Scruggs v. Pulaski County, Arkansas
ORDER granting 13 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; and dismissing 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 12/29/2014. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
PULASKI COUNTY, ARKANSAS,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Javonda Scruggs, brings this action alleging violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (ACRA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and race and gender discrimination pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the ACRA (Doc. No. 3). Defendant, Pulaski County, has moved for summary
judgment1 (Doc. Nos. 13-15). Plaintiff has responded (Doc. Nos. 27-29), and Defendant replied
(Doc. No. 30). Therefore, the matter is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the
pleadings, for the specific reasons outlined below, the Court concludes summary judgment is
appropriate and this matter should be dismissed with prejudice.
Ms. Scruggs was employed as a Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Officer from 2001 to May
21, 2013. Ms. Scruggs has a number of health problems, including fibromyalgia and degenerative
disc disease. She has worked despite her medical impairments and, as necessary, exercised unpaid
leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654. Ms.
Pulaski County also defends against a Title VII claim, but Plaintiff only brings race and
gender claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Scruggs’s condition worsened over the years, and in February 2013, one of her treating physicians,
Christopher Mocek, M.D., placed significant work restrictions upon her. Those restrictions included
“no sitting, standing, bending, stooping for extended periods,” as well as a prohibition on lifting
“more than 25 lbs.” (Doc. No. 14-5 at 9.) Given these restrictions, Pulaski County officials
determined Ms. Scruggs could not perform the job and placed her on continuous FMLA leave until
it expired on May 15, 2013. On May 21, 2013, Pulaski County terminated Ms. Scruggs’s
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so
that the dispute may be decided on purely legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th
Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Summary judgment will be granted only after viewing the evidence
and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, and then finding
that no genuine issues of material fact exist. Nelson v. Corr. Med. Servs., 533 F.3d 958, 961 (8th
Cir. 2008) (citing Fed. R. Civ .P. 56); see also Brown v. Fortner, 518 F.3d 552, 558 (8th Cir. 2008).
The United States Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining
whether this standard has been met: “The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining
whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues
that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in
favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held “that summary judgment
should seldom be granted in the context of employment actions, as such actions are inherently fact
based.” Keathley v. Ameritech Corp., 187 F.3d 915, 919 (8th Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, summary
judgment promotes judicial economy by preventing trial when no genuine issue of fact remains.
Inland Oil & Transport Co. v. United States, 600 F.2d 725, 727 (8th Cir. 1979). This Court must
view the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Id. at 727-28. The
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has also set out the burden of the parties in
connection with a summary judgment motion:
[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate,
i.e.,“[to point] out to the District Court,” that the record does not disclose a genuine
dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the
record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which
bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record
in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is
then the respondent’s burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing
that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that
burden, summary judgment should be granted.
Counts v. MK-Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338, 1339 (8th Cir. 1988).
Only disputes over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. “Evidence, not
contentions, avoids summary judgment.” Mayer v. Nextel West Corp., 318 F.3d 803, 809 (8th Cir.
Ms. Scruggs’s disability discrimination claims must be analyzed under the burden-shifting
framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under McDonnell
Douglas, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The burden of
production then shifts to the employer, who must articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory
reason for the employment decision. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.
Race and Gender Claims
Plaintiff has abandoned her race and gender claims. (Doc. No. 27 at 4.) Therefore, Pulaski
County’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED with regard to the allegations of violations
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the race and gender claims brought pursuant to the ACRA.
ADA and Section 504 Claims
Pulaski County argues that Plaintiff fails to make a prima facie claim of discrimination under
the ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination
under the both of these provisions, Ms. Scruggs must establish that: (1) she is disabled within the
meaning of the ADA; (2) she is qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, with or
without accommodation; and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action under circumstances
from which an inference of unlawful discrimination arises. Young v. Warner-Jenkinson Co., Inc.,
152 F.3d 1018, 1021-22 (8th Cir. 1998). Specifically, Pulaski County argues Ms. Scruggs is not
qualified to perform the essential functions of her job. The Court agrees.
Dr. Mocek, a pain management specialist, treated Ms. Scruggs from October 9, 2012, to
February 12, 2013. (Doc. No. 14-5 at 9.) He saw her on eight occasions. Based on his medical
assessment, Dr. Mocek determined Ms. Scruggs had limitations on standing, sitting, bending,
stooping and lifting. Id. Although Dr. Mocek does not state this in his assessment, he presumably
provided these limitations with Ms. Scruggs’s best interests in mind. And by Plaintiff’s own
account, Dr. Mocek was not willing to remove the restrictions. (Doc. No. 14-1 at 50.)
While there is some concern about Plaintiff’s limitations in standing, sitting, bending and
stooping, the main issue is with Ms. Scruggs’s restriction from lifting more than 25 pounds. This
is because the job of Juvenile Detention Officer specifically requires the “Ability to lift and carry up
to 40 lbs.” (Doc. No. 14-3.)
Plaintiff takes issue with this job requirement and her counsel does a good job trying to create
a question of material fact on this point. But the evidence is uncontroverted that the job of Juvenile
Detention Officer is physically demanding and requires the ability to lift at least 40 pounds. (Doc.
No. 14-1.) For example, Plaintiff admitted the job required her to lift detainees off the ground and
restrain juveniles when necessary. (Id. at 54-55.) She also admitted she would have to “lift things
up when [doing] a shakedown.” (Id. at 33.)
The testimony of the Facility Director, Carma Gardner, also confirms the requirement to lift
40 pounds. (Doc. No. 27-2.) Although her job as director does not require her to lift a certain
amount of weight, Ms. Gardner recounted a situation where she had to lift well beyond 40 pounds
to help save the life of a detainee who had attempted to hang himself. (Id. at 10-11.) She further
confirmed that all of her employees were capable of meeting the 40-pound requirement. (Id. at 13.)
Both Ms. Scruggs and Ms. Gardner testified that the job of Juvenile Detention Officer is a physically
Plaintiff’s counsel claims “there is a genuine issue of material fact on whether the ability to
lift up to 40 lbs is an essential job function.” (Doc. No. 29 at 2.) But based on the testimony of Ms.
Gardner and Ms. Scruggs, the only real question left is whether the job requires the ability to lift
more than 40 pounds. And this question fails to add any viability to Ms. Scruggs’s claims.
The Court has also considered Plaintiff’s argument that Pulaski County failed to engage in
a “good-faith interactive process.” Recognizing this is generally a question for a jury, “[u]nder the
ADA, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or
mental limitations of an otherwise qualified employee with a disability, unless the requisite
accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business.” Battle v. United
Parcel Service, Inc., 438 F.3d 856, 862 (8th Cir. 2006) (emphasis added). In Ms. Scruggs’s case,
based on her inability to lift 40 pounds, she is not qualified. Also, the Court has considered
Plaintiff’s argument that Pulaski County’s actions amount to a “100% healed policy,” and finds it
to be without merit. Accordingly, her ADA and Section 504 claims must be dismissed.
FMLA provides eligible employees up to twelve work-weeks of unpaid leave in any
twelve-month period and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for exercising
their rights under the Act. 29 U.S.C. §§ 2612, 2615(a)(2). Taking an adverse employment action in
retaliation for exercising FMLA leave is therefore actionable. See Darby v. Bratch, 287 F.3d 673,
679 (8th Cir. 2002.)
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, Ms. Scruggs must show that: (1) she exercised
rights afforded by the Act; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and 3) there was a causal
connection between her exercise of rights and the adverse employment action. Id.
Pulaski County argues there is no causal connection between her exercise of FMLA and her
termination. It point to the fact that Ms. Scruggs regularly took FMLA from 2008 to 2013, with no
negative employment action and that she was only terminated once all leave options were exhausted.
The Court finds that Pulaski County has offered compelling support for its position. Additionally,
Plaintiff’s own testimony wholly fails to support an allegation of retaliation. (Doc. No. 14-1 at 6668). Accordingly, the Court concludes Plaintiff fails to make a prima facie case of discrimination.
Even if Plaintiff could pass prima facie muster, her claims would fail because she was no
longer medically qualified to perform the job. The Court agrees with Pulaski County’s points that
it had a legitimate reason to terminate Ms. Scruggs and its action was not pretextual. (Doc. No. 15
It is an unfortunate circumstance that Ms. Scruggs’s health has deteriorated to the point she
is no longer medically qualified to perform the job of Juvenile Detention Officer. She was
apparently good at her job and did fine work for the citizens of Pulaski County.
The Court is sympathetic to Ms. Scruggs and regrets the unfortunate degradation of her
health. But there has been no discrimination shown here. The job is very physically demanding, and
Pulaski County had no choice but to discharge Ms. Scruggs when her treating physician prohibited
her from lifting more than 25 pounds. Given her own account of the demands of the job - it was
potentially harmful to both Ms. Scruggs and her coworkers to allow her to remain on duty.
Accordingly, for the reasons recited herein, the Motion for Summary Judgement is GRANTED in
all respects. Plaintiff’s Complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 29th day of December, 2014.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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