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Szarawara v. County of Montgomery

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 27, 2013

JAMES SZARAWARA, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF MONTGOMERY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff James Szarawara ("Plaintiff") alleges that his former employer, Defendant the County of Montgomery ("Defemdant"), unlawfully discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS the Motion in Part and DENIES it in part. The Court also grants Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint.

II. Facts Alleged by Plaintiff

In August 2005, Plaintiff began his employment with Defendant in its Emergency Dispatch Services Center, working night shifts as a Telecommunicator. In October 2008, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. Shortly after his diagnosis, Plaintiff began experiencing headaches, dizziness, and loss of focus with increasing, though unspecified, frequency.

On or around July 25, 2009, while at work, Plaintiff experienced severe headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness, all induced, Plaintiff believes, by his diabetes. As a result of his performance that day, Defendant issued Plaintiff three disciplinary warnings.

A few days later, Plaintiff met with Defendant's Deputy Public Safety Director and Assistant Public Safety Director regarding these warnings. The meeting included a discussion of Plaintiff's medical conditions, including Plaintiff's belief that his diabetes was the cause of his work performance issues. Plaintiff specifically mentioned that his treating physician advised him to establish healthier sleep patterns, which would require changing his work schedule to include day shifts. Ultimately, the Deputy Public Safety Director and Assistant Public Safety Director determined that Plaintiff should be suspended for three days, but they deferred imposition of the suspension pending the outcome of an investigation into his medical issues.

Sometime after the meeting, Plaintiff provided Defendant with a letter from his treating physician, dated August 3, 2009, which stated that Plaintiff was "approaching reasonable control of his conditions, " and that his prognosis would be improved by compliance with medication, weight loss, increased physical activity, a low-fat and low-carbohydrate diet, as well as "good sleep habits... which would be supported by regular diurnal cycles from working during AM hours." (Am. Compl., Ex. C). Defendant telephoned Plaintiff's treating physician, but she would not discuss Plaintiff's condition, because she had not received his consent to do so. (See Id., Ex. D.) On August 7, 2009, Plaintiff's treating physician sent Defendant a second letter, following up on the telephone conversation. (Id.) The letter stated that Plaintiff was "capable of performing the responsibilities of his job... but this becomes less clear for the future." (Id.) The letter closed by opining that Plaintiff's long term health would be best served by "proper sleep patterns which... includes working during daytime hours." (Id.)

Sometime after receiving the second letter, Defendant offered Plaintiff the opportunity to take unpaid medical leave. Plaintiff declined the leave, because it was unpaid, and his diabetes would affect him beyond the leave period. Plaintiff also suggested a variety of ways in which Defendant could help him change his working hours, including moving him to part-time status and transferring him to a lower-paying, day-shift position. Defendant, however, agreed to none of Plaintiff's suggestions.

Plaintiff then resigned because he believed his diabetes and other medical conditions rendered him unable to perform his job.

III. Legal Standard

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), courts may look only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel , 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). Courts must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc. , 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985).

A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Iqbal clarified that the Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), which required a heightened degree of fact pleading in an antitrust case, "expounded the pleading standard for all civil actions.'" 555 U.S. at 684.

Iqbal explained that although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Id. at 678, 685. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) ("We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only fair notice, ' but also the grounds' on which the claim rests." (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556 n.3)). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556).

V. Discussion

Plaintiff claims disability discrimination under the ADA and PHRA. The ADA was substantially amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA"), Pub. L. No. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553 (codified in various provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.), which became effective as of January 1, 2009.[1] Prior to the ADAAA, claims under the ADA and PHRA were considered simultaneously "because the acts serve[d] the same goals and [were] interpreted coextensively." Castellani v. Bucks Cnty. Municipality , 351 F.Appx. 774, 777 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Kelly v. Drexel Univ. , 94 F.3d 102, 105 (3d Cir.1996)). This is no longer the case. The ADAAA relaxed the ADA's standard for disability, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A) ("[t]he definition of disability... shall be construed in favor of broad coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this chapter"); 29 CFR § 1630.2(j)(1)(i)-(iii) ("[a]n impairment is a disability within the meaning of this section if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity"; "[t]he term substantially limits' shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.... [it] is not meant to be a demanding standard"; "the term substantially limits' shall be interpreted and applied to require a degree of functional limitation that is lower than the standard for substantially limits' applied prior to the ADAAA"), but the PHRA has not been similarly amended, necessitating separate analysis of Plaintiff's ADA and PHRA claims.

A. Plaintiff Has a Viable ADA Discrimination Claim for Failure to Provide a Reasonable Accommodation.

In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a ...


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