United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
GULF LOGISTICS OPERATING, INC.
ORDER AND REASONS
the Court is Defendant Gulf Logistics Operating, Inc.'s
12(b)(6) “Motion to Dismiss.” Rec. Doc. 7. Also
before the Court is the EEOC's “Memorandum in
Opposition to Defendant's 12(b)(6) Motion to
Dismiss” (Rec. Doc. 14) and Defendant's
“Reply Memorandum in Support of Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to
Dismiss” (Rec. Doc. 19). For the reasons discussed
below, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant's
“Motion to Dismiss” (Rec. Doc. 7) is
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Gulf Logistics Operating, Inc. operates a fleet of boats in
the Gulf of Mexico supporting companies engaged in oil and
gas exploration. Rec. Doc. 2 ¶ 4. In October 2012,
Defendant hired Jason Gunderson to work as a deckhand on one
of Defendant's boats. Id. ¶ 16. While
employed by Defendant, Gunderson was never disciplined
regarding his performance of the essential functions of his
job. Id. ¶ 17. In January 2013, Gunderson began
having marital problems and, as a result, began experiencing
emotional distress. Id. ¶ 18. He separated from
his wife a few months later. Id. ¶ 19. In April
2013, Gunderson asked his manager, Randy Whittaker, for a
referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to obtain
help coping with the stress of his separation. Id.
a Health, Safety and Environmental Manager for Defendant,
provided Gunderson with a list of numbers to call for EAP
assistance. Id. ¶ 20. He told Gunderson, who
expected to miss five days of work, that he would not be
allowed to return to work without first obtaining a release
from the company doctor. Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.
Specifically, Whittaker told Gunderson that he “would
not be able to send him back to his assigned vessel due to
safety reasons and concerns regarding [Gunderson's] need
to seek EAP assistance for his emotional distress.”
returned to work approximately three weeks later, on or about
May 20, 2013, at which time he presented a medical release
from the company's doctor stating that he could return to
work without any restrictions. Id. ¶ 24. The
doctor's note “determined that Gunderson had
‘situational' depression.” Id.
¶ 25. Upon his return, Gunderson worked without
restrictions, and he was given no indication of concern about
his performance. Id. ¶ 28. However, two weeks
later, on June 5, 2013, Defendant discharged Gunderson.
Id. ¶ 27.
filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, alleging disability discrimination by Defendant.
Id. ¶ 8. The EEOC found reasonable cause to
believe that there had been a violation and issued a Letter
of Determination that Defendant had discriminated against
Gunderson. Id. ¶ 9. Subsequently, the EEOC
attempted to remedy the discriminatory practice and to secure
a conciliation agreement with Defendant; however, such
attempts were unsuccessful and the EEOC issued a Notice of
Failure of Conciliation on September 11, 2017. Id.
¶ 10-13. The EEOC then filed a complaint in this court
against Defendant on September 21, 2017, alleging violations
of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (ADAAA).
See Rec. Doc. 2.
complaint alleges that Defendant discriminated against
Gunderson by discharging him “because the Defendant
perceived him to be a threat to the safety of others due to
perceived ‘distraction' caused by his situational
depression or adjustment disorder in violation of the
ADA[AA]. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A).” Id.
¶ 27. The complaint also alleges that Defendant
unlawfully discriminated against Gunderson by “forcing
[him] to obtain a medical release before he could return to
work after requesting a referral to the Employee Assistance
Program” in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
12112(d)(4)(A), a provision that prohibits employer-ordered
medical exams to determine the nature of an employee's
disability except under special circumstances. Id.
EEOC seeks an injunction to enjoin Defendant from forcing
individuals to seek a medical release to return to work after
requesting an EAP referral, back-pay with prejudgment
interest for Gunderson, and either reinstatement or front-pay
to make Gunderson whole. Id. at 8-9. Additionally,
the EEOC seeks compensation for past and future pecuniary and
nonpecuniary losses, and punitive damages for Defendant's
“malicious and reckless conduct.” Id. at
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, . . . [a
plaintiff's complaint] need only include a ‘short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.'” Hershey v. Energy
Transfer Partners, L.P., 610 F.3d 239, 245 (5th Cir.
2010) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). “A complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 554, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678
(citing Twombly, 556 U.S. at 556).
EEOC's complaint alleges two violations of the ADAAA,
which prohibits a “covered entity” from
“discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual on the
basis of disability . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a).
The first claim alleges “regarded as”
disability-discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
12102(3)(A), which provides that an individual is
“regarded as having an impairment” when
“the individual establishes that he or she has been
subjected to an [adverse employment action] . . . because of
an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether
or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major
life activity.” The complaint alleges that Gunderson
was subjected to an adverse employment action when he was
discharged on June 5, 2013. See Rec. Doc. 2 ¶
33. The complaint alleges that Defendant knew of
Gunderson's request for EAP assistance and, based on the
note from the company doctor, that Gunderson was diagnosed
with “situational depression.” Therefore, the
EEOC's position is that Gunderson was improperly
discharged two weeks after Defendant learned of
Gunderson's depression from the company doctor's note
because Defendant regarded Gunderson as having depression.
second claim alleges that Defendant discriminated against
Gunderson in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A) by
requiring Gunderson to obtain a doctor's note before
returning to work. See Rec. Doc. 2 ¶ 32.
Section 12112(d)(4)(A) provides:
A covered entity shall not require a medical examination and
shall not make inquiries of an employee as to whether such
employee is an individual with a disability or as to the
nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination
or inquiry is ...