United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
DARLA C. ELLIS, Plaintiff
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and JOHN E. WETZEL, in his official capacity as the Secretary of Corrections, Defendants
William W. Caldwell United States District Judge
Darla C. Ellis, an African American female, filed this
lawsuit against defendants, the Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections (the DOC), and John E. Wetzel, the Secretary of
Corrections. Plaintiff was formerly employed with the DOC as
a Corrections Counselor 2. Her case is mainly based on the
DOC's alleged failure to accommodate disabilities
resulting from her successful battle against lung cancer.
Plaintiff says her disabilities required a work location
where she could control the temperature, that was smoke-free,
in which she was not exposed at any one time to a large
number of prisoners, and which did not require much walking
distance to travel to upon her arrival at work.
second amended complaint, she makes the following claims: (1)
in Count I, a claim against Wetzel for injunctive relief
under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); (2) in Count
II, a claim against Wetzel for injunctive relief under the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); (3) in Count
III, claims under Title VII against the DOC and Wetzel for
disparate treatment and retaliation based on sex and race;
and (4) in Count IV, claims under the Rehabilitation Act
against the DOC and Wetzel for disparate treatment and
considering Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
Standard of Review
Civ. P. 56 governs the grant of summary judgment. The moving
party is entitled to summary judgment if he “shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Rule 56(a). “Material facts are those that could affect
the outcome of the proceeding, and a dispute about a material
fact is genuine if the evidence is sufficient to permit a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Pearson v. Prison Health Serv., 850
F.3d 526, 534 (3d Cir. 2017)(citation omitted).
pertinent part, parties moving for, or opposing, summary
judgment must support their position by “citing to
particular parts of materials in the record, including
depositions, documents, electronically stored information,
affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those
made for the purposes of the motion only), admissions,
interrogatory answers, or other materials.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The non-moving party cannot
rest on mere pleadings or allegations, ” El v.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 479 F.3d 232,
238 (3d Cir. 2007), but “must set forth specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d
Cir. 2001). “To survive summary judgment, a party must
present more than just ‘bare assertions, conclusory
allegations or suspicions . . . .'” Podobnik v.
U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir.
2005)(cited case omitted). “‘[C]onclusory,
self-serving affidavits are insufficient to withstand a
motion for summary judgment.'” Kirleis v.
Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., 560 F.3d 156, 161
(3d Cir. 2009)(cited case omitted).
“must view all evidence and draw all inferences in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party” and we
will only grant the motion “if no reasonable juror
could find for the non-movant.” Lawrence v. City of
Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).
upon Defendants' statement of material facts ((DSMF),
Plaintiff's response thereto, Plaintiff's
counter-statement of material facts (PCSMF), and
Defendants' response thereto, we set forth the background
to Defendants' summary judgment motion. Since Plaintiff
admits many of Defendant's facts, we will often simply
borrow Defendants' language without the use of quotation
employed Plaintiff as a Corrections Counselor 2 in the Camp
Hill Diagnostic and Classification Center (CDCC). (DSMF
¶ 1, admitted by Plaintiff), located at the state
correctional institution in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania (SCI-Camp
Hill). The CDCC work sites include the infirmary, D Block,
which is the restricted housing unit (RHU), and R Block.
(DSMF ¶ 3, admitted by Plaintiff). The essential
functions of a Corrections Counselor 2 include: (1) organize
criminal data per policy; (2) use DOC automated systems; (3)
visit all CDCC work sites; (4) care, custody and control of
inmates; (5) travel to other facilities; and (6) exchange
information with non-DOC sites. (DSMF ¶ 2, admitted by
Plaintiff). The position description for Corrections
Counselor 2 includes “[o]ngoing observation and
assessment . . . through such one-on-one contact which is
carried out in the office and inmate housing area.”
(DSMF ¶ 4, admitted by Plaintiff).
and CDCC2 were two mobile trailers purchased by the DOC in
the 1990s to house employees at SCI-Camp Hill following
structural damage to the institution caused during riots in
1989. (DSMF ¶ 36, admitted by Plaintiff). CDCC2 was
purchased in 1994 and had a use expectancy of 20 years. (DSMF
¶ 41, admitted by Plaintiff).
relevant times, Plaintiff was assigned to CDCC2, (DSMF ¶
5, admitted by Plaintiff), where she had an office. (DSMF
¶ 9, admitted by Plaintiff). CDCC2 had its own HVAC
system controlled by zoned thermostats, one of which was
located in Plaintiff's office. (DSMF ¶ 8, admitted
by Plaintiff). Plaintiff's office contained a fan and
window. (DSMF ¶ 9, admitted by Plaintiff). Inmates who
had to travel to CDCC2 to meet with Plaintiff were issued a
pass to leave their cell blocks. (DSMF ¶ 10, admitted by
Plaintiff). While waiting to meet with Plaintiff, inmates
would sit on a bench in the hallway. (DSMF ¶ 11,
admitted by Plaintiff).
has suffered from three bouts of lung cancer. (DSMF ¶
12, admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff was first diagnosed
with lung cancer on January 30, 2009. (DSMF ¶ 13,
admitted by Plaintiff). After her diagnosis, Plaintiff missed
approximately six months from work, returning in the fall of
2009. (DSMF ¶ 14, admitted by Plaintiff).
only medical accommodation Plaintiff sought when she returned
to work at that time was gate clearance to bring
alcohol-based hand sanitizer into the institution. (DSMF
¶ 15, admitted by Plaintiff). Deputy Tim Henry approved
Plaintiff's request to bring alcohol-based hand sanitizer
into the institution. (DSMF ¶ 16, admitted by
her return in the fall of 2009, some of Plaintiff's
co-workers volunteered to take her cases that involved
inmates housed in the infirmary and RHU. (DSMF ¶ 17,
admitted by Plaintiff). In exchange for taking her RHU and
infirmary cases, Plaintiff would agree to take a case from
whichever co-worker took a case for her. (DSMF ¶ 18,
admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff would take whatever case
the other counselor wanted to give her - even a harder case.
(DSMF ¶ 19, admitted by Plaintiff). The practice of
trading cases was not approved by management. (DSMF ¶
20, admitted by Plaintiff).
was diagnosed with lung cancer for the second time in May
2010. (DSMF ¶ 21, admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff
again missed six months of work, returning in the winter of
2010. (DSMF ¶ 22, admitted by Plaintiff). When Plaintiff
returned to work in the winter of 2010 she did not formally
request any new medical accommodations. (DSMF ¶ 23,
admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff continued to trade cases
with co-workers so that she did not have to visit inmates in
the infirmary or RHU. (DSMF ¶ 24, admitted by
Plaintiff). The practice of trading cases was still not
approved by management. (DSMF ¶ 25, admitted by
was diagnosed with lung cancer for the third time in October
2011. (DSMF ¶ 26, admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff was
again out of work for six months, returning in the spring of
2012. (DSMF ¶ 27, admitted by Plaintiff). When Plaintiff
returned to work she did not formally request any new medical
accommodations. (DSMF ¶ 28, admitted by Plaintiff).
Plaintiff returned to work in the spring of 2012, the new
superintendent would not permit alcohol-based hand sanitizer
in the institution. (DSMF ¶ 29, admitted by Plaintiff).
Plaintiff requested that an exception be made so she could
bring alcohol-based hand sanitizer into the prison. (DSMF
¶ 30, admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff's request
was granted and she was permitted to bring in limited
quantities of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (DSMF ¶ 31,
admitted by Plaintiff). Each time Plaintiff returned to work,
she was physically capable of performing the essential
functions of her job, but she felt that, medically, she
should not travel to all CDCC work sites. (DSMF ¶ 34,
admitted by Plaintiff).
Plaintiff returned to work in the spring of 2012 she
continued to trade cases with co-workers so she would not
have to travel to the infirmary or RHU. (DSMF ¶ 32,
admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff still did not get approval
from management to trade cases with co-workers. (DSMF ¶
33, admitted by Plaintiff).
2012, due to leakage issues and feral animal infiltration,
planning began to relocate the CDCC1 employees so the unit
could be taken out of service. (DSMF ¶ 37, admitted by
Plaintiff). With the planned removal of CDCC1, all
Corrections Counselors were going to be moved to R Block or
diagnostic blocks. (DSMF ¶ 38, admitted by Plaintiff).
In December 2012, following an electrical fire within its
walls, CDCC1 was rendered unusable, requiring the relocation
of employees assigned to that unit. (DSMF ¶ 39, admitted
by Plaintiff). Psychology staff and Drug and Alcohol
Treatment Specialists (DATS) assigned to CDCC1 were relocated
to CDCC2 so they could retain confidential space adjacent to
the Education building where therapy programming takes place.
(DSMF ¶ 40, admitted by Plaintiff). Due to the use span
and some feral animal infiltration, DOC planned to remove
CDCC2 within two to three years from 2012, if not sooner.
(DSMF ¶ 42, admitted by Plaintiff).
10, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a request for accommodation
under the ADA, seeking an “ergonomically correct chair
with lumbar support and adjustable arm rest and a headset for
the telephone.” (DSMF ¶ 43, admitted by
Plaintiff). Plaintiff's request was granted. (DSMF ¶
43, admitted by Plaintiff).
October 4, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a second request for
accommodation in an effort to avoid being moved to R Block,
after learning that all Corrections Counselors were being
moved out of CDCC2. (DSMF ¶ 45, admitted by Plaintiff).
The request stated “ongoing contact with more than the
amount of inmates I currently interview outside of my
temperature controlled office would lead to numerous lung
issues and illnesses preventing me to come to work and
increasing my sick leave usage.” (DSMF ¶ 46,
admitted by Plaintiff). Plaintiff's requested
accommodation was “to remain in the temperature
controlled office that I am currently located in to assure my
continued health and welfare after surviving 3 battles with
lung cancer.” (DSMF ¶ 47, admitted by Plaintiff).
support of the accommodation request, on October 9, 2012,
Plaintiff submitted a health-care-provider questionnaire
completed by John Varlotto, M.D. (DSMF ¶ 48, admitted by
Plaintiff; Doc. 4-5, ECF pp 63-65, questionnaire). Dr.
Varlotto stated that Plaintiff “needs to avoid areas
that are highly concentrated with people especially ones that
may be sick. This includes cell blocks, concerts, malls
during the holiday or busy seasons, etc.” (DSMF ¶
49, admitted by Plaintiff). In response to question 11 which
asked “Please list any accommodation(s) you believe
would enable the employee/applicant to perform the essential
functions of his/her job”, Dr. Varlotto stated
“[t]emperature controlled room that has limited people
traffic.” (DSMF ¶ 50, admitted by
December 12, 2012, Plaintiff was notified by letter that her
request for accommodation seeking to remain in a temperature
controlled office could not be approved based upon the
documentation submitted by her physician. (DSMF ¶ 51,
admitted by Plaintiff; Doc. 40-5, ECF p. 73, Gelsinger
letter, dated Dec. 12, 2012). In the same letter, Plaintiff
was further advised that, based on the medical documentation
submitted, Plaintiff was unable to perform the essential
functions of her job, with or without accommodation, as her
job requires her to “be around the inmate
population.” (DSMF ¶ 52; Doc. 40-5, ECF p. 73,
Gelsinger letter, dated Dec. 12, 2012).
December 12, 2012, Plaintiff sent an e-mail listing
additional accommodations she believed were needed as part of
her ADA request. (DSMF ¶ 53, admitted by Plaintiff).
Plaintiff indicated she required the following accommodations
prior to moving to a new work location:
(a) special clothing to heat her clothing due to her
sensitivity to cold;
(b) special clothing to cool her clothing due to her
sensitivity to heat;
(c) sterilization of the new work area - including the
computer, keyboard, desk drawers, and floors;
(d) the ability to store food away from inmates;
(e) a place to keep her water cool;
(f) assistance to move her supplies to the new office area;
(g) weekly cleaning and sterilization of her new office area;
(h) protective clothing and masks; and
(I) regular sterilization of the shared bathroom or a
portable bathroom for her private use.
further asked if a virtual office could be set up, so that
she could interview inmates from home. (DSMF ¶ 54,
admitted by Plaintiff).
light of the additional requests, the ADA Committee agreed to
take a second look at Plaintiff's request for
accommodation. (DSMF ¶ 55, admitted by Plaintiff).
Plaintiff was permitted to remain in her current work space
in CDCC2 while the request was being reviewed. (DSMF ¶
56, admitted by Plaintiff).
December 18, 2012, the ADA Committee was provided with two
memos from George Clements, Corrections Counselor Treatment
Manager at SCI Camp Hill, both dated December 18, 2012. The
first addressed facility moves, and the second addressed work
locations for the corrections counselors. (DSMF ¶ 57,
admitted by Plaintiff; Doc. 40-5, ECF p. 68, facility-moves
memo; Doc. 40-5, ECF p. 69, work-locations memo).
memo regarding facility moves indicated that, due to
structural duress of CDCC1, the employees located within that
unit needed to be relocated. (DSMF ¶ 58, admitted by
Plaintiff). It was determined that many of the CDCC1 staff
would be relocated to CDCC2 in order to maximize effective
utilization of the limited space available, efficiency of
operations, and cost effectiveness. The relocation of CDCC1
employees was also based on the job requirements of the staff
involved and the need to maintain security of staff and
operations of the facility. (DSMF ¶ 59, admitted by
the relocation of CDCC1 staff to CDCC2, the corrections
counselors would then be moved out of CDCC2 and into housing
units or R Block. (DSMF ¶ 60, admitted by Plaintiff). In
the facility-moves memo, Clements stated: “Selection of
any one or more of the counselors to remain in the CDCC2
location creates a disruption that affects the flow and
operation of the facility.” (Doc. 40-5, ECF p. 68,
facility-moves memo; (DSMF ¶ 61).
work-locations memo, Clements stated:
a. even prior to the move out of CDCC2, corrections
counselors worked on the majority of the housing units within
SCI Camp Hill;
b. The counseling staff located on R block, as well as in
CDCC2, require inmates to be placed on a call line system