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Weikel v. Pyramid Healthcare, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 27, 2019

SUSAN WEIKEL, Plaintiff,
v.
PYRAMID HEALTHCARE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ROBERT F. KELLY, SR. J.

         Plaintiff Susan Weikel ("Weikel") brings this action against Defendant Pyramid Healthcare, Inc. ("Pyramid") alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§12101 et seq and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§, et seq.

         Presently before the Court is Pyramid's Motion for Summary Judgment. Weikel filed a Response in Opposition and Pyramid filed a Reply Brief in Further Support. For the reasons noted below, Pyramid's Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Weikel began working at Pyramid in or around October 2012. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Sometime in or around February 2014, Weikel reported to work under the influence of alcohol and was found to be in possession of alcohol on Pyramid's premises. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1.) This incident alerted Pyramid that Weikel suffered from alcoholism. (Pl.'s Mem. Law in Opp'n 3.) Shortly after the 2014 incident, Weikel entered into a Last Chance Agreement with Pyramid, which required her to seek treatment for her alcoholism and provided her with notice that any further violation of the drug and alcohol policy would result in her termination. (Id.)

         Thereafter, Weikel's employment was relatively uneventful for the next few years. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1.) However, in November 2016, Weikel suffered a relapse. (Pl.'s Mem. Law in Opp'n 3.) Specifically, on Friday, November 11, 2016, Weikel called her immediate supervisor, Brenda Noel ("Noel"), to report that she would not be at work that day due to a stomach virus. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1.) Then, the following Monday, November 14, 2016, Weikel sent multiple text messages to Noel stating that she would not be at work because she had been in a car accident. (Id. at 2.) Pyramid then learned, on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, through Weikel's ex-boyfriend and family members, that Weikel had relapsed and was being transported to the hospital as she had been on a several-day drinking binge. (Id.; Pl.'s Mem. Law in Opp'n 4.)

         Following her discharge from the hospital, Weikel informed Pyramid in a statement that she would be checking into an in-patient treatment facility to begin rehabilitation. (Pl.'s Mem. Law in Opp'n 5.) Weikel also admitted that her absences on November 11 and 14, 2016 were due to alcohol use and that she had lied to Noel. (Id.; Def.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2.) Pyramid decided to terminate Weikel due to her breach of Pyramid's Disciplinary Review Process Policy for lying to her supervisor, as well as her violation of the 2014 Last Chance Agreement. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2.)

         Weikel exhausted her administrative remedies and received a Notice of Right to Sue from the KEOC on July 24, 2018. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.) She then filed suit in this Court on October 18, 2018, alleging ADA and FMLA violations in Counts I and II, respectively. Pyramid now moves for summary judgment.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) states that summary judgment is proper "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). The Court asks "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether ... one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc , 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be 'genuine,' i.e., the evidence must be such 'that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs, 995 F.Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 1998) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Summary judgment must be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that presents "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1362-63 (3d Cir. 1992). "More than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" must be presented by the non-moving party in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Tziatzios v. United States, 164 F.R.D. 410, 411-12 (E.D. Pa. 1996). If the court determines there are no genuine disputes of material fact, then summary judgment will be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Weikel's ADA Claims in Count I Fail

         Weikel brings three violations of the ADA. First, she alleges that Pyramid discriminated against her because of her alcoholism, which is a recognized disability. Second, she argues that Pyramid failed to provide available, reasonable accommodations for her disability. Third, she claims that Pyramid retaliated against her because she engaged in protected activity under the ADA. We address these assertions in this order.

         1. Weikel's Disability Discrimination Claim Fails

         ADA discrimination cases are analyzed under the well-known, burden-shifting framework detailed in McDonnel Douglas Corp. v Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). "In order to make out a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA, [the plaintiff] must establish that she (1) has a 'disability,' (2) is a 'qualified individual,' and (3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability." Turner v. Hershey Chocolate US., 440 F.3d 604, 611 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Gaul v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998). If successful, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the employer's stated reason for termination was merely a pretext for unlawful discrimination. See id.

         Pyramid does not dispute that Weikel's alcoholism is a protected disability under the ADA and that Weikel was otherwise qualified for her position. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 5.) However, Pyramid argues that while Weikel's status as an alcoholic is protected, the ADA does not shield her from the current use of alcohol and any related consequences. See Salley v. Circuit City Stores, Inc.,160 F.3d 977, 980 n.2 (3d Cir. 1998) (''[T]he ADA ensures that current use, even if it is a natural consequence of an addiction disability, may be grounds for termination under the ADA."); Mararri v. WCI Steel, Inc.,130 F.3d 1180, 1182 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Maddox v. Univ of Tenn., ...


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