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Engle v. Physician Landing Zone

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 6, 2017

KRISTEN ENGLE, Plaintiff,
v.
PHYSICIAN LANDING ZONE, a non-profit corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KIM R. GIBSON JUDGE

         Before the Court are three disputes arising from differences in Plaintiff Kristen Engle ("Dr. Engle") and Defendant Physician Landing Zone's proposed jury instructions, proposed verdict forms, and the objections thereto. (See ECF Nos. 72, 73, 74, 75, 79, 83, 84.)

         This is an employment case in which Dr. Engle alleges that Physician Landing Zone eliminated her employment as a general surgeon because of her disability and/or because she had filed a lawsuit and a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her employer. (See ECF No. 115.) Physician Landing Zone denies those claims and contends that there were legitimate business reasons for not continuing Dr. Engle's employment. (Id.)

         On October 31, 2017, the Court ordered the parties to brief (1) whether Plaintiff's claim for disparate treatment under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") constitutes a "mixed motive" claim[1] or a "pretext" claim[2] and (2) whether Plaintiff has a right to a jury trial for either, both, or neither of Plaintiff's ADA retaliation claim and PHRA retaliation claim. (See ECF No. 109.) Both parties timely complied with this Order, each filing briefs on November 3, 2017. (See ECF Nos. 110, 111, 112.) The Court now resolves these issues as follows.

         I. Model Instruction 9.1.2 is the Appropriate Instruction for Plaintiff's Disparate Treatment Claim

         While the Court recognizes the nebulous nature of the distinction between a "mixed motive" and "pretext" claim under the ADA, the Court need not wrestle with this enigmatic issue.

         Defendant offers a cogent argument, supported by credible authority, that the "pretext" instruction of Model Instruction 9.1.2 is appropriate to provide to the jury because the record in this case lacks direct evidence that Defendant was motivated by discriminatory animus. (See ECF No. 112 at 1-3.)

         Plaintiff, after suggesting that the Model Instruction approach is wrong as a general matter, expressly states that Plaintiff "believes the most appropriate way to proceed in this case is to charge the jury consistent with Model Instructions 9.1.2 and 9.1.7." (ECF No. Ill. at 3.)

         Therefore, given the parties' agreement that Model Instruction 9.1.2's "pretext instruction" that uses the "determinative factor" test is the appropriate way to proceed in this case and the strong argument in favor of using Model Instruction 9.1.2, the Court will instruct on the basis of Model Instruction 9.1.2.

         II. Plaintiff Did Not Plead a Retaliation Claim under the PHRA

         The Court agrees with Defendant that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complain (ECF No. 25) did not plead a PHRA retaliation claim in connection with the non-renewal of Plaintiff's employment. Following Judge Kearney's partial grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant (see ECF Nos. 68, 69), only Count IV and Count V of the Second Amended Complaint remain. Both of these counts relate to the non-renewal of Plaintiff's employment with Defendant. (See ECF No. 25 at 6-8.) Moreover, both of these remaining counts clearly and expressly allege violations of only the ADA-this is in sharp contrast to the unequivocal, but-dismissed Count in brought under the PHRA.

         Therefore, not only is Plaintiff not entitled to a jury trial for her purported PHRA retaliation claim-no such claim remains before the Court.

         III. The Plaintiff is Not Entitled to a Jury Trial for her ADA Retaliation Claim

         While the Court acknowledges the debatable policy-based appeal of Plaintiffs arguments in favor of a right to jury trial for an ADA retaliation claim (see ECF No. 110 at 2-13), the Court is persuaded that the ADA simply does not ...


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