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Thomas v. Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 7, 2019

BRANDI THOMAS
v.
FLORIDA PARISHES JUVENILE JUSTICE COMMISSION and FLORIDA PARISHES JUVENILE JUSTICE DETENTION CENTER

         SECTION “F”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

         Background

         This pregnancy discrimination lawsuit arises out of a Juvenile Detention Staff Officer's claims that her employer refused to accommodate her during her pregnancy.

         The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice District is a political subdivision with territorial jurisdiction over the five parishes that comprise Louisiana's 21st and 22nd Judicial Districts.[1] La. R.S. § 15:1094. In turn, the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission is charged with assisting children who enter the juvenile justice system to become productive, law-abiding citizens of the community. La. R.S. §§ 15:1094.1-15:1094.2. To fulfill its mission, the Commission operates the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, a facility that houses juveniles whose confinement has been ordered by courts within the District.[2]Practically indistinguishable from an adult correctional facility, the Center features a substantial correctional infrastructure, including electronically locking doors, razor ribbon topped fencing, and video surveillance.

         In addition, the Center is staffed with Juvenile Detention Staff Officers, who care for and supervise the Center's detainees. In light of the detainees' potentially violent nature, the Center requires its JDS Officers to receive training in defensive tactics and continually demonstrate a defined level of physical fitness. Accordingly, pursuant to Policy 3.10 of Chapter 3 of the Center's Policy and Procedure Manual, entitled “Physical Fitness Requirement, ” JDS Officers must complete and pass bi-annual physical fitness testing.[3] Such physical fitness testing consists of five separate components: (1) Sit and Reach; (2) Bench Press; (3) Push-ups; (4) Sit-ups; and (5) a 1.5 mile run, with gender-specific proficiency requirements set forth for each component.[4]

         Brandi Thomas began working as a JDS Officer at the Center in January of 2007. Nearly a decade into her tenure with the Commission, she became pregnant. On April 1, 2016, Thomas informed Norleidy Hernandez, the Center's Human Resources Director, of her pregnancy and requested to perform the bi-annual physical fitness test in advance of its regularly scheduled date of April 21, 2016. Hernandez allowed Thomas to complete four components of the test on the same day of the request, all of which she passed. However, Hernandez explained that the fifth component - the 1.5 mile run - would take place as scheduled on April 21, 2016.

         In the meantime, Thomas provided the Center with a note from her OB/GYN, Dr. Katherine Williams, that validated her pregnancy. The note, dated April 6, 2016, stated:

Pt is 6 weeks & 1 day pregnant.

         Thomas then attempted the 1.5 mile run on April 21, 2016 and failed. In accordance with the Center's Physical Fitness Requirement Policy, Hernandez informed Thomas that a re-test would be scheduled for May 5, 2016.[5]

         Feeling ill after attempting the initial run, Thomas went to the emergency room on April 29, 2016, where she was diagnosed with a placental bleed. Upon receiving this information, Thomas called the Center to advise of her condition and that she had been placed on physician-ordered bed rest from Sunday, May 1 through Monday, May 2, 2016.

         During a follow-up appointment with Dr. Williams on May 2, 2016, Thomas was placed on light duty work for two weeks. To document Thomas's work restrictions, Dr. Williams issued a note, stating:

Pt must continue pelvic rest & light activity for 2 weeks. Dx: pregnancy complications.

         Thomas promptly informed the Center of Dr. Williams's order. But, because no light duty work was available at that time, Thomas took personal leave for two weeks. And because Thomas was on leave on May 5, 2016, the run that had been re-scheduled for that day did not take place.

         A few weeks later, Thomas provided the Center with a note dated May 19, 2016 from Dr. Williams, advising:

Brandi Thomas can go back to work with no restrictions.

         Accordingly, Thomas returned to work on May 21, 2016 and was informed that her second attempt at the 1.5 mile run would take place on June 6, 2016. In response, Thomas provided her supervisor, Ashton Magee, with yet another note dated May 19, 2016 from Dr. Williams. That doctor's note stated:

• Pt is medically advised to avoid extended running & heavy lifting do [sic] high risk pregnancy
• Dx: Dm
• Can perform AMA x 6 wks & PP period
• Call office for quest

         Upon being presented with this note, Magee informed Thomas that she nonetheless would be required to perform the run and should not turn in the note. Magee explained that the Center had a custom of not excusing pregnant women from the 1.5 mile run, even with a doctor's note. However, the Center would excuse non-pregnant employees with physical limitations from the 1.5 mile run with an appropriate doctor's note. Ashton Magee also attests in his affidavit that, during his three-year tenure as a JDS Officer and Supervisor, he was aware of “several employees” who were not excused from the 1.5 mile run because of their pregnancy.[6]

         Relying upon Magee's advice, Thomas did not present the doctor's note to the Center's HR Director and attempted the run on June 6, 2016. She failed once again.[7] Shortly after this attempt, Thomas experienced severe pain and was transported to the emergency room where she was treated for a back injury.[8] On June 7, 2016, Thomas sought follow-up treatment from Dr. David Tran, who placed her on light duty work for the remainder of her pregnancy. Because the Center had no light duty positions available, Thomas filed a workers' compensation claim. However, by letter dated June 28, 2016, Dr. Tran released Thomas “to go back to work full duty.” And by note dated July 1, 2016, Dr. Jamie Hymel, a physician in Dr. Williams's OB/GYN practice, released Thomas “to return to full duty @ work.” Dr. Hymel's note further advised:

[Thomas] is currently 18 weeks pregnant. Her limitations are no running; lifting 20 #'s is her limit. Please call with any questions or concerns.

         After receiving inconsistent orders from Thomas's physicians, the Center offered Thomas a newly available light duty position as a Control Room Operator, which she accepted. Thomas served in this light duty position from July 3, 2016 until August 9, 2016 when she was ordered to bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Thomas returned to work on September 17, 2017 and is currently employed with the Commission.

         After exhausting her remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Thomas sued the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission and the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center for employment discrimination. In her complaint, she alleges pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), and in violation of Louisiana's employment discrimination statute, La. R.S. § 23:342. Thomas also asserts claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. The defendants now move for summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) the Florida Parishes Juvenile ...


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