your ailment, but you need to understandthat you have until the 1st and he asked me do you want this job or not and I said I don't know and he goes, well, you need to clear you head and call me in an hour and let me know.

Q. So Mr. Flitcroft told you that you had until April 1st to work on your performance plan which was not what you understood, you understood you ...

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