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Bamat v. Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2019




         Plaintiff Jonathan Bamat brings wrongful discharge and disability discrimination claims against his former employer, Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc. Hawbaker moved for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Jonathan Bamat was hired by Glenn O. Hawbaker as a survey assistant in the summer of 2018.[1] Bamat has bipolar disorder.[2] He takes medication for this condition and previously received treatment at a voluntary in-patient center.[3] Upon his hiring, Bamat indicated on a voluntary self-identification of disability form that he had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, though he has been diagnosed with only the former.[4]

         Bamat was working on-site on August 8, 2018, when he reported to his supervisor that his head hurt.[5] His supervisor observed bruising behind Bamat's right ear, which Bamat believed was the result of an insect bite.[6] In this initial conversation with his supervisor, Bamat discussed his intention to seek worker's compensation benefits.[7] On his supervisor's suggestion, Bamat spoke with the triage nurse and went home, and then missed work the next day, reporting to his supervisor that he felt dizzy and unwell.[8] On August 10, 2018, Bamat felt better and returned to work.[9]

         Bamat's supervisor in turn told his boss, Harry Mills, about Bamat's injury on August 8.[10] On August 9, 2018, Mills called Kristi Liptak, Hawbaker's EEO officer, to discuss Bamat.[11] Liptak took notes on this conversation that indicated that Mills believed Bamat was “scheming for compensation.”[12] Her notes also say the word “schizophrenic” and, under that, “wants to get rid of him before something happens.”[13]

         On August 13, 2018, Bamat urinated along the side of a haul road at a work site, standing between opened front and rear passenger doors of a truck to maintain some modicum of privacy.[14] In spite of this, he was seen by at least two coworkers.[15]

         His supervisor immediately issued a verbal warning, and the project superintendent instructed the supervisor to issue Bamat a written warning.[16] While at the job site office, the supervisor spoke to John Wert, the project manager, over the phone about the incident.[17] Wert informed the supervisor that he would personally address the issue himself.[18] Wert spoke with Liptak, Mills, and Michele Foust from Human Resources, and then he fired Bamat.[19]

         Bamat filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Pennsylvania, on September 4, 2018. Hawbaker filed a notice of removal to this Court on September 27, 2018. Bamat filed the operative amended complaint on July 29, 2019. On September 3, 2019, Hawbaker moved for summary judgment.


         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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.”[20] “Facts that could alter the outcome are ‘material facts,' and disputes are ‘genuine' if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct.”[21]“A defendant meets this standard when there is an absence of evidence that rationally supports the plaintiff's case.”[22]

         B. Bamat's Claims

         Bamat claims relief on two grounds. First, he claims that he was wrongfully discharged for saying that he planned to seek worker's compensation. Second, he claims that Hawbaker discriminated against him on the basis of a disability. Both wrongful discharge and disability discrimination claims apply the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework.[23] In the test's three steps, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case; second, the defendant must identify a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action; and third, the plaintiff must show that a rational factfinder could conclude that the defendant's stated reason was a pretext for discrimination.[24]

         The prima facie case for wrongful discharge has three elements: (1) the plaintiff engaged in protected activity, (2) his employer took an adverse employment action against him, and (3) there must be a causal nexus between his protected activity and the adverse employment action.[25] The prima facie case for disability discrimination also has three elements: (1) the plaintiff is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADAAA, (2) he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, and (3) he suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination.[26]

         Hawbaker contends that Bamat cannot identify evidence in the record supporting the causal elements of either prima facie case or that their stated nondiscriminatory reason for firing him (urinating at a worksite) was a pretext for discrimination. I respectfully disagree for the reasons that follow.

         C. Analysis

         On August 9, 2018, Bamat's supervisor Harry Mills spoke on the phone with Kristi Liptak in Human Resources. Liptak's notes on this conversation are in the record.[27] According to the notes, Mills believed Bamat was “scheming for compensation.”[28] Another heading says “schizophrenic.”[29] Under that heading, it says “wants to get rid of him before something happens.”[30] Four days later, without any prior warnings or reprimands, Bamat became the only Hawbaker employee in at least five years to be fired or disciplined in any way for urinating at a worksite.[31]Then, when Mills and Liptak were separately deposed about their August 9 conversation, they gave contradictory accounts of it.[32]

         This is certainly enough to satisfy a prima facie causation burden on summary judgment. The notes support a direct connection between Bamat's firing and both his disability[33] and his expressed desire to seek worker's compensation. Additionally, the close temporal ...

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