Jackson v. St. Vincent Healthcare
OPINION AND ORDER on Jackson's retaliation claim under Montana Law is GRANTED BUT DENIED as to all other claims 16 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Susan P. Watters on 2/24/2017. (AMC)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
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OPINION AND ORDER
ST. VINCENT HEALTHCARE,
Plaintiff Roxanna Jackson filed this action against her former employer, St.
Vincent Healthcare, for disability discrimination, age discrimination, retaliation,
and wrongful discharge. (Doc. 1-1). Now pending is St. Vincent's motion for
summary judgment on all of Jackson's claims. (Doc. 16). As discussed below,
genuine issues of material fact exist respecting some of the remaining claims.
Accordingly, the Court grants St. Vincent's motion in part and denies it in part.
Statement of Facts
Roxanna Jackson has had speech and learning disabilities her entire life.
(Jackson Depo., Doc. 19-1 at 51: 19-22; Douglas Jackson Depo., Doc. 19-5 at
66: 19-20). She went through high school under a special needs program and
received her education under a special needs diploma. (Id. at 66:2267:2). She
attended a YMCA/YWCA special needs training program to learn self-care skills.
In the mid- l 970s, she graduated from high school and applied to St. Vincent
Healthcare for a job in central processing ("CP"). (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1,
14:25-15:3). Although Jackson had special needs, her cousin knew St. Vincent's
director and explained Jackson's situation. (Douglas Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-5,
65:23-67:25). St. Vincent hired Jackson as a CP aide. (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1,
23:9-10). Jackson delivered sterile trays, linens, and machines throughout the
hospital. (Id.at 19:12-21). She washed and sterilized dirty instruments, wrapped
them, and occasionally filled carts with items for delivery. (Id. at 19: 12-20:5).
Although other aides were trained to do more, Jackson was initially limited to
these duties because of her disability. (Id. at 23: 18-18).
Six years into her employment, Jackson asked to become a CP tech so that
she could make more money. (Id. at 21: 17-22: 1). CP tech duties included
disassembling carts, sterilizing equipment and instruments, wrapping clean
supplies and instruments, maintaining records for all instruments, transporting
sterilized items, instrument assembly, checking instruments for cleanliness and
impairments, checking power equipment, reporting and documenting missing
instruments, maintaining instrument coding systems, inventorying equipment
status, back orders, and changes and communicating the status to staff, and making
sure that all emergency, trauma, and add-on cases are picked and sent to the
operating room in a timely manner. (Doc. 19-12). Techs were required to be
capable of performing all aspects of the job in the event they had to work a
weekend alone. (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1at37:15-38:6). Jackson had
previously learned and completed all the other tasks as an aide and was
knowledgeable in them, so all she needed was training in completing the
instrument sets, which she received. (Id. at 25:14-25).
During her tenure as a tech, Jackson was open with her co-workers about the
fact that she had a disability and she experienced various accommodations. For
example, although she could perform all of the duties required to be a tech, (id. at
104:22-23; Hoffman Depa., Doc. 19-3 at 21 :9-16), her manager, Diane Larson, did
not typically have her work with the instruments because of her disability.
(Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1 at 26:6-10, 26:20-22). Also, Larson and the evening
head tech, David Wilcox, would switch Jackson out of instruments to another task
ifthe instrument area was busy or if Jackson did not have a helper. (Id. at 99:1424; 96:25-97:3). From the time she was promoted in 2006, Jackson worked
successfully as a tech; she was never subjected to any discipline whatsoever until
2013. (Smith Depa., Doc. 19-7 at 12:15-24; 29:10-19).
In 2013, David Dobson became the director of OR, surgical, procedural, and
support services, which included oversight ofCP. (Dobson Depa., Doc. 19-9 at
4:16-5:9; 7:4-18; 8:10-16). As director, Dobson had control over policies and
procedures in CP and he played a role in the discipline of the CP techs. (Id. at
9:22-10:3; 11:4-11; 14:7-25). After meeting Dobson, Jackson told him that she
had special needs. (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1 at 49: 13-50: 12). He told her he had
worked with people with special needs before. (Id. at 50:13-15). Dobson
promoted Jackson's co-worker, Heather Franzel, to be the CP department manager.
(Id. at 9:19-21; Franzel Depa., Doc. 19-6 at 13:22-14:1). Franzel had also worked
with Jackson since 2007, and knew she had a disability. (Id. at 15:19-16:4;
Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1 at 155 :24-156:7).
Not long after Franzel became Jackson's manager, Franzel told Jackson that
she was "going too slow on the instruments." (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1 at 30: 19). Periodic time trials were implemented to measure the amount of time it took
employees to put instrument trays together. (Smith 30(b)(6) Depa., Doc. 19-8 at
58:7-11). According to CP supervisor Amanda Mordhorst, the sole purpose of the
time trials was to determine how long employees were taking to complete
instrument trays. (Mordhorst Depa., Doc. 19-2 at 26:4-7). These trials were not
typical procedure in the CP department. (Franzel Depa., Doc. 19-6 at 53:2-19).
Through the trials, Franzel learned how long it took Jackson to complete her
instrument trays. (Id. at 54:20-55: 13). She contacted Human Resources Manager
Annette Hoffman with concerns about the time it took Jackson to process different
types of instrument trays. (Hoffman Depa., Doc. 19-3. at 12:8-15).
Hoffman, Franzel, Mordhorst, and Human Resources business partner
Melissa Young met with Jackson and discussed the time Jackson took to complete
instrument sets and advised her of the needs of the job and expectations. (Id. at
13 :3-11 ). They discussed retraining with Jackson as a means to meet their
expectations. (Id. at 13:8-11). They did not talk about her disability or any
restrictions Jackson had. (Id. at 13:25-14:5). On July 24, 2013, Dobson and
Franzel met again with Jackson and discussed "high, medium, and low
perspectives of Productivity in the Central Processing Department to establish
expectations." (Doc. 16-8, 11; Doc. 19-21). Franzel wanted Jackson to improve
her instrument assembly time. (Franzel Depa. Doc. 19-6 at 47:24-48:1 ).
On October 10, 2013, Jackson received her first disciplinary notice or
"correction action form" regarding her work. (Id.; Doc. 16-8; Doc. 19-21 ).
Specifically, Jackson was advised that "[t]he request to improve your technical
skills to be able to maintain the instrumentation area has not been met" and that
changes in her "productivity skills" had not occurred. (Doc. 16-8at12). The
form also stated, "we asked that if you needed assistance to make us aware and we
would provide the training and a means of measure to improve on. To date, there
has been only one request to the lead tech and none to [Franzel]. As a result, you
have either (sic) not taken on the tasks that would require you to improve your
performance." (Id.). The form was signed by Franzel and St. Vincent's Human
Resources Director Kathy Smith. (Doc. 19-21 ).
Jackson needed additional time to complete the instrument trays, so she
provided Franzel and Dobson a letter dated October 16, 2013, from her doctor,
William Phillips, DO. (Jackson Depa. Doc. 19-1 at 57:11-17; Doc. 16-9). In his
letter, Dr. Phillips stated that Jackson was special needs and thus required
additional time "to learn and perform certain tasks." (Doc. 16-9). He also advised
that Jackson was a diabetic with a heart condition and asked that her employer take
that into consideration when performing job evaluations. (Id.). Despite the fact
that she thought Dr. Phillip's' letter was "vague," Franzel did not ask for further
clarification, nor did she discuss the letter with Jackson, or find out from Jackson
what disability or restrictions she might have. (Franzel Depa., Doc. 19-6 at 32:620, 33;8-12, 34:21-23). In fact, Franzel never discussed Jackson's disability with
her or any restrictions she had. (Jackson Depa. Doc. 19-1 at 33:8-13).
After receiving Dr. Phillips' letter, Dobson advised human resources of
Jackson's potential disability and arranged for a clinical assessment to validate if
Jackson did indeed have a disability. (Dobson Depa. 27:21-28:13). Jackson was
referred to David R. Gumm, Ph.D., a St. Vincent employee, for a psychological
evaluation on November 14, 2013. (Doc. 19-14). Dr. Gumm found that Jackson
"functioned in the borderline range of intellectual abilities." (Id. at 3). He noted
that she was experiencing work-related stress due to a new manager who was not
patient with her, she had relative strength in nonverbal abilities, and she was not
confident in her skills regarding sterilization of instruments. (Id. at 4). He
suggested that she "might learn best by having things demonstrated to her rather
than explained to her orally" and she could benefit from "more repetition" than the
typical employee. (Id.). He also suggested that Jackson be allowed to "perform
some areas of her job that she has more confidence in," and that a third party
mediator could be helpful to assist her in communicating with her manager. (Id.).
In response to Dr. Gumm's evaluation, St. Vincent appointed Hoffman to be
Jackson's mediator to ensure effective communication between Jackson and
Franzel. (Jackson Depo., Doc. 19-1 at 61 :20-62:3). St. Vincent also interpreted
Dr. Gumm's remaining suggestions as three accommodation requests on Jackson's
behalf: that she have things demonstrated to her rather than explained orally, that
she be provided with more repetition, and that they explore "other opportunities
that she may have an interest in." (Smith 30(b)(6) Depo., Doc. 19-8 at 22:2123:10).
After receiving Dr. Gumm's evaluation, Dobson and Franzel never
discussed the possibility of allowing Jackson more time to accomplish certain tasks
in her job. (Dobson Depa., Doc. 19-9 at 32:5-10) Instead, they placed Jackson
into retraining for six weeks, despite the fact that the human resources manager
had determined that Jackson could perform the essential functions of her position,
and that neither Dr. Phillips nor Dr. Gumm suggested retraining was necessary.
(Smith 30(b)(6) Depa., Doc. 19-8 at 23: 11-16; Smith Depa., Doc. 19-7 at 26: 15-22;
Jackson underwent retraining from January 20, 2014 to February 28, 2014
with CP Supervisor Amanda Mordhorst. (Franzel Depa., Doc. 19-6 at 39:8-9;
Doc. 19-21). According to Franzel, the point of Jackson's retraining was to
reteach her the instrument tasks so that she could eliminate mistakes and improve
her instrument assembly times. (Id. at 57:21-58: 1). Jackson was required to
complete more assembly time trials to "help identify where she was less confident
in her work," "[s]o that she could work in those areas quicker." (Smith Depa. Doc.
19-7 at 59:23-25; 61:19-61:5). During retraining, Dobson and Franzel told Jackson
that she was going too slowly. (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1at82:12-13).
Nevertheless, Jackson did well in retraining. (Mordhurst Depa. Doc. 19-2 at
24: 17-25: 1). She demonstrated that she was competent in the instrument area. (Id.
at 32: 18-19). She felt comfortable with and knew how to complete the instrument
trays during the retraining program. (Id. at 79: 10-12). After the retraining,
Jackson felt more comfortable with the instrument trays because she learned a
better way to put the instruments on the trays. (Id. at 81: 14-15). Nevertheless,
Jackson expressed concerns to Hoffman that she was still being asked to work too
fast. (HoffmanDepo.,Doc. 19-3 at21:19-21).
In March 2014, after Jackson had completed the retraining, she received her
2013 performance review. (Franzel Depo., Doc. 19-6 at 45:23-25; Doc. 19-35). In
the evaluation, Franzel noted that Jackson was "strong in the decontamination and
sterilization areas of the department ... very familiar with the SR instrumentation
and a great source of knowledge [but] we would like to see [Jackson] improve ...
her instrument assembly times." (Id. at 46: 15-47:8; Doc. 19-35). Despite noting
that she was still struggling with instrument assembly times, none of Jackson's
supervisors considered restructuring her position or altering her job duties in any
way. (Mordhorst Depo., Doc. 19-2 at 41:23-42:7).
On April 9, 2014, Jackson received a "verbal coaching" regarding her
training and performance. (Doc. 19-21). On April 16, 2014, Dr. Phillips wrote a
second letter to St. Vincent on Jackson's behalf. (Doc. 19-15). Specifically, he
stated that Jackson "felt she is being mistreated and harassed as she does her best
with her physical limitations to meet the demands of her supervisor. She typically
goes home in tears and is not getting the support that she needs to continue to
provide diligent, faithful services in her capacity." (Id.). Dr. Phillips closed his
letter requesting St. Vincent help Jackson "to get the support that she needs." (Id.).
Beginning a little over a month later, Jackson started receiving write-ups
regarding her performance approximately every few weeks. (Doc. 19-21). On
June 25, 2014, she received a write up for mislabeling instruments. (Doc. 19-18).
On July 16, 2014, she received a write-up for not listening to her supervisor. (Doc.
19-19). On July 28, 2014, she received another write-up for mislabeling an
instrument. (Doc. 19-20). On July 30, 2014, Jackson developed a Performance
Improvement Plan indicating that she would use reference materials, double-check
labeling and ask questions if she had them. (Doc. 19-23 at 3).
Sometime in early August, Jackson brought up transferring out ofCP to a
different department with Hoffman. (Doc. 19-1 at 122:25-123:24). She discussed
it with Hoffman a few times and Hoffman thought it was a good idea. (Id.).
Hoffman set up an opportunity for Jackson to job shadow in food services. (Id. at
124: 14-17). Jackson enjoyed the job shadowing and expressed interest in moving
to the cafeteria. (Id.). According to Jackson, Smith and Hoffman advised her she
would need to wait until the opening was posted. (Id.). According to Hoffman,
Jackson stated she was not interested in a kitchen position. (Hoffman Depa., Doc.
19-3 at 37: 1-13). Jackson expressed interest in a housekeeping position but
Hoffman told Jackson no and that she would not like it. (Id. at 124:7-10).
On August 27, 2014, Jackson was terminated. (Doc. 19-21). On her
termination form, in addition to listing the instances throughout June and July,
additional performance issues were cited: August 17, 2014, she entered a restricted
sterile area in street clothes; August 17, 2014, she failed to put an indicator inside
one of the instrument bags to show it had been sterilized, August 19, 2014, she
failed to place her card in the tray indicating who completed the tray, and August
21, 2014, she failed to include a sterilized instrument on the correct tray. (Id.).
Dobson, Smith and Franzel participated in Jackson's termination decision.
(Smith Depa. Doc. 19-7 at 44:12-17; Franzel Depa. Doc. 19-6 at 59:6-11).
According to Smith, Jackson was fired for "perceived mistakes in the quality of her
work." (Id. at 24: 10-22). Franzel told Jackson she was being terminated because
her "work was too slow." (Jackson Depa., Doc. 19-1 at 157:22-158:5). Although
there were open and available positions at St. Vincent for which Jackson was
qualified, other job positions were not discussed with Jackson during her
termination. (Id. at 109:22-110, 122:23-123:2; Hoffman Depa. Doc. 19-3 at 35:2123). Allowing Jackson more time to accomplish certain tasks in her job was also
not discussed. (Dobson Depa. Doc. 19-9 at 32:5-9).
Jackson submitted a grievance to Smith on September 5, 2014, with respect
to her termination. (Doc. 19-24). In it, she objected to each of the reasons
provided for her termination. (Id.). Smith responded that she could not process the
report because it was unclear what was being grieved. (Id. at 4). Smith invited
Jackson to refile her grievance by September 22, 2014. (Id.). Jackson did not re11
submit any grievance materials by September 22, 2014, and Smith advised her on
the same day that Jackson's grievance was closed. (Id. at 5).
Jackson filed her charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) and the Montana Human Rights Bureau (MHRB) on October
6, 2014. (Doc. 16-16). In it, she alleged that St. Vincent discriminated against her
because of her age and/or disability on August 27, 2014, when it terminated her
employment. (Id.) She did not address retaliation. (See Doc. 16-16).
On April 13, 2015, Jackson's counsel advised MHRB investigator, Meg
Bennett, that Jackson planned on pursuing a retaliation claim. (Doc. 19-4 at iJ 2).
On May 8, 2015, Bennett pointed out that Jackson's charge did not include a
retaliation claim. (Id. at 4). While Jackson's counsel urged Bennett to "update her
records if necessary," Bennett explained to Jackson's counsel that she had no prior
request to amend the Charging Party's complaint to include retaliation. (Id. at 11).
She also explained that when a Charging Party amended a charge late in the HRB' s
investigation, the MHRB did not generally consider the new allegations. (Id.).
The MHRB issued its decision a week later on May 14, 2015. (Doc. 16-17). The
Human Rights Commission upheld the MHRB's decision on September 22, 2015.
(Doc. 16-18). Neither opinion addressed a retaliation claim. (Id.; Doc. 16-17))
Jackson filed her Complaint in Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court on
October 14, 2015. (Doc. 1-1at2). St. Vincent removed the case to this court on
November 10, 2015.
Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient
evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving
party and a dispute is "material" only if it could affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court "may not make
credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing
Prods., 530 U.S. 130, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. The Court must
view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all
justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
255; Betz v. Trainer Wortham & Co., Inc., 504 F.3d 1017, l 020-21 (9th Cir.
Jackson's Retaliation Claim
St. Vincent first argues that Jackson failed to exhaust her administrative
remedies with respect to her retaliation claim. Jackson argues that she amended
her Charge of Discrimination ("charge") to include a retaliation claim and by so
doing, exhausted her remedy on that claim.
To establish subject matter jurisdiction over her retaliation claim, Jackson
must have exhausted her administrative remedies by filing a timely charge with the
EEOC and the MHRB. 42 U.S.C. § 20000e-5(b); Mont. Code. Ann.§ 49-2501(4)(a). This affords the agency an opportunity to investigate the charge.
B.K.B. v. Maui Police Dept., 276 F.3d 1091, 1099 (9th Cir. 2002).
Under the Montana Human Rights Act (MHRA), a complaint alleging
employment discrimination or retaliation must be filed with MHRB, "within 180
days after the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice occurred or was
discovered." MCA§ 49-2-501(4)(a). Conversely, the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes two potential time limitations periods within
which a plaintiff must file an administrative charge with the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(e)(l). Generally, an ADA plaintiff must also file an administrative
charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the last act of discrimination. See id.
However, the limitations period is extended to 300 days ifthe plaintiff first
institutes proceedings with a "State or local agency with authority to grant or seek
relief from such practice." Id. Because the Montana Human Rights Division is a
deferral agency with respect to an ADA retaliation claim, see 29 C.F.R. § 1601.74,
Montana is a "deferral state" with a 300-day filing period for retaliation claims.
Laquaglia v. Rio Hotel & Casino, Inc., 186 F.3d 1172 (9th Cir. 1999).
Jackson filed her charge alleging age and disability discrimination
simultaneously with the EEOC and the MHRB on October 6, 2014. (Doc. 16-16).
Because her termination on August 27, 2014, was the "last act of discrimination,"
Jackson's 300 days to file any associated claims under the ADA ended on June 23,
2015. MacDonald, 457 F.3d at 1081; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(l). Her 180 days to
file any associated claims under the MHRA ended February 23, 2015.
Jackson seems to allege that her termination on August 27, 2014, and the
actions underlying her subsequent grievances on July 29, 2014, and September 5,
2014, are the acts of retaliation that form the basis for her retaliation claim. (See
Doc. 18 at 10). Assuming the "last discriminatory act" occurred on September 5,
2014, the time for Jackson to file her administrative charge with the EEOC ran on
July 2, 2015, and on March 4, 2015, with the MHRB.
Jackson's counsel advised MHRB investigator, Meg Bennett, that Jackson
planned on pursuing a retaliation claim on April 14, 2015, before the EEOC
deadline, but after the MHRB deadline. (Doc. 19-4 at iJ 2). Bennett explained that
when a Charging Party amended the charge late in the MHRB's investigation, the
MHRB did not generally consider whether the new allegations turned out to be
accurate. (Jd.). Consistent with Bennett's statement, the MHRB issued its
decision on May 14, 2015, and made no mention of retaliation. (Doc. 16-17). In
other words, Jackson's counsel's attempt to include her retaliation claim was too
late under Montana law, but within the time frame allowed under federal law.
The fact that Jackson missed the deadline in amending her charge to include
the retaliation claim with the MHRB does not necessarily mean the claim is
precluded, however. Subject matter jurisdiction extends not only to claims that fall
within the scope of the MHRB or EEOC's actual investigation but also claims that
could reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge. Vasquez v. Cty. of Los
Angeles, 349 F.3d 634, 644 (9th Cir. 2003), as amended (Jan. 2, 2004); see also
Saucier ex rel. Mallory v. McDonald's Restaurants of Mont., Inc., 179 P.3d 481,
494 (Mont. 2008) (whether a claim is subject to the MHRA's exclusivity
provision, depends on the nature of the alleged conduct, and not upon the technical
format of the complaint).
To determine whether Jackson's MHRB retaliation claim is reasonably
related to her discrimination charge, the court may consider "such factors as the
alleged basis of the [retaliation], dates of [retaliatory] acts specified within the
charge, perpetrators of [retaliation] named in the charge, and any locations at
which [retaliation] is alleged to have occurred." Vasquez, 349 F.3d at 644.
Jackson's charge alleged that she was subject to age and/or disability
discrimination on August 27, 2014, because she was terminated for "poor
performance" and being "too slow." (Doc. 19-25). Jackson asserts that her
retaliation claims are consistent with her "original theory of the case," as they are
"based on the same or similar factual scenario and disability as the originally-pied
disability theory." (Doc. 18 at 10).
It is difficult to know exactly what Jackson's retaliation claim is, considering
that it was not addressed in Jackson's submissions to the MHRB or fleshed out in
her complaint or Preliminary Pretrial Statement. (See Docs. 1-1, 11 ). She fails to
offer any facts that show her retaliation claim was within the dates, or specific acts,
or locations the MHRB considered while investigating her discrimination claim.
She provides no discussion whatsoever about how the retaliation claim was
expected to grow out of her discrimination claim. Nevertheless, Jackson argues
that St. Vincent would suffer no prejudice if she is now permitted to proceed with
an untimely claim. But she states no basis and cites no authority for this position.
The Court is not persuaded that St. Vincent would suffer no prejudice if Jackson is
permitted to proceed in this action with her untimely retaliation claim under
Accordingly, Jackson's retaliation claim under Montana law is time-barred.
She timely attempted to amend her ADA retaliation claim, however, so it survives.
See Casavantes v. Cal.St. U., 732 F. 2d 1441, 1442 (9th Cir. 1984) (overruled on
other grounds) (holding that anti-discrimination laws are to be liberally construed
in order to protect victims of discrimination, particularly when the complainant
files pro se).
Qualified Individual Analysis
St. Vincent argues that because Jackson cannot prove she is a "qualified
individual," she cannot establish a prima facie case for her disability claims,
including her failure to accommodate claim. The ADA makes it unlawful for a
private employer to discriminate against any "qualified individual on the basis of
disability." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). "Discrimination" is defined to include "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 of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff
must show that (1) she is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she
was qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a
reasonable accommodation; and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action
because of her disability.
See Allen v. Pac. Bell, 348 F.3d 1113, 1114 (9th Cir.
2003 ); see also Bates v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 511 F .3d 97 4, 988 (9th Cir.
2008). Montana law uses a similar standard. Laudert v. Richland Cty. Sheriffs
Dep 't, 7 P.3d 386, 390 (Mont. 2000). In order to be a "qualified individual" for the
purposes of the ADA, the plaintiff must have ( 1) the requisite "skills, training, and
experience" to do the job and (2) be able to perform the essential functions of the
job with or without an accommodation. Bates, 511 F.3d at 990.
Essential functions are the fundamental job duties of the job, not the
marginal functions. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(l); Dark v. Curry County, 451 F.3d
1078, 1087 (9th Cir. 2006). In determining whether a job function is essential, the
court must consider, among other evidence, the following:
(i) [t]he employer's judgment as to which functions are essential;
(ii) [w]ritten job descriptions prepared before advertising or
interviewing applicants for the job; (iii) [t]he amount of time
spent on the job performing the function; (iv) [t]he consequences
of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function; (v) [t]he
terms of a collective bargaining agreement; (vi) [t]he work
experience of past incumbents on the job; and/or (vii) [t]he
current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(3).
St. Vincent does not dispute that Jackson had the skills, training, and
experience to be an Instrument Tech; St. Vincent argues that Jackson could not
assemble instrument trays, an essential function of her position. (Doc. 16-1 at 1213). St. Vincent asserts that Jackson made "quality mistakes on the instrument
trays and continued to have performance issues that resulted in discipline," even
after St. Vincent provided her with retraining. (Id. at 14). In essence, St. Vincent
argues that the fact Jackson could not successfully complete the instrument trays,
even with accommodations, means she was not a qualified person. (Id.).
Jackson agrees that the instrument trays were an essential function of her
position, and she does not dispute that she was making mistakes with the
instrument trays at the time she was terminated. (Jackson Depa. Doc. 19-1 at
77: 19-21; 104:7-10). But she argues that her historical performance demonstrates
she could complete the essential functions of her position with reasonable
The evidence in this case leads the Court to conclude that an essential
function of the Instrument Tech job includes assembling instrument trays. Both
parties agree that assembling instrument trays are an essential function of the job,
and the job description specifically states that a CP tech must "assemble
instruments and recheck all instruments[.]" (Doc. 19-12 at 1). Accordingly,
Jackson has the burden to show that she could in fact carry out this essential
function, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Dark, 451 F .3d at 1086.
Also, St. Vincent admits that Jackson could perform the essential functions
of her job before, and after, retraining. Indeed, Kathy Smith, St. Vincent Human
Resources Director, testified that Jackson could "function in the job," prior to any
retraining. (Smith Depa. Doc. 19-7 at 24: 10-19). Similarly, Human Resources
manager Annette Hoffman testified that, following retraining, there were no duties
Jackson could not perform with or without accommodation. (Hoffman Depa. Doc.
19-3 at 21 :9-16).
St. Vincent argues that Jackson's poor performance after the provided
accommodations demonstrate that Jackson could not complete the essential
functions of her position, even with reasonable accommodation. The Court
A jury could find that Jackson was qualified for her job on the day St.
Vincent terminated her, but she needed a reasonable accommodation - here, to be
allowed more time to complete instrument trays - to perform the job's essential
functions. Jackson was an Instrument Tech for seven years and successfully
performed the essential functions of her position with no disciplinary or
performance issues whatsoever. (Smith Depa. 10:9-11:11; 23:11-16; 12:15-24).
The record shows she began receiving write-ups in 2013, after new management
began requiring her to work faster with respect to the instrument trays. (Doc. 18 at
When Jackson, her doctor, and St. Vincent's psychologist, Dr. Gumm,
requested accommodations for Jackson, they suggested allowing her more time to
complete the instrument trays or allowing her to complete other tasks in which she
had more confidence, both accommodations she had received before 2013.
Instead, St. Vincent provided Jackson with retraining and a mediator to help her
communicate with her managers. Notably, neither Jackson, nor anyone on her
behalf, requested retraining as an accommodation. St. Vincent did not provide or
even consider Dr. Phillips' or Dr. Gumm's suggested accommodations. Instead,
during her retraining, Jackson was instructed to work faster, even though Jackson
had advised Hoffman in the HR department that she made mistakes when she was
required to go fast.
The court finds that Jackson's pre-2013 successful employment history as an
Instrument Tech, which was completely free of any discipline whatsoever,
demonstrates that Jackson was capable of performing all functions essential to her
position, with a reasonable accommodation. What changed in 2013, was the speed
with which she was required to complete the instrument trays. The Court will
assume for purposes of this query that providing Jackson with additional time to
complete the instrument trays was a reasonable accommodation, particularly
because she had been accommodated in such a manner for many years. Certainly
in light of her almost seven year discipline-free performance, disputed issues of
material fact exist as to whether rapidly assembling instrument trays is an essential
or marginal function of the job, and is a question best left for the jury. Assuming
Jackson had such an accommodation, however, there is no dispute that Jackson
was otherwise qualified to perform her job and was thus a "qualified individual
with a disability" as of August 27, 2014. Accordingly, St. Vincent's motion for
summary judgment on this claim is denied.
Jackson has two avenues available for showing that St. Vincent's legitimate
explanation for terminating her was pretext. Hafner v. Conoco, Inc., 886 P .2d 94 7,
953 (1994). Pretext may be proved directly, by persuading the court that a
discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer, or indirectly, by
showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.
Hearing Aid Inst. v. Rasmussen, 372, 852 P.2d 628, 632 (Mont. 1993); see also
Stegall v. Citadel Broadcasting Co., 350 F.3d 1061, 1066 (9th Cir. 2003).
There is substantial credible evidence sufficient to persuade the Court that a
reasonable trier of fact could find that St. Vincent's proffered explanation for
terminating Jackson is unworthy of credence. St. Vincent argues that Jackson's
repeated mistakes on the instrument trays created patient safety issues because all
Instrument Techs need to be able to complete all of the tasks. This argument
seems to be contradicted by what St. Vincent accepted from Jackson in the past.
Jackson's job description had not changed in six years prior to her first write up
under Dobson and Franzel in 2013. During those six preceding years, Jackson was
required to be on individual on-call duty, capable of performing all individual tasks
alone, and did so successfully. In other words, Jackson worked as an Instrument
Tech for six years previously without any concerns on St. Vincent's part about
detriments to patient health or safety. This evidence casts doubt on St. Vincent's
purported reason for terminating Jackson's employment.
Further, St. Vincent argues that it terminated Jackson because she could not
do the job. But a jury could find from the evidence that the accommodations St.
Vincent provided were not, in fact, reasonable, and were outright discriminatory.
As noted above, Jackson and Dr. Phillips both specifically requested that she be
allowed more time to complete the instrument trays, as she had been allowed to do
for years, yet none of Jackson's new managers ever discussed allowing her more
time to complete the instrument trays as an accommodation. Additionally, Jackson
requested placement in another division as a potential accommodation. Despite
this request, and demonstrating enthusiasm for the position, it is disputed whether
St. Vincent ever provided her with the opportunity for alternative placement.
Based on the above, the Court concludes that there is sufficient evidence in the
record from which a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that St. Vincent's
stated reasons for terminating Jackson were in fact pretextual and that Jackson's
termination was purely discriminatory. Accordingly, summary judgment is not
appropriate on this claim.
St. Vincent is subject to the Montana Human Rights Act
Finally, St. Vincent argues that as a charitable corporation, it is exempt from
the MHRA for purposes of discrimination claims because it is not considered an
"employer" under Montana statute. (Doc. 16-1 at 16). This argument is frivolous.
For the purposes of Mont. Code. Ann.§ 49-2-101(11), "employer" is defined as:
an employer of one or more persons or an agent of the employer but
does not include a fraternal, charitable, or religious association or
corporation if the association or corporation is not organized either for
private profit or to provide accommodations or services that are
available on a nonmembership basis.
Under the plain language of the statute, a charitable corporation that provides
accommodations or services to non-members is an employer. St. Vincent provides
services to non-members. The argument fails.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that St. Vincent's
motion for summary judgment on Jackson's retaliation claim under Montana law is
GRANTED but DENIED as to all other claims.
DATED this .,.?f'day ofFebruary 2017./J
United States District Judge
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