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Oji v. Devereux Foundation

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 23, 2017



          O'NEILL, J.

         Plaintiff Christopher Oji brings claims against his former employer defendant Devereux Foundation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq., alleging that defendant discriminated and retaliated against him and failed to accommodate his injuries-a shoulder sprain and fractured finger. I have before me defendant's motion for summary judgment on all claims, Dkt. No. 32, plaintiff's response, Dkt. No. 41, defendant's reply, Dkt. No. 43, and plaintiff's appendix to his response, Dkt. No. 44, which he filed late.[1] Because I find that plaintiff has not offered sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find in his favor on any of his claims, I will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment.


         I. Plaintiff's Employment

         Defendant is a nonprofit provider of behavioral healthcare that offers services to people with special needs. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 2 (Devereux's Philosophy of Care) at 136, Ex. 3 (Devereux Handbook) at 3. Plaintiff worked in one of defendant's residential treatment programs, a 20-bed residential facility for children and adolescents who have both behavioral problems and intellectual or developmental disabilities. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 2 at 138. Many of the residents at the facility have autism, Asperger's syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder. Id.

         As a Direct Support Provider (DSP), plaintiff was responsible for ensuring the safety of himself and others and planning and implementing recreation and other social activities for residents. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 12 (Prof. Skill Area/Description, Direct Support Professional), 4 ¶ 3; Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 1 (Oji Dep.) at 91:24-92:17. His responsibilities included helping residents eat, shower and dress, as well as physically restraining clients when they posed a danger to themselves or others. Oji Dep. at 81:14-16; 89:22-91:3; 118:14-15.

         II. Plaintiff's Injuries

         On May 21, 2012, plaintiff sprained his shoulder while working with a client. Oji Dep. at 112:25-113:15. He was evaluated by a Worker's Compensation provider, who restrained his left arm and advised him to avoid overhead reaching or lifting. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 16 (Worker's Comp. Medical Report, May 29, 2012). Jennifer Scott, a Human Resources generalist at Devereux who managed plaintiff's case, notified defendant about plaintiff's restrictions. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 18 (Email from Scott to Alleman, May 29, 2012). Plaintiff resumed work the day after the evaluation and, that day, he slipped while cleaning the shower at the treatment facility, fracturing the fourth finger on his right hand. Oji Dep. at 116:13-117:6; Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 23 (Letter from Dr. Lyons to Dr. Krch, June 4, 2012). On June 1, he was evaluated by another Worker's Compensation physician, who referred him to an orthopedist. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 22 (Worker's Comp. Medical Report, June 1, 2012); Dkt. No. 44, Ex. 1 pt. 5 (Referral Note, June 1, 2012) 7. The orthopedist determined he should not interact with clients, reach with his left arm, or lift or carry more than ten pounds because of his shoulder injury. Dkt. No. 44, Ex. 1 (Worker's Comp. Medical Report, June 7, 2012) 25-26. Plaintiff's right hand was in a cast from June 4 to July 9. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 29 (Adv. Orthopaedic Assoc. June 7, 2012 and Jul. 9, 2012 Chart Notes).

         From June 4 to August 1, defendant placed plaintiff in a modified duty position where he did office work. Oji Dep. at 127:13-19; Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 18 (Email Exchange Regarding Plaintiff's Modified Status, May 29-June 8, 2012), Ex. 26 (Letter to Plaintiff from Scott Regarding Modified Duty, June 7, 2012), Ex. 27 (Letter from Scott to Oji, June 18, 2012). This work included lifting boxes and papers, “sweeping the floor, [and] writing.” Oji Dep. at 127:17- 18; 128:1.

         On August 1, after two months of modified duty, plaintiff's physicians released him to return to his former work obligations. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 33 (Advanced Orthopaedic Assoc. Aug. 1, 2012 Chart Note). Plaintiff's medical records state that, as of August 1, he had “full range of motion” and “X-rays show continued acceptable alignment of the fracture fragments and some early callus formation” leading the physician to conclude that “at this point the fracture is healed” and he “would not be inclined to undertake [any] type of surgery to try to correct the minor cosmetic” problem with plaintiff's knuckle. Id. The physician concluded that plaintiff “can return to full work activities and we will see how he progresses.” Id.

         However, plaintiff testified that, after he resumed his full responsibilities, he “struggled with [the DSP job obligations] because [he] was still injured and [he] had not recovered.” Oji Dep. at 129:11-16. At his August 1 doctor's appointment, his physician wrote that he “still has some complaints of pain in the right hand” and that “it feels tight to him, ” and prescribed hand therapy. Advanced Orthopaedic Assoc. Aug. 1, 2012 Chart Note. Plaintiff told his caseworker this and she replied that he should make a follow-up appointment with his doctor. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 51 (Email from Oji to Scott, Aug. 22, 2012) (Oji stating, “I don't know why Dr. Lyons will tell you that my hand injury has completely healed . . . . The objective is to get my hand to the condition that it was prior to the injury”); Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 19 (Scott Dep.) at 48:14-22.

         Plaintiff claims that he requested accommodations from defendant both during the period of his restricted duty and after. Oji Dep. at 119:21-120:4, 128:13-16, 134:12-135:13. During his period of modified duty, he requested he be able to clock in and out in a place away from clients. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 15 (Gonzalez Dep.) at 64:9-20; Oji Dep. at 382:19-383:7. Defendant moved the place he clocked in, but there were often clients present at the new location. Id. Plaintiff also requested defendant provide him a driver to take him to and from work, but defendant declined to do so. Oji Dep. at 120:8-17, 121:17-24.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on September 12, 2012, he notified defendant's Operational Manager, Donna Gonzalez, that he would be out of work for surgery on his hand beginning on October 5. Compl. ¶ 25.[3] Gonzalez denies that he told her this. Dkt. No. 44, Ex. 4, (Gonzalez Dep.) at 44:2-46:22 (“Chris never told me he was having surgery ever.”).

         III. Plaintiff's Misconduct

         Plaintiff violated Devereux policy on September 7, 2012, by leaving his shift before his replacement arrived. Oji Dep. at 170:8-18; Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 2 (Devereux's Philosophy of Care). On that night, plaintiff and his coworker, Tristan Jones, were on duty until 10:00 pm. Oji Dep. at 170:8-10; Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 41 (Houser Dep.) at 18:16-24. Shortly before their shifts ended, plaintiff's coworkers called their supervisor to ask if a replacement staff member was soon to arrive. Oji Dep. at 43:6-45:23; Houser Dep. at 19:13-20:5. The supervisor stated the replacement was on his way and hung up. Houser Dep. at 20:3-5. After waiting five minutes past the end of his shift, plaintiff asked the DSP in the other wing of the facility to look after his clients and he and Jones left. Oji Dep. at 170:8-18; Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 42 (Timecard of Christopher Oji). As a result of plaintiff's and Jones's departure, the clients on their wing were left unattended for almost two hours. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 37 (Termination Letter from Vincent to Oji, Sept. 18, 2012). This violated Devereux policy, which authorizes termination for such misconduct. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 2 (Devereux's Philosophy of Care) (“Staff will not leave the clients they are supervising for any reason unless another staff member or supervisor relieves them. This would include change of shifts, bathroom breaks, or going to another unit or outside the unit.”) (emphasis omitted); Ex. 3 (Devereux Employee Handbook) 53 (explaining that employees can be terminated for violating Devereux's policies).

         On September 18, 2012, following an internal investigation into the incident, defendant fired plaintiff, stating in his termination letter that by leaving his shift without being replaced by another staff member he “demonstrated a clear disregard to the students to whom we provide care.” Termination Letter from Vincent to Oji, Sept. 18, 2012. Defendant also fired plaintiff's coworker, Tristan Jones. Dkt. No. 32, Ex. 38 (Vincent Dep.) at 13:6-16; Ex. 39 (Latella Dep.) at 24:13-22.

         IV. Post-Termination Medical Condition

         After his termination, plaintiff continued to receive medical treatment for his injuries. Dkt. No. 44, Ex. 10 (Worker's Compensation Appeal Board Decision, Dec. 14, 2015). He applied for and received worker's compensation for the medical treatment necessary for his injuries. Id.

         He now seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, punitive damages, and compensation for loss in pay and emotional distress. Compl. 9. Discovery has concluded in this case, see Dkt. No. 26 (ordering all fact discovery due by August 1, 2016), and ...

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