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Hartley v. The Boeing Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

KATRINA HARTLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOEING COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiff Katrina Hartley brings this suit against Defendant the Boeing Company, alleging that in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et. seq. (“ADA”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 951, et seq. (“PHRA”), Defendant impermissibly revoked her offer of employment based on the results of a medical examination. Defendant now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion shall be denied.

         I. FACTS

         In March 2018, Plaintiff applied for a position as a firefighter/emergency medical technician with Defendant. On April 17, 2018, Defendant offered Plaintiff the job, contingent on her meeting certain pre-employment requirements, including passing a drug screening, background check, and medical screening.

         In the process of completing her pre-employment requirements, Plaintiff disclosed to Defendant that she had been separated from the military on medical grounds and diagnosed with herniated discs. She was then contacted by a nurse affiliated with Defendant regarding the pre-employment health screening to ensure that she was medically able to perform the job. All candidates who receive an offer to become a Boeing Firefighter must first pass this medical screening. As part of that process, Plaintiff provided a form from her primary care doctor, Dr. Ben Kochuveli, a general physician for the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Kochuveli filled out the form on Plaintiff's behalf and indicated there were no restrictions on Plaintiff's work abilities.

         Plaintiff also gave Defendant authorization to access her medical records for review. Hundreds of pages of medical reports were turned over, including extensive documentation from Plaintiff's chiropractic visits and neurodiagnostic visits, both for her back. Those documents show Plaintiff visited the chiropractor for pain management multiple times per week, including around the time when Plaintiff was applying for the job with Boeing. At times, Plaintiff “complain[ed] of continuous, sharp, shooting, and tightness discomfort in lower back, ” and “describe[d] that the discomfort increases with movement.” Plaintiff also received an epidural shot for pain management on May 1, 2018.

         On May 4, 2018, Plaintiff attended an examination performed by Herman Eason, a physician's assistant contracted by Boeing to provide onsite care. According to Eason, the results of the examination were “unremarkable.” In addition to his examination with Plaintiff, Eason also reviewed all of Plaintiff's disclosed medical records. Eason testified that he was concerned based on Plaintiff's medical records showing ongoing chiropractic and medical treatment.

         On May 25, 2018, Defendant informed Plaintiff that she was “not medically qualified” for the position and rescinded her offer. Defendant also sent Plaintiff a letter dated June 5, 2018, further explaining that it had “performed a medical review of your individual circumstances as they relate to your contingent offer of employment and . . . determined that we cannot place you in this particular position, ” and “encourage[d]” her to explore other employment opportunities with the company.

         Plaintiff obtained a right to sue letter and now brings claims for disability discrimination pursuant to the ADA and PHRA.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if it might impact the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “genuine” only where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir. 2013). “However, to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-movant.” Id. (internal punctuation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendant violated the ADA and the PHRA by pulling her offer after conducting a medical exam. The ADA prohibits employers from “discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures [and] hiring. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (2008). The PHRA provides, similarly, that it is “an unlawful discriminatory practice … [f]or any employer because of the … non-job related handicap or disability . . . of any individual or independent contractor, to refuse to hire or employ or contract with [such individual].” 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 955. The ADA and PHRA are “to be interpreted consistently, and . . . have the same standard for determination of liability.” Macfarlan v. Ivy Hill SNF, LLC, 675 F.3d 266, 274 (3d Cir. 2012).

         A. Plaintiff's claim of discrimination

         Because Plaintiff has no direct evidence of discrimination, she must use the familiar “burden shifting” framework to establish her claim. See McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 804 (1973). To make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, Plaintiff must present evidence that she: (1) was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job; and, (3) suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. See Gaul v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998). If Plaintiff makes that showing, the burden shifts to the Defendant to articulate a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.” McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If Defendant does so, the plaintiff “must be given the opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons proffered by defendant were not its true reasons, but rather, a pretext for discrimination.” Josey v. John R. Hollingsworth Corp., 996 F.3d 632, 637-38 (3d Cir.1993).

         1. The prima facie case

         a. “Disabled”

         The first issue thus is whether Plaintiff has sufficiently shown she was disabled as defined by the ...


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