Vaughn v. Fedex Freight, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 10/10/2019. (JLC)
2019 Oct-10 PM 05:17
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
GREGORY J. VAUGHN,
FEDEX FREIGHT, INC.,
Civil Action Number
Gregory J. Vaughn asserts claims against his employer, FedEx Freight, Inc.,
for purported violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Allegedly, FedEx
regarded Vaughn as disabled after he attempted suicide and discriminated against
him based on that perceived disability by unilaterally prohibiting Vaughn from
working as a road driver for one year following the incident and by not preserving
his job class seniority during that year. Doc. 1. Vaughn also asserts that FedEx
retaliated against him after he complained about the discrimination. Id. FedEx
moves for summary judgment, arguing that Vaughn cannot establish a prima facie
case of discrimination or retaliation, or show that the reasons for its actions are
pretextual. Doc. 34. For the reasons discussed below, particularly Vaughn’s failure
to show FedEx’s proffered reasons for its actions are pretextual or to establish a
prima facie case of retaliation, FedEx’s motion is due to be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment
is proper “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. Civ. P. 56.
“Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for
discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which
that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden
of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden
then shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to
establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
On summary judgment motions, the court must construe the evidence and all
reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). See also Anderson,
477 U.S. at 255. Any factual disputes will be resolved in the non-moving party’s
favor when sufficient competent evidence supports the non-moving party’s version
of the disputed facts. See Pace v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir.
2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party’s favor
when that party’s version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However,
“mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to
defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th
Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560,
1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the
opposing party’s position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that
the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577
(11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Relevant DOT Regulations and FedEx Policies
Vaughn has worked as a road driver for FedEx or its predecessor since 1992.
Doc. 42-4 at 5, 7, 79. In that capacity, Vaughn transports freight overnight to
different service centers near his home base in Decatur, Alabama, and FedEx pays
him based in part on the distance he drives. Docs. 41-1 at 3; 42-4 at 8; 42-2 at 7.
Road Drivers, such as Vaughn, must hold a commercial driver’s license, pass a
physical performed by a physician certified by the Department of Transportation
(“DOT”), and meet the relevant DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration (“FMCSA”) regulations. Docs. 41-1 at 3; 42-4 at 7, 91.
The FMCSA provides safety oversight to commercial motor carriers, and
under FMCSA regulations, a motor carrier may not allow a driver to operate a
commercial motor vehicle if the driver may suffer from an impairment that makes it
unsafe for her to operate the vehicle. Doc. 41-1 at 3 (citing 49 C.F.R. § 392.3). To
comply with that requirement, FedEx generally adheres to the FMCSA Medical
Guidelines regarding drivers’ qualifications. Id. The Guidelines, which are based
on expert review of “the available scientific literature,” are recommendations to help
medical examiners determine a driver’s medical fitness for duty, 1 and are
“considered best practice for commercial motor vehicle operators and carriers,” doc.
41-1 at 3.
During the relevant time, FedEx offered its road drivers the following types
of leave: short-term disability for up to six months, long-term disability for up to
another twelve months, Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for up to twelve
weeks, military leave, and general leave, which was typically between five to thirty
days. Doc. 42-2 at 13-14. FedEx granted general leave to full-time employees for
“personal illness, injury, family problems, maternity, or other good reason.” Id. at
111. According to the written policy in place at the relevant time, “[a] general leave
may be extended at the request of the employee if the employee is unable to return
FMCSA Medical Examiner Handbook at 51. The Handbook is available at
to work at the end of 30 days.” Id. If an employee required more than thirty days
of general leave, FedEx would do a reasonable accommodation review to determine
if the leave could be extended.
Id. at 14.
Under FedEx’s written policy,
“[e]mployees returning from a general leave of absence in accordance with an
approved timeframe will be restored to the same or equivalent position with the same
pay, benefits, seniority, and other terms and conditions of employment that they had
prior to going on leave . . . .” Id. at 112. However, FedEx also maintained an
unwritten policy of revoking a driver’s job class seniority if the driver could not
return to work within six months after the safety department disqualified her from
driving. Doc. 42-4 at 38.2
Vaughn’s Attempted Suicide and the Initial Response to the
On September 27, 2012, Vaughn suffered an isolated psychotic episode and
attempted suicide by shooting himself. Doc. 42-4 at 10-12. Vaughn’s psychotic
condition lasted for approximately thirty-six hours, and, prior to this episode, the
only psychiatric condition Vaughn had suffered from was a “simple phobia” and
dizziness. Id. at 12, 20.
Shortly before Vaughn shot himself, Decatur police informed Darrel Poole,
Vaughn’s supervisor, that “Vaughn was barricaded in his apartment . . . and was
Vaughn testified that during the year he was disqualified from driving, FedEx changed
the policy from six months to eighteen months. Doc. 42-4 at 38.
waving a gun and threatening suicide.” Doc. 42-2 at 145. Poole then informed his
field safety advisor, who, in turn, informed Mark Courter, FedEx’s Manager of
National Safety Compliance. Id.; doc. 42-3 at 13-15. When Courter learned of the
situation, he deactivated Vaughn’s driver number, thereby prohibiting him from
working as a road driver, pending a review of FMCSA regulations and guidelines,
and a medical recertification. Doc. 42-2 at 144. In light of Vaughn’s attempted
suicide, Courter decided that, based on the FMCSA Medical Guidelines, Vaughn
had to wait twelve months before he could be recertified to drive a commercial
vehicle. Docs. 41-1 at 4; 42-2 at 146-48; 42-3 at 18-21. Courter determined that
Vaughn may not meet FMCSA’s minimum driver qualification requirements based
only on Vaughn’s suicide attempt and without speaking to Vaughn or his doctors, or
reviewing Vaughn’s medical records. Doc. 42-3 at 18-21.
Vaughn remained in the hospital for approximately one week after his
attempted suicide. Id. at 138. During that time, Vaughn applied for short term
disability (“STD”) with Cigna, FedEx’s disability insurer, and he informed his
supervisor, Poole, about his application for STD. Doc. 42-4 at 13, 15. FedEx then
sent Vaughn a letter dated October 26, 2012 regarding disability leave, FMLA, and
the continuation of health insurance coverage. Doc. 41-5 at 5-6. Among other
things, the letter informed Vaughn that “[i]n the event an employee is on STD for
six (6) months, the employee may apply for [long term disability] for continuation
of disability benefits for one (1) year,” and that FedEx “does not extend job
protection beyond six (6) months of STD or after FMLA time has been exhausted
unless additional time is available under other leave of absence alternatives or
applicable laws.” Id. at 6.
After his release from the hospital, Vaughn understood that he was on STD
leave, but he told Poole that he was able and willing to return to work. Doc. 42-4 at
13-15. Approximately four to five weeks later, Cigna denied Vaughn’s disability
application, which Vaughn attributes to the decision by his physician to release him
to return to work. Id. at 14-16. Indeed, approximately one month after the incident,
Vaughn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Venkata Devabhaktuni, completed a form indicating that
Vaughn suffered a brief reactive psychosis and could return to work at that time or
“as required by [his] employer,” but that “[i]f employer requires [Vaughn] to be off
for [the] specified symptom-free duration, I can concur with it.” Doc. 42-4 at 99100. Thus, Vaughn told Poole again that he would like to return to work as a driver
and that Cigna had cleared him to return. Id. at 14-16. Poole, however, informed
Vaughn that “safety” determined he could not return for one year because of a DOT
rule. Id. at 16.
Thereafter, in response to Vaughn’s appeal, Cigna “reaffirm[ed] its previous
denial of [disability] benefits,” finding that it could not pay benefits past October 14
because self-inflicted injuries are excluded from coverage and because Vaughn’s
medical records at the time contained “no information to indicate any ongoing
psychosis.” Doc. 42-4 at 84-85. 3 Vaughn points to nothing in the record to indicate
he contacted FedEx about his leave status after Cigna denied his claim for STD, or
before the end of the six-month period after his suicide attempt. See doc. 44. For
its part, FedEx states that it has no documents to show Vaughn requested any other
type of leave when Cigna denied his STD claim. Doc. 41-7 at 3.
Vaughn’s Reasonable Accommodation Review and Return to
In May 2013, Kimberly Morris, a human resources assistant, contacted Poole
to inquire about Vaughn’s status since more than six months had passed since his
disqualification as a driver. Doc. 41-5 at 9. Morris told Poole that Vaughn would
need to return to a non-driving position if one was available, or FedEx will need to
proceed with separation. Id. Because no positions were available, see id., Poole
contacted Vaughn to ask if he wanted to retire, and Vaughn declined, doc. 42-4 at
16. Kimberly Cannon, an employee relations advisor, then called, and Vaughn told
her that FedEx should have allowed him to return to work after six months because
he had only suffered a brief psychotic break, was not depressed, and did not have a
mental illness. Doc. 42-2 at 24. Cannon informed Vaughn that he would have to
After Cigna denied his application for STD benefits, at Poole’s suggestion, Vaughn
applied for unemployment benefits. Doc. 42-4 at 34.
take part in a reasonable accommodation review to continue working with FedEx,
and she sent him documentation for his doctor to complete. Id. at 25.
In early June 2013, Cannon and Poole spoke with Vaughn to begin the review
process, and the form they completed reflects that Vaughn could not get a valid DOT
medical card until twelve months after his suicide attempt, i.e., on September 27,
2013, but that he otherwise had no restrictions, and was able to perform all the
functions of his job. Doc. 42-4 at 88-89. The form further reflects that Vaughn was
not requesting any accommodation and was willing to accept a position as a dock
worker if it did not affect his seniority and full-time status. Id. In addition, Dr.
Devabhaktuni certified at that time that, to his medical knowledge, Vaughn did not
have a mental impairment that limits a major life activity. Id. at 94-95.
Cannon submitted the form and medical certification to FedEx’s review
committee, and the committee chose to offer Vaughn two options: (1) general leave
until September 27, 2013 (the end of the one-year waiting period), with Vaughn’s
company seniority protected, but his job class seniority would reset to the date he
returned as a road driver; or (2) temporary assignment to a dock worker position,
and Vaughn’s job class seniority would reset to the date he returned to work as a
road driver. Doc. 42-4 at 96-97. Vaughn protested the decision to reset his job class
seniority because seniority determines which routes he would drive, and how much
money he earns. Docs. 42-4 at 37; 42-2 at 8. Thus, by losing his job class seniority,
Vaughn would earn significantly less when he returned to a driving position. Doc.
42-4 at 37.
Vaughn called Dale Davis, the Regional Vice President of Operations, and
told Davis that FedEx should have allowed him to return to work within six months
based on the medical guideline that applies to brief psychotic disorders.4 Docs. 424 at 28-29; 53 at 22-23, 29. Davis then contacted the safety and human resources
departments to discuss whether FedEx had applied the proper guidelines and made
the correct decision. Doc. 42-3 at 161; 53 at 23-29. Based on that discussion, FedEx
decided to allow Vaughn to have a medical exam by a DOT certified physician, Dr.
Eric Roth, to see if Vaughn could be medically certified to drive and whether Vaughn
could return to work prior to September 27, 2013. Docs. 42-4 at 29; 53 at 28-29.
Before Vaughn’s exam with Dr. Roth, Courter’s assistant sent Dr. Roth an
email with the FMSCA Medical Guidelines and a newspaper article about Vaughn’s
suicide attempt, and Courter sent Dr. Roth the relevant Guideline for major
depression. Doc. 42-3 at 41-44, 171-73. According to Courter, it is normal practice
for FedEx to send a physician relevant information and guidelines prior to an
examination to be sure the employee makes the appropriate disclosures to the
Vaughn also contends that a DOT supervisor told him that there was no regulation that
prevented him from returning to work, doc. 42-4 at 28-29, and FedEx objects to this evidence as
hearsay, doc. 50 at 8, n.11. Because Vaughn does not remember the name of the supervisor and
cannot call the supervisor to testify at a potential trial of this matter, the court sustains FedEx’s
physician. Doc. 42-3 at 44-47. See also doc. 53 at 33-37. Dr. Roth did not examine
Vaughn on the date of the scheduled exam, and read instead from the Guideline for
major depression. Doc. 42-4 at 29, 42. Dr. Roth told Vaughn that he would have to
wait a year from his suicide attempt to have a medical certification exam, and he
certified that Vaughn does not meet DOT standards in light of his suicide attempt.
Id. at 42, 104-06.
Upset that FedEx had interfered with Dr. Roth’s exam, Vaughn went to his
personal physician, Dr. Thomas Lockard, who certified that Vaughn was eligible to
drive a commercial vehicle. Docs. 42-2 at 192-93; 42-4 at 25, 29-30. In addition,
Dr. Devabhaktuni wrote a letter stating that Vaughn’s “mood disorder” had
improved and that “Vaughn is now stable and doing very well, [and] [h]e should
return to work as a professional truck driver immediately.” Doc. 42-2 at 213.
After receiving Dr. Roth’s and Dr. Lockard’s conflicting certifications, FedEx
decided to follow Dr. Roth’s recommendations, and notified Vaughn that he had to
wait one year after his suicide attempt before he could be recertified to drive. Doc.
42-4 at 32, 108-09. The letter also offered Vaughn the two options that the
committee had previously approved. Id. at 108-09. Faced with those two options,
which he viewed as unacceptable, Vaughn agreed under “great protest and duress”
to accept general leave through September 27, 2013 and for his job class seniority
to reset to the date he returned to work. Doc. 42-2 at 32-33, 111.
Shortly before returning to work in September, Vaughn filed a charge of
discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”),
alleging discrimination based on his disability, and in particular, his “brief reactive
psychosis.” Docs. 42-4 at 36, 115. Vaughn filed this lawsuit after obtaining a right
to sue letter. Doc. 1-2 at 2.
Vaughn asserts that FedEx violated the ADA by discriminating against him
based on a perceived disability when it refused to reinstate him as a road driver
before the expiration of the twelve-month period following his suicide attempt and
failed to protect his job class seniority while he was on leave, and by retaliating
against him after he complained of the discrimination. Docs. 1 and 44. FedEx
argues that Vaughn cannot establish essential elements of his claims or that its
reasons for its actions are pretextual. Doc. 34-1. The court addresses the parties’
contentions in turn.
The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a “qualified
individual on the basis of disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Where, as here, a
plaintiff relies on circumstantial evidence to prove a disability discrimination claim,
the court analyzes the claim under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting
framework. See Holly v. Clairson Indus., L.L.C., 492 F.3d 1247, 1255 (11th Cir.
2007) (citation omitted); Durley v. APAC, Inc., 236 F.3d 651, 657 (11th Cir. 2000).
Under that framework, Vaughn must first establish a prima facie case of
discrimination, by showing that: (1) he had an actual or perceived disability; (2) he
was qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, either with or without
reasonable accommodation; and (3) FedEx subjected him to an adverse employment
action because of his actual or perceived disability. See Williams v. Motorola, Inc.,
303 F.3d 1284, 1290 (11th Cir. 2002). If Vaughn establishes his prima facie case,
the burden shifts to FedEx to present a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its
actions. Wascura v. City of S. Miami, 257 F.3d 1238, 1242 (11th Cir. 2001). If
FedEx satisfies this minimal burden, the burden shifts back to Vaughn to
“demonstrate that the reason given was a pretext for disability discrimination.”
Ward v. United Parcel Serv., 580 F. App’x 735, 740 (11th Cir. 2014).
Even assuming that Vaughn can establish a prima facie case by showing that
he was qualified to work as a road driver and that FedEx regarded him as disabled
by disqualifying him as a road driver for one year, 5 to survive summary judgment
Vaughn must create a question of fact regarding whether FedEx’s reasons for its
actions are pretextual. Vaughn may show pretext “directly, by persuading the court
that a discriminatory reason more likely than not motivated [FedEx], or indirectly,
by showing ‘such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or
Vaughn concedes that he was not actually disabled. See doc. 44 at 23.
contradictions in [FedEx’s] proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a
reasonable fact finder could find them unworthy of credence.’” Paschal v. United
Parcel Serv., 573 F. App’x. 823, 825 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Alvarez v. Royal
Atlantic Developers, Inc., 610 F.3d 1253, 1265 (11th Cir. 2010))
FedEx’s reliance on the FMSCA medical guidelines to disqualify
Vaughn from driving for one-year
FedEx contends that it made the decision to disqualify Vaughn as a road driver
for one year following his attempted suicide based on DOT regulations and
FMCSA’s medical guidelines. Doc. 34-1 at 26-29. “Reliance on DOT regulations,
absent pretext, is a defense to a truck driver’s ADA lawsuit.” Rice v. Genova
Products, Inc., 978 F. Supp. 813, 822 (N.D. Ind. 1997). See also 29 C.F.R.
§ 1630.15(e) (“It may be a defense to a charge of discrimination under this part that
a challenged action is required or necessitated by another Federal law or regulation
. . . .”).
Moreover, although the medical guidelines “are only advisory and
nonbinding,” “the views of an agency such as DOT implementing a regulatory
scheme designed to ensure the safety of our nation’s highways ‘constitute[s] a body
of experience and informed judgment’ to which employers may properly resort for
guidance.” Tate v. Farmland Indus., Inc., 268 F.3d 989, 994 (10th Cir. 2001)
(quoting United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218 (2001)). Thus, an employer
may reasonably rely on the guidelines to determine if an individual is qualified to
drive commercial vehicles, and reliance on the guidelines is not evidence of
discriminatory animus if the employer applies the guidelines consistently and
uniformly. See id. at 995.
Under the applicable DOT regulations, a person is not qualified to drive a
commercial motor vehicle if he or she has a “mental, nervous, organic, or functional
disease or psychiatric disorder likely to interfere with his/her ability to drive [the
vehicle] safely . . . .” 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(b)(9). And, the FMSCA medical
guidelines recommend a minimum one-year symptom-free waiting period
“following a severe depressive episode, a suicide attempt, or a manic episode” before
a driver may receive a medical examination for DOT certification. FMSCA Medical
Examiner Handbook at 196, 198. Vaughn challenges FedEx’s reliance on the
regulations and guidelines by arguing that the guideline FedEx relied on applies only
to a diagnosis of major depression, and that the guideline that applies to his actual
diagnosis of brief reactive psychosis recommends a waiting period of only six
months. Doc. 44 at 9-11, 28-29. To begin, despite Vaughn’s insistence that he was
never diagnosed with major depression and was only diagnosed with brief reactive
psychosis, a consultation report signed after his suicide attempt reflects that Vaughn
has a history of depression and that his diagnosis was “[m]ajor depression with
psychotic features versus brief psychosis.”
Doc. 42-3 at 142-42.
Vaughn’s contention regarding when the guideline may apply is belied by the
FMSCA medical guidelines, which state that a determination regarding the waiting
period and certification “is not based on diagnosis alone” and an individual’s “ability
to drive safely and effectively should not be determined solely by diagnosis but
instead by an evaluation focused on function and relevant history.”
Examiner Handbook at 196, 198. And, the guidelines note that “[i]f more than one
waiting period applies (because of multiple conditions or comorbid diseases), [the
medical examiner should] examine the driver for certification after the completion
of the longest waiting period.” Id. Based on those directives and Vaughn’s relevant
history of attempted suicide, FedEx reasonably determined that the one-year waiting
period should apply before Vaughn could obtain certification to drive a commercial
vehicle. Therefore, because Vaughn has not pointed to any evidence that FedEx did
not apply FMCSA’s medical guidelines consistently and uniformly with respect to
other drivers, he has failed to show that FedEx’s reliance on the guidelines is pretext
FedEx’s reliance on its alleged internal policy to reset Vaughn’s
job class seniority
Next, FedEx contends that it followed its own internal policy to reset
Vaughn’s job class seniority when he returned to work after the one year waiting
period. Doc. 34-1 at 27-28. In particular, FedEx asserts that it has an unwritten
policy providing that when a driver is disqualified by its safety division from driving
a commercial vehicle, the driver’s job class seniority is protected only for the first
six months of disqualification unless the driver obtains certain approved leaves of
absences. Id. at 16, 27-28. Vaughn counters that this reason is contrary to FedEx’s
written policy providing that “[e]mployees returning from a general leave of absence
in accordance with an approved timeframe will be restored to the same . . . seniority
that they had prior to going on leave . . . .” Docs 42-2 at 112; 44 at 30-31.
Vaughn’s contention regarding pretext is unavailing. To begin, Vaughn has
not shown he was on approved general leave when FedEx made the decision to reset
his job class seniority. The record reflects instead that Vaughn did not contact FedEx
regarding his leave status after Cigna denied his application for STD benefits. See
doc. 42-4 at 13; 41-7 at 3. Moreover, Vaughn does not dispute FedEx’s contention
that it has no documentation that he requested any type of leave when Cigna denied
his claim for STD. See docs. 41-7 at 3; 44. And, it was after the expiration of the
six-month period allowed for STD that FedEx contacted Vaughn regarding his status
and eventually began the review process, which led to the decision to reset Vaughn’s
job class seniority. See docs. 41-5 at 5-6; 42-4 at 16, 24-25, 96. In other words,
because FedEx made the decision to reset Vaughn’s job class seniority at a time
when Vaughn was not on an approved general leave of absence, its decision was not
contrary to its written policy. Relatedly, FedEx’s failure to produce a written policy
on this point, as Vaughn correctly notes, see doc. 44 at 7, n.2, does not undermine
FedEx’s contention. Afterall, Vaughn admits that he was aware of the unwritten
policy in question. Doc. 42-4 at 38. Based on this record, FedEx’s decision to reset
Vaughn’s job class seniority was consistent with its unwritten policy and not
contrary to its leave policy. Thus, Vaughn cannot rely on FedEx’s purported failure
to follow its leave policies to show pretext.
Vaughn attempts also to prove discriminatory animus based on evidence that
FedEx allowed five other employees to return to work after one year or more without
resetting their job class seniority. Doc. 44 at 21-22. None of those employees,
however, are valid comparators because, unlike Vaughn, they were on approved
leave, or working another position, when FedEx decided to allow them to maintain
their job class seniority. Lewis v. City of Union City, Georgia, 918 F.3d 1213, 1224
(11th Cir. 2019) (en banc) (“[A] plaintiff must show that he and [his] comparators
are ‘similarly situated in all material respects.’”). First, as Vaughn concedes, two of
the employees were out on long term disability leave for approximately fourteen to
sixteen months due to cancer. See docs. 44 at 21; 42-4 at 35-36. Next, two other
employees were out due to workers’ compensation injuries. Doc. 44 at 22. The
retention of these four individuals’ job class seniority is consistent with FedEx’s
unwritten policy that employees returning to their positions after an approved leave
of absence could have maintained their job class seniority. See docs. 42-4 at 38; 531 at 6. Put simply, because Vaughn has not shown he was on approved leave at the
time FedEx decided to follow its unwritten policy and reset his job class seniority,
FedEx’s decision to allow these four employees to maintain their seniority is not
evidence of discriminatory animus.
The fifth individual Vaughn cites is a driver in Atlanta, Georgia who was
disqualified as a driver for more than a year due to a pending criminal charge, and
who retained his job class seniority when he returned to the driver position after his
criminal charge was stricken from his record. Doc. 42-2 at 28. According to
Cannon, FedEx made an exception to its unwritten driver disqualification policy
because the judge presiding over the employee’s case took more than six months to
resolve and strike the charge from the employee’s record, and “the delay was beyond
[the employee’s] control.” Id. In addition to this reason, FedEx notes also that the
employee in question never missed work. See id. Based on this record, FedEx’s
actions with respect to that driver do not indicate that its decision to reset Vaughn’s
job class seniority was motivated by discriminatory animus.
Ultimately, “it is not [the court’s] role to second-guess the wisdom of an
employer’s business decisions—indeed the wisdom of them is irrelevant—as long
as those decisions were not made with a discriminatory motive.” Alvarez, 610 F.3d
at 1266 (citation omitted). The evidence here is that FedEx followed its unwritten
policy of resetting a driver’s job class seniority if he or she was disqualified for more
than six months as a driver and was not on certain approved leaves of absence. In
the absence of other evidence to suggest discrimination, this is a legitimate reason
that this court may not second guess. Therefore, Vaughn’s discrimination claims
fail because he has not shown that FedEx’s reasons for disqualifying him from
driving for one year following his attempted suicide and for resetting his job class
seniority are pretext for discriminatory animus.
Vaughn asserts that FedEx retaliated against him after he complained of its
discriminatory acts and filed a charge of discrimination. Docs. 1; 44 at 31-33. 6 The
record reflects, however, that FedEx had decided to carry out the alleged retaliatory
acts before Vaughn engaged in protected conduct when he complained internally to
Davis in July 2013 and when he filed his EEOC charge that August. See docs. 42-4
at 28-29; 53 at 22-23, 29. An employer’s decision to “proceed along lines
previously contemplated, though not yet definitively determined, is no evidence
whatever of causality.” Clark County School Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 272
(2001) (per curiam). Thus, the close temporal proximity between Vaughn’s conduct
and the alleged adverse events do not suggest causation.7 In the absence of any other
In opposition to summary judgment, Vaughn states that “[t]o the extent [his] Complaint
appears to assert a retaliation claim based on the ADA, [he] agrees to forego those claims.” Doc.
44 at 22, n.6. However, because Vaughn offers argument in support of his retaliation claim, id. at
31-33, the court will address the claim on the merits in an abundance of caution.
To establish a prima facie case, Vaughn must show “(1) that [he] engaged in statutorily
protected conduct, (2) that [he] suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) that a causal
connection exists between the two.” Batson v. Salvation Army, 897 F.3d 1320, 1329 (11th Cir.
2018) (citing Hurlbert v. St. Mary’s Health Care Sys., Inc., 439 F.3d 1286, 1297 (11th Cir. 2006)).
evidence to support an inference of causation, see doc. 44, Vaughn has failed to show
that retaliatory animus motivated FedEx’s actions to make him wait for a year before
recertification and to reset his job class seniority. Accordingly, Vaughn’s retaliation
claim fails because he cannot establish a prima facie case, or alternatively, for the
same reason as the discrimination claims, he cannot show that FedEx’s reasons for
engaging in the challenged actions are pretextual.
For the reasons discussed above, FedEx Freight’s motion for summary
judgment is due to be granted. The court will issue a separate order in conformity
with this memorandum opinion.
DONE the 10th day of October, 2019.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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