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Patton v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 17, 2017

TIMOTHY PATTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana

          Before KING, JOLLY, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.

          EDWARD C. PRADO, Circuit Judge

         Plaintiff-Appellant Timothy Patton brought this American Disabilities Act ("ADA") case against Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. ("Jacobs") and Talascend, LLC ("Talascend"). The district court granted summary judgment against Patton on his failure to accommodate and hostile work environment claims. For the reasons stated below, we AFFIRM.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Patton designs electrical and instrumentation systems. He also has an obvious stutter. Talascend is a staffing agency which furnishes contract employees, including engineers and designers, to its clients. Jacobs, an engineering firm, is one of Talascend's clients. Patton has been an employee of Talascend since October 2012, when he was assigned to work at Jacobs' facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Around the time he was hired, Patton told Emily Wimbley, a Talascend recruiter, about his stuttering and anxiety problems, which he said "all go[] together."

         Patton alleges that his coworkers at Jacobs harassed him on account of his stutter. For example, coworkers would call him names such as lawnmower and bush hog (a type of lawnmower). Additionally, coworkers who passed him in the hallway or met him on the elevator would mock his stuttering, and coworkers who sat near him would mock him and make loud noises right behind him. Even his supervisor, Greg Guillory, allegedly mocked him at a department-wide meeting in front of fifty coworkers. Patton testified that he complained about this harassment to Guillory and Wimbley; in addition, he testified that he called and left a message with Talascend's human resources department, but that this call was never returned.

         Patton also made a number of complaints about noise while he worked at Jacobs. According to Patton, the work environment at Jacobs was full of "loud laughter, banging, [and] horseplay." He complained to Guillory three times about the noise in his work space and asked Guillory "to move [him] to an area that was quiet so that [his] nerves would not affect [his] stuttering." Patton also discussed the noise problem with Wimbley at Talascend. Talascend offered to reassign Patton to another client and also raised the issue with Guillory. But Patton continued working at Jacobs and by all accounts performed his job well.

         According to Patton, the harassment and excessive noise at Jacobs caused him to experience severe anxiety. He emailed Bruce Kistrup, a lead engineer, four times about taking off work due to his stress. As a result of this stress, Patton suffered a panic attack while driving and got into a car accident on February 28, 2014. Patton did not return to work at Jacobs after this accident.

         On May 7, 2014, Patton filed a charge of discrimination with the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights ("LCHR") and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").[1] He asserted that he was harassed on account of his disability. Specifically, Patton alleged the following facts:

I was subjected to psychological violence. People made habitual efforts to talk repetitively in an unnatural, intensified loud voice while near me. I was subjected to name calling such as "bush hog", "how pathetic" and "don't fit in." Several people would mock my stuttering while looking directly at me. On one occasion Greg Guillory while speaking in a meeting began to stutter while looking directly at me. I have been excluded from work related lunches/dinners, left out of the communication loop and meeting announcements. I complained on several occasions to management from both Jacobs and Talascend but nothing was done. On February 28, 2014 I was involved in an accident and became stressed to the point that I am currently out on a medical leave.

         Patton also filed an intake questionnaire on May 7, 2014. In the intake questionnaire, Patton clarified that his disability consisted of stuttering, anxiety, and noise sensitivity. He also stated that he requested changes or assistance because of his disability but that his employer did not make any actual changes in response to his requests. Patton later amended his charge of discrimination on September 30, 2014, to add a claim of sex discrimination.

         During the EEOC investigation, Talascend and Jacobs submitted position statements in which they disputed Patton's allegations of discrimination. These position statements focused on the harassment allegations, though Jacobs also responded to the allegation that it failed to accommodate Patton's disability. The EEOC issued a notice of right to sue letter on November 24, 2014.

         Patton filed suit in Louisiana state court on February 6, 2015. He brought four claims against Jacobs and Talascend: (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (3) hostile work environment in violation of the ADA; and (4) failure to accommodate in violation of the ADA. Shortly after the defendants removed the case to federal court, Patton's negligent infliction of emotional distress claim was dismissed. Jacobs and Talascend moved for summary judgment in May 2016.

         The district court granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants on all claims. First, the district court held that Patton failed to administratively exhaust his failure to accommodate claim. In the alternative, the district court held that Patton failed to put forth sufficient evidence showing that the defendants were aware of his disability. Second, the district court held that Patton failed to introduce sufficient evidence of a hostile work environment. The district court also found that Patton failed to take advantage of the complaint procedures in either defendant's anti-harassment policy. Finally, ...

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