United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
TAJ WALTON, Plaintiff: FAYE RIVA COHEN, LEAD ATTORNEY,
SPHERION STAFFING LLC, also known as, SPHERION STAFFING
SERVICES, Defendant: JENNIFER PLATZKERE SNYDER, LEAD
ATTORNEY, DILWORTH PAXSON LLP, PHILADELPHIA, PA; BENJAMIN D.
BRIGGS, CHRISTINA F. MEDDIN, SEYFARTH SHAW LLP, ATLANTA, GA.
TECH DATA CORPORATION, Defendant: GARY L. LIEBER, LEAD
ATTORNEY, FORD & HARRISON LLP, WASHINGTON, DC; ASHWIN R.
TREHAN, DAWN SILER-NIXON, FORD HARRISON LLP, TAMPA, FL.
Austin McHugh, United States District Judge.
case tests the outer bounds of the Americans with
Disabilities Act in the context of workplace violence. I am
confronted with two competing but equally valid public policy
interests--the need for a safe workplace, as weighed against
the need to accommodate and treat mental illness. Ruling in
favor of the Defendant employer here could discourage
employees in crisis from seeking help. On the other hand,
ruling for the affected employee could subject employers to a
daunting standard, torn between a legal requirement to
accommodate mentally ill employees and the moral imperative
of providing a safe workplace. On the specific facts of this
case, as ably pleaded by Plaintiff's counsel, I am
persuaded that this case should proceed with discovery, and
so Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be denied.
Factual Allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint
Taj Walton commenced employment with Defendant Spherion
Staffing LLC (" Spherion" ) in 2007. Compl. at
¶ 8. Spherion is a staffing agency that places employees
in various work assignments. Id. at ¶ ¶
9-10. In October of 2011, Spherion assigned Plaintiff to the
position of Warehouse Worker at Tech Data Corporation ("
Tech Data" ). Id. at ¶ 11. On or around
November 21, 2011, Plaintiff experienced suicidal ideations
for the first time while traveling to work at Tech Data.
Id. at ¶ 13. After approximately thirty (30)
minutes, his suicidal thoughts subsided. Id. The
following day, Plaintiff's suicidal thoughts returned,
and, in a troubling progression, he experienced homicidal
ideations for the first time. Id. at ¶ 14.
" Recognizing that he needed immediate medical
attention," Plaintiff wrote a note to his supervisor,
Lizelle Parks, a Spherion staffer on site at Tech Data.
Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff's plea for help
Lizelle, Please Help Call [telephone number provided] Mom
[telephone number provided] Dad The police I'm scared and
angry. I don't know why but I wanna kill someone/anyone.
Please have security accompany you if you want to talk to me.
Make sure, please. I'm unstable. I'm sorry Taj."
Id. at ¶ 15. Although Parks was not present at
the time of the incident, a Tech Data security guard read the
note and called the police. Id. at ¶ 16.
Plaintiff subsequently waited outside until the police
arrived and drove him to a nearby hospital. Id. He
was not restrained while waiting for the police to arrive,
and he did not act out or converse with the security guard
during that time period. Id.
was subsequently diagnosed with depression and advised that
he required further medical attention and treatment.
Id. at ¶ 17. Based on the limited record before
me, it appears that Defendants did not have notice of
Plaintiff's disability prior to his hospital visit and
diagnosis. In an effort to follow his
physician's advice, Plaintiff attempted to contact Parks
and inform her about his diagnosis and intention to seek
additional treatment, but he was unable to reach her.
Id. at ¶ 18. After numerous failed attempts to
connect with Parks, Plaintiff spoke to two employees, "
Chris" (last name unknown) and Carlos Hernandez, who
each answered the phone at Spherion's Philadelphia
office. Id. Plaintiff informed Chris and Hernandez
that he had been diagnosed with depression and inquired about
his medical insurance coverage provided by Spherion.
Id. at ¶ ¶ 18-19. Chris and Hernandez
directed Plaintiff to discuss his issues with Parks directly.
Id. at ¶ 19. However, after Plaintiff's
efforts to reach Parks continued to be futile, Chris and
Hernandez advised him to contact Spherion's headquarters.
Id. at ¶ 20. On November 23, 2011, Plaintiff
called headquarters and notified a human resources ("
HR" ) representative of his disability and need for
medical care. Id. The HR representative advised
Plaintiff to contact Parks and file for workers'
compensation benefits, which did not address his ongoing
medical issues. Id. at ¶ 21.
continued to attempt to contact Parks, who finally responded
to him on or about December 11, 2011 via text message.
Id. at ¶ 22. Parks informed Plaintiff that she
was on " intermittent medical leave" and would be
in touch upon her return. Id. Almost three weeks had
now passed since Plaintiff's episode. Plaintiff called
Parks once again the next day, at which time she answered the
phone and immediately terminated his employment from both
Spherion and Tech Data. Id. at ¶ 23. Parks
informed Plaintiff that his health insurance policy was
canceled and he was prohibited from working at any of
Spherion's locations. Id. at ¶ 24. These
actions allegedly prevented Plaintiff from receiving the
medical care and treatment he needed. Id.
claims that Defendants terminated his employment because of
his disability, and failed to make any efforts to accommodate
his depression, in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12101
et seq,, and the New Jersey Law Against
Discrimination (" NJLAD" ), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et
seq. . Id. at ¶ ¶ 25-33. Defendant
Spherion (" Defendant" ) has moved for judgment on
the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), on the ground
that the threat of violence took Plaintiff outside the
protection of the statutes.
Rule 12(c) Motion Standard
12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings " is analyzed
under the same standards that apply to a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion." Revell v. Port Auth. Of N.Y. & N.J.,
598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010). The standard is
well-established: I must view the pleadings in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party, including drawing all
inferences in favor of the pleader. Leamer v.
Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 535 (3d Cir. 2002). " A Rule
12(c) motion should not be granted unless the moving party
has established that there is no material issue of fact to
resolve, and that it is entitled to judgment in its favor as
a matter of law." D.E. v. Cent. Dauphin Sch.
Dist., 765 F.3d 260, 271 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).