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United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Mid South Extrusion Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

October 18, 2018

UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
v.
MID SOUTH EXTRUSION INC.

          MAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HAYES

          RULING

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an action under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADA”), and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 4');">42 U.S.C. § 1981a, 4');">42 U.S.C. § 12117(a), filed by Plaintiff United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) against Defendant Mid South Extrusion, Inc. (“Mid South”) seeking to correct Mid South's allegedly unlawful employment practices on the basis of disability and to provide appropriate relief to Intervenor Plaintiff Jeffrey Wyant (“Wyant”), who was allegedly adversely affected by such practices.

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 25] filed by Mid South. The EEOC filed an Opposition [Doc. No. 30], in which Wyant joins [Doc. No. 31]. Mid South filed a reply memorandum [Doc. No. 32]. For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

         I. FACTS

         In September 2014');">4, Wyant was hired as a maintenance technician by Mid South, a plastics manufacturer that specializes in custom process films for individual packaging. After Wyant accepted the offer of employment, he completed a “Post Offer Medical History Questionnaire, ” disclosing that he had a prior shoulder injury, which included a rotator cuff injury, leaving him with an eleven percent (11%) impairment in his range of motion and lifting overhead. Other than this shoulder injury, Wyant did not disclose any other impairments or conditions.

         Wyant completed his ninety (90) day probationary period without any issue, was told he was making adequate progress, and was given a pay increase. According to Wyant's supervisor, Charles Landry (“Landry”), Wyant's performance began to fall below Landry's expectations soon thereafter, and Landry became concerned with Wyant's ability to work safely in the plant. Landry asserts he received multiple complaints from other employees regarding Wyant showing up to work with a strong smell of alcohol emitting from his body. On another occasion, Wyant allegedly tried to delegate work which required lock-out tag-out training to an employee who did not have the requisite training. As a result, Landry states that he verbally warned Wyant and explained the dangers he could have caused.

         In late June 2015, Wyant began having breathing problems. His primary care doctor gave him a pulmonary function test and referred him to a lung specialist. In mid-July 2015, the lung specialist determined that Wyant has significantly reduced breathing capacity and an esophagus disease which occurred due to breathing asbestos in a previous job. In addition, the lung x-ray indicated that Wyant had undiagnosed Tuberculosis (TB) which apparently occurred as a child or young man. The TB crystalized and became dormant. As a result of these findings, Wyant was referred to a cardiologist.

         In early August 2015, the cardiologist determined that Wyant needed a heart catheter and recommended that he see a gastroenterologist.

         In mid-August 2015, Wyant met with Lisa Shore (“Shore”), Human Resources Manager for Mid South, and told her about his TB, lung, heart, and esophagus conditions, and that he was having a heart catheterization procedure done on August 18, 2015. On August 13, 2015, Shore emailed Landry with concerns about Wyant's health affecting his continued employment. Shore stated:

Hey, I wanted to let you know that Jeff stopped me on the way back over and he wanted to talk about a couple of things. First, he wanted to know how many points he has left, because he is having a heart Cath next week and the doctor told him he will need to be off a couple of days for that.
He also stated that his doctor says he doesn't need to be working in this environment with all the health problems he has. He said the doctor told him he should get on disability. That automatically raised a red flag for me. He said his health issues stem from having TB as a child and from working around asbestos and things like that at the school board. I know we have had safety and health studies done on the plant and we are good, but this really bothers me. Just wanted to let you know what was going on since we just talked about him.

[Doc. No. 25-4');">4, p. 14');">43].

         Wyant underwent the heart catheterization procedure on August 18, 2015, and was able to return to work on August 21, 2015, with a release from his doctor to work regular duty with no restrictions.

         In mid-September 2015, Wyant's lungs became irritated by plastics dust in the plant when the machine he was working on overheated, causing him to cough repeatedly and creating some breathing difficulties. Wyant states that he used his inhaler and that, after ten (10) minutes, he was fully recovered. Wyant avers that the next morning Landry questioned him about the incident. Wyant explained that he began to cough when his lungs got irritated by the machine when it overheated, but once he used his inhaler he was okay. Landry does not recall speaking to Wyant about the coughing incident.

         Shortly afterwards, Wyant was scheduled to receive his annual review, which would have given him a raise, ten (10) more sick days per year, and forty (4');">40) hours paid vacation per annum. The EEOC contends that, rather than allowing Wyant to vest in these benefits, Landry preemptively terminated him - close on the heels of the coughing incident. In an email dated September 21, 2015, Landry told Shore that he was discharging Wyant because he was “not qualified to be a maintenance technician.” [Doc. No. 25-4');">4, p. 158]. Wyant avers that Landry told him he was discharged because he had no “long term commitment to the company” and because upper management wanted him gone. [Doc. No. 30-2, p. 96].

         Wyant filed a charge with the EEOC. In his charge, Wyant alleges that Mid South discharged him because it perceived him as disabled. Specifically, he stated he was discharged shortly after telling Mid South he had dormant TB from childhood, as well as other breathing issues due to working with asbestos in the past, and after having a serious coughing attack at work. Further, Wyant alleges that Landry made negative disability-related comments to him, prior to his termination, including “. . . hate to say this but we are going to have to let you go . . . you are riding the clock waiting until you get your disability because of your disability and our insurance . . . having all of these sick people makes our insurance liability and premiums higher . . . didn't know you had all these health problems . . . why didn't you go to the doctor before you came to us . . . was it because of our insurance?” [Doc. No. 30-2, pp. 93-96]

         The EEOC issued a Letter of Determination finding that Mid South discharged Wyant in violation of the ADA because of his medical impairment and the insurance costs associated with his treatment. When attempts to resolve the matter informally failed, the EEOC instituted the present suit.

         On September 26, 2017, the EEOC filed a Complaint in this Court alleging that Wyant, a qualified individual with a disability under Sections 3 and 101(8) of the ADA, 4');">42 U.S.C. §§ 12102 and 12111(8), was discharged from employment because he has a lung impairment (50% lung capacity) that substantially limits the major life activity of breathing and/or because Wyant has a record of such impairment and/or because Mid South regarded Wyant as having an actual or perceived impairment. The EEOC filed an Amended Complaint on September 28, 2017. On March 27, 2018, with leave of court, Wyant intervened in the suit and reiterates EEOC's allegations.

         On September 7, 2018, Mid South filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Mid South contends that it is entitled to summary judgment on the grounds that Wyant did not suffer from a disability during the time that he was employed with Mid South; that Wyant is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA because he cannot perform the “essential functions” of a maintenance technician; and that, regardless of any alleged disability, Mid South had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating him.

         On October 1, 2018, the EEOC filed an opposition memorandum. The EEOC asserts that Mid South misrepresented the relevant facts and applicable law in its Motion for Summary Judgment. Additionally, the EEOC contends the motion is premature because the parties are still engaged in discovery with the deposition of two of Wyant's pulmonary doctors scheduled for November. The EEOC further contends there are genuine issues of material facts in dispute. Finally, the EEOC argues the motion is meritless because much of its arguments is based on pre-ADA amendments law, whereas this is a suit governed by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”).

         On October 12, 2018, Mid ...


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