BERNAU v. ARCHITECHTURAL STAINLESS, INC.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS [#4], CANCELING HEARING AND SETTING SCHEDULING CONFERENCE. Signed by District Judge Gershwin A. Drain. (TBan)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 17-cv-10766
Hon. Gershwin A. Drain
ARCHITECTURAL STAINLESS, INC.,
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS [#4],
CANCELING HEARING AND SETTING SCHEDULING CONFERENCE
On March 9, 2017, Plaintiff Barry Bernau filed the instant action against
Defendant Architectural Stainless, Inc. (ASI). Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that
Defendant violated the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101,
and Michigan’s Workers Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MICH. COMP.
LAWS § 418.301. Presently before the Court is Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendant argues that the
Plaintiff failed to properly state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This
matter is fully briefed and upon review of the parties’ submissions, the Court finds
that oral argument will not aid in the disposition of this matter. Accordingly, the
hearing is canceled and the Court will decide the matter on the submitted briefs.
See E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2).
For the reasons discussed herein, the Court will DENY Defendant’s motion
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Defendant manufactures stainless steel in Macomb Township, Michigan.
Dkt. No. 1, p. 3 (Pg. ID No. 3). Management hired Plaintiff as a shop helper
around June 8, 2015. Id. As a shop helper, Plaintiff’s primary duties included
assisting co-workers with their tasks, sweeping floors, taking out garbage, and
miscellaneous tasks given by one of the part-owners. Id.
Three brothers—Carlo, Bruno, and Nick Fucciarelli—co-own Defendant
Company. Id. On July 20, 2015, Carlo instructed Plaintiff to operate a press brake
machine used for bending sheet and plate metal. Id. at 3–4. While operating the
press brake, the machine amputated part of Plaintiff’s left index finger. Id. at 4.
With no first-aid equipment available at Defendant’s facility, Plaintiff covered his
wounds in an oily tourniquet and was rushed to the hospital. Id.
On July 22, 2015, Plaintiff returned to the emergency room because his
finger began to turn black and he felt ill. Id. On July 24, 2015, Plaintiff was
hospitalized for the weekend due to further complications from the injury. Id. On
July 27, 2015, Plaintiff had surgery in order to remove his now gangrenous
fingertip and replace it with a skin graft from his left leg. Id. The next day,
Defendant submitted an OCR 100 form to the Workers’ Compensation Agency and
the Agency approved Plaintiff for Workers’ Compensation. Id. at 4–5.
On August 7, 2015, Plaintiff returned to Defendant’s facility with a doctor’s
note clearing him to work with restrictions. Id. at 5. At this time, Carlo did not
allow Plaintiff to return to work and instead sent him home. Id.
In November 2015, Plaintiff underwent another surgery to pin his index
finger to his palm as a skin graft. Id. at 6. A few weeks later in December, Plaintiff
then had an ultimately unsuccessful surgery to remove the index finger from his
palm. Id. Later that month, Defendant did not invite Plaintiff to the company
Christmas party to which all other employees were invited. Id.
On January 7, 2016, Plaintiff returned to work with a doctor’s note clearing
him to work without restrictions. Id. During this meeting, Bruno pulled Plaintiff
aside and reprimanded him, claiming, “no one has ever been hurt on those
machines!” Id. Bruno later complained to another employee that Plaintiff’s finger
had cost the company $65,000. Id.
The following week, Plaintiff returned to work and Carlo again instructed
him to use the press brake machine. Id. at 7. While operating the machine, the
press brushed up against Plaintiff’s finger triggering him to pull his hand back
quickly and drop the piece of metal he was working with. Id. Upon seeing this,
Carlo said to Plaintiff, “You know why you dropped it? You scared, you’re
chicken shit.” Id. Later in January, Carlo’s son, also an employee of Defendant,
shot Plaintiff in the arm with a stud inserted into an air hose, leaving Plaintiff
bloodied. Id. However, Carlo merely asked his son to apologize and did not
otherwise discipline him. Id.
Additionally, Plaintiff alleges Carlo consistently demeaned him in front of
his co-workers after the injury by referring to him as a “shitty guy” and an
“epileptic.” Id. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant provides its employees with
health insurance after working for 90 days, but never offered it to Plaintiff. Id. at
In March 2016, Plaintiff took a leave of absence to have two additional
surgeries on his injured finger. Id. Later that month, Plaintiff was hospitalized for
an infection in his injured hand. Id. When he returned to work in April 2016, Carlo
demanded that Plaintiff “get the f*** out of here and take your trailer with you!”
III. LEGAL STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a
complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To
survive this motion to dismiss, a complaint must comply with the pleading
requirements provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). See Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To meet this standard, a complaint must include
sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A court’s plausibility
determination will “be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
Upon reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must “construe
the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as
true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Directv Inc. v.
Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). However, the Court need not accept
legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations when ruling on the motion. See
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Defendant challenges whether Plaintiff filed a complaint sufficient to
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Defendant’s motion applies to both Plaintiff’s
ADA claim and his WDCA claim.
A. Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
The first issue regards Plaintiff’s claim for failure to provide a reasonable
accommodation in violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(A). This failure
constitutes actionable discrimination if it includes “not making reasonable
accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise
qualified individual with a disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). To establish a
prima facie case for failure to accommodate, a plaintiff must show:
(1) [he] is disabled within the meaning of the Act; (2) [he] is
otherwise qualified for the position, with or without reasonable
accommodation; (3) [his] employer knew or had reason to know about
[his] disability; (4) [he] requested an accommodation; and (5) the
employer failed to provide the necessary accommodation.
Johnson v. Cleveland City Sch. Dist., 443 F. App’x 974, 982–83 (6th Cir. 2011).
1. Whether Plaintiff Properly Pled a Disability
The primary element in contention is whether Plaintiff sufficiently pled a
disability within the meaning of the statute. The ADA defines disability as: “(A) a
physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the 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). Further statutory
guidance shows that “major life activities” include, but are not limited to, “caring
for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking,
standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating,
thinking, communicating, and working.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A).
Plaintiff pleads facts indicating he suffered a very serious injury that
required numerous surgical procedures to treat. Conversely, Defendant argues that
Plaintiff does not articulate any major life activities that were substantially limited,
and thus cannot qualify as disabled. Viewing the complaint in the light most
favorable to the Plaintiff, the facts pled invite a reasonable inference that Plaintiff’s
injury substantially limited at least one of the major life events identified in the
statute. For example, Plaintiff’s ability to perform manual tasks, lift, and work
could plausibly be limited because he lacked full use of his injured finger and the
Defendant also relies upon case law distinguishable from the present case.
For instance, two of the cases cited by Defendant were decided on summary
judgment, which imposes a different standard than a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See
Toyota Motor Mfg., Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002) (reviewing
dismissal upon summary judgment where the respondent did not provide evidence
that she was substantially limited in performing manual tasks); Hedrick v. W.
Reserve Care Sys., 355 F.3d 444 (6th Cir. 2004) (granting summary judgment to
the employer after an employee rejected reasonable accommodations, and thus was
not a “qualified individual with a disability”). Due to this significant distinction,
Defendant’s arguments carry little weight.
Assuming Plaintiff did not plead facts indicating a disability, the statute also
allows Plaintiff to plead that he was “regarded as” disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1).
An employer regards an employee as disabled if they (1) mistakenly believe that
the employee has a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major
life activities, or (2) mistakenly believe that an actual, non-limiting impairment
substantially limits one or more major life activities. Ferrari v. Ford Motor Co.,
826 F.3d 885 (6th Cir. 2016). “[A]n individual may fall into the definition of one
regarded as having a disability if an employer ascribes to that individual an
inability to perform the functions of a job because of a medical condition when, in
fact, the individual is perfectly able to meet the job’s duties.” Ross v. Campbell
Soup Co., 237 F.3d 701, 706 (6th Cir. 2001).
Plaintiff alleged that he returned to work with requested accommodations
only to have Defendant send him home. Defendant argues that it is not reasonable
to infer from these allegations that management believed Plaintiff to have a major
life activity impaired due to the injury. However, given that Defendant prevented
Plaintiff from returning to work, these allegations support an inference that
Defendant regarded Plaintiff as disabled, when viewed in the light most favorable
to the Plaintiff.
The ADA does not apply to “impairments that are transitory and minor.” 42
U.S.C. § 12102(3)(B). The law defines a transitory impairment as “an impairment
with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.” Id. Because the facts
suggest that Plaintiff’s doctor cleared him within 5.5 months (July 20, 2015 to
January 7, 2016), Defendant asserts that the six-month duration is not satisfied and
Plaintiff’s disability is therefore transitory. However, Plaintiff alleges that although
having been cleared for work after 5.5 months, he afterwards underwent additional
surgeries on the index finger causing him to miss a significantly greater amount of
work into March 2016. The question as a matter of law remains whether these
segments of time can be combined to fulfil the six-month threshold for satisfying a
disability under the ADA.
Defendant relies on White v. Interstate Distrib. Co., 438 Fed. App’x. 415
(6th Cir. 2011), in which the plaintiff fractured his leg and requested with a doctor
recommendation two months off of work. The White court held that the doctor’s
note, which indicated anticipated restrictions of less than six months is sufficient to
show that an alleged impairment was transitory and minor. Id. at 420. However,
White is distinguishable from the present case on several grounds.
First, the Court must consider the difference in the severity of injuries. In the
current matter, Plaintiff suffered from serious infection during the initial healing
process. Plaintiff also continued to have surgeries on the injured finger well past
the six-month threshold. In White, the plaintiff had a routine fracture in his leg,
which the doctor expected to fully heal in less than two months. Id. This glaring
requires rejection of Defendant’s argument should be disregarded in a plausibility
determination. Second, the issue in White was likewise evaluated at the summary
judgment stage, which considers whether the record evidence demonstrates an
issue of material fact. In the present action, the Court must accept all of Plaintiff’s
factual allegations as true and only consider plausibility. Ultimately, whether
Plaintiff’s impairment is considered transitory would be better considered after
Given the ADA analysis and relevant case law, Plaintiff pled sufficient facts
for the Court to infer he either had a disability or was nonetheless regarded as
having a disability.
2. Whether Plaintiff Properly Pled the Request for Reasonable
The Defendant also disputes whether Plaintiff pled a proper request for a
reasonable accommodation. The applicable rule states, “an ADA plaintiff bears the
initial burden of proposing an accommodation and showing that accommodation is
objectively reasonable.” Kleiber v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 485 F.3d 862, 870
(6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted).
Plaintiff alleges that when he returned to work with a doctor’s note
requesting accommodations, Defendant’s co-owners instructed him to leave.
Defendant counters that regardless of the truth of the allegations, the pleadings do
not specify what accommodations the doctor’s note contained and should therefore
render the complaint insufficient. Although Plaintiff’s complaint should have
specified the requested accommodations, his failure to do so is not fatal.
Defendant’s argument is better suited at a later stage in the litigation when the
legal standard rises above mere plausibility. Given the factual allegations, taken as
the truth, no major issues exist with the Plaintiff’s pleadings regarding requesting
B. Violation of the Workers Disability Compensation Act
Additionally, Defendant moves to dismiss the accompanying state law claim
for a violation of the WDCA. The relevant provision of the statute states:
A person shall not discharge an employee or in any manner
discriminate against an employee because the employee filed a
complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted a proceeding under
this act or because of the exercise by the employee on behalf of
himself or herself or others of a right afforded by this act.
MICH. COMP. LAWS § 418.301(13). A prima facie case of retaliation under the
(1) that the employee asserted a right to obtain necessary medical
services or actually exercised that right, (2) that the employer knew
that the employee engaged in this protected conduct, (3) that the
employer took an employment action adverse to the employee, and (4)
that the adverse employment action and the employee’s assertion or
exercise of a right afforded under [MICH. COMP. LAWS §] 418.315(1)
were causally connected.
See Cuddington v. United Health Services, Inc., 298 Mich. App. 264, 275 (2012).
Defendant asserts that Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts satisfying both the
third and fourth elements.
1. Whether Plaintiff Properly Pled an Adverse Employment
First, the Court considers whether Plaintiff properly pled that he faced an
adverse employment action. In Wilcoxon v. Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing
Co., the Michigan Court of Appeals defined an adverse employment action as a
decision that is “materially adverse in that it is more than [a] mere inconvenience
or an alteration of job responsibilities’” and included that “there must be some
objective basis for demonstrating that the change is adverse . . . .” 235 Mich. App.
347, 364 (1999) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Further, courts
typically consider adverse employment actions to take the form of an ultimate
employment decision such as “termination in employment, a demotion evidenced
by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of
benefits, significantly diminished material responsibilities, or other indices that
might be unique to a particular situation” White v. Burlington N. & S.F R. Co., 310
F.3d 443, 450 (6th Cir. 2002).
Defendant asserts that the failure to invite Plaintiff to the work Christmas
Party, the verbal attacks, and the fact that Plaintiff was never offered health
insurance do not amount to a claim of adverse employment action. However,
regardless of whether these events do not amount to an adverse employment
action, Defendant ultimately terminated Plaintiff’s employment less than a year
from the accident. This decision alone satisfies the element of an adverse
employment action for the purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.
Defendant further argues that Plaintiff did not specify when the alleged
termination took place and therefore has failed to state a claim. Nevertheless,
review of Plaintiff’s complaint illustrates that Carlo told him on May 25, 2016 to
“get the f*** out of here and take your trailer with you.” Dkt. No. 1, p. 8 (Pg. ID
No. 8). Plaintiff does not allege any further work activity between himself and
Defendants after that date. Id. Thus, the Court can plausibly infer from his
complaint that the May 25th statements constituted a termination. In conclusion,
Plaintiff pled sufficient facts to show he suffered an adverse employment action.
2. Whether Plaintiff Properly Pled a Causal Connection
Defendant lastly asserts that Plaintiffs allegations do not establish a causal
connection between the exercise of rights and the following adverse employment
action. For the purposes of this case, the right exercised was collecting worker’s
compensation and the adverse employment action was the termination.
Given the legal standard of a motion to dismiss, Defendant’s argument is
largely irrelevant. Plaintiff alleged numerous facts that indicate a causal connection
between the right asserted and the adverse action. Between the allegations of not
allowing Plaintiff to return to work, verbal condemnation, and dialogue disfavoring
and demeaning the Plaintiff, the invite of a causal inference is warranted. In
addition, Plaintiff asserts that he satisfies the causal connection requirement due to
the temporal proximity of the adverse actions and negative comments by
Defendant’s co-owners regarding his injury. Viewing Plaintiff’s factual allegations
in the light most favorable to him, it is plausible that his allegations of adverse
treatment were causally connected with his workers’ compensation leave.
For the reasons discussed herein, the Court will DENY the Defendant’s
Motion to Dismiss [#4]. The hearing set for Monday, July 17, 2017 is canceled.
The Court will conduct a scheduling conference on Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:00
p.m. Defendant shall file an Answer no later than July 14, 2017.
Dated: June 30, 2017
/s/Gershwin A. Drain
GERSHWIN A. DRAIN
United States District Judge
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record on
June 30, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
/s/ Tanya Bankston
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