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Phillips v. The Center for Vision Loss

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 3, 2017

MARY LOU PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CENTER FOR VISION LOSS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is an employment discrimination and retaliation civil rights action seeking compensatory and punitive damages, initiated by the filing of a counseled complaint in this matter by Plaintiff Mary Lou Phillips on March 20, 2015. (Doc. 1). In her complaint, Plaintiff asserts violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 951-963, against The Center for Vision Loss (the “Center”); the Center's branch manager and Plaintiff's former supervisor Cynthia Starner; the Center's executive director Doug Yingling; and the individual members of the Center's personnel committee: Brad Ott, David Pike, Stephanie Olexa, Tim Fox, and Tony Swartz. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 2, 23, 29, 34). After engaging in limited discovery, the parties agreed to dismiss Ott, Pike, Olexa, Fox, and Swartz from this action with prejudice. (Doc. 19). Presently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the three remaining Defendants: the Center, Starner, and Yingling. (Doc. 21). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual background and procedural history

         The relevant facts are presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party. Plaintiff began working as a receptionist at the Center in December of 2009, after a merger between the Center and her previous employer. (Doc. 21-1, ¶¶ 1-2; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 1-2). In addition to being employed by the Center, Plaintiff was also a client there. (Doc. 1, ¶ 22; Doc. 23, ¶ 36). Thus, the Center knew that Plaintiff had significant vision loss in that she was completely blind in one eye and had reduced vision in the other eye. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 5; Doc. 23, ¶ 5). Starner, as the manager of the Center's one-room Monroe County office, supervised Plaintiff throughout Plaintiff's employment with the Center.[1] (Doc. 21-1, ¶¶ 2, 4; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 2, 4). Plaintiff's duties at the center included answering telephones and scheduling drivers to arrange rides for visually-impaired clients. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 3; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 3, 102). Because Plaintiff had difficulty reading due to her vision loss, Defendants attempted to accommodate her by providing “Zoomtext, ” a software program that enlarged and read aloud computer text. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 6; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 6, 45, 101, 103). However, Plaintiff states that she did not utilize the “read aloud” feature of Zoomtext because it distracted her coworkers. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 6; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 6, 103).

         During the first few years of her employment with the Center and dating back to her time with her previous employer, Plaintiff consistently received “average” and “above average” performance evaluations, with Starner even commenting in 2009 that Plaintiff was “a valuable assert to [the] organization.” (Doc. 23, ¶ 89; Doc. 23-10). Nonetheless, Starner asserts in her deposition testimony that Plaintiff was never a competent employee and that her work was “marginally acceptable.” (Doc. 23, ¶¶ 74, 88; Doc. 21-3, at 34; Doc. 23-9, at 2). Specifically, Starner claimed that Plaintiff only obtained and kept her job because Plaintiff's husband, Robert Phillips, was a member of the Center's board of directors. (Doc. 23, ¶ 88; Doc. 23-9, at 2).

         In the spring of 2013, Plaintiff's work product and overall demeanor significantly deteriorated. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 7; Doc. 23, ¶ 7). Clients and coworkers complained that Plaintiff mishandled drivers' schedules, delayed or ignored requests for appointment changes, and failed to forward customer messages. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 16; Doc. 21-3, at 33-34; Doc. 23, ¶ 16). Plaintiff also fell asleep at her desk, and on one occasion during the spring of 2013 slept through a meeting. (Doc. 21-1, ¶¶ 14-15; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 14-15). Moreover, Plaintiff openly complained about her job, her marital situation, and Starner-even declaring that Starner could not manage herself out of a paper bag. (Doc. 21-1, ¶¶ 11-13, 17; Doc. 21-2, at 24; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 11-13, 17). Starner alleges that the situation became so untenable that three coworkers threatened to quit due to Plaintiff's behavior. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 18; Doc. 21-3, at 39; Doc. 23, ¶ 18).

         Plaintiff admits that her attitude and work product were poor during the spring of 2013, but stresses that these behavioral changes were medically related, as Plaintiff has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the early 2000s. (Doc. 23, ¶¶ 7, 10). Moreover, Plaintiff claims that Starner and other Center employees perceived that Plaintiff's behavioral changes in the spring of 2013 were due to some sort of medical condition. (Doc. 23, ¶¶ 7, 10, 16-18, 73). While Defendants state that they attributed Plaintiff's behavioral changes to marital difficulties, there is evidence in the record to suggest that Starner knew that Plaintiff had mental health problems well before the spring of 2013. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 8; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 8-9, 18, 39, 63-66, 91, 106- 07, 116). For instance, Robert Phillips asserts in his deposition testimony that he informed Starner that Plaintiff was bipolar years earlier when Starner first contacted him to complain that Plaintiff fell asleep at work. (Doc. 23, ¶¶ 9, 63, 91, 107; Doc. 23-1, at 20-22). Robert Phillips also asserts that he explained to Starner at that time that Plaintiff had to take a certain type of medication that made her drowsy. (Doc. 23, ¶¶ 14, 63, 66, 91, 107; Doc. 23-1, at 20-21). Plaintiff and Robert Phillips further claim that Starner was the one who referred Plaintiff to her current psychologist, Dr. Vanmeter. (Doc. 21-2, at 14; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 9, 106; Doc. 23-1, at 21). Furthermore, Plaintiff state that Starner's own comments reveal that she was aware of Plaintiff's medical conditions. For instance, on one occasion Starner is alleged to have sarcastically referred to Plaintiff in front of her coworkers as “Ms. Visually Impaired.” (Doc. 21-2, at 11-12; Doc. 23, ¶ 115). Plaintiff also alleges that Starner questioned Plaintiff as to whether her medications were in order. (Doc. 21-4, at 38; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 18, 39, 116).

         On April 15, 2013, Starner and Plaintiff met to discuss Plaintiff's behavior. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 20; Doc. 23, ¶ 20). At the meeting, Starner complained that Plaintiff's handwriting was illegible when she transcribed drivers' schedules into the Center's scheduling book. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 20; Doc. 23, ¶ 20). Plaintiff states that she had difficulty scheduling appointments in the book while on the phone with customers because she was simultaneously required to hold the phone and a magnifier while writing the appointment information into the small space that was provided in an appointment book. (Doc. 23, ¶ 110). As a potential solution, Plaintiff suggested that she be provided the Sharepoint software program, which was used by the Center's employees at the Lehigh Valley location to schedule driver pickups. (Doc. 21-2, at 25; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 81, 111-12). Starner appeared receptive to the idea of using Sharepoint, and made additional changes to the driver scheduling process in an effort to avoid future communications breakdowns. (Doc. 21-2, at 48-50; Doc. 23, ¶ 108). However, Plaintiff was unable to figure out how to use Sharepoint on her own and although Starner allegedly promised to train Plaintiff how to use the program, Starner never got around to doing so. (Doc. 21-2, at 25; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 82, 109). The April 15, 2013 meeting and Starner's subsequent notes from that meeting was the first time that Starner documented any concerns about Plaintiff's performance, despite the fact that Starner stated in her deposition testimony that it was her practice to document major concerns about an employee's performance. (Doc. 21-3, at 25-29, 52-53; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 68-70, 85).

         Also during the meeting, Plaintiff requested to take a week-long vacation later that month to visit her granddaughter in Florida. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 21; Doc. 21-2, at 10; Doc. 23, ¶ 21). Starner expressed her frustration with the short notice given for this request because Plaintiff knew that Starner was scheduled to be out of the office and recovering from surgery at that time. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 22; Doc. 21-2, at 49; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 22, 77). Starner then asked Plaintiff to consider postponing the trip, and said she would consult the Center's employee manual to determine whether Plaintiff gave sufficient notice for her vacation request. (Doc. 21-2, at 49; Doc. 21-3, at 36-37; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 78, 113). Frustrated with what she considered to be unfair treatment from Starner, Plaintiff cancelled her vacation plans. (Doc. 21-2, at 10; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 23, 114). Sometime thereafter, Starner informed Plaintiff that she could take the vacation time, but Plaintiff had already cancelled the trip.[2] (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 23; Doc. 21-2, at 10; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 23, 114).

         On April 22, 2013, one week after their first meeting, Plaintiff and Starner met with Yingling, the Center's executive director and Starner's direct supervisor. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 24; Doc. 21-2, at 21; Doc. 21-3, at 38-41; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 24, 61). Prior to the meeting, Starner informed Yingling of the various problems she had noted with Plaintiff's behavior and performance in recent weeks, and speculated that the changes in Plaintiff's behavior may be medically related. (Doc. 21-3, at 39-40; Doc. 21-4, at 15-16, 20, 24-25, 29). Starner and Yingling both expressed concern for Plaintiff's well-being. (Doc. 21-4, at 30; Doc. 23, ¶ 43). Once the meeting began, Plaintiff reiterated that she struggled to legibly write schedules into the appointment book. (Doc. 21-1, ¶ 25; Doc. 23, ¶ 25). Plaintiff also alleges that she complained to Yingling that Starner inquired about Plaintiff's use of medications, to which Yingling responded that it was inappropriate for Starner to discuss an employee's medications. (Doc. 21-4, at 34-35, 37-38; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 18, 39). Yingling proposed a number of corrective actions and tools to help Plaintiff better perform her job, including creating an excel list of the Center's customers in an enlarged font, setting up a closed circuit TV at Plaintiff's station to enlarge printed font, and having Plaintiff initially write appointment information on a separate piece of paper and then carefully copying that information into the appointment book. (Doc. 21-1, ¶¶ 26-28; Doc. 21-2, at 51; Doc. 21-3, at 51-52; Doc. 21-4, at 21-22; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 26-28). Although Plaintiff, Starner, and Yingling also discussed Sharepoint as one of the tools that could be helpful to Plaintiff, Yingling admitted in his deposition testimony that he was skeptical that Plaintiff would be able to use Sharepoint effectively because she struggled to record client pickup information using a simple pen and paper. (Doc. 21-2, at 51; Doc. 21-4, at 23-25; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 54-55). Ultimately, Plaintiff was never provided any assistance or training on the use of Sharepoint. (Doc. 21-2, at 9, 15-16, 25; Doc. 21-3, at 48; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 82-83). Yingling states that he hoped the action plan developed would improve Plaintiff's performance, but by the following week he had determined that thes measures were unsuccessful and concluded that Plaintiff's continued employment with the Center was no longer tenable. (Doc. 21-4, at 23; Doc. 23, ¶ 56).

         After he heard of the meeting from Plaintiff that night, Robert Phillips called Yingling to discuss Plaintiff's situation. (Doc. 21-4, at 32-34). Phillips states that he informed Yingling that Plaintiff was bipolar during this phone call. (Doc. 21-4, at 34; Doc. 23, ¶ 46). Yingling made no effort to determine whether any additional accommodations were needed to provide for Plaintiff's bipolar condition after the call from Phillips, however, because Plaintiff did not personally inform him that she needed further accommodations. (Doc. 21-4, at 39-41; Doc. 23, ¶ 49).

         Plaintiff's job situation continued to deteriorate between her first meeting with Yingling and Starner and their second meeting one week later on April 29, 2013. (Doc. 21-4, at 22, 36). Also on April 29, 2013, two of Plaintiff's coworkers sent Yingling e-mails expressing concerns about Plaintiff's job performance and support for Starner. (Doc. 21-2, at 52-53; Doc. 21-4, at 55). One of those coworkers gave Plaintiff a pamphlet about becoming a home shopper and encouraged her to seek new employment on the same day that she privately urged Yingling to refer Plaintiff to the personnel committee for termination. (Doc. 21-2, at 12-13, 52-53). Plaintiff believes that these actions were coordinated through Starner, who purportedly told other workers at the Monroe County office that Plaintiff's job was in jeopardy. (Doc. 21-2, at 12-13).

         Two days after the April 29, 2013 meeting, Robert Phillips sent an e-mail to Ott, who was the head of the Center's personnel committee. (Doc. 23-2, at 2-3). In the e-mail, Robert Phillips expressed concern about the meetings Yingling and Starner were conducting, and asked Ott or another personnel committee member to attend future meetings concerning Plaintiff. (Doc. 23-2, at 2-3). Robert Phillips also revealed to Ott that Plaintiff was on medication for her bipolar condition, and attached an article about accommodating bipolar disability in the workplace. (Doc. 23, ¶ 10; Doc. 23-2, at 2-3). There is no evidence in the record to suggest that Ott took any action in response to this e-mail.

         On May 2, 2013, the day after the Robert Phillips e-mail to Ott, Starner submitted a “personnel issue report” calling for the Center's board of directors to take action against Plaintiff.[3] (Doc. 23-9, at 2-7). Four days later, Yingling submitted his own report to the personnel committee in which he concluded that Plaintiff's employment with the Center should not continue and expressed support for Starner. (Doc. 23-8, at 2-3). Yingling's report did not mention Plaintiff's bipolar condition. (Doc. 23, ¶ 87; Doc. 23-8, at 2-3). In his deposition testimony, Yingling explained that his recommendation to terminate Plaintiff was binding on the personnel committee, as the Center's executive director exclusively held the power to hire and fire employees. (Doc. 21-4, at 42-44, 46-48; Doc. 23, ¶ 50). On May 20, 2013, the personnel committee met with Plaintiff and carried out Yingling's directive by offering Plaintiff the option of retirement, resignation, or termination. (Doc. 21-2, at 15; Doc. 21-4, at 47). Neither Starner nor Yingling attended the May 20, 2013 meeting, as Yingling explained that he was worried about personally presenting this ultimatum to the wife of a board member. (Doc. 21-3, at 48; Doc. 21-4, at 47; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 33, 50). Faced with these options, Plaintiff chose retirement and was granted two weeks of severance pay. (Doc. 21-2, at 24, 54).

         Plaintiff retained counsel immediately after the events of May 20, 2013, and submitted a letter through counsel on May 22, 2013 demanding that Plaintiff be promptly reinstated. (Doc. 2-2, at 2). Plaintiff's counsel also returned the severance pay that Plaintiff had been provided. (Doc. 21-2, at 25; Doc. 23, ¶ 34). The parties then became locked in a stalemate that has continued to the filing of this action. At one point, a member of the Center's endowment board offered to arbitrate the dispute but the personnel committee essentially rejected the offer, arguing that the endowment board member did not know the relevant facts and lacked the authority to legally bind the Center. (Doc. 21-4, at 49-50, 82). Plaintiff also makes much of the fact that the personnel committee attempted to force Robert Phillips off the Center's board of directors, as the committee believed that he had a conflict of interest given that his wife was threatening legal action against the Center. (Doc. 23-11, at 2; Doc. 23-12, at 2-3; Doc. 23-13, at 2; Doc. 23-14, at 2-3). However, these attempts to remove Robert Phillips from the board ultimately proved unsuccessful, as Phillips remained a board member until resigning the seat on his own accord near the end of his term. (Doc. 23-1, at 18-19, 41-43).

         On March 22, 2016, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21), together with a brief in support thereof (Doc. 22), a statement of material facts (Doc. 21-1), and a series of exhibits. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment on April 12, 2016 (Doc. 24), along with a response to Defendants' statement of facts (Doc. 23), and her own exhibits. Defendants then filed a reply brief on April 26, 2016. (Doc. 25). Having been fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all inferences “should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true.” Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

         A federal court should grant summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to make credibility determinations, weigh evidence, or draw inferences from the facts. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Rather, the court must simply “determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits or declarations, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The non-movant must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Furthermore, mere conclusory allegations and self-serving testimony, whether made in the complaint or a sworn statement, cannot be used to obtain or avoid summary judgment when uncorroborated and contradicted by other evidence of record. See Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990); see also Thomas v. Delaware State Univ., 626 F. App'x 384, 389 n.6 (3d Cir. 2015) (not precedential) (“[U]nsupported deposition testimony, which is contradicted by the record, is insufficient to defeat summary judgment.”); Nat'l Labor Rel. Bd. v. FES, 301 F.3d 83, 95 (3d Cir. 2002) (“[The plaintiff's] testimony . . . amounts to an unsupported, conclusory assertion, which we have held is inadequate to satisfy the movant's burden of proof on summary judgment.”).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff asserts ADA and PHRA claims against Defendants under three different theories of liability: (1) discrimination on the basis of disparate treatment; (2) failure to accommodate; and (3) retaliation. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 46-47, 54, 59). Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims for a variety of reasons. (Doc. 22; Doc. 25). First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's assertions of disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, and retaliation each fail because Plaintiff has not produced sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact. (Doc. 22, at 9-21). Defendants next contend that Starner and Yingling should be granted summary judgment on the basis that there is no individual liability under the ADA and PHRA. (Doc. 22, at 22-23). As a final matter, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's request for punitive damages should be stricken from the complaint in the event that any of her claims survive summary judgment. (Doc. 22, at 22-23). The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that in general, “analysis of an ADA claim applies equally to a PHRA claim.” Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102, 105 (3d Cir. 1996) (“Pennsylvania courts . . . generally interpret the PHRA in accord with its federal counterparts . . . .”)). Because these two statutes are generally coextensive, the Court will address the merits of each claim solely under the ADA. See Taylor, 184 F.3d at 306; Kelly, 94 F.3d at 105.

         A. Claims on the merits

         Plaintiff alleges three different theories of liability under the ADA: (1) discrimination on the basis of disparate treatment; (2) failure to accommodate; and (3) retaliation. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 46-47, 54, 59). Title I of the ADA provides, as a general rule, that “[n]o covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A “qualified individual” is defined as “an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). The ADA defines a “disability” as “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). “[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A).

         Here, Plaintiff has adduced sufficient evidence that her vision impairment and bipolar condition substantially limit one or more major life activities. Indeed, Plaintiff states that she is entirely blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other, which substantially limits her ability to see and read. (Doc. 21-2, at 4; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 5, 37, 101; Doc. 23-5, at 2). Plaintiff also states that her bipolar condition can cause her severe depression. (Doc. 21-2, at 6-8); see also Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 302 (3d Cir. 1999) (finding that a factual issue existed as to whether the plaintiff's bipolar disorder substantially limited her in the major life activity of thinking even when she was taking lithium); Stewart v. Bally Total Fitness, No. CIV. A. 99-3555, 2000 WL 1006936, at *5 (E.D. Pa. July 20, 2000) (finding that a reasonable jury could conclude that a plaintiff's chronic bipolar condition substantially limits major life activities such as sleeping and working). Defendants do not dispute the severity of these impairments. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is disabled for the purposes of the ADA.[4] See42 U.S.C. § 12102(1).

         The ADA prohibits several different types of conduct. See Hohider v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 574 F.3d 169, 186 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Title I enumerates specific examples of conduct that would constitute discrimination prohibited under the statute.”). Here, Plaintiff alleges three different theories of liability that implicate the ADA's prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of disparate treatment, failing to make reasonable accommodations, and retaliation. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 46-47, 54, 59).

         1. Disparate treatment

         Plaintiff first alleges that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her vision impairment and bipolar disorder. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 42, 47, 54; Doc. 24, at 11). “In order to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment under the ADA, a plaintiff must show ‘(1) [s]he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) [s]he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) [s]he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination.'” Shaner v. Synthes, 204 F.3d 494, 500 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Gaul v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998)). Federal courts apply the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to assess ADA disparate treatment claims. Shaner, 204 F.3d at 500 (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)). Under this framework, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendant “to articulate some legitimate nondiscriminatory reason” for the alleged discriminatory action. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. Finally, if the defendant manages to rebut the plaintiff's prima facie case, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were merely a pretext for discrimination. Shaner, 204 F.3d at 500 (citing Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981)). Defendants argue that Plaintiff's disparate treatment theory of liability fails because she has not established a prima facie case and also because she has not shown that Defendants' nondiscriminatory reasons for the adverse employment action were pretextual. (Doc. 22, at 11 n.2, 13-16).

         a. Prima facie case of discrimination

         Defendants first contend that Plaintiff has not proven her prima facie case of discrimination. (Doc. 22, at 11 n.2). Namely, Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to establish the second and third elements of the prima facie case. (Doc. 22, at 11 n.2). It is clear that the first element of the prima facie case is satisfied because there is no dispute that Plaintiff is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA, as noted above.

         Turning to the second element, Defendants fleetingly assert that Plaintiff has not shown that she was otherwise qualified to perform the receptionist position at the Center. (Doc. 22, at 11 n.2). However, Plaintiff rebuts this assertion in her brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss by pointing out that she had been employed in that same position for ten years prior to her termination and that she had multiple prior performance evaluations that rated her work as satisfactory or exceeding expectations. (Doc. 24, at 12 n.1 (citing Doc. 23-10, at 2-5)). The Court finds that the evidence presented by Plaintiff is sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her former job. See Shaner, 204 F.3d at 500. The second element of the prima facie case of discrimination is thus also satisfied.

         As for the third element of the prima facie case, Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to demonstrate a causal connection between the alleged discrimination and the adverse employment action taken against her. (Doc. 22, at 11 n.2). An adverse employment action “constitutes a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.” Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 761 (1998). Plaintiff clearly suffered an adverse employment action here, as Defendants brought about the termination of Plaintiff's employment, even if they technically gave her the option of retirement in lieu of firing. (Doc. 21-2, at 15, 24, 54; Doc. 21-4, at 47). Beyond this, Plaintiff must show that her “disability was a ‘determinative factor' in [Defendants'] decision to terminate h[er] employment.” Decker v. Alliant Techs., LLC, 871 F.Supp.2d 413, 428 (E.D. Pa. 2012) (citing Watson v. Se. Penn. Transp. Auth., 207 F.3d 207, 214-15 (3d Cir. 2000)). The “burden of establishing [the causation element] of a prima facie case of disparate treatment is not onerous.” Anderson v. Wachovia Mortg. Corp., 621 F.3d 261, 271 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). In viewing the evidence presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party, the Court concludes that Plaintiff presents sufficient circumstantial evidence that could lead a reasonable juror to conclude that her termination was a result of discrimination. This evidence includes: the comments allegedly made by Starner in referring to Plaintiff as “Ms. Visually Impaired” and telling Plaintiff that her medications needed to be checked (Doc. 21-2, at 11-12; Doc. 21-4, at 38; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 18, 39, 115-16); the close temporal proximity between the phone call where Robert Phillips informed Yingling that Plaintiff was bipolar and Yingling's decision to end Plaintiff's employment (Doc. 21-4, at 23, 32-34; Doc. 23, ¶¶ 46, 56); and the fact that Yingling held the sole authority to terminate Plaintiff's employment and appears to have been heavily influenced by Starner in making this decision (Doc. 21-2, at 12-13, 52-53; Doc. 21-4, at 55; Doc. 23-9, at 2-7; Doc. 24, at 11). Accordingly, Plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to preclude summary judgment as to the third prong of the prima facie case.

         The Court therefore concludes that Plaintiff satisfied her initial burden of making out a prima facie case of discrimination.

         b. Defendants' legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for termination

         Having concluded that Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden now shifts to Defendants to proffer a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiff's termination. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. Again, the burden at this stage is “relatively light, ” as a defendant need only introduce “evidence which, taken as true, would permit the conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory reason for the unfavorable employment decision.” Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir. 1994). Here, Defendants offer Plaintiff's poor work performance and behavior as legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for her termination. (Doc. 22, at 11-13). There is ample evidence in the record to support these proffered reasons, as Plaintiff freely admits that the quality of her work declined in the spring of 2013, as exemplified by her mishandling of drivers' schedules, ignoring or belatedly responding to requests for appointment changes, failing to forward messages, sleeping at her desk, and illegible handwriting. (Doc. 21-1, ΒΆΒΆ 7, 14-16, 20; Doc. ...


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