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Murray v. Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 27, 2018

JOAN MURRAY, Plaintiff,


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Joan Murray sued her former employer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance Company, for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951 et seq. (2001). Murray also asserts a claim for aiding and abetting under the PHRA against PMA employees Patricia Brookey and Kyleen Hastie. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Mot., ECF No. 16) to which Murray responded (Pl's Resp. in Opp., ECF No. 19).[1] PMA filed a Reply in support of its Motion. (Reply, ECF No. 22.) The Court heard oral argument on March 15, 2018. (ECF No. 25.) After considering the parties' positions and thoroughly reviewing the record, the Court granted the Motion and entered judgment for the Defendants. (ECF No. 26.) This Memorandum explains the Court's decision.



         Murray was hired as a cost containment specialist on February 27, 2006 by PMA, a property and casualty insurer that specializes in workers compensation coverage. (Pl's Resp. in Opp., Exs. 16-17 (“Murray Dep.”) at 59:5-8; PMA Position Statement, Mot., Ex. A.) On that day, Murray signed a form acknowledging that she received PMA's employee handbook. (Mot., Ex. C.) The handbook includes several polices, including those governing substance abuse and workplace safety. (Mot., Ex. D.) The substance abuse policy provides, in relevant part, that “working under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, non-prescribed controlled substances, or any combination thereof, is prohibited.” (Id.) Should an employee violate the policy, he or she could be subject to corrective action “up to and including termination of employment.” (Id.) The workplace safety policy prohibits conduct such as making threatening remarks and similarly, should an employee violate the policy, he or she could be terminated. (Id.)

         In her role as a cost containment specialist, Murray was responsible for reviewing medical bills and documentation from doctors and processing payments. She also reviewed petitions from physicians who were disputing the difference between how much they billed and how much they were paid. (Murray Dep. 60:21-61:13.) Murray was promoted to managed care product specialist in November 2012, a role that she remained in until her termination on December 14, 2015. (Termination Letter, Pl's Resp. in Opp., Ex. 8.)

         As a result of several medical conditions, Murray requested-and was granted- six medical leaves of absence during her employment at PMA. She took medical leaves from October 25, 2007 to December 20, 2007 for shoulder surgery (Mot., Ex. H; Murray Dep. 72:1-18), from November 18, 2008 to January 4, 2009 for surgery related to an anal/vaginal fistula (Mot., Ex. I; Murray Dep. 77:1-78:23), and from June 16, 2009 to August 2, 2009 for abdominal surgery (Mot., Ex. J; Murray Dep. 83:2-21). Murray next took leave from August 2, 2011 to September 18, 2011 for hernia surgery (Mot., Ex. K; Murray Dep. 85:1-86:15) and from December 17, 2013 to January 20, 2014 for another fistula surgery (Mot., Ex. L; Murray Dep. 94:2-95:14). Murray took her sixth leave of absence from May 19, 2015 to June 3, 2015 for another shoulder surgery. (Mot., Ex. M; Murray Dep. 97:6-19.) Murray subsequently requested an accommodation to work from home until June 18, 2015 and PMA granted her request. (Murray Dep. 99:1-101:6.) For each leave of absence, Murray dealt with Senior Benefits Coordinator Regina Florian, who was responsible for employee requests for medical leave and workplace accommodations. (Murray Dep. 67:20-68:6; Pl's Resp. in Opp., Exs. 13-15 (“Carney Dep.”) at 101:9-13.) Murray did not have any complaints about how PMA handled any of her requests for medical leave. (Murray Dep. 72:1-18; 78:16-21; 83:13-16; 86:13-15; 94:9-96:7; 101:12-17.) Murray did not receive any write-ups for violations of workplace policies throughout her almost ten-year career at PMA. (Carney Dep. 29:12-19.)


         After returning from lunch on December 7, 2015, Murray stopped by the desk of her colleague, Anika Simmons, to speak to her about a form that Murray had left for her earlier in the day. Murray's interaction with Simmons brought to PMA's attention the behavior for which Murray was ultimately fired. Specifically, it resulted in five separate PMA employees being asked to assess and interact with Murray and provide statements of their observations of Murray's conduct and demeanor. In addition to Simmons, those employees were registered nurse Jane Mueller, Senior Employee Relations Specialist Kyleen Hastie, Vice President of Managed Care Patricia Brookey and Nancy McGovern, another registered nurse. (Simmons Statement, Mot., Ex. O.) Simmons smelled alcohol on Murray's breath and observed that Murray “acted as if she was impaired” because her speech was slow, she was slurring her words, her eyes were low and disoriented, and she was repeating herself. Simmons also “smelled alcohol on [Murray's] breath.” (Id.) Because this was not the first time Simmons “had an encounter with Joan and this type of behavior, ” she sent a text message to Mueller, another colleague in the managed care department, to share her concerns. (Id.) After reading the text, Mueller contacted Hastie to determine what steps Mueller should take. (Mueller Statement, Mot., Ex. P.) Hastie then sought guidance from Kevin Carney, PMA's Assistant Vice President of Human Resources, as well as Senior Vice President of Human Resources Andy McGill. (Pl's Resp. in Opp., Exs. 9-11 (“Hastie Dep.”) at 57:8-14.) Hastie told Mueller to contact someone in management to confirm Simmons' suspicions and if that individual also believed that Murray was impaired, to contact Human Resources. (Mueller Statement.)

         Mueller went to speak to Murray and observed that Murray appeared “disheveled [and] her speech was very slow and repetitious.” (Id.) She learned that another PMA employee was concerned about Murray because she was seen walking with a “staggered gate.” While talking to Murray, Mueller also “experienced a strong smell of alcohol.” She further noticed that Murray “was swaying and did not appear to comprehend” the conversation. All of this led Mueller to conclude, along with Dave Wallace-another PMA employee who had joined the conversation, that Murray was under the influence of alcohol. Mueller told her boss, Brookey, of Mueller's concerns. (Id.) Mueller also reported her observations to Hastie. Hastie and Carney then decided that Brookey and Hastie would meet together with Murray to assess her behavior. (Brookey Statement, Mot., Ex. Q; Hastie Dep. 57:15-18.)

         During their meeting, which took place in Brookey's office, Brookey asked if there was any reason why Murray's colleagues would, based on their observations and smells, believe she was under the influence of alcohol. Murray explained that the smell of alcohol could be from mini-toothbrush refreshers or the fact that she smoked cigarettes. (Brookey Statement.) Murray claims that she told Brookey that she had “cotton mouth.” (Murray Dep. 40:10-12.) Brookey observed that Murray “smelled of a distinct body odor of a rather musty nature” and was flushed, had a blank look at times, was slow to respond to questions and “rambling” in response to questions, changing the topic to non-related subjects. (Brookey Statement.) Brookey also stated that Murray's speech “was slower than normal and somewhat slurred.” Based on all of these observations, Brookey concluded that Murray was impaired in her speech and manner of communication. (Id.) In her statement, Hastie also noted that Murray appeared “incoherent.” She asked Murray if there was any reason why others would report that she smelled of alcohol. Murray provided several possibilities for the source of the odor, including her perfume, Listerine, “whispy” things (that “may have alcohol in them”) for her teeth, that she hadn't showered that day or her dirty clothes. (Hastie Statement, Mot., Ex. R.) Murray also said that she takes medications but that she hadn't taken any that day. (Hastie Dep. 22:3-7; 36:3-5; 133:10-14; Hastie Statement; Pl's Resp. in Opp., Ex. 12 (“Brookey Dep.”) at 24:23-25.) During this conversation, Hastie noticed that Murray was struggling to form complete thoughts, her speech was slightly slurred and she was speaking without any logical sequence. (Hastie Statement; Hastie Dep. 59:21-25.) After determining that Murray was impaired, Hastie left to speak with Carney. Concerned for Murray's safety, the pair made arrangements for a cab to take her home. (Hastie Dep. 22:12-19.)

         While Hastie was with Carney, McGovern joined the meeting. At this point, Murray told Brookey that she had prescriptions for Xanax and Valium but had not taken any that day.[2] She added that the alcohol others smelled on her could be from “some sort of mint” that she “sucks on…for her teeth.” (Brookey Dep. 24:23-25; Brookey Statement.) McGovern observed that “based on odor and verbal communication it appeared [Murray] was impaired.” (McGovern Statement, Mot., Ex. S.) McGovern stated that Murray's speech was distorted, her words were “garbled” and she was difficult to understand. She also stated that Murray had never had “this level of random thoughts and slurred level of speech” during conversations prior to that day. (Id.) Murray said that her difficulty speaking could be a result of “mouth refreshers and medication use, ” though she did not cite any specific medications she thought could be to blame, nor did she mention any conditions for which she could have taken medications. (Id.) According to Hastie, Brookey and McGovern, Murray then pointed her finger at Hastie and said words to the effect of “if anything happens with this, I will be after you.” (Hastie Dep. 24:4-6; Hastie Statement; Brookey Dep. 25:9-11; Brookey Statement; McGovern Statement.) Murray denied making any such statement. (Murray Dep. 162:17-163:19.) The meeting concluded shortly thereafter and McGovern accompanied Murray to the bathroom. (Murray Dep. 131:11-15.) Brookey, Hastie and McGovern gathered Murray's purse and coat from her desk and led her out of the building to the cab which had been called to take Murray home. (Murray Dep. 131:16-24.)


         Once Murray left, Hastie met with Carney and McGill. (Hastie Dep. 97:4-22.) Hastie described to McGill what she witnessed that day and McGill instructed Hastie to collect statements from the employees who had also observed Murray's behavior. (Hastie Dep. 99:3-15; 97:8-9.) McGill also told Hastie to suspend Murray while the company investigated the matter. Hastie collected the statements from Simmons, Mueller, McGovern and Brookey and gave them to McGill. Hastie also gave McGill her own statement. (Hastie Dep. 99:3-15; 97:8-9; Carney Dep. 77:3-78:6.) Two days later, Murray came back to the office. (Hastie Dep. 66:22-23.) She left after being unable to access her computer, after which Hastie called Murray and told her that she was not to come back to work until after the investigation was complete. (Hastie Dep. 67:6-12.)

         After reviewing the statements, Carney recommended to McGill that he fire Murray. (Carney Dep. 12:8-10; 13:5-8.) McGill then made the decision to terminate Murray's employment for violating PMA's substance abuse and work place safety policies. (Hastie Dep. 21:12-17; Carney Dep. 73:9-12.) Murray was fired on December 14, 2015. (Termination Letter, Pl's Resp. in Opp., Ex. 8.)


         Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Smathers v. Multi-Tool, Inc./Multi-Plastics, Inc. Emp. Health & Welfare Plan, 298 F.3d 191, 194 (3d Cir. 2002); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not suffice; there must be evidence by which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Id. at 252. Summary judgment is appropriate where “the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         In reviewing the record, a court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.” Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, 579 F.3d 285, 286 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).


         Murray first alleges that PMA discriminated against her because she had an actual or perceived disability. Just what she is purportedly disabled from, however, has evolved throughout the course of the litigation. In her Complaint, Murray alleges that she had “multiple serious medical conditions and disabilities, ” none of which were identified in the pleading on account of “privacy concerns with medical diagnoses.” (Compl. ¶ 24.) At her deposition she testified that she suffers from ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, an anal and vaginal fistula and psoriasis. (Murray Dep. 45:18-23.) In her response to PMA's Motion, she is described as “severely disabled” and lists maladies, in addition to those she identified in her testimony, as uterine mesh, Enteritis, and hernia, “to name a few.” (Pl's Resp. in Opp. at 1, 9 ¶10.) Murray's brief in response to PMA's Motion, however, focuses almost exclusively not on any of these alleged conditions, but instead on the argument that the Defendants discriminated against Murray because they perceived her to be an alcoholic. (Id. 25-31.)

         At oral argument on PMA's Motion, however, Murray's counsel returned to his client's other alleged non-alcohol related disabilities, though he narrowed the field significantly, stating that “her actual disability is that she has an anal/vaginal fistula that substantially inhibits her in the major life activity of excretion and hygiene.” (Hr'g Tr. 6:10-13.) In fact, counsel explained that Murray's theory was actually even narrower than that, stating that she was discriminated against because of the effects of her medication for her underlying anal/vaginal fistula. (Hr'g Tr. 32:1-4.) Specifically, Murray takes Lomotil, a drug that slows bodily secretions, for her ulcerative colitis and anal/vaginal fistula.[3] (Murray Dep. 35:14-20.) ...

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