United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JAMES M. MUNLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Mark Strausser (hereinafter “plaintiff”) asserts
that defendant Gertrude Hawk Chocolate, Inc., (hereinafter
“defendant”) violated his rights under the
Americans with Disabilities Act as amended, 42 U.S.C. §
12101 (hereinafter “the ADA”) and the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann.
§ 951 (hereinafter “the PHRA”) by
terminating him unlawfully after he completed rehabilitation
to treat alcohol addiction. Before the court is
defendant's motion for summary judgment filed pursuant to
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The
parties have briefed their respective positions and the
motion is ripe for disposition.
second amended complaint identifies plaintiff as a
48-year-old male who worked as a machine operator for
defendant for about eleven (11) months until he was
terminated. (Doc. 34 pl. sec. amend. compl. ¶¶ 11,
Plaintiff worked full-time from August 17, 2014 (Doc. 52 pl.
resp. to def. stmnt. mat. fcts. at 4, ¶ 1) to January
30, 2015. After rehabilitation, plaintiff returned to work.
contacted defendant's human resources department (herein
after “HR”) in December 2014 to express his
desire to check into a rehabilitation facility and request
time off work to do so. (Doc. 47, ¶ 15). Defendant's
HR department granted plaintiff's request, having
knowledge of plaintiff's two motor vehicle accidents in
one day, December 25, 2014, both the result of driving under
the influence. Id., (see also Doc. 48 at
rehabilitation plaintiff returned to work. Plaintiff was
terminated by his production supervisor, Ron Madigan
(hereinafter referred to as “Madigan”), on
January 30, 2015 (Doc. 47-5 at 131), his second day back to
work after completing thirty-one (31) days (December 29, 2014
through January 28, 2015) at Retreat at Lancaster County in
Ephrata, Pennsylvania (hereinafter “Retreat”),
(Doc. 47-5 at 50, 55, pl. exh. 4).
plaintiff initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint on
December 21, 2015 against defendant for violating his rights
under the ADA and PHRA (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed an amended
complaint, (Doc. 19), on June 20, 2016,  and a second
amended complaint on January 17, 2017. (Doc. 34). Defendant
filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on July 7, 2017,
bringing the case to its current posture.
case is brought pursuant to the ADA for unlawful employment
discrimination, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §
1331 (“The district courts shall have original
jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”)
The court has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's
PHRA claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).
summary judgment is proper “‘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 judgment as a matter of
law.'” See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407,
410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).
“[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A material fact is
genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the non-moving party.”
considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party
opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v.
Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990).
The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a
verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.
Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at
trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its
burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record,
if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to
carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial.
Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once
the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden then shifts
to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and
designate specific facts by the use of affidavits,
depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.
of plaintiff's second amended complaint (Doc. 34) alleges
the following claims for violations of the ADA: disability
discrimination; failure to accommodate; and retaliation.
Count II alleges the same claims for violations under the
PHRA. Each claim can lead to a separate violation of the ADA.
We will examine each claim in turn.
Count one- ADA
elements of a discrimination case under the ADA are: (1)
Plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2)
Plaintiff is otherwise qualified to perform the essential
functions of the job, with or without reasonable
accommodations by the employer; and (3) Plaintiff has
suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result
of discrimination. See Wilmore v.
American Atelier, Inc., 72 F.Supp. 526, 528 (E.D. Pa.
1999), citing Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184
F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999); Gaul v. Lucent
Technologies, Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998).
The law forbids employers from discriminating against
qualified people with a disability, because of their
disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (emphasis added). We
will examine the elements in turn.
plaintiff may assert an ADA disability discrimination claim
with direct or circumstantial evidence. Here, plaintiff
alleges that both direct and circumstantial evidence
establish his ADA disability discrimination claim. (Doc. 51
at 7). We disagree. Other than what might be considered direct
evidence contained in deposition transcripts and other
exhibits, plaintiff's disability discrimination claim is
based upon circumstantial evidence.
the complaining party relies upon circumstantial evidence to
support a disability discrimination claim, the Third Circuit
Court of Appeals has approved the use of the three-step
burden-shifting framework announced in McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 782, 802 (1973), see
Shiring v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 827, 831 (3d Cir. 1996).
first step of the burden-shifting framework, a plaintiff
seeking recovery under the ADA must establish a prima
facie case of discrimination by demonstrating the three
prima facie elements noted above. The court will not
reach the burden-shifting framework unless plaintiff presents
sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably
conclude that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA,
essentially argues that plaintiff cannot establish a prima
facie case of disability under the ADA because his claims of
alcohol addiction, drug addiction and mental health flow from
the mere fact that he entered a rehabilitation facility, and
that plaintiff was terminated for insubordinate behavior.
counters that he is disabled due to alcohol addiction,
synthetic marijuana addiction, bi-polar disorder, anxiety,
and depression. (Doc. 34 ¶¶ 26-29). Plaintiff
disputes that he was insubordinate or terminated for
insubordinate behavior, and instead, plaintiff argues that
his supervisor, Madigan, unlawfully terminated him because of
his disability and request for accommodation. (Doc. 52 ¶
31). Plaintiff ...