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Williams v. Childfirst Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 13, 2019

CLEVELAND WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHILDFIRST SERVICES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          C. DARNELL JONES, II J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Cleveland Williams (“Plaintiff”) commenced this action against Defendant Childfirst Services, Inc. (“Defendant”) for his alleged discriminatory termination due to a qualified disability. Plaintiff has alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”), the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, Phila. Code § 9-1100 et seq. (“PFPO”), and a common law wrongful discharge claim. Defendant timely moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court shall grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to the ADA claim for failing to state a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the act. Consequently, the Court will not reach the merits of Defendant's motion with respect to Plaintiff's remaining claims, which have several issues of disputed facts, the materiality of which this Court will leave to the state court to address on remand.

         II. UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

         As the ruling herein solely concerns Plaintiff's ADA claim, the Court will only recite the undisputed facts relevant to this claim, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party.

         Defendant operates small group residences in Pennsylvania for at-risk teenage minors, some of whom have emotional and behavioral difficulties. Def. SUF at ¶¶ 1, 4 (ECF No. 27-2); Pl. SUF at ¶¶ 1, 4 (ECF No. 28-1). Plaintiff was hired by Defendant as a childcare worker or “houseparent” in August 2016. Def. SUF at ¶ 3; Pl. SUF at ¶ 3. His job duties included taking the six to eight children on his floor to school, teaching them certain life skills such as etiquette and cooking, and taking them to various activities and appointments. Def. SUF at ¶ 7; Pl. SUF at ¶ 7. Due to the emotional and behavioral supports the children needed, after hiring him, Defendant gave Plaintiff a description listing the physical capabilities that would be needed for the job, including: “considerable upper body strength as well as full range of motion in the[] arms[, ] hands, legs and feet” and an ability to “use hands and have upper body strength to hold aggressive children.”[1] Def. SUF at ¶¶ 8-9; Pl. SUF at ¶¶ 8-9. In actuality, Plaintiff also had to be able to defend himself against knives being pulled on him, circumvent being pushed into walls, and defend himself against children who were three times his height.[2] Def. SUF at ¶ 11; Pl. SUF at ¶ 11.

         On December 1, 2016 a physical altercation broke out between residents under Plaintiff's care. Def. SUF at ¶ 44; Pl. SUF at ¶ 44. Plaintiff and two of his colleagues attempted to defuse the situation, and in doing so, Plaintiff's lower back and shoulder were injured. Def. SUF at ¶ 45; Pl. SUF at ¶ 45. Afterwards, Plaintiff drafted and sent an incident report to Hosea Crooms, Jr., Plaintiff's supervisor, who was also present during the incident, documenting his injuries. Def. SUF at ¶¶ 13, 46; Pl. SUF at ¶¶ 13, 46. Thereafter, despite his injuries, Plaintiff returned to work to prevent a disruption in coverage and he continued working his normal schedule until December 11, 2016. Def. SUF at ¶¶ 47, 48, 79; Pl. SUF at ¶¶ 47, 48, 79.

         On December 11th Plaintiff sought treatment for a case of bronchitis he developed after being in cold conditions at work for an extended period. Def. SUF at ¶ 56; Pl. SUF at ¶ 56. While there, he also sought treatment for his back and shoulder pain but was denied care due to an issue with his worker's compensation coverage. Def. SUF at ¶ 57; Pl. SUF at ¶ 57. Apparently, Mr. Crooms never informed the contact person for employee injuries and worker compensation claims, Elizabeth Williams, the Senior Assistant to Defendant's President and CEO, Dr. Nathaniel Williams, of Plaintiff's injuries or forwarded Plaintiff's incident report to her. Def. SUF at ¶¶ 41, 46; Pl. SUF at ¶¶ 41, 46. Consequently, a claim for those injuries was not made and the individual treating Plaintiff's bronchitis refused to treat his back and shoulder pain. Def. SUF at ¶ 57; Pl. SUF at ¶ 57. Plaintiff left that appointment with a medical report regarding his bronchitis that he gave to Ms. Williams the next day when he asked for time off to recuperate from his bronchitis. Def. SUF at ¶ 58; Pl. SUF at 58. Plaintiff's request was granted, and his leave extended three weeks until he recovered from his bronchitis. Def. SUF at ¶¶ 58, 60; Pl. SUF at ¶¶ 58, 60.

         On December 13, 2016, Plaintiff asked Ms. Williams, for a list of approved worker's compensation doctors because his “back was still hurting from the fight that broke out.” Def. SUF at ¶ 61; Pl. SUF at ¶ 61. That was the first time he had informed her personally of the injuries he obtained during the December 1st altercation. Def. SUF at ¶ 62; Pl. SUF at ¶ 62. Shortly after asking Ms. Williams for a referral to a worker's compensation physician Plaintiff was terminated. The cause for that termination is disputed.

         After his termination, Plaintiff made a worker's compensation claim. Def. SUF at ¶ 61; Pl. SUF at ¶ 61. On April 26, 2017 he was deposed in connection with that claim and testified to the following:

A. No, I don't feel I could work as a house parent, no.
Q. Why do you feel incapable of performing your duties as a house parent?
A. As far as like the heavy lifting, going up the third flight, going up the stairwells, and dealing with the physical restraints of the kids, I'm ...

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