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Robertson v. Corval Constructors, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D Louisiana

April 14, 2015

CLARENCE ROBERTSON
v.
CORVAL CONSTRUCTORS, INC

WRITTEN REASONS

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant, Corval Constructors, Inc. ("Corval").[1] Plaintiff Clarence Robertson has filed an Opposition, [2] to which Defendant has filed a Reply Brief. [3]

I. BACKGROUND

Robertson filed this lawsuit against his former employer, Corval, for terminating him allegedly because he was regarded as disabled due to seizures he experienced at work. Corval operates as an industrial general contractor in the energy, oil/gas, and food/beverage industries.[4] Corval employed an average of 15 rotating pipe workers/welders in its fabrication shop in Baton Rouge, where the plaintiff was employed as a welder.

Robertson began working for Corval as an arc welder in September of 2008 and continued to work in this capacity until June 27, 2011 when he was laid off for a lack of work. Corval subsequently re-hired Robertson on August 29, 2011, when additional work was secured. As a welder, Robertson prepared welds using power grinders, cutting torches, miscellaneous hand tools, an electrical welding machine with a three-phase 440 volt power source, and power brushes.[5] Additionally, Robertson operated heavy machinery, including an overhead crane and forklift to relocate spools.[6]

While employed as a welder for Corval, Robertson experienced two seizures at work while operating machinery. The first seizure occurred on June 24, 2011, while Robertson was operating a lull forklift. During the seizure, Robertson hit the control board, causing the forklift to reverse into the path of shop traffic. A nearby co-worker intervened to disengage the forklift and prevent potential harm and/or injury. Three days later, on June 27, 2011 Robertson was laid off due to a reduction in force. Corval re-hired Robertson approximately 2 months later on August 29, 2011 when Corval secured additional work. Notably, the plaintiff does not challenge the June 27, 2011 lay-off and does not allege that this lay-off was in violation of the ADA.

On April 30, 2012, Robertson suffered a second seizure at Corval while operating hand tools. He was transported by EMS to a local hospital for treatment. Robertson submitted a general return to work medical release to Corval following his seizure.[7] Subsequently, Corval's safety director asked Robertson to provide a medical release from his physician which cleared him to perform "safety-sensitive welding work."[8] It is undisputed that Robertson never provided Corval with the requested medical release. On May 22, 2012, Corval terminated Robertson's employment. Corval's "Separation Notice" designates "Reduction in Force" as the reason for Robertson's termination.[9]

Robertson alleges that Corval fired him because his infrequent seizures were perceived as a disability in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).[10] The EEOC issued Robertson a right to sue letter on June 20, 2013. On September 20, 2013, Robertson filed the pending lawsuit asserting a "regarded as disabled" claim under the ADA.[11]

Corval moves for summary judgment asserting that Robertson fails to offer evidentiary support necessary to establish the first element of his prima facie ADA claim-that he was regarded as disabled. Corval further contends that the uncontroverted evidence shows that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Robertson's employment. Alternatively, Corval pleads that Robertson was a "direct safety threat to Corval and its employees and customers."[12] Robertson counters that he is entitled to redress under the ADA because Corval wrongfully perceived him as having a disability, and that the reasons offered by Corval for his termination were merely pretext. A bench trial is scheduled to begin in this matter on April 20, 2015.

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

"The court shall grant summary judgment 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."[13] "When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, we consider all of the evidence in the record but refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence."[14] "A party moving for summary judgment must "demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, " but need not negate the elements of the non-movant's case.'"[15] If the moving party satisfies its burden, "the non-moving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.'"[16] The non-moving party's burden "is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence."[17]

Notably, "[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'"[18] The Court must resolve all reasonable factual inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.[19] However, "[t]he court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim."[20] "Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts, however, will not prevent an award of summary judgment; the plaintiff [can]not rest on his allegations... to get to a jury without "any significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.'"[21]

Additionally, in cases such as this, where the parties have requested that their case proceed as a bench trial, the Fifth Circuit has explained that "it makes little sense to forbid the judge from drawing inferences from the evidence submitted on summary judgment when that same judge will act as the trier of fact, unless those inferences involve issues of witness credibility or disputed material facts."[22] Additionally, "[i]f a trial on the merits will not enhance the court's ability to draw inferences and conclusions, then a district judge properly should draw his inferences without resort to the expense of trial.'"[23]

B. Material Issues of Fact

The party opposing summary judgment is obliged to set forth specific facts which demonstrate a genuine issue for trial.[24] This Court recently explained, when the non-movant "fails to direct the Court to specific evidence in the record to controvert the supporting evidence set forth by the [movant]... the fact is deemed admitted pursuant to LR 56.2."[25] The Plaintiff's opposition is considerably lacking in the "specific fact" department. In his statement of "Material Facts" Robertson offers ...


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