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Canfield v. Movie Tavern, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 12, 2013

MICHAEL CANFIELD, Plaintiff
v.
MOVIE TAVERN, INC. Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF LAW RE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS

Baylson, J.

I. FACTS[1]

Plaintiff, Michael Canfield, was employed by Defendant, Movie Tavern, Inc., from April 1, 2011 until he was fired on March 21, 2012. Defendant is a Pennsylvania corporation in the business of showing movies and providing dining options for patrons during movie showings.

Plaintiff alleges that he was wrongfully discharged by Defendant 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. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges that he injured his back on November 26, 2011 while at work as a Kitchen Manager. ECF 7 at ¶ 12. Following his injury, Plaintiff sought out medical treatment at the emergency room and was ordered to take several days off from work to rest. ECF 7 at ¶ 13. On December 6, 2011, Plaintiff followed up with a physician’s assistant that was a participating member of Defendant’s medical benefits plan and was released to return to work with no restrictions. ECF 7 at ¶ 15. On December 22, 2011, Plaintiff underwent an MRI which revealed a herniated disc in Plaintiff’s lower back. ECF 7 at ¶ 17. As a result, Plaintiff was sent to Defendant’s occupational doctor. Defendant’s occupational doctor ordered work restrictions limiting Plaintiff to “light duty.” ECF 7 at ¶ 21.

Defendant placed Plaintiff on a leave of absence until he could return to work without restrictions. ECF 7 at ¶ 32. Plaintiff thereafter began receiving workers’ compensation benefits. ECF 7 at ¶ 29. On February 23, 2012, Plaintiff was cleared to return to work without restrictions. ECF 7 at ¶ 33. Within days of returning to work, however, Plaintiff re-aggravated his injury and was again restricted to “light duty.” ECF 7 at ¶ 38. Plaintiff informed Defendant of his re-injury and that he would be seeking treatment for his disability. ECF 7 at ¶ 35. On March 17, Plaintiff saw the physician’s assistant from Defendant’s medical benefits plan, who reinstated Plaintiff’s light duty restrictions. ECF 7 at ¶¶ 37-38. Defendant was again unable to accommodate these restrictions, and informed Plaintiff’s Workers’ Compensation Case Manager of its inability to accommodate. ECF 7 at ¶ 39. On March 19, 2012, Plaintiff was asked to attend a meeting on March 21, 2012 with his managers. ECF 7 at ¶ 40. On March 20, 2012, Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation benefits were reinstated. ECF 7 at ¶ 41. The next day, Plaintiff attended the aforementioned meeting and was fired. ECF 7 at ¶¶ 40-43. The reason given for his termination was that he had discriminated against Defendant’s Hispanic employees. ECF 7 at ¶ 44. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant’s reason for firing him is a fabrication and pretext, and that he was actually fired because of his disability and claims for workers’ compensation. ECF 7 at ¶¶ 45-46.

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges seven causes of action. Plaintiff first claims violations of the ADA for failure to accommodate, failure to engage in an interactive process, and retaliatory firing. Plaintiff brings identical claims under the PHRA. Plaintiff also claims wrongful termination in retaliation for his workers’ compensation claims in violation of Pennsylvania common law.

In response, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss claiming that Plaintiff waived his claims for damages arising from his workplace injury by signing a Compromise and Release (“C&R”) for Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim. Second, Defendant contends that Plaintiff is not disabled as defined under the ADA, and therefore his claims fail as a matter of law. Third, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s retaliation claims must be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to plead a causal relationship between his filing a workers’ compensation claim and the termination of his employment. Finally, Defendant seeks to strike Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages under the PHRA.[2]

For the following reasons, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss should be denied.

A. Plaintiff Did Not Waive His Current Claims in the Compromise and Release

Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s execution of a C&R releasing Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim waived Plaintiff’s right to pursue a disability discrimination claim against Defendant based on the same workplace injury. In doing so, Defendant relies heavily on Hoggard v. Catch, Inc., No. 12-4783, 2013 WL 3430885 (E.D. Pa. July 9, 2013), in which the district court held that plaintiff had waived his ADA claim by executing a Compromise and Release of his workers’ compensation claim. Hoggard, however, does not stand for the proposition that any C&R releasing a workers’ compensation claim constitutes a waiver of all ADA claims arising out of the same injury.

The Hoggard decision turns on an examination of the specific language of the release. As a result of this examination, the district court in Hoggard determined that the language in the C&R waived all of the plaintiffs claims arising out of his workplace injury. The district court relied upon the following language from the plaintiffs C&R to reach that conclusion:

• [The C&R] completely resolves all claims and issues arising out of Claimant’s 05/11/2011 injury.
• Claimant understands that in exchange for any and all indemnity, medical and/or specific loss benefits arising out of his 05/11/2011 work injury, this settlement . . . is a final one which forever ends his entitlement to any and all such benefits for the injuries of 05/11/2011.
• Claimant understands that this is a final settlement, and once approved by the Court, he forever releases . . . [Defendant] . . . for any additional benefits arising from the 05/11/2011 work injury.

Hoggard, 2013 WL 3430885, at *3 (emphasis added). The district court found that this language was so expansive that it clearly indicated the parties’ intent to release the defendant of any and all liability arising out of the plaintiffs workplace injury.

The C&R in this case is different. Here, the C&R indicates that Plaintiff only agreed to release Defendant’s liability for workers’ compensation claims arising out of Plaintiff s back injury. There is no reference to releasing ADA or PHRA claims anywhere in the C&R. Moreover, there is no general, all-encompassing language similar to the C&R in Hoggard that would include Plaintiffs ADA and PHRA claims. Unlike in Hoggard, the language from Plaintiffs C&R clearly indicates that Plaintiff released Defendant’s liability only for Plaintiffs workers’ compensation claim:

This agreement resolves any and all workers’ compensation claims, including but not limited to scarring and specific loss, arising out of the claimant’s employment with Movie Tavern Partners.

ECF 8-1 at 1 (emphasis added). The C&R was exclusively limited to Plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claims. Accordingly, ...


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