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Gera v. County of Schuylkill

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 21, 2014

MICHAEL GERA, Plaintiff,


RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

We consider here a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 62) filed by Defendant County of Schuylkill. That motion has been fully briefed by the parties (Docs. 63, 70, and 72) and is now ripe for our consideration.

I. Background:[1]

Plaintiff Michael Gera worked as a corrections officer at the Schuylkill County Prison from June of 1986 through February of 2008. (Doc. 64, ¶1; Doc. 70 at 1-2). In the period from March 2, 2007 through February 26, 2008 Plaintiff was assigned to a temporary light duty position working exclusively in the control room. (Doc. 64, ¶ 6; Doc. 69, ¶ 6). Plaintiff's assignment in the control room in 2007-08 was a result of physical limitations following a knee surgery. (Doc. 64, ¶ 5; Doc. 69, ¶ 5).

Prior to his light duty assignment in the control room, Plaintiff's primary duties as a corrections officer were multi-faceted and involved the custody and control of inmates. (Doc. 64, ¶ 2; Doc. 69, ¶ 2). This "custody and control" aspect of the corrections officer's essential duties included, inter alia, the ability to "assist in averting fights, riots, or escapes; assisting in physically suppressing aggressive acts undertaken by prisoners, in accordance with established policy." (Doc. 64, ¶ 2; Doc. 69, ¶ 2).[2] Plaintiff acknowledged at his deposition that he has not been physically capable of carrying out the "custody and control" aspect of the corrections officer position at any time since February of 2008. (Doc. 70-2 at 68-71). Plaintiff has also acknowledged that the control room position was always a temporary position, but that after the County of Schuylkill entered a new collective bargaining agreement with the prison employees in January of 2008 additional restrictions were placed on the control room position. (Id. At 72). Those additional restrictions required that the control room position was a temporary assignment which could last no more than one year and that it was available only to those recovering from work-related injuries. (Id.). Plaintiff has not claimed that his incapacitation was a result of a work-related injury. (Doc. 70-2 at 14-15).

Pursuant to the aforementioned collective bargaining agreement, Plaintiff met with Prison Warden Gene Berdanier and a union representative on February 26, 2008 (Doc. 64, ¶ 13; Doc. 69, ¶ 13). Due to the new restrictions on the control room position imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement and the unavailability of any other position at the prison, Warden Berdanier informed Plaintiff that his only alternative was to place Plaintiff on medical leave. (Doc. 64, ¶ 15; Doc. 69, ¶ 15). On March 5, 2008, Plaintiff grieved the decision to place him on medical leave and requested a "reasonable accommodation for my employment by assigning me to work in the control room." (Doc. 64, ¶ 16; Doc. 69, ¶ 16). On March 6, 2008, Warden Berdanier denied the grievance. (Doc. 64, ¶ 17; Doc. 69, ¶ 17). The grievance was then taken to a second step involving a meeting among Plaintiff, Warden Berdanier, and Schuylkill County Human Relations Director Thomas White. (Doc. 70-2 at 75-76). At the conclusion of that meeting, Thomas White informed Plaintiff that "he wasn't going to do anything with it [the grievance]" and that Plaintiff could take it up with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission ("PHRC") if he thought that he was the victim of discrimination. (Doc. 70-2 at 76). Plaintiff then filed charges with the PHRC that were ultimately referred to the EEOC. (Doc. 70-2 at 77).

During the pendency of the EEOC action, Plaintiff's medical condition deteriorated resulting in a further limitation of his mobility that required four separate surgeries. (Doc. 64, ¶ 21; Doc. 69, ¶ 21). In March of 2009 Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability Benefits that alleged he had become totally disabled effective February 26, 2008, the date he last worked at the Schuylkill County Prison. (Doc. 64, ¶22; Doc. 69, ¶ 22). By decision dated August 19, 2010, Plaintiff was awarded, retroactive to February 26, 2008, Social Security Disability Benefits by virtue of a finding that Plaintiff had severe impairments that rendered him totally disabled pursuant to the criteria of the Social Security Act. (Doc 64, ¶ 26; Doc. 69, ¶ 26). The disability determination by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") stated, in pertinent part: "The medical evidence makes clear that the claimant has gross anatomical deformity in his knees which causes current joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation of motion or other abnormal motion in the claimant's knees.... The impairment of the claimant's knees resulted in inability to ambulate effectively." (Id.) As of January 8, 2014, Plaintiff was still receiving Social Security Disability Benefits ("SSDI") incident to the award of August 19, 2010. (Doc. 70-2 at 15). Plaintiff also acknowledged at his deposition taken January 8, 2014 that he has not sought employment of any type since the date the SSA deemed him disabled. (Doc. 70-2 at 65).

The EEOC ultimately issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter on May 31, 2012 after conciliation efforts before that agency had proven unsuccessful. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed the complaint that initiated this action, one alleging that the Defendant discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 120/et seq.

II. Summary Judgment Standard:

Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant demonstrates there is no "genuine issue as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

"An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, a court must resolve all factual doubts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

The initial burden is on the moving party to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986) (citations omitted). The moving party may meet this burden by "pointing out to the district court [] that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof." Id. at 325. The non-moving party may not rest on the bare allegations contained in his or her pleadings, but is required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324.

"In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of evidence." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Therefore, when evidentiary facts are in dispute, when the credibility of witnesses may be in issue, or when conflicting evidence must be weighed, a full trial is usually necessary. Nonetheless, the party opposing summary judgment must support each essential element of the claim with concrete evidence in the record. Celotex, supra at 322-23. This requirement upholds the underlying purpose of the rule, which is to avoid a trial "in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense." Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976). Therefore, if, after making all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, supra, at 322; Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987). If the non-movant's evidence is merely speculative, conclusory, "or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, supra, at 249-50 (internal citation omitted).

A plaintiff's mere belief is not enough to create a dispute of material fact sufficient to survive summary judgment. See Lexington Ins. Co. V. W. Pa. Hosp., 423 F.3d 318, 333 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding that speculation is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment). Our circuit has stated: "...summary judgment is essentially put up or shut up' time for the non-moving party; the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made ...

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