WILSON v. IRON TIGER LOGISTICS, INC.
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL ON 10/16/2014. 10/16/2014 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED. (ems)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ROBERT E. WILSON
C.A. NO. 13-1562
IRON TIGER LOGISTICS, INC.
Pl · tiff brought this action, claiming he was terminated by the defendant in violation of
the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), and the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, as amended 43 P.S. §§ 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Plaintiff has
also added a common law claim for breach of contract. Presently before the Court is the
defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.
Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A motion
for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but
will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle &
Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009)(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 247-248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect
the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
In undertaking this analysis, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. "After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there
is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party."
Pignataro v. Port Auth. ofN.Y. and N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins.
Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). While the moving party bears the initial
burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts
the burden to the non-moving party who must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
The following facts are either undisputed or construed in the light most favorable to
plaintiff: Defendant engages in the delivery of trucks throughout North America. Plaintiff was
employed by the defendant as a truck driver at defendant's Macungie, Pennsylvania Terminal
from September 28, 2009 until December 18, 2010. His job duties included delivering trucks in a
piggyback manner and then removing and reassembling them at the point of delivery ('the
undecking process"). The undecking process involves conducting safety checks, hooking straps
to the axles of the piggybacked trucks to lower them to the ground, using wrenches to loosen and
tighten bolts, and reinstalling axles and exhaust stacks. The undecking process generally takes
approximately one hour per truck to complete.
In January 2010, plaintiff experienced frostbite on several of his fingers while performing
the undecking process at a location in Canada where plaintiff estimated the temperature to be
approximately -25 degrees. Plaintiff subsequently filed a claim for worker's compensation
benefits, which was granted. Plaintiff was on a worker's compensation leave of absence from the
time he experienced frostbite, until he was released to return to work in June, 2010. When
plaintiff returned to work in June 2010, his healthcare provider, John Jennings. M.D., issued a
disability certificate in which Dr. Jennings checked the box that provides "[p]atient has no
restrictions." In a subsequent disability certificate dated November 8, 2010, Dr. Jennings stated
that plaintiff "needs to avoid any prolonged exposure to cold" and that "[h]e must be able to
warm up his fingers immediately if he feels any pain in the fingertip." This disability certificate
was the only documentation submitted by plaintiff to defendant which placed any type of
restrictions on plaintiffs job duties.
In December 2010, plaintiffs frostbite did not affect his ability to see, hear, eat, sleep,
walk, stand, sit, reach, lift, bend, speak, breath, learn, read, concentrate, think, communicate, or
interact with others. (Wilson Dep. at 177-179). Although plaintiff could not pick up small items
like pennies and dimes with his fingers, he could pick up larger items such as coffee mugs.
(Wilson Dep. at 180-181 ). There is no evidence that plaintiff lost the function of his hands. The
November 8, 2010 restrictions did not in any way prevent plaintiff from performing his duties as
a driver. According to plaintiff, his doctor told him that his fingers "will never be the same
again." (Wilson Dep. at 181). However, that is not the same as losing the function of his fingers
Defendant offered to accommodate plaintiff by allowing him to wear winter gloves while
delivering loads, to take longer while delivering loads, and to warm up his hands in the cab of his
truck or the customers' facilities while delivering loads. According to defendant, these
accommodations would allow plaintiff to perform his duties as a driver while still avoiding
prolonged exposure to the cold and allowing plaintiff the ability to warm up his fingers
immediately in compliance with the November 8, 2010 documentation from Dr. Jennings.
According to plaintiff, undecking trucks with bulky gloves was not feasible. (Wilson Dep. at
Plaintiff was terminated on December 18, 2010, when he refused a dispatch to Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada in violation of a mutually agreed upon dispatch procedure under Article 23 of
the Collective Bargaining Agreement in effect between defendant and plaintiffs union. Plaintiff
was not told he was terminated because of frostbite or because of a disability. Plaintiff did not try
the accommodations offered by defendant or offer any of his own. Instead, plaintiff testified,
"There was no way in hell I was going to Canada." (Wilson Dep. at 226). On December 18,
2010, plaintiff could not meet the requirements under Article 10 of the CBA for a transfer into
the shop/yard areas of defendant's terminals. At no time during the three days it would have
taken for plaintiff to complete the delivery to the Ottawa area did the temperature in the Ottawas
area fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against "a qualified individual on the
basis of disability" with regard to "the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees ... and
other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). When analyzing
discrimination claims under the ADA, courts apply the burden-shifting framework announced in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Parker v. Verizon Pa .. Inc., 309
Fed.Appx. 551, 555 (3d Cir. 2009). Under the McDonnell Douglas scheme:
(1) plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination;
(2) the burden of production then shifts to defendant to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action; and (3) if defendant
meets its burden of production, plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that defendant's proffered reason was a pretext for discrimination.
Id. (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.).
To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must
demonstrate (1) he is a disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) that he is otherwise
qualified for the job, with or without reasonable accommodations, and (3) that he was subjected
to an adverse decision as a result of discrimination. Turner v. Hershey Chocolate U.S. 440 F.3d
604, 611 (3d Cir. 2006). The relevant period for making a determination of disability is at the
time of the adverse employment decision. Rocco v. Gordon Food Service, 2014 WL 546726, at*
4 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2014).
To qualify as disabled, a plaintiff must prove that a physical or mental impairment (1)
actually "substantially limits one or more of the major life activities," (2) a record of such
impairment, or (3) plaintiff is regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102.
The statute further defines "major life activities" as including, but not limited to, "caring for
oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, ...
learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." Id.§ 12102(2).
After the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of2008 ("ADAAA"), the definition of
disability is not meant to be a demanding standard; rather, "the determination of whether an
impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment." Id. at
* 7 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(2); § 1630.2G)(l)(I)). After the enactment of the ADAAA, the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission revised its regulations, construing the definition of
disability "broadly in favor of expansive coverage to the maximum extent permitted by the terms
of the ADA." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.l(c)(4). "The question of whether an individual meets the
definition of disability under this part should not demand extensive analysis." Id. Under the
revised EEOC regulations,
[a]n impairment is a disability within the meaning of this section if it substantially
limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to
most people in the general population. An impairment need not prevent, or
significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life
activity in order to be considered substantially limiting. Nonetheless, not every
impairment will constitute a disability within the meaning of this section.
Id. § 1630.2G)(l)(ii). (emphasis added).
In Koller v. Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, 850 F.Supp. 2d 502 (E.D.Pa. 2012), this
Court recently analyzed the legislative history of the ADAAA, concluding that
the ADAAA was adopted to specifically address certain impairments that were
not receiving the protection that Congress intended-cancer, HIV-AIDS, epilepsy,
diabetes, multiple sclerosis, amputated and partially amputated limbs, posttraumatic stress disorder, intellectual and developmental disabilities-not minor,
transitory impairments, except if of such a severe nature that one could not avoid
considering them disabilities.
Id. at 513 (citing 154 CONG. REC. 19,432 (2008) (statement of Rep. George Miller)). "[T]he
ADAAA still requires that the qualifying impairment create an 'important' limitation." Id.
The question of whether an individual is substantially limited in performing a major life
activity is a question of fact. Williams v. Phila. Hous. Auth. Police Dep't, 380 F.3d 751, 763 (3d
Cir. 2004). Therefore, the Court must determine if plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence
from which a reasonable jury could infer that plaintiff was substantially limited in his ability to
perform a major life activity.
Plaintiff himself admitted that in December 2010, his frostbite did not affect his ability to
see, hear, eat, sleep, walk, stand, sit, reach, lift, bend, speak, breath, learn, read, concentrate,
think, communicate, or interact with others. The only major life activity plaintiff can point to as
being affected by his frostbite is the ability to work. Plaintiff has not submitted any evidence that
he does not have full functional use of his hands or that he cannot work as a truck driver for
defendant. Plaintiff can clearly still work in warm weather climates or in the summer in cold
weather climates without any restrictions. The only restrictions are for cold weather climates in
the winter. However, Dr. Jennings did not specify that plaintiff could not work outdoors, that he
could not work in the cold, that he could not undeck trucks in the cold or that he could not travel
to Canada in the cold. In addition, Dr. Jennings did not state that plaintiff should be permanently
restricted from exposure to cold temperatures, but rather that plaintiff needs to avoid any
prolonged exposure to cold and that he must be able to wear gloves and warm up his fingers ifhe
feels any pain in the fingertips. Because the Court finds that plaintiff has not produced any
evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that plaintiffs impairment substantially limits
a major life activity the plaintiff has failed to establish that he is disabled under the first prong
for qualifying as "disabled" under the ADA and ADAAA.
The Court also notes that plaintiff may not have a record of disability within the meaning
of the ADA so as to satisfy the second prong. His record demonstrates nothing more than he has
experienced frostbite in several of his fingers on one occasion, and does not have any ongoing
effects other than the restriction that he avoid prolonged exposure to the cold and have the
opportunity to warm up his fingers ifhe should feel pain. The fact that plaintiff received worker's
compensation benefits is certainly not determinative as to whether plaintiff is disabled under the
ADA. Marinelli v. City of Erie. Pa., 216 F.3d 354, 366, n 8(3d Cir. 2000) ("obtaining worker's
compensation benefits certainly does not mandate a finding of disability under the ADA.").
There is also no evidence that defendant "regarded" plaintiff as disabled. The ADAAA
states that an individual is "regarded as" disabled if he establishes that he "has been subjected to
an action prohibited under this chapter because of an actual or perceived physical or mental
impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity." 42
U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A). Notably, where a plaintiff is merely regarded as disabled rather than
suffering from an actual disability, the perceived impairment must not be transitory or minor. Id.
at§ 12102(3). Although plaintiff was granted worker's compensation benefits from January
2010 through June of 2010, he was permitted by his physician to return to work with no
restrictions. The limited restrictions that Dr. Jennings placed on plaintiff in November of2010
did not result in the defendant perceiving plaintiff as suffering from a severe on-going
impairment as opposed to a transitory or minor one.
Since there is no evidence from which a jury could conclude that plaintiff was "disabled"
even under the less demanding standard of the ADAAA, plaintiff has failed to establish a prima
facie case of discrimination under the ADA. Accordingly, judgment will be entered in favor of
the defendant on plaintiffs claims under the ADA.
Turning to plaintiffs claim under the PHRA, the Court notes that some courts in this
district no longer treat the ADA and PHRA as coextensive. See Szarawara v. Cnty. of
Montgomery, Civil No. 12-5714, 2013 WL 3230691, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2013)("The
ADAA relaxed the ADA's standard for disability[,] .... but the PHRA has not been similarly
amended, necessitating separate analysis of Plaintiffs ADA and PHRA claims."). Other courts,
however, continue to treat the ADA and PHRA as coextensive. See u., McFadden v.
Biomedical Sys. Cor,p., Civil No. 13-4487, 2014 WL 80717, at *2 n.2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 9, 2014).
That discrepancy is of no moment in this case since the Court has already found that
plaintiff cannot meet the relaxed standard for disability under the ADA, It would logically follow
then that plaintiff cannot satisfy the more heightened standard of disability under the PHRA.
Therefore, the Court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to the
The only remaining claim is an opaque state law claim for breach of contract. Plaintiff
appears to allege that defendant breached certain provisions of the Collective Bargaining
Agreement between defendant and plaintiff's union. See Complaint at paragraphs 37-39. Such a
claim is preempted by Section 301 Of the Labor Management Relations Act. Allis-Chalmers
Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 220-21 (1985). Accordingly, judgment will be entered in favor of
defendant on this claim as well.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?