Scruggs v. Berg Spiral Pipe Corp.
ORDER, GRANTING in part and DENYING in part Defendant's 26 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 6/22/2015. (mab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EVANS DEWAYNE SCRUGGS,
BERG SPIRAL PIPE CORP.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-339-CG-B
Evans Dewayne Scruggs (“Plaintiff”), an African American who worked
as a Support Operator and Grinder for Berg Spiral Pipe Corp. (“Defendant”),
alleges Defendant unlawfully terminated his employment because of a
perceived disability and his race. (Doc. 1, pp. 3 – 7). Consequently, Plaintiff
filed this lawsuit asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act
of 1990, as amended 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12117 (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e – 2000e17 (“Title VII”), and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 (“Section 1981”). (Doc. 1, pp. 5 – 8). This matter is now before the
Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 26) together with
supporting materials (Docs. 27, 28), Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition (Docs.
30, 31), and Defendant’s Reply. (Doc. 32). After careful consideration and for
the reasons set forth herein, the motion is due to be GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court must “grant summary judgment 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(a). Rule 56(c) governs
procedures and provides that a party seeking summary judgment bears the
initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion. This
includes “identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991)
(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The mere
existence of a factual dispute will not automatically necessitate denial;
rather, only factual disputes that are material preclude entry of summary
judgment. Lofton v. Sec’y of Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804,
809 (11th Cir. 2004).
The substantive law of the plaintiff’s cause of action determines
which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If a non-moving party fails to make a
sufficient showing on an essential element of its case on which it has the
burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323. In reviewing whether a non-moving party has met its
burden, the Court must stop short of weighing the evidence and determining
credibility. Instead, the Court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of
the non-moving party. Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998 –
99 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus the
inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail
as a matter of law.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251–52.
Plaintiff started working for Defendant on March 28, 2012 as a
temporary employee. (Doc. 27, p. 4). Elwood Staffing, a skilled trades staffing
company, helped place Plaintiff at Defendant’s facility. (Doc. 27, p. 2).
Defendant considers temporary employees for permanent openings when
positions become available, if the temporary employee passes the Test for
Adult Basic Education, and completes a criminal background investigation,
drug screen, and medical examination. (Doc. 27, pp. 3 – 5).
In January 2013, a permanent opening for a grinder position became
available. (Doc. 27, p. 4). Defendant considered Plaintiff for the opening.
Grinders must operate a handheld grinder and other equipment listed in the
job description. (Doc. 27, p. 4; Doc. 27-1, pp. 21-22). Grinders generally tack
welding tabs on to pipes, or cut them off, depending on the assignment. (Doc.
27, p. 4). Grinders also roll pipe down the production line, which can require
exerting 40 pounds of torque. (Doc. 27, p. 4).
At the summary judgment stage, the facts are taken in the light most
favorable to the non-movant. Tipton, 965 F.2d at 998–99. The “facts, as
accepted at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings, may not be the
actual facts of the case.” Priester v. City of Riviera Beach, 208 F.3d 919, 925
n. 3 (11th Cir. 2000).
As required for the permanent position, Plaintiff passed the Test for
Adult Basic Education on January 17, 2013. (Doc. 27, p. 4). On January 28,
2013, Defendant sent Plaintiff an offer letter for the permanent grinder
position. (Doc. 27-1, pp. 18 – 19). The offer letter described the position, pay,
and benefits associated with the job. (Doc. 27-1, p. 18). The letter also stated:
If you are agreeable to our offer you must pass, at
Berg’s expense, a pre-employment physical examination and
drug test prior to starting work. The drug screen must be
conducted within 48 hours of receipt of this letter. This
employment offer will be withdrawn if the drug screen is not
conducted within that 48 hour time period.
(Doc. 27-1, p. 18). The letter continued:
Your employment is contingent on education
verification (high school graduation or GED is required), our
receipt of a favorable background investigation and preemployment physical exam, results of a negative drug test,
and I-9 verification of authorization to work in the U.S.
(Doc. 27-1, p. 18). The letter concluded by saying, “Your start date is
scheduled for as soon as administratively possible.” (Doc. 27-1, p. 19).
Plaintiff completed the drug screen and physical examination on
January 29, 2013, one day after receiving the letter. (Doc. 27, p. 5). The drug
screen results returned negative, meaning Plaintiff did not test positive for
any of the drugs screened in the test. (Doc. 30, p. 5). Dr. Terry W. Taylor
conducted Plaintiff’s physical examination. (Doc. 27, p. 5; Doc. 31-5, p. 2).
During the physical examination, Dr. Taylor learned that Plaintiff previously
had back surgery. (Doc. 30, p. 7). Plaintiff told Dr. Taylor he did not have any
medical restrictions as a result of his back surgery, but he informed Dr.
Taylor that he had prescriptions for Lortab and Skelaxin.2 (Doc. 30, p. 8; Doc.
31-4, p. 3). Plaintiff’s pre-placement medical report stated he “is not currently
taking Lortab or Skelaxin.” (Doc. 31-4, p. 3). At the end of the exam, Dr.
Taylor prepared a report for Defendant, which under “accommodation
required” stated “[n]o safety sensitive work,” and “[n]o lifting over 40 lbs.”
(Doc. 27-1, p. 24).
Defendant received the report from Dr. Taylor on February 13, 2013.
(Doc. 27, p. 5). Upon receiving the physical examination report, Jim Key,
Human Resources Manager for Defendant, e-mailed Dr. Taylor to ask him to
elaborate on the note in the report regarding “no safety sensitive work.” (Doc.
27-1, p. 5; Doc. 31-6; Doc. 31-7, pp. 2 – 3). Dr. Taylor replied and stated
Plaintiff had received prescriptions for narcotic pain medication and muscle
relaxers, and such medications “cause a safety concern.” (Doc. 31-7, p. 2). Dr.
Taylor explained safety sensitive work includes
climbing to unprotected heights, operating dangerous
equipment or machinery, working where one could fall into
water and drown. It would also include responsibility of
operation of monitors where attention to detail could put
others in danger such as a control room operator that
monitors chemical operations. DOT and Coast Guard
consider these medications disqualifying for individuals that
need a license such as truck drivers, boat captains or
(Doc. 31-7, p. 2). Mr. Key then asked via e-mail whether Dr. Taylor could
confirm if Plaintiff currently used the prescription drugs. (Doc. 31-7, p. 2). Dr.
Lortab is a narcotic pain reliever used to treat moderately severe pain.
Skelaxin is a muscle relaxant used to relax muscles and relieve
musculoskeletal pain. (Doc. 27-3).
Taylor stated an orthopedist had prescribed them to Plaintiff in the recent
past, Plaintiff tested negative on the drug screen, and the drug screen did not
test for muscle relaxers. (Doc. 31-7, p. 2). Dr. Taylor offered to change his
recommendation to “no safety sensitive work while taking narcotics and
muscle relaxers.” (Doc. 31-7, p. 2).
After receiving this information from Dr. Taylor, Mr. Key and Scott
Schuler met with Plaintiff on February 15, 2013. (Doc. 27-1, p. 6). Mr. Key
told Plaintiff he was withdrawing the offer of employment because pushing
pipe may be a problem for Plaintiff and he posed a high risk to the company.
(Doc. 30, p. 8). Mr. Key did not ask Plaintiff about his current prescription
drug use, nor did Mr. Key discuss with Plaintiff whether he would refrain
from using substances that would impair his ability to work safely. (Doc. 30,
p. 8). Mr. Key then contacted Elwood Staffing through e-mail, and stated
Defendant could not offer Plaintiff employment because “he has back
limitations, we cannot risk him harming his health in his current assignment
and therefore his assignment at Berg must be ended.” (Doc. 31-8, p. 2).
Plaintiff timely submitted a charge with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on March 4, 2013, alleging discrimination
based on race and disability. (Doc. 31-1, pp. 2 – 3). On March 29, 2013,
Defendant sent Plaintiff a second offer of employment for the same position
and pay. (Doc. 31-10). On August 2, 2013, Defendant responded to Plaintiff’s
EEOC charge. (Doc 30, p. 10). In its response, Defendant stated it “made an
unconditional offer of reinstatement on March 29, 2013, which [Plaintiff]
declined.” (Doc. 31-2, p. 2). Defendant also stated in its response that it
decided to bring Plaintiff back to work if he would agree to adhere to the
drug-free workplace policy and not use substances that may impair his ability
to work safely. (Doc. 31-2, p. 5).3 Defendant asserted it terminated Plaintiff
because of its concern over “whether [Plaintiff] could perform either job if he’s
taking muscle relaxers because of the potential for temporary mental
impairment as a side effect to the drug. It is potentially unsafe.” (Doc. 31-2, p.
4). Defendant further stated it decided to make Plaintiff a second permanent
job offer after receiving the additional background information about Plaintiff
in the EEOC charge. (Doc. 31-2, p. 4).4
Plaintiff also alleged racial discrimination in his EEOC charge. (Doc.
31-1, p. 3). Plaintiff observed Defendant hire a white employee, Phillip Wells,
The policy is not mentioned in Defendant’s second offer letter (Doc. 31-10),
but it is attached as an exhibit to Defendant’s motion. (Doc. 27-1, pp. 26 – 29).
The Drug-Free Workplace Compliance policy states in relevant part:
Although we do not prohibit proper use of prescription
medication, we do prohibit the abuse of such substances.
Employees must consult with their doctors about the effect of
prescribed medications on their ability to work in a safe
manner, and promptly disclose any restrictions to the Safety
Supervisor. If the Company has reason to believe that the
medication is affecting job performance, it may temporarily
reassign the employee or take other appropriate action.
(Doc. 27-1, p. 26). No one alleges Plaintiff abused his prescription drugs.
In his response to the motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff states this is
disingenuous, because there is no reference to medication or new information
in his EEOC charge. (Doc. 30, p. 15, n. 2).
to work as a grinder after Defendant withdrew its job offer to Plaintiff. (Doc.
30, p. 9). Plaintiff also stated in his EEOC charge that Defendant “failed to
make other African American employees permanent employees because of
their race.” (Doc. 31-1, p. 3). In response, Defendant notes that since 2009, it
“has hired 33 African Americans who were working as temporary contract
employees into permanent positions.” (Doc. 31-2, pp. 5 – 6). Defendant
further notes nine other employees who reported taking prescription
medication were not terminated, including one African American. (Doc. 32, p.
3). The EEOC issued its dismissal and notice of rights letter to Plaintiff on
May 1, 2014, and Plaintiff timely filed this lawsuit. (Doc. 1-2, p. 1).
Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment, arguing Plaintiff
cannot establish a prima facie discrimination case or rebut Defendant’s nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions. (Doc. 27, p. 1). Defendant argues it
“terminated Plaintiff’s temporary assignment and withdrew its conditional
offer of employment because it was concerned that his previous use of
prescription muscle relaxers, which do not show up on a drug screen, could
pose a potential danger to himself and to others in the workplace.” (Doc. 27,
pp. 1 – 2).
In response, Plaintiff asserts Defendant perceived him as disabled, and
unlawfully terminated his employment. (Doc. 30, p. 4). Plaintiff also
maintains Defendant discriminated against him because of his race. (Doc. 30,
p. 21). Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim and racial discrimination
claim are analyzed separately below.
1. ADA Discrimination Claim
The ADA prohibits discrimination against a “qualified individual on
the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring,
advancement, or discharge of employees ... and other terms, conditions, and
privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The ADA defines a
“disability” as “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits
one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an
impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 12102(1). Accordingly, a “qualified individual with a disability” means a
person who is actually disabled, recorded as disabled, or “regarded as”
disabled. Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 478 (1999)
superseded by statute, U.S. Pub. L. 110-325 (January 1, 2009).
Plaintiff contends Defendant regarded him as disabled, and unlawfully
terminated him because of his perceived disability. Owusu-Ansah v. CocaCola Co., 715 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2013) cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 655
(2013) (concluding 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A) protects employees who are not
disabled); Williams v. Motorola, Inc., 303 F.3d 1284, 1290 (11th Cir. 2002)
(holding a plaintiff may maintain a claim under the ADA of being perceived
as disabled without proof of actually being disabled). As the Eleventh Circuit
has elaborated, “[u]nder the ‘regarded as’ prong, a person is ‘disabled’ if her
employer perceives her as having an ADA-qualifying disability, even if there
is no factual basis for that perception.” Carruthers v. BSA Advertising, Inc.,
357 F.3d 1213, 1216 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). This type of “regarded
as” claim is analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas5 burden-shifting
framework. D’Angelo v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 422 F.3d 1220, 1226 (11th Cir.
2005); 42 U.S.C. § 12102(3).
The McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework requires Plaintiff
to first establish a prima facie discrimination case. Thus Plaintiff must show
(1) a disability (whether real or perceived), (2) that he was otherwise
qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, and (3) he was
discriminated against based upon the (real or perceived) disability. Gordon v.
E.L. Hamm & Assoc., Inc., 100 F.3d 907, 910 (11th Cir. 1996); accord
D’Angelo, 422 F.3d at 1226 (citations omitted).6 After a plaintiff establishes a
prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to
articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action.
As Defendant notes, an employer may inquire into whether an employee
suffers from a disability so long as such examination is limited to “job-related
See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).
In its reply, Defendant contends “Plaintiff has presented no evidence that
he was replaced by a person who was not disabled or identified any employee
or any comparator evidence showing that he was treated less favorably than
similarly situated persons outside his protected classification.” (Doc. 32, pp.
5-6). Defendant is confusing the elements of a prima facie racial
discrimination claim with the elements of a prima facie “regarded as”
disabled discrimination claim. See Snider v. U.S. Steel-Fairfield Works Med.
Dep’t, 25 F. Supp. 3d 1361, 1366 (N.D. Ala. 2014) aff’d, 591 F. App’x 908 (11th
Cir. 2015) (discussing how ADA claims use the same burden shifting analysis
as Title VII claims, but listing different prima facie elements for ADA claim).
functions” and “consistent with business necessity.” 42 U.S.C. §
12112(d)(4)(A); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(c); see also Owusu-Ansah, 715 F.3d at
1311 – 12 (analyzing the ADA phrase “job-related and consistent with
business necessity”). Finally, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to
produce sufficient evidence to allow a fact-finder to conclude that the
employer’s reasons were not the real reasons for the adverse employment
action. Wascura v. City of S. Miami, 257 F.3d 1238, 1242–43 (11th Cir. 2001).
Here, Plaintiff argues Defendant fired him because of a perceived
disability: his previous back surgery and alleged back limitations. (Doc. 30, p.
4). Plaintiff showed he was otherwise qualified to perform the essential
functions of the job, and he had been working for Defendant for several
months before being offered a permanent position. Defendant did not retract
its offer of employment until it learned about Plaintiff’s previous back
surgery. Based on the record, Defendant may have regarded Plaintiff as
disabled, and unlawfully discriminated against him because of that perceived
disability. Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination.
The burden shifts to Defendant to show a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff’s position with the
company. Defendant argues its decision “not to hire Plaintiff as a permanent
employee and to terminate his temporary placement with the Company was
based upon Plaintiff’s recent history of use of prescription muscle relaxers, …
[which] could impair his ability to work in a safety sensitive environment.”
(Doc. 32, p. 2). Defendant therefore argues it had a reasonable objective
concern that Plaintiff presented a safety risk. (Doc. 27, p. 14). This legitimate
explanation is enough to shift the burden back to Plaintiff to show that this
reasoning is a pretext.7
To rebut Defendant’s proferred reason as a pretext, Plaintiff observes
that when Mr. Key terminated his employment, he made statements only
about Plaintiff’s back, and not his prescription drug use. (Doc. 30, p. 15).
Plaintiff further argues that the March 2013 job offer creates the inference
that Defendant’s decision to terminate him was not motivated by any safety
concern because he had the same history of prescription medication then, and
Defendant had not communicated with Plaintiff about that medication. (Doc.
30, p. 15). Plaintiff also argues that Defendant made no effort to ask him
whether he was currently taking muscle relaxers, or whether he would be
willing to stop taking his medication while working for Defendant. (Doc. 30,
p. 16). Indeed, Defendant states that while Mr. Key did not “expressly
As legal prescription drug use increases, employers are faced with new
challenges concerning workplace safety, employee health, and potential
discrimination. In turn, more prescription drug-related cases are being
litigated in court. See, e.g., Bates v. Dura Auto. Sys., Inc., 767 F.3d 566, 580
(6th Cir. 2014) (court finding drug-testing protocol pushes the boundaries of
the EEOC’s medical-examination and disability-inquiry definitions;
remanding case to district court for jury trial); Connolly v. First Pers. Bank,
623 F. Supp. 2d 928, 932 (N.D. Ill. 2008) (denying motion to dismiss after
employer fired employee for legal prescription drug use); see also Elisa Y.
Lee, An American Way of Life: Prescription Drug Use in the Modern ADA
Workplace, 45 Colum. J.L. & Soc. Probs. 303, 318 (2011) (noting the number
of employees testing positive for prescription painkillers increased by more
than 40% from 2005 to 2009).
reference Plaintiff’s recent history of use of undetectable prescription drugs
which could impact his safety, Mr. Key’s statements express concerns about
Plaintiff’s back condition….” (Doc. 32, pp. 4 – 5). The Court finds Plaintiff
successfully challenges Defendant’s reason for terminating him as a pretext.
Additionally, it is not clear when Defendant developed its “reasonable
objective concern” that Plaintiff presented a risk to himself and others in the
workplace, nor is it obvious that Plaintiff could not safely perform the job
functions described. (Doc. 27, p. 14). EEOC guidance explains that an
employer generally may not “ask all employees what prescription medications
they are taking” because such an inquiry is not job-related and consistent
with business necessity, but notes that the questioning may be necessary for
“employees in positions affecting public safety.” EEOC, Enforcement
Guidance: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of
Employees Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Part B.2 (July
27, 2000), available at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/guidanceinquiries.html. “Under these limited circumstances, an employer must be
able to demonstrate that an employee’s inability or impaired ability to
perform essential functions will result in a direct threat.” Id.
The record before the Court does not resolve many factual issues that
remain, including what job functions Plaintiff could allegedly not perform,
when and how Defendant developed its “reasonable objective concern” that
Plaintiff presented a safety risk, and whether Defendant unlawfully
terminated Plaintiff because of his prior back surgery. After careful
consideration, the Court finds Plaintiff has demonstrated there are genuine
disputes of material facts concerning his ADA discrimination claim. As a
result, there are allegations in this case that a fact-finder must decide, and
Plaintiff’s claim cannot be decided as a matter of law. Defendant’s motion for
summary judgment on Plaintiff’s ADA discrimination claim is therefore
2. Racial Discrimination Claim
Plaintiff claims Defendant unlawfully terminated his employment
because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and
42 U.S.C. § 1981. Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against
a person based on race. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1). Likewise, Section 1981
prohibits intentional race discrimination in the making and enforcement of
public and private contracts, including employment contracts. See, e.g.,
Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454 (1975) (holding Section
1981 protects against racial discrimination in private employment).
The test for discrimination in suits under Section 1981 is the same as
that used in Title VII discriminatory treatment cases. See Ferrill v. The
Parker Group, Inc., 168 F.3d 468, 472 (11th Cir. 1999). The plaintiff must
first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. This prima facie case can
be established in any one of three ways: (1) by presenting direct evidence of
discriminatory intent; (2) by presenting circumstantial evidence of
discriminatory intent through the McDonnell Douglas test; or (3) by
demonstrating through statistics a pattern of discrimination. Earley v.
Champion Int’l Corp., 907 F.2d 1077, 1081 (11th Cir. 1990).
In this case, there is no direct evidence of racial discrimination. Nor
does Plaintiff introduce statistics to show a pattern of discrimination. The
Court must therefore analyze Plaintiff’s claim based on circumstantial
evidence pursuant to the burden-shifting rubric articulated in McDonnell
To present a prima facie case of racial discrimination, a plaintiff must
show that (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the
position he held; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) his
employer treated him less favorably than similarly situated individuals
outside of his protected class. Smith v. Lockheed–Martin Corporation, 644
F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 2011). With respect to the last element, “the
individuals must be similarly situated in all relevant respects besides race,
since different treatment of dissimilarly situated persons does not violate
civil rights laws.” Jackson v. BellSouth Telecommunications, 372 F.3d 1250,
1273–74 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation omitted). See also
Wilson v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 376 F.3d 1079, 1091 (11th Cir. 2004) (“The
comparator must be nearly identical to the plaintiff to prevent courts from
second-guessing a reasonable decision by the employer.”).
If the plaintiff is successful in proving a prima facie case, then a
presumption of discrimination is raised and the burden shifts to the
defendant to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its
employment action. Smith, 644 F.3d at 1324–25. If the defendant meets this
burden, then the inquiry shifts back to the plaintiff, and he must prove by a
preponderance of evidence that the defendant’s reason is a mere pretext for
unlawful discrimination. Id. at 1326–27 (citations omitted). “Thus, if a jury
reasonably could infer from the evidence presented that the employer’s
legitimate justification is pretextual, the question becomes whether the
evidence, considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, yields the
reasonable inference that the employer engaged in the alleged
discrimination.” Id. at 1326–27 (citation omitted).
Here, Plaintiff readily satisfies three of the four elements required for
a prima facie case. First, Plaintiff is in a protected class due to his race,
African American. Second, the parties do not dispute that he was otherwise
qualified for the job. (Doc. 30, p. 20). Third, Plaintiff suffered an adverse
action when Defendant rescinded its offer of employment.
The fourth element, however, is not satisfied, because Plaintiff fails to
show how Defendant treated him less favorably than similarly situated
individuals outside of his protected class. Plaintiff points only to the fact that
nine other employees who reported taking prescription medication were not
terminated, and just one of those nine was African American. (Doc. 30, p. 21;
Doc. 32, p. 3). Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant replaced him with a white
employee. (Doc. 30, p. 21). This is the extent of Plaintiff’s argument for his
racial discrimination claim. Plaintiff does not, for example, explain what
positions those nine other employees held, whether Defendant also regarded
them as disabled, or whether they were prescribed the same or similar
medications as him. Furthermore, no one claims that the white employee who
replaced Plaintiff also had a perceived disability or used prescription
medication. The Court therefore finds Plaintiff does not point to adequate
comparators, which is needed to satisfy the fourth element of a prima facie
racial discrimination claim. In the absence of evidence to reflect that
Defendant treated similarly situated employees who are not members of
Plaintiff’s class more favorably, Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie
Even if Plaintiff had established a prima facie case, the Court finds
that Defendant would still be entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the
defendant, who must “proffer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the
adverse employment action. The employer’s burden is exceedingly light.”
Hamilton v. Montgomery Cnty Bd. of Educ., 122 F. Supp. 2d 1273, 1280
(M.D. Ala. 2000) (quoting Meeks v. Computer Assoc. Int’l, 15 F.3d 1013, 1021
(11th Cir. 1994)) (internal quotations omitted). Defendant’s argument and
evidence shows that it decided to terminate Plaintiff because of his back
surgery or prescription drug use. While Defendant’s decision to terminate
Plaintiff for this reason may result in a claim under the ADA, it does not
equate to racial discrimination under Title VII or Section 1981. This is a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate Plaintiff’s employment
that is not driven by racial animus. Nor does Plaintiff successfully rebut
Defendant’s proffered reason as pretext. Plaintiff merely reiterates that nine
other employees, eight of whom were white, were allowed to continue
working for the company after disclosing their prescription drug use. (Doc.
30, p. 21). This is not enough to establish a claim of racial discrimination
pursuant to McDonnell Douglas. Accordingly, Defendant’s motion or
summary judgment on this claim is due to be GRANTED.
After a careful review of the record, the Court finds Plaintiff has
demonstrated there are genuine disputes of material facts for his ADA claim.
As a result, Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim cannot be decided as a
matter of law. Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
26) is DENIED as to Plaintiff’s ADA claim (Count I). The Court further
concludes there is no genuine issue as to any material fact for Plaintiff’s race
discrimination claim, and it can be determined as a matter of law.
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 26) is therefore
GRANTED as to that claim (Count II).
DONE and ORDERED this 22nd day of June, 2015.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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