Hostettler v. College of Wooster
Order and Decision. Reviewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, no genuine dispute of material fact exists on any claim against Defendant. Therefore, Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and its motion for summary judgment 26 is Granted, and Plaintiff's 29 motion for partial summary judgment is Denied. Judge John R. Adams on 03/29/2017.(M,TL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
COLLEGE OF WOOSTER,
CASE NO. 5:15CV1601
JUDGE JOHN R. ADAMS
ORDER AND DECISION
(Resolving Docs. 26 and 29)
This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant
College of Wooster (“the College”) and a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Plaintiff
Heidi Hostettler. Docs. 26, 29. The Court finds that no genuine issues of material fact exist as to
the claims set forth in Hostettler’s Complaint. As such, for the following reasons, the College is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and its motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.
Hostettler’s motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In the fall of 2013, Hostettler interviewed with the College for a position as a Human
Resources (“HR”) Generalist. At that time, she voluntarily told the College that she was four
months pregnant. Doc. 27-1 at 29. Following the interview, the College hired Hostettler, and she
began working in September of 2013.
The job description for an HR Generalist included:
General responsibility for providing HR consultation to the College
community, participate in the planning, development and delivery of HR
solutions and metrics. Primary responsibilities include providing advice and
guidance to managers, fostering positive employee relations, supporting
performance management, manager/staff training, and other HR projects.
Additionally, this position will assume lead responsibility for development
and delivery of staff training and development opportunities.
ESSENTIAL DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
Employee Relations/Performance Management
• Provides managers with consultation and support with employee
relations and performance management activities. Guides managers
as they handle performance issues, specifically in the areas of
performance improvement plans, writing and delivering effective
performance reviews, creating development plans, and compensation
• Assists in resolving employee relations issues, working with
managers and AVP HR [Assistant Vice President of HR]. Provides
guidance, conducts investigations, recommends solutions and
* * *
Provides guidance to managers regarding disciplinary actions.
Works with AVP HR [Assistant Vice President of HR] on serious
policy violations and terminations.
Performs exit interviews. Analyze trends and provide summary
reports to management.
Designs and delivers internal staff development sessions based on
consultation with managers and staff.
Develops and conducts new hire orientation for all staff hires and
participates in new faculty orientation activities.
Collaborates with individuals, committees or managers in
developing general, specific and/or targeted topics.
Assists with long term training needs and recommendations based
on information obtained by analyzing existing training materials,
leadership and staff input and existing training gaps. Provide
support and/or leadership on HR Project Teams/Reporting.
* * *
• Sources, screens and recruits qualified candidates for hourly, nonexempt and designated professional level positions
* * *
* * *
Flexibility for early morning or evening meetings/events to accommodate
business needs. Occasional weekend activities may also be required.
For five months, Hostettler worked approximately 40 hours per week, which was
considered full-time. Doc. 27-1 at 53-54. She arrived at the office at 8:00 a.m. and typically left
between 5:00 p.m. – 6: 00 p.m. Doc. 27-1 at 56. During these five months, she worked during the
day and conducted a few events in the evenings, including FMLA training for managers and an
employee appreciation event. Doc. 27-1 at 55.
Beginning January 31, 2014, Hostettler took maternity leave for 12 weeks. 1 On April 15,
2014, shortly before she was scheduled to return to work following her 12-week absence,
Hostettler was diagnosed with separation anxiety and then with an added diagnosis of postpartum
depression. Doc. 28-8 at 21-23. Her doctor prescribed low dose medication and scheduled a
follow-up appointment in May. Doc. 28-8 at 21-23. She did not return to work at the end of her
leave, which had been scheduled for April 25, 2014. Doc. 27-1 at 89.
On May 7, Hostettler submitted an “Intent to Return to Work and Fitness for Duty/Medical
Release,” stating that she was able to return to work a week later but with restrictions. Doc. 27-1
at 192. The form was completed by her doctor who “recommended [Hostettler] return for 2 days
first week, then reduced schedule to 3 days per week afterward for foreseeable future.” Doc. 271 at 192. Hostettler did not return to work on May 14.
On May 21, Hostettler submitted a second Certification of Health Care Provider, marked
“addendum to previous paperwork,” in which her doctor estimated that she needed a part-time
Although Hostettler only worked for five months, in its leave policy, the College specifically exempted pregnancy
from the eligibility requirement of one year of service.
work schedule of four hours per day, four to five days per week. Doc. 27-1 at 197. The next day,
the College sent Hostettler a letter confirming that it would accommodate her reduced work
schedule “as stated 4 hours a day, 4-5 days per week until June 30, 2014” (the end of the fiscal
year). Doc. 27-1 at 235. After 16 weeks of leave, she returned to work on May 22, 2014.
Upon her return, Hostettler worked half days. As a result, other employees in the office
took on certain of her responsibilities such as responding to employee relations matters, screening
applicants for job openings, working with hiring supervisors to fill positions, training, and “lunch
and learn” programs. Doc. 27-2 at 149, 154, 212. On June 30, 2014, Hostettler did not provide
an updated medical certification or return to a full-time schedule. With only six people in the HR
department, it was already struggling to cover employee relations and training issues arising while
Hostettler was gone each afternoon. Continuing this part-time schedule would have become even
more difficult when another employee was gone on maternity leave and the department was
embarking on the implementation of a new online benefits enrollment project. Doc. 27-2 at 15354, 163-65, 211-12, 214. Hostettler’s supervisor met with her on July 2, 9, 11 and 14 to discuss
her employment, and Hostettler acknowledges that, in at least one of those meetings, her supervisor
stressed that Hostettler needed to return to work full-time. Doc. 27-1 at 134-35.
Despite all of this, in mid-July, Hostettler submitted an updated medical certification that
confirmed her ability to perform all of her usual functions but requested the College extend her
part-time schedule through August. At this point, on July 16, 2014, the College sent a letter to
Hostettler stating: “Since you are unable to return to your assigned position of HR Generalist in a
full time capacity, the College can no longer hold your position. As of the date of this letter, your
employment with The College of Wooster will end.” Doc. 27-1 at 236. The College then hired a
temporary employee who assisted with clerical work, and several months later, hired a permanent
male employee to serve as HR Generalist.
Hostettler filed the instant action alleging 1) disability discrimination and refusal to
accommodate in violation of the ADA and Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code, 2)
sex/pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII and Chapter 4112, and 3) Family and
Medical Leave Act Interference and Retaliation. Doc. 1. The College filed a motion for summary
judgment on all claims, and Hostettler filed a motion for partial summary judgment on her claims
for disability discrimination and refusal to accommodate.
LEGAL STANDARD OF REVIEW
A party seeking summary judgment must show “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 if it is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Determination of whether a factual issue is
“genuine” requires consideration of the applicable evidentiary burdens. Id. At 252. Further, on
summary judgment, the inferences to be drawn from underlying facts must be viewed “in the light
most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” U.S. v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).
The pivotal question in deciding a motion for summary judgment is whether a reasonable fact
finder could make a finding in favor of either party. See Anderson 477 U.S. at 250 (“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.”).
The initial burden of showing the absence of any “genuine issue” belongs to the moving
party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has satisfied its
burden of proof, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party. The nonmoving party may not
simply rely on its pleadings, but must “produce evidence that results in a conflict of material fact
to be resolved by a jury” or other fact-finder at trial. Cox v. Kentucky Dep’t of Transp., 53 F.3d
146, 150 (6th Cir. 1995). A party opposing summary judgment must show that there are facts
genuinely in dispute, and must do so by citing to the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(a).
A. Disability discrimination under the ADA and Ohio Revised Code §4112
“In light of the fact that Ohio's disability discrimination law parallels the ADA [Americans
with Disabilities Act] in all relevant respects, we apply the same analytical framework, using cases
and regulations interpreting the ADA as guidance in our interpretation of the OCRA [Ohio Civil
Rights Act, O.R.C. §4112.02].” Daugherty v. Sajar Plastics, Inc., 544 F.3d 696, 702 (6th Cir.
2008). Therefore, the Court’s analysis of Hostettler's ADA claim also resolves her state law
The ADA prohibits discrimination by a covered entity “against a qualified
individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in
regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge
of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms,
conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A prima
facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA requires that a plaintiff
show: “1) he or she is disabled; 2) otherwise qualified for the position, with
or without reasonable accommodation; 3) suffered an adverse employment
decision; 4) the employer knew or had reason to know of the plaintiff's
disability; and 5) the position remained open while the employer sought other
applicants or the disabled individual was replaced.”
Daugherty v. Sajar Plastics, Inc., 544 F.3d 696, 702–03 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Macy v. Hopkins
County Sch. Bd. of Educ., 484 F.3d 357, 365 (6th Cir.2007). “An employee is deemed qualified
only if she can perform all of the essential functions of her job, whether accommodated or not.”
Williams v. AT&T Mobility Servs., 847 F.3d 384, 391 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing 42 U.S.C. §12111(8)).
Here, Hostettler argues that she was qualified for the HR Generalist position, but the
College was required to accommodate her by allowing her to continue working a part-time
schedule. The College argues that working full-time was an essential function of the job and that
continuing to require the College to make the position part-time was not a reasonable
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “‘[r]egular, in-person attendance is an
essential function…of most jobs, especially the interactive ones.’” Id. (quoting EEOC v. Ford
Motor Co., 782 F.3d 753, 762-63 (6th Cir. 2015) (concluding that an employee who had excessive
absences was not qualified for her job and that her request to work from home as an
accommodation was not reasonable)).
The Sixth Circuit in Williams looked to its previous
decision in EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., and stated:
The Ford decision was based in part on an analysis of the factors outlined in
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(iii) for determining whether a particular job function
is essential. “Commonsense notions” that physical presence at work is
important to most jobs, the court concluded, also supported this outcome.
Even before Ford, this court had held that plaintiffs with excessive absences
were not qualified individuals when they failed to perform the essential
function of regularly attending their jobs.
Williams, 847 F.3d at 392 [internal citations omitted] (citing EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 782 F.3d
753, 762-63 (6th Cir. 2015)) ; see also Brenneman v. MedCentral Health Sys., 366 F.3d 412, 420
(6th Cir. 2004) (concluding that an employee who was terminated because of excessive absences
that were unrelated to diabetes was not qualified, and would not be qualified due to these absences
even if her accommodation request for medical leave were granted); Gantt v. Wilson Sporting
Goods Co., 143 F.3d 1042, 1047 (6th Cir. 1998) (concluding that an employee was not qualified
because she had been on a year-long medical leave of absence, and her physician had not released
her for work or specified a date on which she would be able to return).
In this case, the record demonstrates that an essential function of the job as an HR
Generalist was working full-time. The job description listed evenings and weekends as
requirements given a certain project or department needs. The record indicates that Hostettler,
worked 40 hours prior to taking maternity leave, and she worked evenings at times to complete
her job duties. Doc. 27-1 at 57. While Hostettler now seems to argue that the job did not require
40 hours per week, she still admits that it required more time than 20 hours per week she was
willing or able to work given her medical restrictions.
Q: Did you think that the job required a forty-hour week?
Q: What did you think was an appropriate amount of time?
A: Probably thirty, thirty-five.
Doc. 27-1 at 54. Hostettler also admits that her supervisor told her that the College needed her to
work full-time and that Hostettler wanted to work toward coming back full-time, although she was
uncertain when or how that would occur. In fact, she completed the FMLA return-to-work forms
and stated that the position was full-time. Given the evidence in the record, the Court finds that
working full-time was an essential function of the job.
The Court next turns to the issue of reasonable accommodation. “When the employee
seeks a reasonable accommodation, she must establish that a ‘reasonable’ accommodation is
possible, and bears a traditional burden of proof that she is qualified for the position with such
reasonable accommodation. If the plaintiff establishes that a reasonable accommodation is
possible, the employer bears the burden of proving that such reasonable accommodation would
impose an undue hardship.” Hoskins v. Oakland County Sheriff’s Dept., 227 F.3d 719, 728 (6th
Hostettler argues that the College should have allowed her to work part-time
throughout the summer as a reasonable accommodation. Although Hostettler testified that she was
considering returning to work full-time after the summer, she had no definite schedule or plan to
return full-time. When her supervisor told her that the College needed her to return full-time, she
responded with yet another form from her doctor stating that she needed to extend her part-time
schedule. By this time, the College had provided her 16 weeks of maternity leave and 8 weeks at
a part-time schedule.
While Hostettler was working part-time, other employees, including her supervisor, were
forced to cover for various responsibilities that were otherwise assigned to her. For example, her
supervisor testified that at least 10 people came into the office with HR questions when Hostettler
was working a part-time schedule and was not in the office. Hostettler would otherwise have
responded to the employees, but she was out of the office in the afternoon, and her supervisor had
to step away from her own responsibilities and cover for Hostettler. Other coworkers also covered
when Hostettler was working part-time, which seemed to add to their stress and workload. Doc.
36-2 at 5. Hostettler’s supervisor testified that while other employees covered for her
responsibilities, still other duties were neglected because they were short-staffed due to
Hostettler’s part-time schedule.
The record indicates that Hostettler was unable to perform the essential function of working
full-time or fulfilling all of the responsibilities of her job with a part-time accommodation. The
College was not required to accommodate her by turning a full-time position into a part-time job
by redistributing the duties to other workers. Hoskins, 227 F.3d at 729 (ADA does not require
employers to accommodate individuals by shifting essential job functions to others). Requiring
the College to transform the position into a part-time job or maintain a part-time schedule
indefinitely is not a reasonable accommodation. Williams, 847 F.3d at 394 (“A physician’s
estimate of a return date alone does not necessarily indicate a clear prospect for recovery,
especially where an employee has repeatedly taken leaves of unspecified duration and has not
demonstrated that additional leave will remedy her condition.”); see also Maat v. County of
Ottawa, 657 Fed.Appx. 404, 412-13 (6th Cir. 2016) (concluding that where an employee had
already received substantial leave, additional leave was not a reasonable accommodation because
her physician’s vague estimate of a return date was uncertain and indicated that she might need
Hostettler argues that continuing the part-time leave is a reasonable accommodation
because the College previously provided a modified schedule. However, at the time of her
termination, the College had already provided 24 weeks of leave of absence or modified leave
through a part-time schedule. Hostettler herself said she did not have a specific plan for returning
to work full-time, which was supported by her physician’s general statement that she “should only
work ½ time for now….” Doc. 27-3 (emphasis added). The Sixth Circuit has previously held that
when “an employer has already provided  substantial leave, an additional leave period of a
significant duration, with no clear prospects of recovery, is an objectively unreasonable
accommodation.” Aston v. Tapco Intern. Corp., 631 Fed. Appx. 292, 298 (6th Cir. 2015)
(concluding that additional leave was not a reasonable accommodation where an employee had
already received a 26-week leave and had provided a physician’s estimate of a return date but had
also submitted evidence that he still needed additional recovery time beyond that date). As such,
continuing the part-time schedule was not a reasonable accommodation.
Hostettler also argues that the College did not engage in the interactive process as
suggested under Sixth Circuit case law. Doc. 29 at 21. However, it is undisputed that Hostettler’s
supervisor met with her four times after the June 30 deadline to return to work full-time. The two
discussed her employment and the needs of both parties – the College for a full-time worker and
Hostettler for a part-time schedule. The law does not require that the parties meet and that the
employer concede to the employee’s request in order to have fulfilled the interactive process. The
College did meet with Hostettler and allowed her to continue working part-time while the meetings
were ongoing and before her final doctor’s certification. This is sufficient to have engaged in the
Given all of this, Hostettler was not qualified for the position because she could not
complete the essential function of working full-time, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Thus, she cannot demonstrate an issue of material fact as to her claims for disability discrimination
under the ADA or O.R.C. §4112. The college’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED,
and Hostettler’s motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED.
B. Sex / pregnancy discrimination
Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee “because of sex,”
which includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Prebilich-Holland v. Gaylord Ent. Co.,
297 F.3d 438, 442 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing 42 U.S.C. §2000e(k)). When analyzing pregnancy or sex
discrimination, the Court considers whether there is direct or circumstantial evidence of
discrimination. Hostettler initially makes the argument that direct evidence exists. She makes the
general statement in her opposition brief that “[b]ecause the College admits terminating Hostettler
because of her impairment, which included post-partum depression – a medical condition related
to pregnancy and child birth – Hostettler proves her pregnancy discrimination claim through the
“direct” method of proof and the McDonnell Douglas framework is immaterial.” Doc. 34 at 26.
Hostettler gives no further analysis to support this general legal conclusion. Furthermore, upon
review of the record, the statement appears to mischaracterize the evidence since the College
terminated her employment due to failure to work full-time and not because she was diagnosed
with post-partum depression or separation anxiety. In fact, Hostettler testified that the College
terminated her for failure to return to work full-time. Doc. 27-1 at 144-45.
Q: Okay. And at the bottom [of Hostettler’s termination letter] it says, “Since
you are unable to return to your assigned position of HR Generalist in a fulltime capacity, the College can no longer hold your position,” correct?
Q: And do you have reason to believe that’s not a true statement?
A: Well, no. At the time I was not – I was not working full-time.
Doc. 27-1 at 144-45. There is no direct evidence of discrimination, and the Court then moves to
the issue of circumstantial evidence.
“Like any Title VII case, a pregnancy discrimination claim in which the plaintiff does not
claim to have direct evidence of the discrimination is analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas
evidentiary framework, which requires that the plaintiff first establish a prima facie case of
discrimination.” Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff's burden is merely to present evidence
from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment
action under circumstances which give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. McDonnell
Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. “The burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee’s rejection.” Id. If the employer is
successful, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the employer’s reasoning
was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Id. “Although the burdens of production shift, [t]he
ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against
the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff.” Bryson v. Regis Corp., 498 F.3d 561, 570 (6th
Cir. 2007) [internal citations omitted].
In the interest of efficiency, the Court will not analyze whether Hostettler has made a prima
facie case of discrimination. Instead, the Court moves directly to the issue of whether the College
has established evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the alleged adverse
employment action. The Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact that the College
had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Hostettler after she informed them that
she could not or would not work full-time. As discussed above, full-time status is an essential
function of the position. The College informed her, in writing, that they would provide her with a
part-time schedule through June 30, 2014 but that she was expected to return to work full-time
after that date. She did not return full-time but instead submitted a doctor’s certification two weeks
later that she needed to work part-time “for now.” She was then terminated in writing, noting her
failure to return full-time as the reason for her termination.
The burden then shifts back to Hostettler to demonstrate that this legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination was a pretext. However, she points to no evidence in the
record that would suggest pretext nor does she argue pretext. As such, there are no genuine issues
of material fact on the claims for sex / pregnancy discrimination. The College is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law, and its motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.
C. FMLA interference and retaliation
To establish a claim for FMLA interference, a plaintiff must show that: (1)
she was an eligible employee; (2) her employer was a covered employer; (3)
she was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) she gave her employer notice
of her intent to take leave; and (5) her employer denied her FMLA benefits
or interfered with FMLA benefits or rights to which she was entitled.
Cavin v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 346 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir.2003).
The parties spend
considerable time arguing whether Hostettler was or was not eligible for FMLA under legal and
equitable principles. However, in looking at the record, the College treated Hostettler’s leave
requests as if she had worked long enough to be eligible under the statute and accepted her FMLA
leave forms. The Court will therefore continue its analysis assuming arguendo that she was eligible
It is clear from the record that Hostettler received 16 weeks of maternity leave and 8
additional weeks of part-time leave. This leave time exceeded FMLA requirements. As noted
above, it was not a reasonable accommodation to allow Hostettler to continue working part-time
when an essential function of the job was a full-time schedule. The College committed to parttime leave through June 30, 2014, but after that time, it was not required to accommodate her
further. Thus, the college did not interfere with Hostettler’s FMLA rights.
As for her claim of FMLA retaliation, it is analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas
framework discussed above for claims of sex / pregnancy discrimination. Bryson v. Regis Corp.,
498 F.3d 561, 570 (6th Cir. 2007). Because the analysis is identical, the Court incorporates the
reasoning and findings discussed above. There are no genuine issues of material fact as to
Hostettler’s claims for FMLA interference and retaliation. The College is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law.
Reviewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff Heidi Hostettler, no genuine
dispute of material fact exists on any claim against Defendant College of Wooster. Therefore, the
College is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and its motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED. Hostettler’s motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/John R. Adams
JOHN R. ADAMS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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