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Kordistos v. Mt. Lebanon School District

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 21, 2017

CLEON J. KORDISTOS, Plaintiff,
v.
MT. LEBANON SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. MITCHELL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Cleon J. Kordistos, brings this action against Defendant, Mt. Lebanon School District, alleging claims of discrimination under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-54 (FMLA), and the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12117 (ADA), arising out of his termination, effective May 29, 2015, from his position as Assistant Business Manager with the School District. Plaintiff contends that the School District interfered with his rights under the FMLA, discriminated against him in retaliation for taking FMLA leave, discriminated against him based on a disability and in retaliation for requesting an accommodation in violation of the ADA, and failed to accommodate his request for a reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA.

         Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment, filed by Defendant. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition and Defendant has filed a reply brief. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted with respect to Counts III, V and the ADA discrimination claim in Count IV and denied with respect to Count I and the failure to accommodate claim in Count IV.

         Facts

         Cleon Kordistos began his employment with Mt. Lebanon School District on August 31, 1999. (Kordistos Dep. 5:1-6.)[1] He was hired as a Payroll Administrative Assistant, and became Assistant Business Manager within the next two years. (Kordistos Dep. 6:12-17.)

         The position of Assistant Business Manager was created by the Business Manager, Jan Klein due to her frequently being out of the office and needing someone to assume her duties when she was unavailable. (A.232-233.)[2] As Assistant Business Manager, part of Kordistos's duties included reviewing and directing daily investments, completing PDE-2071 forms, maintaining bond records, review bank reconciliation statements, maintain all federal program records, review preparation of book keeping entries, preparing for the annual audit, assisting external auditors, managing worker's compensation insurance program, as well as the healthcare billing for school district retirees. (A.75.)

         Part of his duties also included the supervision of the Payroll Administrative Assistant, Accounting Supervisor, and the Accounts Payable/Receivable Administrative Assistant (A.312).

         Kordistos's Job Duties Prior to FMLA Leave

         As Assistant Business Manager, Kordistos reported to Director of Business Janice Klein. (Kordistos Dep. 6:18-21.) Klein was his supervisor the entire time he held the Assistant Business Manager position. (Kordistos Dep. 7:9-11). He also later became part of the Human Resources Department, and reported to HR Director Steven Scheurer. (Kordistos Dep. 6:22-25.) This change occurred when the workers' compensation portion of Kordistos's job was shifted to human resources. (Kordistos Dep. 7:18-25.) As Assistant Business Manager, Kordistos had supervisory authority over certain employees. (Kordistos Dep. 8:2-4.) These employees included the Payroll Administrative Assistant, the Accounting Supervisor, and the person in charge of Accounts Payable/Receivable. (Kordistos Dep. 8:18-24.)

         The Payroll Administrative Assistant he originally supervised was Lynn Proie, who was later replaced by Bonnie Lackner. (Kordistos Dep. 9:3-5.) The Accounting Supervisor he originally supervised was Kathy Bello, who was later replaced by Jennifer Vetter. (Kordistos Dep. 9:5-8.) The Account Payable/Receivable individual he supervised was Judy Wagner. (Kordistos Dep. 9:8-9.)

         He provided assistance to employees that were struggling with their work tasks, and analyzed their jobs to figure out how to make them more efficient and less difficult. (Kordistos Dep. 8:7-13.) He also had the authority to assign them tasks. (Kordistos Dep. 8:14-17.)

         Prior to taking leave, Kordistos assisted with preparing the annual budget. (Kordistos Dep. 32:19-33:10.) In that capacity, he was asked to prepare estimates of Blue Cross/Blue Shield expenses, given the percentage of anticipated increase. (Kordistos Dep. 33:1-5.). He was also responsible for reviewing real estate tax dollar assessments and determining what percentage of that, based on prior history, would be received by the school so it could budget its anticipated real estate revenues. (Kordistos Dep. 33:6-10.) Kordistos also monitored state reports, which involved reporting different financial information to state authorities concerning the business dealings of the school. (Kordistos Dep. 40:23-41:5.)

         He reviewed daily investments and cash flows as well. (Kordistos Dep. 43:15-18.) This required him to analyze the school's cash needs based on a timely schedule of spending and the receipt of tax dollars, and work to maximize the interest earned by the school's investment dollars. (Kordistos Dep. 43:24-44:8.)

         Kordistos balanced the monthly books for several different funds, and assisted supervisors in the public with accounting questions. (Kordistos Dep. 47:17-21, 48:8-12.) The latter involved running reports and advising supervisors of different departments, and, after the elimination of those positions, head teachers, how close they were to overspending their budget. (Kordistos Dep. 48:17-49:10.)

         Also prior to his leave, Kordistos was responsible for managing Defendant's Blue Cross/Blue Shield program, analyzing and paying Blue Cross/Blue Shield monthly invoices and managing health insurance records. (Kordistos Dep. 50:12-53:5.) This was something that he did by himself, without the assistance of others. (Kordistos Dep. 53:6-9.) Kordistos was also responsible for workers compensation duties. (Kordistos Dep. 56:8-13.) Part of his duties in the Human Resources Department included assisting in managing employee benefits (A.430).

         Kordistos Takes FMLA Leave

         In March 2014, Kordistos suffered a heart attack, which led to a serious heart condition. (Kordistos Dep. 10:3-10.) As a result, he took FMLA leave during the period between March 2014 and June 2014. (Kordistos Dep. 10:3-10.) Kordistos informed the School District of his heart attack on March 14, 2014. (Kordistos Dep. 10:11-14.) He did so by contacting Stephen Scheurer, the HR Director of Mt. Lebanon. (Kordistos Dep. 10:15-20.)

         Scheurer notified Kordistos of his FMLA eligibility, rights, and responsibilities by letter on March 25, 2014. (Kordistos Dep. 11:5-15; ECF No. 55 Ex. 2.) Scheurer also notified Superintendent Dr. Timothy Steinhauer of Kordistos's leave, and advised it was due to a “medical issue.” (Steinhauer Dep. 28:8-15.)[3] Kordistos was aware that the District would apply FMLA to his leave time. (Kordistos Dep. 12:9-12.)

         Originally, Kordistos took sick leave starting March 13, 2014 as a result of his condition. (Kordistos Dep. 15:1-4.) His FMLA leave commenced on March 25, 2014. (Kordistos Dep. 14:16-20.)

         Kordistos's Duties Are Reassigned

         During his FMLA leave Kordistos's duties began to be assigned to other employees in his department. (Kordistos Dep. 35:3-6, 41:18-42:9, 43:21, 44:20-25, 47:17-25, 48:1-2, 53:12-17, 56:18-21; Vetter Dep. 15:16-19.[4]) Several other employees took over or continued to cover Kordistos's duties after his return from leave as well. (Kordistos Dep. 32:6-12.) During his leave, the duty of assisting with preparation of the annual budget was assigned to Jennifer Vetter. (Kordistos Dep. 35:3-6.) After his return, Vetter began to take over Kordistos's duties related to preparation of the annual budget. (Kordistos Dep. 36:3-10.) She was assigned the duty of preparing the Blue Cross/Blue Shield estimates needed for preparing the annual budget. She was also learning how to do the real estate estimates for the budget. (Kordistos Dep. 36:3-4.)

         She kept this duty even though Kordistos had to help and teach her how to do it. (Kordistos Dep. 36:3-4, 9-10.). Vetter was also assigned the duty of monitoring state reports during Kordistos's leave. (Kordistos Dep. 41:18-42:9.) This duty was also not returned to Kordistos after he came back from leave. (Kordistos Dep. 41:22-24, 42:7-9.)

         Instead, Kordistos was merely left to teach how to monitor them. (Kordistos Dep. 41:22-24.) Some of these duties were, again, assigned to Vetter. (Kordistos Dep. 41:22-24, 42:1-2, 7-13.) Kordistos instructed Vetter on how to prepare the state reports until he felt she had a thorough enough knowledge to do them on her own. (Kordistos Dep. 43:2-8.)

         Vetter acknowledges that she is “not sure” whether Kordistos's duties regarding treasurer report preparation were ever returned to him after his leave. (Vetter Dep. 14:17-24.) She continues to do this duty at present, and was instructed to by Klein after Kordistos was terminated. (Vetter Dep. 14:25, 15:8.) Vetter also began to take over Kordistos's duties of reviewing daily cash flows and balancing the monthly books during his leave. (Kordistos Dep. 43:21, 44:20-25, 47:17-25, 48:1-2.) She kept these duties after his return as well. (Kordistos Dep. 43:15-21, 47:17-21, 25, 48:1-2.)

         Vetter further started taking over Kordistos's duty of assisting supervisors in the public with accounting questions “more and more” after his leave. (Kordistos Dep. 48:8-15.) Vetter took over Kordistos's Medicaid report duties during the time he was out as well. (Vetter Dep. 15:16-19.) She claims this duty was returned to him after his return because she did not understand how to do it. (Vetter Dep. 30:21-25.) However, she does perform this duty now. (Vetter Dep. 15:20-22.). Similarly, Kordistos's Blue Cross/Blue Shield duties were reassigned to Bonnie Lackner and Vetter during his leave. (Kordistos Dep. 53:12-17.)

         Enrollment of new employees and the management of moving retired employees from the active to retired group were assigned to Lackner. (Kordistos Dep. 53:12-15.) Vetter took over the Blue Cross/Blue Shield duties related to the paying of invoices and the preparation of the voucher to pay. (Kordistos Dep. 53:16-17.) After his return to work, these Blue Cross/Blue Shield duties largely remained with Vetter and Lackner. (Kordistos Dep. 53:12-17; 54:1-6.) Vetter admits she “might have” kept Kordistos's duties related to health care payments after his return from leave, and currently performs this duty. (Vetter Dep. 17:9-14, 20-24.)

         Lackner contends she was to keep the Blue Cross/Blue Shield retiree program until the open enrollment period ended after Kordistos's return to work, but that his other Blue Cross/Blue Shield functions were returned to him. (Kordistos Dep. 53:18-25; 54:1-3; Lackner Dep. 10:1-2.[5]) However, she admits that she does not remember whether this program went back to Kordistos at any point. (Lackner Dep. 10:15-17.) Kordistos maintains these duties were never returned to him, and that he was merely allowed to assist people who called him with questions about Blue Cross/Blue Shield. (Kordistos Dep. 54:1-6.)

         Vetter agrees that she was asked to cover Kordistos's job duties while he was on FMLA leave. (Vetter Dep. 8:20-23.) Specifically, she recalls being assigned the treasurer's reports, the insurance wires for employee health insurance, the Medicaid cost report, and the Title I, II, and III report duties. (Vetter Dep. 9:1-4.) She believes Klein assigned her these duties. (Vetter Dep. 9:5-6.) Lackner also agrees that she was assigned Kordistos's duties related to employee enrollment and coverage updating while he was on leave. (Lackner Dep. 9:2-7.) She was assigned this duty by Klein. (Lackner Dep. 9:12-16.)

         Kordistos's human resource office duties were also reassigned during his leave. (Kordistos Dep. 56:18-21.) His duties related to benefit administration and leaves of absences were assigned to Maria Olivo. (Scheurer Dep. 14:11-21.)[6] His workers compensation duties were also assumed by Olivo during that time. (Kordistos Dep. 56:18-21.)

         Scheurer admitted that many of Kordistos's HR responsibilities were not returned to him when he came back from leave. (Scheurer Dep. 25:11-17.) He testified he instead pulled a lot of those responsibilities back to his team of HR associates. (Scheurer Dep. 25:15-17.) Specifically, these duties were handled by Olivo. (Scheurer Dep. 26:5-7.) Scheurer said he did so because Olivo had “some expertise” in benefits administration. (Scheurer Dep. 30:1-3.) He conceded that she had and he was aware of this expertise prior to Kordistos's leave, as it was based on insurance work she had done earlier in her career. (Scheurer Dep. 32:6-14.)

         When asked why he pulled Kordistos's HR duties back to his HR team, Scheurer also stated that Kordistos “had been out for a while.” (Scheurer Dep. 25:18-20.) Olivo took over these duties after his termination. (Vetter Dep. 28:20-25.) She was assigned that duty by HR Director Katie Devine. (Devine Dep. 11:19-21.)[7]

         Kordistos Returns to Work

         On May 22, 2014, Kordistos provided Scheurer with a medical memo from his doctor, Bruno Casile. (Kordistos Dep. 16:20-23.) This memo stated that Kordistos would be able to return to work on May 27, 2014, with certain restrictions. (Kordistos Dep. 16:24-17:5.) These restrictions required that he only work half days. (Kordistos Dep. 17:1-5.)

         It also limited him to walking less than 150 feet at a time, and stated he must avoid stairs or strenuous activity for the next two weeks. (Kordistos Dep. 17:13-17.) His doctor further said he would require an ADA compliant parking space. (Kordistos Dep. 17:13-17.)

         Kordistos did indeed return to work on May 27, 2014, working half days. (Kordistos Dep. 17:6-9.) He was able to return to work without restrictions on June 9, 2014, and did so. (Kordistos Dep. 26:8-20.) After Kordistos returned from leave, Klein assigned him “special projects.” (Klein Dep. 16:25-17:5.)[8] This was part of his job prior to his leave as well. (Klein Dep. 17:6-8.)

         For one such project, Klein would ask Kordistos to get information that the Board had asked her for as well as spreadsheets and reports so that she could make projections. (Klein Dep. 17:11-16.) She also had him keep track of money they had versus money they were not receiving. (Klein Dep. 17:17-22.)

         Defendant states that, upon his return to work full time, Kordistos assumed the duties that were assigned to other staff members while he was on leave (A.237-38).[9] Plaintiff disputes this assertion, stating that: 1) some of his duties related to assisting with preparation of the annual budget were reassigned to Vetter (Kordistos Dep. 35:13-20); 2) his duty of monitoring state reports remained with Vetter (Kordistos Dep. 41:22-24, 42:1-2, 7-13); 3) Vetter also kept the duty of reviewing daily cash flows and balancing the monthly books and took on the duty of assisting supervisors in the public with accounting questions (Kordistos Dep. 43:15-21, 47:17-21, 48:1-2, 8-15); and 4) his Blue Cross duties remained for the most part with Vetter and Lackner (Kordistos Dep. 50:12-18, 53:12-17, 54:1-6).

         Defendant contends that Kordistos never spoke with Jan Klein or expressed concerns regarding his duties being taken away from him (A.238). Plaintiff responds that he did approach Klein to ask why his duties were not returned to him and made multiple attempts to ask Klein about it further. (Kordistos Dep. 38:2-4, 42:22-24.) Plaintiff notes that Klein does not deny such conversations, but instead said that she did not remember them. (Klein Dep. 16:16-19.)

         No one had ever told Kordistos that his duties were being taken away from him because of his FMLA use (A.354). Kordistos never received any emails or memos stating that his duties were being taken away from him (A.354). Upon his return to work, there was always something for Kordistos to do while at work (A.361).

         Klein claims that Kordistos kept these duties until his termination. (Klein Dep. 47:22-25.) She stated that she is now working with Vetter on these projects because it is “in her area.” (Klein Dep. 48:1-8.) Over time, Kordistos deduced the reassignment of his duties and Klein's avoidance of him were related to his FMLA leave. (Kordistos Dep. 40:2-7.) Following his return to work, Kordistos asked Vetter when his duties would be returned to him. (Kordistos Dep. 37:15-20.)

         He regularly made clear that he was ready to resume his prior duties full time. (Kordistos Dep. 42:14-17.) Vetter responded that this was “what Jan wants, ” referring to supervisor Jan Klein. (Kordistos Dep. 37:22, 42:19.) Kordistos later approached Klein to ask why his duties had not been returned to him. (Kordistos Dep. 38:2-4.) Kordistos states that Klein told him that he was now her assistant, and that this was what she wanted. (Kordistos Dep. 38:6-7.) Kordistos made multiple attempts to ask Klein about his duties being returned to him. (Kordistos Dep. 42:22-24.) However, each time Klein reiterated that this was the way she wanted it. (Kordistos Dep. 42:24, 46:7-9.)

         Klein also made an effort to avoid Kordistos at work following his return from leave. (Kordistos Dep. 39:25-40:1.) This conclusion was supported by his observation that he was often asked how to do certain tasks by the people now performing his duties. (Kordistos Dep. 40:15-20.) Klein claims that Vetter did not retain any of Kordistos's significant duties after his return from leave. (Klein Dep. 16:1-6.) However, she conceded that she did not know whether Vetter continued to perform his “minor duties.” (Klein Dep. 16:1-6.) Klein testified that she never gave anyone a directive not to return a job duty to Kordistos upon his return. (Klein Dep. 47:12-17.)

         She also claimed she did not know of any of Kordistos's duties Lackner retained after his return. (Klein Dep. 16:7-13.) However, she conceded Lackner may have held on to any projects that were not finished. (Klein Dep. 16:7-13.) When asked whether Kordistos ever approached her about his duties being taken away from him, Klein said she did not remember. (Klein Dep. 16:16-19.) Similarly, when asked whether Kordistos ever discussed with her what his duties should be moving forward after he came back from leave, she said she did not remember any such conversation. (Klein Dep. 16:20-24.)

         Defendant Eliminates Kordistos's Position

         In December 2014 and January 2015, Defendant's Superintendent, Dr. Timothy Steinhauer, directed certain employees to disclose which employee positions they would eliminate if necessary, as part of a list of potential budget reductions. (Klein Dep. 18:24-25, 19:1-13, 18-20.) As superintendent, Steinhauer relied on his department heads to suggest these cuts, as he believed they had a better understanding of the day-to-day operations of the positions under them. (Steinhauer Dep. 21:24-22:6.)

         This directive was shared with director of facilities Rick Marciniak, assistant superintendent for secondary education Ron Davis, assistant superintendent for elementary education Marybeth Irvin, director of communications Cissy Bowman, director of special education Ken Cross, director of information technology Chris Stengel, Jan Klein, and Katie Devine. (Devine Dep. 16:2-21; Steinhauer Dep. 9:2-8.)

         No directive was given about how many people needed to be reduced. (Devine Dep. 17:4-7.) These employees were directed to find ways to save money and gain efficiency, and considerations were to include non-personnel expenditures as well as personnel positions. (Devine Dep. 17:10-14; Steinhauer Dep. 10:11-14.) Steinhauer discussed this matter with staff on a weekly basis. (Devine Dep. 17:15-18; Steinhauer Dep. 9:9-11.)

         A shared running Google document related to budget cut recommendations, called a compiled concept list, was also created and regularly updated by central office administration. (Devine Dep. 18:8-25, 19:4-9; Steinhauer Dep. 10:21-22.) People were able to make suggestions for potential cost saving and impact directly on the document. (Steinhauer Dep. 11:16-12:9.)

         As part of this process, Klein and Katie Devine, the new human resources director, reviewed each individual in their departments, and identified their duties and which duties could be consolidated. (Devine Dep. 20:18-20.) According to Steinhauer, the first time Kordistos's position was recommended to him for elimination was the winter of 2015. (Steinhauer Dep. 9:22-10:1.) Klein and ...


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