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Gavurnik v. Home Properties, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 3, 2017

BRUCE GAVURNIK, Plaintiff,
v.
HOME PROPERTIES, L.P., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          SCHILLER, J.

         59-year-old Bruce Gavurnik worked as a service technician for Home Properties, L.P. Gavurnik suffered from a variety of vascular and musculoskeletal conditions affecting his ability to walk and stand. He requested accommodations to wear special podiatric shoes and to work only 40 hours per week. Home Properties allowed Gavurnik to wear special shoes, but required Gavurnik to work overtime as needed. Nine months later, Home Properties fired Gavurnik for job misconduct. Gavurnik sued Home Properties for discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). He alleges that he was fired because of his disability and his age, and in retaliation for asking for an accommodation. Home Properties contends that Gavurnik was not disabled because Gavurnik's ability to stand and walk was not substantially limited. Further, Home Properties argues it had legitimate reasons to terminate Gavurnik unrelated to his age or alleged disability. Home Properties has moved for summary judgment. Despite Gavurnik's conditions, the Court concludes that he was not disabled. Additionally, because Home Properties's articulated reasons for firing him were not a pretext for discrimination, the Court will grant Home Properties's motion.

         I.BACKGROUND

         In 2013, Home Properties, a landlord, hired 59-year-old Gavurnik as a service technician to work at Racquet Club Apartments. (Pl.'s Dep. 25-26; Def.'s Resp. to Interrog. No. 2.) Racquet Club Apartments sits on 50 acres and consists of 570 units. (Martin Dep. 17.) Service technicians worked onsite performing maintenance work, responding to residents' service calls, and removing snow. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Ex. 7.) The technicians were required to work overtime and be on call, particularly during the winter when snow removal was a top priority. (Id.) Only one of the service technicians working with Gavurnik was older than him. (Id. Ex. 30.)

         Gavurnik suffered from a series of vascular and musculoskeletal conditions including Raynaud's, rheumatoid arthritis, and bunions, which affected his ability to walk and stand. (Pl.'s Dep. 17.) However, Gavurnik testified that he would walk as far as needed on the job, including for at least an hour (Pl.'s Dep. 19.) In fact, Gavurnik said he could walk “as a normal person can.” (Pl.'s Dep. 19.)

         Throughout the winter of 2013-14, Racquet Club Apartments received a large amount of snow and service technicians had to work a lot of overtime. (Martin Dep. 34.) Around the end of January 2014, Gavurnik requested two accommodations via doctor's notes for his conditions: podiatric footwear and no mandatory overtime. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Exs. 12, 13.) Home Properties accommodated Gavurnik's request to wear the specialized shoes. (Pl.'s Dep. 80.) But Gavurnik claims that his supervisor, Wendy Kind, handed the overtime note back to him, saying “you take this letter back. I didn't see this letter.” (Pl.'s Dep. 75.) Gavurnik continued to work throughout the rest of the winter, earning “meets expectations” in every category on his performance evaluation dated February 26, 2014. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. K.)

         On February 15, 2014, Gavurnik was hospitalized for chest pains and released the same day for exertional fatigue. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Ex. 14.) King requested a doctor's note saying that Gavurnik was cleared to return to work, and considered sending him to a panel doctor for a potential workers' compensation claim. (King Dep. 73, 81.) Gavurnik testified that no one at Home Properties made any comment to him about his conditions. (Pl.'s Dep. 121.)

         Starting in April 2014, residents and Gavurnik's supervisors filed a series of complaints against him. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Exs. 19, 21, 23, 33.) On April 8, 2014, Gavurnik received an Employee Conversation Letter, an intermediate disciplinary step before formal disciplinary action, regarding an incident in which he did not call a cleaner necessary to prepare an apartment for showing. (Id. Ex. 19.) In June 2014, Gavurnik complained to his regional supervisor, Rob Delong, that the snow blowers were not functioning, going “over the head” of another of his managers, Steve Martin. (Pl.'s Dep. 94, 99.) On August 8, 2014, Gavurnik received another Employee Conversation Letter for failing to remove trash and supplies from a resident's apartment after a service call. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Ex. 21.) On August 20, 2014, Home Properties issued Gavurnik a formal warning notice for arguing with a leasing consultant about the emergency status of a service call that potentially conflicted with a personal appointment. (Id. Ex. 23.) Also in August 2014, Gavurnik allegedly failed to properly address a leak in an apartment and retained keys to vacant apartments while he was on vacation, violating company policy. (Id. Ex. 33.)

         Following these complaints, Home Properties fired Gavurnik on September 2, 2014. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Ex. 4.) Later that day, Gavurnik called Home Properties's ethics and compliance hotline, claiming that he was fired because of favoritism and his snow blower complaint to Delong. (Id. Ex. 28.) After Gavurnik was fired, Home Properties hired Luke Bray, a 28-year-old groundskeeper already working for Racquet Club Apartments, as the new service technician. (King Dep. 97; Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts Ex. 30.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record discloses no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of showing that the record reveals no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247. Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings to set forth specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). In reviewing the record, “a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.” Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). A court may not consider the credibility or weight of the evidence in deciding a motion for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Gavurnik has sued Home Properties for discrimination under the ADEA, the ADA, and the PHRA, and for retaliation under the ADEA and the ADA.

         A. Discrimination

         Discrimination cases under the ADEA and the ADA are subject to the burden shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green.[1]411 U.S. 792 (1973); Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 691 (3d Cir. 2009) (applying McDonnell Douglas to an ADEA claim); Benko v. Portage Area Sch. Dist., 241 F. App'x 842, 845 (3d Cir. 2007) (applying McDonnell Douglas to an ADA claim). Under the framework, the initial burden of production is on the plaintiff to show a prima facie case. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. Once the plaintiff makes out a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to “articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.” I ...


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