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Weisel v. Stericycle Communications Solutions

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 28, 2015

SHARON WEISEL, Plaintiff,
v.
STERICYCLE COMMUNICATIONS SOLUTIONS t/a Stericycle and/or Notify MD, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Here we consider Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21) filed on October 29, 2014, and accompanied by Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 22). With this motion, Defendant seeks summary judgment in its favor on Plaintiff's disability discrimination claim which is based on her allegation that Defendant's perception that she was disabled resulted in the loss of her employment (Doc. 1 ¶ 42). Defendant filed Defendant's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24) on November 12, 2014. On December 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed her answer to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts and Plaintiff's Counter-Statement of Facts (Doc. 30) and Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 31). With the filing of Defendant's reply brief (Doc. 35) on January 12, 2015, this motion became ripe for disposition. For the reasons discussed below, we conclude Defendant's motion is properly granted.

I. Background

Defendant Stericycle, Inc., ("Defendant" "Stericycle") operates a call center business in Dunmore, Pennsylvania.[1] (Doc. 22 ¶ 1; Doc. 30 ¶ 1.) Defendant hired Plaintiff Sharon Weisel ("Plaintiff") in October 2012 as a part-time call center operator at the Dunmore facility. (Doc. 22 ¶ 2; Doc. 30 ¶ 2.)

When she was hired, Plaintiff received Defendant's Handbook and a Code of Conduct and acknowledged that she read both. (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 3, 4; Doc. 30 ¶¶ 3, 4.) The Handbook contained a Concern Resolution Policy which set out three steps by which an employee could resolve issues: the employee should have an open discussion about her concern with her supervisor, she should then go to her manager, and finally to Human Resources. (Doc. 22 ¶ 10; Doc. 30 ¶ 10.) Plaintiff testified that she understood the policy. (Doc. 22 ¶ 11; Doc. 30 ¶ 11.)

The Code of Business Conduct contained a Communication Channels Policy that provided multiple ways an employee could report possibly unlawful or unethical situations, including calling the Team Member Help Line, contacting a manager, or contacting a member of senior management. (Doc. 22 ¶ 12; Doc. 30 ¶ 12.)

Under Defendant's attendance policy, employees could be required to provide a doctor's note upon return from absence. (Doc. 22 ¶ 17; Doc. 30 ¶ 17.) Plaintiff knew she could be asked to do so. ( Id. )

Plaintiff worked the day-shift and was supervised by call center supervisor, Jennifer Walsh. (Doc. 22 ¶ 20; Doc. 30 ¶ 20.) Christopher Ulrich was the other center supervisor who generally worked nights. (Doc. 22 ¶ 21; Doc. 30 ¶ 21.) At the relevant time, Walsh and Ulrich were the only two supervisors at the Dunmore facility. (Doc. 22 ¶ 22; Doc. 30 ¶ 22.)

Matthew Spott performed Human Resources functions out of the Dunmore facility, but Defendant's Human Resources Department was otherwise located at its corporate offices in Northbrook, Illinois. (Doc. 22 ¶ 24; Doc. 30 ¶ 24.) Spott reported to Dawn Johnson, Human Resources Manager, and Lisa Torrez, Human Resources Director. (Doc. 22 ¶ 25; Doc. 30 ¶ 25.)

Plaintiff took time off from work for gallbladder surgery and recovery in February and March of 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 26; Doc. 30 ¶ 26.) Plaintiff adds that she never disclosed her exact medical condition to Defendant; the information was obtained in the course of this litigation. (Doc. 30 ¶ 26.) On February 6, 2013, Plaintiff submitted a doctor's note about her upcoming surgery to Defendant. (Doc. 22 ¶ 27; Doc. 30 ¶ 27.) Plaintiff's supervisor, Jennifer Walsh, received the note, and initialed and dated it as was her standard practice. (Doc. 22 ¶ 28; Doc. 30 ¶ 28.) The note stated that Plaintiff's surgery was scheduled for February 22, 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 29; Doc. 30 ¶ 29.) The note did not indicate how long Plaintiff would be off work. ( Id. ) Walsh approved Plaintiff to be off work for her surgery. (Doc. 22 ¶ 30; Doc. 30 ¶ 30.) Plaintiff's surgery took place on February 22, 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 32; Doc. 30 ¶ 32.)

On approximately March 2, 2013, Plaintiff called Walsh about coming back to work and told Walsh the date of her follow-up appointment with her doctor. (Doc. 30 ¶ 162.) Walsh told Plaintiff to wait the two weeks she had been given for time off. ( Id. )

On March 6, 2013, Plaintiff went to her doctor for a follow-up appointment and obtained a return to work note. (Doc. 22 ¶ 34; Doc. 30 ¶ 34.) The note stated: "Sharon Weisel is currently under my surgical care. She may return to work on 03/11/2013. Activity is restricted as follows: none." (Doc. 22 ¶ 35; Doc. 30 ¶ 35.)

The same day Plaintiff called into the Dunmore facility and spoke with her niece, Jacqueline Minutes, who also worked at Defendant's Dunmore location. (Doc. 22 ¶ 36; Doc. 30 ¶ 36.) Plaintiff adds that Minutes was authorized to accept such calls. (Doc. 30 ¶ 36.) Minutes was a Team Lead. (Doc. 22 ¶ 37; Doc. 30 ¶ 37.) Defendant avers she was not a supervisor; Plaintiff avers her duties as a Team Lead included supervisory roles. ( Id. ) Plaintiff testified that she considered Minutes a supervisor. (Doc. 30 ¶ 163.) Because of the familial relationship, Plaintiff always reported to a different Team Lead. (Doc. 22 ¶ 38; Doc. 30 ¶ 38.) Minutes did not handle employee requests for time off for medical reasons, nor did she handle employees returning to work from medical leave. (Doc. 22 ¶ 39; Doc. 30 ¶ 39.) Plaintiff adds that she denies that Minutes did not have the authority to accept and submit a medical note from an employee to her supervisor, Jennifer Walsh or Christopher Ulrich. (Doc. 30 ¶ 39.)

During the call, Plaintiff informed Minutes that Plaintiff's doctor had released her to return to work on March 11, 2013, without restrictions. (Doc. 22 ¶ 40; Doc. 30 ¶ 40.) Minutes reminded Plaintiff to submit a doctor's note. (Doc. 22 ¶ 41; Doc. 30 ¶ 41.) Plaintiff adds that Minutes did not bring up the doctor's note; Plaintiff specifically informed Minutes that Plaintiff needed to fax over a medical excuse. (Doc. 30 ¶ 41.) During the call, Plaintiff did not ask to speak to Walsh, her supervisor, or Spott in Human Resources. (Doc. 22 ¶ 42; Doc. 30 ¶ 42.) Plaintiff adds that there was no reason to do so. (Doc. 30 ¶ 42.) Plaintiff also testified that Minutes informed her that she would let Walsh know about her release to return to work. (Doc. 30 ¶ 163.)

Plaintiff testified that she faxed Defendant the March 6, 2013, doctors note on March 6th. (Doc. 22 ¶ 43; Doc. 30 ¶ 43.) Minutes recalls seeing the note come through the facility's corporate e-fax software. (Doc. 22 ¶ 44; Doc. 30 ¶ 44.) Defendant avers that Minutes testified she could not recall what she did with the note next-she either printed the note to give it to Walsh or she sent it by email to Walsh (Doc. 22 ¶ 45); Plaintiff avers that Minutes testified she immediately forwarded Plaintiff's fax to her supervisor, Jennifer Walsh (Doc. 30 ¶ 45). Minutes testified that she did not know if Walsh actually received and read Plaintiff's March 6, 2013, return to work note. (Doc. 22 ¶ 46; Doc. 30 ¶ 46.) Plaintiff also testified that she had no personal knowledge as to whether Walsh, Ulrich, or Spott actually received or read her return to work note. (Doc. 22 ¶ 47; Doc. 30 ¶ 47.) Plaintiff adds that the actions of Walsh, Ulrich, and Spott requesting additional information coincided exactly with the submission of the note. (Doc. 30 ¶ 47.) Defendant avers that all three testified that they never saw the March 6, 2013, note (Doc. 22 ¶ 48); Plaintiff denies that they did not see the note, asserting that the timing of the request for more information cannot just be coincidence (Doc. 30 ¶ 48). Defendant avers the note was not initialed or dated by Walsh as received, which was her standard practice upon receiving an employee's doctor note (Doc. 22 ¶ 49); Plaintiff denies this as stated, asserting this is an issue of fact (Doc. 30 ¶ 49).

Defendant asserts that Plaintiff testified she "would have no idea' if someone from Stericycle lost her return to work note." (Doc. 22 ¶ 50.) Plaintiff denies that she would have no idea if someone lost her note. (Doc. 30 ¶ 50.) She claims this is an improper averment and Plaintiff guessing whether someone could have lost something is irrelevant to whether Defendant actually received the note in that Minutes admitted that she received the note. ( Id. ) Regarding Defendant's receipt of the return-to-work note, Plaintiff also points to being told that Defendant was refusing the note she faxed. (Doc. 30 ¶ 172.)

The next day-March 7, 2013-Plaintiff testified that she spoke with Walsh by telephone, and Walsh informed Plaintiff that Spott needed Plaintiff to provide the exact medical reason for which she was off work. (Doc. 22 ¶ 52; Doc. 30 ¶ 52.) Plaintiff also testified that Walsh told her Spott would not accept the medical release without an exact medical reason on it. (Doc. 30 ¶ 165.) Plaintiff testified she asked why she needed to provide the information, and Walsh said she did not know-it was up to Human Resources. (Doc. 22 ¶ 53; Doc. 30 ¶ 53.) Plaintiff testified that Walsh said Plaintiff needed to provide the information to return to work. (Doc. 22 ¶ 54; Doc. 30 ¶ 54.) Defendant avers Plaintiff further testified that she thought this meant she was fired, though she acknowledged that Walsh never told her she was fired and never gave Plaintiff anything in writing stating that she was terminated. (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 55-56); Plaintiff avers she testified that Walsh told her she could not return to work without providing Defendant with additional medical information and Ulrich used the word "fired" (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 55-56).

Walsh testified that the first she knew of the request for the medical reason for Plaintiff's absence was several days later when she was approached by Minutes and asked why Defendant would need to know the medical reason for Plaintiff's absence. (Doc. 30 ¶ 196.) Walsh testified that in response to Minutes question, she approached Spott. ( Id. )

Plaintiff acknowledged that during a separate call with Walsh on March 7, 2013, Walsh provided her with a work schedule for the following week of March 11, 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 57; Doc. 30 ¶ 57.) Plaintiff testified that she asked Walsh, "So I am not fired then?" and Walsh replied that it was up to Human Resources. (Doc. 22 ¶ 58; Doc. 30 ¶ 58.)

Walsh testified that she spoke with Plaintiff on the phone about returning to work; she denied that Plaintiff told her about faxing the medical release and denied seeing the release. (Doc. 30 ¶ 198.)

Plaintiff alleges that Walsh left Plaintiff a voicemail on March 7, 2013, instructing Plaintiff to call the other supervisor, Christopher Ulrich. (Doc. 22 ¶ 59; Doc. 30 ¶ 59.)

Plaintiff spoke with Ulrich on March 7, 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 60; Doc. 30 ¶ 60.) Ulrich informed Plaintiff that in order for her to return to work, she had to provide the date her issue started, the exact medical reason for her absence, the date she could return to work, and whether she had any restrictions. (Doc. 22 ¶ 61; Doc. 30 ¶ 61.) Ulrich testified that he asked Plaintiff for an exact medical condition and testified that Walsh asked him to send an email requesting the information. (Doc. 30 ¶ 214.) According to Plaintiff, Ulrich told her she had to provide the information the next day or she could not return. (Doc. 22 ¶ 62; Doc. 30 ¶ 62.) Defendant avers Plaintiff testified that she thought this meant she was fired, though she admitted that Ulrich never told her she was fired and never gave her anything in writing indicating she was terminated (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 63-64); Plaintiff states she testified that Walsh, Ulrich and Spott wanted to know the exact medical reason or she could not return to work, and, although Ulrich never gave her anything in writing saying she was terminated, he led her to believe that she would be terminated if she did not provide the exact medical reason for her absence (Doc. ¶¶ 63-64). Defendant avers that Ulrich testified that he never terminated Plaintiff during the call; Plaintiff denies this. (Doc. 22 ¶ 65; Doc. 30 ¶ 65.)

The next day, Plaintiff called Ulrich and asked him to put the request in an email and Ulrich did so. (Doc. 22 ¶ 66; Doc. 30 ¶ 66.) On March 8, 2013, Ulrich sent Plaintiff an email that stated: "Here is the information we would need prior to your return to work. We need date the issue started, exact medical reason why you were out, exact or estimated date of return to work and any restrictions. We need specifics." (Doc. 22 ¶ 67; Doc. 30 ¶ 67.) Ulrich testified that it was his understanding that Plaintiff had not submitted a return to work note at the time he sent the email. (Doc. 22 ¶ 68; Doc. 30 ¶ 68.) Plaintiff testified that she did not know why Ulrich was requesting the information. (Doc. 22 ¶ 69; Doc. 30 ¶ 69.) Plaintiff testified that she was upset after receiving this email and thereafter she never attempted to contact anyone at Stericycle.[2] (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 70-71; Doc. 30 ¶¶ 70-71.) Plaintiff never called the Team Member Help Line. (Doc. 22 ¶ 72; Doc. 30 ¶ 72.)

Plaintiff went to the EEOC on March 10 or 11, 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 73; Doc. 30 ¶ 73.) She testified that she did so because she believed she had been fired. (Doc. 30 ¶ 176.)

Walsh testified that she sent Spott an email on March 12, 2013, attaching doctor's notes provided by Plaintiff. (Doc. 30 ¶ 202.)[3] In the email, Walsh noted that she understood Plaintiff was to return to work on March 11, 2013. ( Id. )

Defendant's employees testified that Defendant generally would not need to ask for an employee's exact medical condition; rather the company would request the dates an employee was out, return to work date, and if the employee has any restrictions. (Doc. 22 ¶ 74; Doc. 30 ¶ 74.)

Spott testified that he became involved after Ulrich sent the email (March 8, 2013). (Doc. 22 ¶ 76; Doc. 30 ¶ 76.) He informed Ulrich that the company did not need to know Plaintiff's exact condition-it only needed the dates an employee was out, return to work date, and if the employee has any restrictions. (Doc. 22 ¶ 75; Doc. 30 ¶ 75.)

Spott testified that he attempted to reach Plaintiff multiple times after he became involved. (Doc. 22 ¶ 77; Doc. 30 ¶ 77.) Spott testified that he did so because he and his supervisor, Lisa Torrez, wanted to let Plaintiff know and clarify that they did not need to know her exact medical diagnosis and that she could return to work upon providing a simple return to work note. (Doc. 22 ¶ 78.) Plaintiff denies Spott's testimony:

To the contrary, Stericycle was admittedly in receipt of the return to work note (Jackie Minutes admitted to the receipt and forwarding to Walsh), and after Ulrich asked for the Plaintiff's exact medical condition, both Torrez and Spott tried to cover up the mistake. By acting as though they never received a return to work note, when they actually did, they were able to keep asking the Pliantiff for a note already submitted.

(Doc. 30 ¶ 78.) Plaintiff adds "[t]he same confused the Plaintiff, and lead [sic] her to believe they were being dishonest on top of asking her for private medical information." ( Id. ) Plaintiff also avers that Spott refused to answer when asked if Plaintiff informed him that she had submitted a return to work slip with full clearance; Spott did not recall whether he had asked Ulrich whether he was in receipt of a doctor's note releasing Plaintiff to return to work; and it would not have been his responsibility to ask Walsh or Ulrich whether Plaintiff had submitted a return to work note. (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 231-33.)

Spott reached Plaintiff by phone on March 10 or 11, 2013. (Doc. 22 ¶ 80; Doc. 30 ¶ 80.) Plaintiff testified that she said: "Matt, I can't talk right now. I'm on my way to my son's doctor's appointment. I'm walking in the office.... [B]esides, I don't know what you want from me. You know what you did was illegal, what you're asking is illegal. And now I filed with the EEOC." (Doc. 22 ¶ 80; Doc. 30 ¶ 80.) Spott testified that he did not have a chance to go into details with Plaintiff during this conversation. (Doc. 22 ¶ 83; Doc. 30 ¶ 83.) Plaintiff testified that this was her only conversation with Spott and it took place after she had filed with the EEOC. (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 81, 82; Doc. 30 ¶¶ 81-82.) Plaintiff further testified that she was upset that "only after Spott was told that she filed a complaint with EEOC did he change everything around." (Doc. 30 ¶ 177.)

Spott sent Plaintiff a follow-up email on March 12, 2013, clarifying that the company did not need to know her medical condition. (Doc. 22 ¶ 84; Doc. 30 ¶ 84.) The email stated that Plaintiff did not need to provide the details of her medical condition and requested Plaintiff to provide a doctor's note that identified when Plaintiff became incapable of coming to work, when she could return to work, and if she had any restrictions. (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 85, 86; Doc. 30 ¶¶ 85, 86.) The email also stated that Plaintiff needed to call him by 3:00 p.m. the next day. (Doc. 22 ¶ 87; Doc. 30 ¶ 87.)

Spott testified that it was his understanding that Plaintiff had not yet submitted a return to work note when he sent the email on March 12, 2013 (Doc. 22 ¶ 88; Doc. 30 ¶ 88), though Plaintiff denies that he did not receive the return to work note (Doc. 30 ¶ 88). Plaintiff testified that she had no personal knowledge as to why Spott sent the March 12, 2013, email. (Doc. 22 ¶ 89; Doc. 30 ¶ 89.) She admitted that she received, read, and understood Spott's email. (Doc. 22 ¶ 93; Doc. 30 ¶ 93.) Spott made further attempts to contact Plaintiff through Walsh. (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 90-92; Doc. 30 ¶¶ 90-92.) Plaintiff admitted that she did not call Spott after ...


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