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Garner v. School District of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2014

ROBERT A. GARNER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For ROBERT A. GARDNER, Plaintiff: OLUGBENGA O. ABIONA, LEAD ATTORNEY, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Defendant: PATRICK J. DORAN, LEAD ATTORNEY, GARY D. FRY, ARCHER & GREINER PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

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MEMORANDUM

ROBERT F. KELLY, SENIOR JUDGE.

Presently before the Court is Defendant, the School District of Philadelphia's (the " School District" ), Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff, Robert A. Garner (" Garner" ), Garner's Response, and the School District's Reply thereto. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Garner has been employed by the School District since 1990. Compl. ¶ 12. Garner asserts that he started working for the School District as a Security Officer in or around 1990, and became a School Police Officer[1] in or around 2000 or 2001. Id. Garner states that about four years later, he was promoted to Sergeant, and was then assigned to an " Acting Lieutenant" position for three years. (Pl.'s Resp. at 7-8.) He was later reassigned back to Sergeant. (Id.) In November 2010, Garner suffered a work-related injury and began a

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workers' compensation leave of absence. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Garner Dep. at 36 (" Garner Dep." ).) He was cleared to return to work by no later than May 3, 2011. (Id., Ex. D-26.) Garner did not return to work at that time but, instead, notified the School District that he needed a medical leave of absence for a serious medical condition that rendered him unable to do his job.[2] (Id., Ex. D-27.) Since that time up until the present, Garner has not worked because of medical problems he alleges prevent him from performing his job. See Compl.

Garner filed a Complaint in this action on May 20, 2013. He asserts that he is a disabled person as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.,[3] and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq.,[4] and is " capable of performing the essential functions of his position with reasonable accommodation" from the School District. Id. ¶ 15. He states that he suffers from " follicular lymphoma with GI symptoms; bloating, severe physical abdominal pains, inability to stand for a long period of time and constant bowel movements." Id. ¶ 13. Garner contends that the School District:

[f]ailed to provide Plaintiff with reasonable accommodation for his disability, failed to engage Plaintiff in a good faith interactive process as required under the statutes in order to address Plaintiff's needs for accommodation, but subjected Plaintiff to denial of the use of his earned sick leave benefits, denial of continuation of wage benefits, because of his disability, and when Plaintiff continued

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to seek protection under the ADA and PHRA because of his disabilities and complained about Defendant [sic] failure to grant him reasonable accommodation as provided under these federal and state statutes, Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff by subjecting him to unwarranted discipline, subjected him to unpaid leave of absence and then terminating his employment because he continued to assert his rights for reasonable accommodation under these statutes because of his disability.

Id. ¶ 16.

The School Board filed the instant Motion for Summary judgment on June 13, 2014. Garner filed a Response, and the School Board filed a Reply thereto.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) states that summary judgment is proper " if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Hines v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1991). The Court asks " whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether . . . one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). " A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be 'genuine,' i.e., the evidence must be such 'that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v. Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs, 995 F.Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 1998).

Summary judgment must be granted " against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that presents " specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1362-63 (3d Cir. 1992). " More than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" must be presented by the non-moving party in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Tziatzios v. United States, 164 F.R.D. 410, 411-12 (E.D. Pa. 1996). If the court determines that there are no genuine issues of material fact, then summary judgment will be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The ADA

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating " against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); see also Gaul v. Lucent Techs. Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 579 (3d Cir. 1998). A " qualified individual" with a disability[5] is a person who,

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" with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). A reasonable accommodation claim requires a plaintiff to show that his employer failed to make " reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an . . . employee, unless the [employer] can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of [the employer]." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A); see also Solomon v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 532 F.App'x 154, 157 (3d Cir. 2013).

A plaintiff presents a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA by demonstrating that: (1) he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Gaul, 134 F.3d at 579-80; Shiring v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 827, 831 (3d Cir. 1996).

1. Otherwise Qualified

In this case, the parties do not dispute whether Garner is " disabled" within the meaning of the ADA. One of their disagreements relates to the second element of a plaintiff's prima facie case. The School District asserts that Garner cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA because he is not " otherwise qualified" to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodations. See Gaul, 134 F.3d at 579-80. The School District argues that Garner's own deposition testimony and the evidence of record establishes that he is completely unable to work with or without reasonable accommodation and, therefore, he is not a " qualified" individual with a disability. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 29.) We agree.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) Regulations preface the inquiry of whether an individual is " qualified" with two threshold questions: (1) whether the individual has the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the position; and (2) whether the individual, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that position. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n); see also Buskirk v. Apollo Metals, 307 F.3d 160, 168 (3d Cir. 2002). The determination of whether an individual can, with or without reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the position is a two-step process as well. Deane v. Pocono Medical Center, 142 F.3d 138, 146 (3d Cir. 1998). As the Court in Deane explained:

[f]irst, a court must consider whether an individual can perform the essential functions of the job without accommodation. If so, the individual is qualified and, is not entitled to accommodation. If not, then a court must look to whether the individual can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation. If so, the individual is qualified. If not, the individual has failed to set out a necessary element of the prima facie case.

Id.

If a plaintiff claims that he could not do his job with or without reasonable accommodation at the time of his adverse

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employment determination, he cannot make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA. See Barclay v. Amtrak, 435 F.Supp.2d 438, 445 (E.D. Pa. 2006). Here, Garner has consistently asserted, during the more than three years that he has been out of work,[6] that he was and is unable to do his job with any accommodation, and his testimony supports such.[7]

Garner testified at his deposition that he completed an ADA Intake Questionnaire with the help of his doctor. (Garner Dep. at 24.) He acknowledged that he wrote in the Questionnaire that " [m]y disability makes it difficult for me to be away from home for more than a few hours, and almost impossible most morning hours." (Id.) Garner added that this was true at all times from October 15, 2012, through the date of his deposition on May 23, 2014. (Id.) Garner was later asked, " [i]s it still the case that you are ...


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