Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Audrain Health Care, Inc.
OPINION MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 45 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 47 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Audrain Health Care, Inc. ( Jury Trial set for 9/21/2015 09:30 AM in Northern Division - Hannibal Missouri. before District Judge Henry Edward Autrey.). Signed by District Judge Henry Edward Autrey on 06/03/2015. (CLK)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
AUDRAIN HEALTH CARE, INC., d/b/a
AUDRAIN MEDICAL CENTER,
Case No. 2:12CV73 HEA
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment,
[Doc. Numbers 45 and 47]. The parties have respectively filed their oppositions
thereto. For the reasons set forth below, the motions are denied.
Plaintiff, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), filed this
action on behalf of Cynthia Hodges. Plaintiff alleges Defendant discriminated
against Hodges in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),
42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (2012), when it fired Hodges in May, 2009. Plaintiff
contends Hodges was able to perform the essential functions of her job with a
reasonable accommodation. Defendant argues that there were no reasonable
accommodations that could be made so that Hodges would be able to perform the
essential functions of her job.
Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court “shall
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). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome
of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute
is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a
verdict for either party. See id. at 252.
The court views all evidence and inferences in a light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. See id. at 255. The nonmoving party must set forth specific
facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial; that is, the nonmoving party “must
do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000); see
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249–50; Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
Moreover, if a plaintiff cannot support each essential element of his claim, the
court must grant summary judgment, because a complete failure of proof regarding
an essential element necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex, 477
U.S. at 322–23.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on
the basis of disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112. To establish a prima facie case of
disability discrimination, a plaintiff must show that (1) he was disabled; (2) he was
qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable
accommodation; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action due to his
disability. See Burchett v. Target Corp., 340 F.3d 510, 516 (8th Cir.2003).
“The determination of whether an individual is qualified for purposes of the
ADA is a two-step process, and should be made as of the time of the employment
decision.” E.E.O.C. v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 477 F.3d 561, 568 (8th Cir.2007)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The first question, then, is whether
Hodges “possesses the requisite skills, education, certification or experience
necessary for the job,” and the second is whether Hodges “can, despite [her]
impairments, perform the essential functions of the job either with or without
reasonable accommodation.” Id.
The parties do not dispute that Hodges was qualified for the position under
the first part of the test, as she had been working as a nurse without concern. The
second part of the test, the essential functions analysis, is the issue the parties
dispute. Essential functions are defined as “the fundamental job duties of the
employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term
essential functions does not include the marginal functions of the position.” Id.
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “While the plaintiff bears the
burden of ultimately proving that he is qualified, an employer who disputes the
plaintiff's claim that he can perform the essential functions must put forth evidence
establishing those functions.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
“[I]f the employee cannot perform the essential functions of the job without
an accommodation, he must only make a facial showing that a reasonable
accommodation is possible .... [O]nce the plaintiff makes a facial showing that
reasonable accommodation is possible, the burden of production shifts to the
employer to show that it is unable to accommodate the employee. If the employer
demonstrates that the plaintiff is unable to perform the essential functions of the
job even with reasonable accommodation, the plaintiff must then rebut that
showing with evidence of his individual capabilities. Thus, the plaintiff's burden
merges with his ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that he has suffered
unlawful discrimination. Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted).
Evidence to consider in this determination may include: (1) the employer's
judgment as to which functions are essential; (2) written job descriptions prepared
before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job; (3) the amount of time
spent on the job performing the function; (4) the consequences of not requiring the
incumbent to perform the function; and (5) the current work experience of
incumbents in similar jobs. Knutson v. Schwan's Home Serv., Inc., 711 F.3d 911,
914 (8th Cir.2013) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “The
employer's judgment about an essential job function is considered highly
probative.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also
Kammueller v. Loomis, Fargo & Co., 383 F.3d 779, 786 (8th Cir.2004) (“Essential
functions of the job are ‘fundamental job duties,’ and the employer's judgment in
this regard is considered ‘highly probative.’ ” (quoting Alexander v. Northland Inn,
321 F.3d 723, 727 (8th Cir.2003))). “Eighth Circuit cases generally give deference
to the employer's judgment of essential job functions, especially when staffing is
problematic.” Kammueller, 383 F.3d at 786. However, the employer's judgment is
merely evidence—it is not conclusive. Id. “Finally, whether a plaintiff is qualified
is measured at the time of the adverse employment action, even if the plaintiff is
likely to recover in a relatively short period of time.” Duello v. Buchanan Cnty. Bd.
of Supervisors, 628 F.3d 968, 972 (8th Cir.2010).
“To determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation it may be
necessary for the [employer] to initiate an informal, interactive process with the
[employee] with a disability in need of the accommodation.” Fjellestad v. Pizza
Hut of Am., Inc., 188 F.3d 944, 951 (8th Cir.1999) (alteration in original) (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted). “This process should identify the precise
limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations
that could overcome those limitations.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). “Once a qualified individual with a disability has requested provision of
a reasonable accommodation, the employer must make a reasonable effort to
determine the appropriate accommodation. The appropriate reasonable
accommodation is best determined through a flexible, interactive process that
involves both the employer and the [employee] with a disability.” Id. (quoting 29
C.F.R. § 1630, App. § 1630.9).
The record currently before the Court establishes that issues of fact remain,
for example, whether Hodges requested reasonable accommodations, whether the
proposed accommodations were reasonable as they relate to Dr. Jackson’s clinic
nurse duties, and whether Audrain participated in an interactive determination of
possible accommodations that could be made. As such, summary judgment is not
appropriate for either party.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary
Judgment, [Doc. No. 45], is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment, [Doc. No. 47], is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this matter is set for Jury Trial on
September 21, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtroom of the undersigned in Hannibal,
Dated this 3rd day of June, 2015.
HENRY EDWARD AUTREY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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