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Molyneaux v. Monroe County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 8, 2020




         Pending before the court, in this disability discrimination action filed by plaintiff Theodore Molyneaux, is his motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, (Doc. 18). Plaintiff seeks summary judgment with respect to his claims that his former employer, defendant Monroe County, failed to accommodate his disability caused from cancer in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Counts One and Two of his complaint, (Doc. 1). Based upon the court's review of the motion and related materials, the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment regarding his failure to accommodate claims will be DENIED since there are genuine issues of material fact.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff has brought the instant action under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADAAA”), 42 U.S.C. §12131, et seq., as well as under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. §951, et seq. Plaintiff filed his complaint on October 12, 2017. (Doc. 1). Specifically, in Counts I and II, plaintiff raises his claims under the ADAAA and the PHRA, respectively, alleging that Monroe County was aware of his disability and perceived him as having a disability but failed to accommodate it by denying his request to be assigned to a position outside of the Monroe County Correctional Facility (“MCCF”) where he worked, and by denying his request for an extension of his leave. He also alleges that Monroe County failed to engage in good faith in the interactive process required by law.

         In Counts III and IV, plaintiff raises his claims that he was unlawfully terminated from his employment with Monroe County since his disability was allegedly a motivating factor in the County's decision in violation of the ADAAA and the PHRA, respectively.

         After completing discovery, the plaintiff filed his motion for partial summary judgment on April 1, 2019, with respect to his failure to accommodate claims in Counts I and II under the ADAAA and the PHRA, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.[1] (Doc. 18). Plaintiff's motion has been briefed and, a statement of material facts and a response as well as exhibits were filed.

         This court's jurisdiction over the plaintiff's federal claims is based on 28 U.S.C. §1331. The court can exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. §1337.

         II. MATERIAL FACTS[2]

         The undisputed facts, as supported by the record, establish that, from June of 2006 until November of 2015, the plaintiff worked for Monroe County. He worked in the County maintenance department through 2013, and then he worked as the Assistant Supervisor of Maintenance at MCCF. As part of his work at MCCF, plaintiff had direct contact with inmates at the prison.

         In March of 2015, plaintiff was diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the head and neck. Plaintiff's treatment for his cancer began on May 18, 2015. Plaintiff completed chemotherapy on June 29, 2015, and completed radiation therapy on July 18, 2015. During this time, Monroe County was aware that plaintiff had cancer and that he was in treatment for his cancer.

         Plaintiff's cancer impaired his ability to work, breathe, swallow, and eat. Plaintiff also was required to have a feeding tube for an extended period of time.

         Monroe County outsourced the handling of its FMLA Leave and its Disability Leave to UPMC WorkPartners (“UPMC”).

         Plaintiff was approved for 12 weeks FMLA leave by Monroe County from May of 2015 through August 7, 2015.

         Further, under Monroe County's Handbook Policy for Disability Leave, an eligible employee could receive a maximum of 6 months disability leave, which included the maximum 12 weeks of FMLA leave. An employee may also be eligible to request an extension of his FMLA leave for up to six months, if “compelling reasons” exist. A request for an extension had to be approved by the County Commissioners. The decision of whether to grant an employee an extension was solely within the discretion of the County Commissioners. Information in support of the requested extension, such as a note from the treating physician indicating when the employee was eligible to return to work, had to be presented by the employee to the Commissioners to assist in their determination as to whether an extension of leave was warranted.

         Specifically, the County's Disability Leave Policy provided:

A Disability Leave of Absence is defined as a period of absence during which an employee is unable to perform his/her essential job duties due to the employee's non-work related illness or injury, including pregnancy.
All regular full time and regular part time County employees can request such a leave of absence. For employees who qualify under FMLA, the first twelve (12) weeks of approved disability will be considered FMLA leave. The maximum duration that a disability leave of absence can be approved for is six (6) months, which would include the maximum twelve (12) weeks under FMLA. If compelling reasons require an extension, it will be reviewed by the County Commissioners to determine whether extension is warranted and whether it should be granted. Any such extension is solely at the discretion of the County Commissioners.

(Doc. 23-3).

         Plaintiff then requested, pursuant to the County's Policy which allowed an employee a maximum of 6 months leave for non-work related illnesses, additional FMLA leave, and his request was approved. His FMLA leave was due to expire on November 7, 2015. At the time his additional leave of absence was going to end, plaintiff had a feeding tube and was not able to return to work at MCCF since the tube would make his exposure to inmates dangerous, nor was he cleared to return to work by his doctor, William S. Scialla, D.O., at this time. (See Doc. 23-4, October 2, 2015 report from Dr. Scialla stating that plaintiff's “leave of absence from work is still undetermined.”; Doc. 23-5, November 2, 2015 report from LVPG Hematology Oncology/Laura J. Spranklin, D.O.).

         Deborah Sibbering was Monroe County's Assistant Director of Human Resources from December of 2012 through March of 2016, and she was responsible for all HR matters regarding the staff at MCCF. Plaintiff testified that he advised Sibbering that his feeding tube was scheduled to be removed in January of 2016, and that he requested another extension of FMLA leave. Plaintiff's request for the leave extension had to be approved by the Monroe County Commissioners. Since Sibbering was plaintiff's only point of contact regarding his request for a leave extension, he stated that he made the request for an extension through her.

         It is undisputed that plaintiff indicated to Sibbering that he wanted more time on leave. However, Sibbering testified that plaintiff failed to follow the requisite procedure to request a leave extension beyond the 6 months he had been allotted, despite the fact that she told him the proper procedure multiple times. Sibbering stated that she was continually in touch with plaintiff during his leave of absence, and that she informed him in writing and orally regarding the information he needed to provide to her so that she could present a request for an extension of his leave to the County Commissioners. In particular, Sibbering told plaintiff that he had to get her something from his doctor indicating when he would be reevaluated and indicating a specific date as to how long of an extension plaintiff required. Sibbering stated that she did not receive the stated information from plaintiff. Sibbering stated that since plaintiff did not follow the proper procedure, she could not present a request for a leave extension to the Commissioners.

         Plaintiff testified that Sibbering did not forward his request for a leave extension to the Commissioners to see if they approved of it and that he tried to obtain the required documentation. In particular, plaintiff testified that he tried to get Sibbering the additional information regarding his leave extension request and had his doctor ...

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