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Tanner v. Charbonneau Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

December 20, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 22). Plaintiff Joseph Tanner filed a Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. 30), to which Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 36). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion (Doc. 22) is GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was employed as a field service technician in Defendant's Geismar, Louisiana facility for approximately four years, beginning in July of 2013. (Doc. 16, at 2). Plaintiff, who suffers from epilepsy, experienced a seizure on April 19, 2017 while working off-site in Texas. Id. Plaintiff claims this seizure resulted from a change in medication prescribed by his physician. Id. He was released from medical care by his physician on April 21, 2017. Id., at 3. In his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he has had epilepsy since he was 2 years old and diagnosed at the age of 12. (Doc. 30-2, at 11). Upon return to work, Defendant prohibited Plaintiff from performing a range of tasks on the job. Brian Vice, the Plant Manager, testified that these restrictions were initially implemented as an internal precaution. (Doc. 30-4, at 22). Amanda Runnells, who worked in Defendant's human resources department, testified that as of Plaintiffs return to work on April 21, 2017, Defendant could not yet impose restrictions. (Doc. 30-9, at 4-5). Runnells interfaced with Automated Data Processing, Inc. ("ADP"), a provider of human resources management software and services, to discuss matters such as Plaintiffs leave and employment status. The initial release from Good Shephard, the hospital to which Plaintiff was admitted following his seizure, permitted Plaintiff to return to work one day from the date of the seizure and required him to follow up with a neurologist. Id. Plaintiff complied, and this second release, signed by a neurologist, permitted Plaintiff to return to work on April 24, 2017 with restrictions, including a note indicating that activities including driving are dangerous for the patient. Id., at 76.

         Following this second release, Plaintiff was stationed in the workshop for eight weeks, where he was not permitted to drive a vehicle or work around machinery or high-voltage electricity. (Doc. 22-2, at 12). Vice testified that Plaintiff "did very little" during this time and always had someone with him, but that this was due to internal precautions, rather than any order from a doctor. (Doc. 30-4, at 22). According to Billy Franklin, Plaintiffs manager, there were several tasks in the shop that Plaintiff was well-suited for, even after his seizure. (Doc. 30-3, at 12-13). Alternatively, Plaintiff had been in discussions with his supervisor to move to a position in shipping and receiving. Shipping and receiving paid less, but Plaintiff stated he was willing to take a pay cut. Franklin and Plaintiff never got to the point of establishing an acceptable rate before Plaintiffs termination, but Franklin had hoped to raise the rate to $25 per hour, only $5 per hour less than Plaintiff earned as a field technician. Id., at 14, 37.

         As part of the interactive process[1] with Plaintiff, Defendant prepared a medical questionnaire to be completed by Plaintiffs physicians to elaborate on Plaintiffs status. On May 22, 2017, while Plaintiff was still working in the shop, this questionnaire was returned. Under the "accommodations" section, the questionnaire indicated that Plaintiff could perform all activities, but that caution should be taken for driving, climbing, and other activities. (Doc. 22-7, at 2). It also indicated that medical leave was not necessary, because seizures are unpredictable. It further restricted driving for a period of six months after Plaintiffs last seizure. Id, Under "reasonable accommodations that would eliminate the direct safety or health threat or reduce it to an acceptable level" the physician wrote that cautious steps can be taken towards driving and climbing. Id., at 3. Plaintiff alleges that on June 19, 2017, he was told that the following Friday would be his last day. (Doc. 16, at 3). He further alleges that he was told on July 7, 2017, that Defendant no longer has any full-time work available for him. In her deposition, Runnells testified that Plaintiff seemed to be confused about when he was terminated, as when someone is told that they don't have a full-time position available, the employee tends to assume termination. (Doc. 22-6, at 27). Runnells further testified that Plaintiff ceased coming back to work on July 7, 2017. Id., at 15. However, per ADP's advice, Defendant did not formally terminate Plaintiff because Plaintiff intended to apply for FMLA leave. Id. at 27.

         While he still worked for Defendant, Plaintiff obtained forms to file for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Doc. 16, at 3). Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he thought Defendant was supposed to fill out the FMLA paperwork because they told him he was not being let go for medical reasons, which Plaintiff disagreed with, but that he nonetheless believed that Defendant would not fill it out. (Doc. 30-2, at 37). He further testified that Runnells confirmed that she would not help him fill out the paperwork. Id. at 41. Ultimately, Plaintiff did not return the paperwork. Runnells testified that they had informed Plaintiff that, per company policy, he was required to inform the company by July 11, 2017, whether or not he would apply for FMLA leave, and that the company only proceeded with termination when Plaintiff failed to do so. Id. at 61.

         Prior to his termination, Plaintiff retained an attorney and eventually filed suit alleging discrimination in violation of ADA and the Louisiana antidiscrimination laws, and the interference and retaliation under the FMLA. Vice testified that Defendant had planned to let Plaintiff go because he could not get clearance from his doctor to perform all of his usual job functions. (Doc. 30-4, at 23). In its Reply, Defendant defends its termination of Plaintiff by arguing that Plaintiffs proposed accommodations were not feasible both because there was not enough work to keep Plaintiff busy on a full-time basis in the shop, and that a shipping position was not vacant at the time of Plaintiffs separation. (Doc. 36, at 2-3).


         A. Summary

         Summary judgment shall be granted "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." FED. R. ClV. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it would affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute is "'genuine' if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Warren v. Fed, Nat'l Mortg. Ass'nt 932 F.3d 378, 382-83 (5th Cir. 2019) (citation omitted).

         In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Roberson-King v. Louisiana Workforce Comm'n, Office of Workforce Dev., 904 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 2018). The Court "resolve[s] factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Antoine v. First Student, Inc., 713 F.3d 824, 830 (5th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         "Where the nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence, thus shifting to the nonmovant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial." In re Louisiana ...

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