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Daniel v. T-Mobile USA, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 10, 2019

JEREMY DANIEL,
v.
T-MOBILE USA, INC.

          MEMORANDUM RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          BAYLSON, J.

         In this case, this Court must determine whether genuine disputes of material fact prelude summary judgment on behalf of Defendant T-Mobile USA, Inc. (“T-Mobile” or “Defendant”). Plaintiff Jeremy Daniel, who is suffering from Hodgkin's Lymphoma, alleges that his termination from his position as Account Services Representative (“ASR”) at T-Mobile amounts to discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 42 P.S. § 951 et seq. For the reasons discussed below, summary judgment for Defendant is DENIED.

         I. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The following is a fair account of the factual assertions at issue in this case, as taken from both parties' Statements of Facts and briefs, and are not genuinely disputed.

         A. Plaintiff's Position

         Plaintiff joined MetroPCS as a Lead Sales Associate in June 2008. (ECF 18, “Def.'s SOF” ¶ 6.) In 2009, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of ASR in MetroPCS's Fort Washington, Pennsylvania office. (Id. ¶ 7.) When the merger of MetroPCS and T-Mobile was finalized on May 1, 2013, Plaintiff maintained the same ASR position, but was employed by T-Mobile, which became the employer for all existing and future MetroPCS brand employees. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5, 8). At the time of his termination in July 2014, Plaintiff reported to Melissa Fail, an Account Manager. (Id. ¶ 11.)[1] As an Account Manager, Fail supervised two to four ASRs on average, including Plaintiff. (Def.'s SOF Ex. D, “Fail Tr.” at 11:21-13:24.)

         An ASR is a “door level leadership role for the Indirect Distribution and National Retail Channels in a local market.” (Def.'s SOF Ex. C.) As an ASR, Plaintiff was “responsible for the sales performance, training, communication local door marketing/merchandising and the execution of all sales and marketing strategies/tactics.” (Id.) ASRs were also tasked with “creat[ing] and foster[ing] strong working relationships with door management, sales associates and dealer principals.” (Id.) The “Essential Functions” of the position include the following:

• Creat[ing] weekly and monthly scheduled visits designed to drive overall door productivity and the markets [sic] indirect strategy. . . .
• Effectively communicat[ing], schedul[ing], and deliver[ing] sales training as required for indirect distribution doors. Also attend[ing] internal team training and events.
• Maintain[ing] and document[ing] all store visit activity and review[ing] previous visits and initiatives for maximum productivity.

(Id.) In other words, ASRs were required to “go out and train the employees and how to sell the product and services” and “maintain the store and make sure the store looks all right[.]” (Fail Tr. at 11:3-10.) In short, the ASR position entailed “marketing at the store level.” (Id.)

         ASRs were expected to complete at least twenty store visits per week. (Def.'s SOF Ex. B, “Daniel Tr.” at 33:7-14.) In 2012, Plaintiff was the assigned ASR for stores located in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, and he averaged between twenty-three and twenty-five visits per week. (Id. at 34:9-11; Def.'s SOF ¶ 13.) Plaintiff's typical workday began at 7:00 a.m., when he would see which stores he needed to visit, and he would plan to arrive at the store(s) around 9:00-10:00 a.m., when the stores opened. (Daniel Tr. at 34:18-35:10.) Plaintiff would return home between 6:30-7:00 p.m., and his workday would end between 8:00-8:30 p.m., after he logged his store visits and followed-up on any phone calls. (Id. at 35:11-17.)

         B. MetroPCS/T-Mobile's Leave Policies

         MetroPCS's Short-Term Leave Policy dated January 16, 2012 provided that before an employee returned to work from short-term disability (“STD”) leave, the employee was required to provide a Certification of Fitness to Return to Work to the Leave Management Vendor (“Return to Work Statement”), local Human Resources, and his manager. (Def.'s SOF Ex. F.) If this Return to Work Statement contained restrictions, the employee was required to contact his immediate manager and local Human Resources before returning to work to “review and assess the requested accommodations.” (Id.) The same policy stated,

If an employee does not return to work after six (6) months of STD leave or after a physician's release to return to work, whichever occurs first, the Company will conduct a review of the circumstances and a final determination of employee's employment status . . . will be made after discussing . . . and engaging in an interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation is available.

(Id.) Upon approval of Cigna, the Leave Management vendor, an employee could transition from STD to long-term disability (“LTD”) leave, which provided additional income protection, but no additional job protection. (Id.)

         This policy also included provisions concerning Family or Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave. FMLA leave act ran concurrently with STD leave. (Id.) Pursuant to this policy, eligible employees were entitled to twelve weeks of FMLA leave within a twelve-month period, either consecutively or on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis. (Id.)

         MetroPCS employees were also subject to its disability policy, which was revised on August 1, 2011. (Def.'s SOF Ex. E.) This policy provided, with respect to reasonable accommodations, “Individuals with disabilities may request accommodations from their supervisor, other management persons or Human Resources to enable them to apply for employment and/or to perform the essential functions of the position they desire or in which they are employed.” (Id.) When an individual with a disability requested an accommodation, or MetroPCS “otherwise believe[d] that an accommodation may [have] enable[d] an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job, ” MetroPCS would “engage in an interactive process with the individual to identify an appropriate reasonable accommodation.” (Id.)

         As of January 2014, after the May 2013 merger of MetroPCS and T-Mobile, Plaintiff was subject to T-Mobile's FMLA, STD, and LTD policies. (Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 5, 37.) T-Mobile's leave policies are “substantively identical” to MetroPCS's policies. (Id. ¶ 16 n.2.)

         C. Plaintiff's History of Requests for Medical Leave

         a. First Continuous Leave of Absence (“LOA”): January 2, 2013-April 30, 2013

         i. FMLA Leave: January 2, 2013-March 26, 2013

         In December 2012, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin's Lymphoma. (Id. ¶ 25; Daniel Tr. at 38:9-39:3.) On December 20, 2012, Plaintiff applied for a continuous LOA from January 1, 2013 through May 31, 2013. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 26; id. Ex. I.) Plaintiff's request for FMLA qualifying leave was approved from January 2, 2013 through March 26, 2013, at which time he exhausted his FMLA leave. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 27; id. Ex. J.)

         ii. STD Leave: March 27, 2013-April 30, 2013

         On February 21, 2013, Plaintiff was granted a seven-week extension of his continuous LOA from March 27, 2013 through April 30, 2013, consistent with MetroPCS's STD policy. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 28.) Plaintiff received STD benefits payable through April 30, 2013. (Id. ¶ 30.) On May 1, 2013, Plaintiff returned to work with no restrictions. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         b. Second Continuous LOA: June 24, 2013-June 15, 2014

         i. STD Leave: June 24, 2013-July 31, 2013

         On June 26, 2013[2], approximately seven weeks after Plaintiff's return to work, his condition relapsed and he requested another continuous STD leave of absence from June 24, 2013 through July 31, 2013, which was granted. (Id. ¶ 31; id. Ex. L.)

         ii. STD Leave: July 29, 2013-October 3, 2013

         When Plaintiff's condition did not improve, on July 29, 2013, he requested another leave extension through October 3, 2013, which was granted. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 33; id. Exs. M, S.) During his leave, on September 12, 2013, Plaintiff underwent a stem cell transplant, which was unsuccessful. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 35; ECF 21-1, “P's SOF” ¶ 35.)

         iii. STD Leave: September 23, 2013-November 4, 2013

         After the unsuccessful procedure, on September 23, 2013, Plaintiff requested another leave extension through November 4, 2013, which was also granted. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 34; id. Ex. N; P's SOF ¶ 34.)

         iv. STD Leave: November 4, 2013-December 22, 2013

         On November 4, Plaintiff requested another extension of his continuous leave through December 22, 2013, which was granted. (Def.'s SOF Ex. S.) On November 21, 2013, Cigna informed Plaintiff that his STD benefits had been extended through December 22, 2013, his twenty-fifth week of STD benefits, at which time Plaintiff's STD benefits were exhausted. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 36; id. Ex. O.) At that time, Plaintiff's claim was transitioned for consideration of eligibility for LTD benefits. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 36; id. Ex. O.)

         v. LTD Leave: December 20, 2013-April 30, 2014

         Beginning on January 1, 2014, Plaintiff's leave of absence was transferred from MetroPCS to T-Mobile for administration. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 37; id. Ex. P.) Plaintiff requested, and Defendant approved, an extension of Plaintiff's leave from December 20, 2013 through April 30, 2014. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 39; id. Ex. Q.) Plaintiff was scheduled to return to work on May 1, 2014. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 39; id. Ex. Q.)

         vi. LTD Leave: April 8, 2014-May 1, 2014

         On April 8, 2014, Plaintiff requested an accommodation of “extension of disability benefits, ” and indicated that he was “not sure” how long he thought he would need this accommodation. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 40; id. Ex. R.) In his request for accommodation, in response to the question asking how the accommodation would help Plaintiff perform the essential functions of his job, Plaintiff wrote, “N/A.” (id. Ex. R.) The medical documentation accompanying the request indicated that Plaintiff would be unable to perform his job functions for “3-4 weeks for now, ” and that there was no other accommodation that would allow Plaintiff to perform his job functions. (Id.) Plaintiff's doctor did not specify which functions Plaintiff was unable to perform, but stated that if Plaintiff's scans and biopsy did not show recurring Hodgkin's Lymphoma, he would be able to return to work without restrictions on May 1, 2014. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 40; id. Ex. R.)

         vii. LTD Leave: April 29, 2014-June 15, 2014

          Plaintiff submitted another request for the accommodation of “extended leave” for treatment of his relapsed Hodgkin's Lymphoma on April 29, 2014. (Def.'s SOF Ex. S.) Plaintiff indicated that he was “unsure” how long he would need this accommodation. (Id.) The accompanying medical documentation stated, in response to a question asking which job functions Plaintiff was unable to perform, “He may have adverse reactions to treatment (nausea, vomiting, infection, etc.) that may prevent him from performing his duties.” (Id.) Plaintiff's doctor indicated that Plaintiff would be unable to perform his job functions for “6-9 weeks, ” that there was no other accommodation that would enable Plaintiff to perform his job and identified June 15, 2014 as the recommended end date of the continuous leave period. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 41; id. Ex. S.) The medical documentation also stated that Plaintiff would need “indefinite treatment, ” and if he responded well to current therapy, “then he w[ould] need a bone marrow transplant if a donor c[ould] be found.” (Def.'s SOF Ex. S.) Defendant approved Plaintiff's request for an extension of his leave of absence from December 20, 2013 through June 15, 2014, with a June 16, 2014 return-to-work date. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 42; id. Ex. T.)

         viii. June 11, 2014-December 31, 2014 Leave Extension Request Denied

         On June 11, 2014, Plaintiff requested an accommodation of “extension of leave” through the “beginning of September for now per doctor.” (Def.'s SOF ¶ 44; id. Ex. V.) In response to the question asking how this accommodation would help him perform the essential functions of his job, Plaintiff wrote, “N/A.” (Def.'s SOF Ex. V.) The medical documentation accompanying the request, which is dated June 27, 2014, indicates that Plaintiff “had an allergic reaction to treatment [and] fatigue, which may make it difficult for Plaintiff to perform his duties. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 47.) Plaintiff's physician noted that Plaintiff would be unable to perform all his duties” “through December 2014” and recommended continuous leave from “6/15/14-12/31/14.” (Id.)[3]Plaintiff's doctor also noted that Plaintiff would need a bone marrow transplant, and that “a donor ha[d] not yet been found.” (Id.) Because Plaintiff did not have an immediate relative who could serve as a donor, Plaintiff was placed on a transplant list. (Id. ¶ 61.) To date, Plaintiff has not received a transplant. (Id. ¶ 62.)[4] Joanna Makuannen (Benson), Defendant's Leave of Absence Manager responsible for Plaintiff's claim, did not contact Plaintiff or his physician regarding the return-to-work dates provided in Plaintiff's request for accommodation and the supporting documentation. (ECF 21-1 at 10, “P's Add'l SOF” ¶ 8; ECF 24, “Resp. to Add'l SOF” ¶ 8.)[5]

         c. Other Accommodations-Not Requested

         Defendant previously allowed an ASR, who received a DUI and had his license revoked, to work from home for a “period of time.” (P's Add'l SOF ¶ 18; Resp. to Add'l SOF ¶ 18.) Fail testified that she did not know how long that ASR was permitted to work remotely. (Resp. to Add'l SOF ¶ 18.) During Plaintiff's leaves of absence, Defendant did not ask Plaintiff whether Defendant could provide him with another accommodation that would have allowed hm to come back to work and fulfill the essential functions of his job. (P's SOF ¶ 50.)

         d. Coverage of Plaintiff's Duties

         During Plaintiff's leaves of absence, other ASRs and Fail covered Plaintiff's work. (P's Add'l SOF ¶ 1; Resp. to Add'l SOF ¶ 1.) When Fail was asked whether she would have been able to cover Plaintiff's duties until September 2014, she testified, “I guess, yes.” (Fail Tr. at 31:7- 32:12.) When asked whether she could have covered Plaintiff's job duties until December 2014, Fail responded, “I emphasized with him so much. I probably would have done what I could to get him back, but that's not the way it happened.” (Id. at 32:14-23.) While Plaintiff was on leave, no one asked Fail whether she would be able to continue covering Plaintiff's work if he remained on leave until December 31, 2014. (P's Add'l SOF ¶ 16; Resp. to Add'l SOF ¶ 16.)

         e. Defendant's Communications with Plaintiff During Leave

         While Plaintiff was on leave from June 2013 through July 2014, Margaret Phan, T-Mobile's Employee Success Partner[6] testified that she communicated with Plaintiff “two to three times” regarding “issues or questions about his leave.” (Def.'s SOF Ex. X, “Phan Tr.” at 30:19- 23, 32:4-7.) Phan testified that she called Plaintiff during this LOA to ask that he submit his paperwork to Cigna so that it could be reviewed and approved. (Id. at 30:19-31:4.) Phan's handwritten notes of a July 8, 2014 phone call with Plaintiff indicate that Plaintiff stated that Phan did not call him during his leave. (ECF 21, “Resp.” Ex. Q.) In response, Phan reminded him that she spoke with him as needed and helped him “several times” with claims issues. (Id.) Makuannen has no recollection of speaking with Plaintiff directly regarding his leave. (P's Add'l SOF ¶ 7; Resp. to Add'l SOF ¶ 7.)

         D. Plaintiff's Termination: July 3, 2014

         Following Defendant's receipt of Plaintiff's June 11, 2014 request for accommodation, Phan met with T-Mobile's in-house counsel, David Johnson, and Makuannen (Benson) to discuss Plaintiff's request. (Def.'s SOF ¶ 51; Phan Tr. at 40:23-41:18.) Because of Plaintiff's “long history of extension requests and his ongoing need for continuous time away from work, ” Plaintiff's extension request was denied, and Phan, Makuannen, and Johnson decided to terminate Plaintiff effective July 3, 2014. (Resp. Ex. S. at 4.) Phan explained that they decided together that Plaintiff would not be able to return to work again “based on his history, . . . the continuous extension of leave, and knowing that at this point he still had a number of medical issues.” (Phan Tr. at 61:18-62:6.) Makuannen testified that she did not recall if she recommended Plaintiff's termination but noted that as part of her evaluation of whether to recommend next steps, she “would have been looking to see [the] number of leaves in the past, were they the same medical condition, how long holistically had he been away, whether it was FMLA or ADA, and if it was all for the same condition.” (Resp. Ex. P, “Makuannen Tr.” at 40:2-14.)

         Plaintiff was informed of his termination in a letter dated July 2, 2014 and signed by Phan. (Def.'s SOF Ex. Y.)[7] The letter notified Plaintiff that his request to extend his continuous LOA, which began on June 24, 2013 was denied “after careful review” because “[t]he most recent documentation that we have received from your ...


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