Bender v. Norfolk Southern Corporation
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re. dft's mtn for summary jdgment 24 Signed by Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo on 01/14/14. (ma)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CORPORATION, and NORFOLK
SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY, :
SYLVIA H. RAMBO
In this civil action, Plaintiff asserts claims for discrimination and failure
to accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 12101 (“ADA”), based on Defendant medically disqualifying him from the
position of railroad conductor due to his Type I insulin dependent diabetes.
Presently before the court are two motions, both of which were filed by Defendant.
(Docs. 24 and 35.) The first motion, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment
(Doc. 24), seeks judgment as a matter of law on the basis that Plaintiff’s lack of
control and stability over his diabetes rendered him unqualified to perform the
essential functions of the conductor position in a safe manner. The second motion,
Defendant’s motion to strike (Doc. 35), seeks to exclude an exhibit and certain
portions of a declaration offered by Plaintiff in opposition to the motion for summary
judgment. For the following reasons, the court will grant in part and deny in part
Defendant’s motion to strike, and will deny Defendant’s motion for summary
judgment in its entirety.
Plaintiff Alex Bender (“Plaintiff”) initiated this action by filing a
complaint on June 22, 2012 (Doc. 1), and an amended complaint on October 31,
2012 (Doc. 13), alleging that Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern
Railway Company (collectively “Defendant”) discriminated against him on the basis
of his Type I diabetes by rescinding a contingent offer of employment based upon
review of Plaintiff’s pre-placement physical examination, and further alleging that
Defendant refused to grant Plaintiff reasonable accommodation for his disability.
Defendant filed its answer to the amended complaint on November 19, 2012. (Doc.
14.) On October 15, 2013, Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment (Doc.
24) and brief in support (Doc. 26), asserting that Plaintiff’s claims of discrimination
are precluded by Defendant’s affirmative defenses of business necessity and direct
threat, and because Plaintiff’s proposed accommodation was unreasonable and would
place an undue hardship on Defendant and its employees. On October 16, 2013,
Defendant filed its statement of material facts and supporting exhibits. (Doc. 28.)
On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff filed his opposition to the motion for summary
judgment (Doc. 29) and response to Defendant’s statement of material facts (Doc.
31). Defendant filed a reply brief on November 26, 2013. (Doc. 34.) On November
27, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to strike (Doc. 35) and brief in support (Doc. 37),
which sought to strike from the record two attachments submitted in support of
Plaintiff’s opposition: an article titled, “Diabetes and Employment” (Doc. 29, pp. 2127 of 27), and portions of the declaration of Charles Heiney (Doc. 31-2, pp. 2-4 of
5). On December 10, 2013, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to strike (Doc.
42), and Defendant filed a reply on December 23, 2013 (Doc. 47). These matters are
fully briefed and ripe for disposition.
Motion to Strike
Defendant’s motion to strike challenges the admissibility of certain
documents relied upon in Plaintiff’s brief in opposition. Defendant contends that the
court should not consider these portions of the record when deciding its motion for
Either party may challenge the admissibility of evidence used to support
a motion for summary judgment. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Rule 56(c)(2)
provides, in pertinent part, that “[a] party may object that the material cited to
support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in
evidence.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2) (emphasis supplied). Thus, when the
admissibility of evidence is challenged, the party relying on the evidence must
demonstrate that such evidence is capable of admission at trial before it can be
considered by the court on summary judgment. However, this requirement does
not mean that the nonmoving party must produce evidence
in a form that would be admissible at trial in order to avoid
summary judgment. Obviously, Rule 56 does not require
the nonmoving party to depose her own witnesses. [Rule
56] permits a proper summary judgment motion to be
opposed by any materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the
mere pleadings themselves, and it is from this list that one
would normally expect the nonmoving party to make the
showing . . . [that specific facts show there is a genuine
issue for trial].
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324; see also Lin v. Rohm & Haas Co., 293 F. Supp. 2d
505, 511 (E.D. Pa. 2003). Although evidence may be considered in a form which is
inadmissible at trial, the content of the evidence must be capable of admission at
trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Accordingly, the party offering the evidence must
demonstrate that it could satisfy the applicable admissibility requirements at trial
before the evidence may be used on summary judgment. See Robinson v. Hartzell
Propeller, Inc., 326 F. Supp. 2d 631, 643 (E.D. Pa. 2004).
Defendant objects to the admissibility of an article by the American
Diabetes Association and certain portions of a declaration cited by Plaintiff in his
opposition to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The court will address
each document in turn.
Article Titled “Diabetes and Employment”
Defendant asserts that the court should strike the article attached to
Plaintiff’s opposition titled, “Diabetes and Employment” (see Doc. 29, pp. 21-27),
because it is inadmissible hearsay and because Plaintiff has no means to admit it at
trial (Doc. 37, p. 2 of 12). Hearsay is an out of court statement that is offered for the
truth of the matter asserted. Fed. R. Evid. 801(c). Such a statement is inadmissible,
unless it falls under a recognized exception to the prohibition against hearsay. Fed.
R. Evid. 802. Inadmissible hearsay should not be considered during summary
judgment. Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 693 (3d Cir. 2009). However,
if the statement is capable of being admissible at trial, despite it currently being in an
inadmissible form, the statement may be considered for purposes of deciding a
motion for summary judgment. Howley v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., 813 F.
Supp. 2d 629, 637 (D.N.J. 2011) (citing Petruzzi’s IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v.
Darling-Delaware Co., Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1235 n. 9 (3d Cir. 1993)); J.F. Freeser,
Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Williams v.
Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 465-66 n. 12 (3d Cir. 1989)).
In order to be considered for summary judgment, the proponent of the
alleged hearsay must respond to the hearsay objection by demonstrating that the
statement will either be admissible at trial as an exception to hearsay or that the
statement is not hearsay. Bouriez v. Carnegie Mellon Univ., Civ. No. 02-CV-2104,
2005 WL 2106582, *5 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2005) (citing Burgess v. Allstate Ins. Co.,
334 F. Supp. 2d 1351 (N.D. Ga. 2003)). This rule requires the proponent to
demonstrate that there is more than a “mere possibility that the evidence will be
admissible at trial.” Id. (citing Henry v. Colonial Banking Co. of Dothan, 952 F.
Supp. 744 (M.D. Ala. 1996)). This may be demonstrated by the proponent showing
some likelihood that the declarant will appear and testify at trial. Howley, 813 F.
Supp. 2d at 637.
In the matter sub judice, Plaintiff attempts to use the article to support
his claim that Defendant’s medical guideline concerning individuals with diabetes is
not based on current medical knowledge. (See Doc. 29, p. 3.) Specifically, Plaintiff
uses the authors’ statements to argue that a hemoglobin A1c test (“HgA1C”)1 is not
useful in determining whether an individual is a safety risk, and to support his
proposition that using a diabetic’s level of blood sugar “control,” or lack thereof, is
not relevant to his or her qualifications to safely perform a particular job. (Id.)
Plaintiff also cites the article in support of his argument that most diabetics can
“HgA1C” testing refers to a blood test that tracks the amount of glucose in blood over a
two to three month period. (See Caruso Dep. at p. 10.) The test is often used to measure a diabetic’s
success at controlling blood-glucose over a period of time.
manage their condition in such a manner that there is minimal risk of incapacitation.
(Id. at p. 9.)
Defendant argues that the information contained in the article is hearsay
and that Plaintiff is attempting to use the article to prove the truth of the statements
contained therein. (Doc. 37, p. 3 of 12.) In addition, Defendant contends that
Plaintiff has no means to make the article admissible should the case go to trial as
Plaintiff did not provide an expert witness report by the court’s scheduling deadline
of January 28, 2013, and Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Caruso, is not an expert
witness. (Id. at p. 4 of 12.)
The court agrees with Defendant and concludes that the article is
inadmissible hearsay insofar as Plaintiff purports to use it to prove the truth of the
statements contained therein and Plaintiff has no means to make the article
admissible at trial. Thus, the court will grant Defendant’s motion to strike the article
from the record.
Declaration of Charles Heiney
Defendant’s motion to strike also challenges that admissibility of
Charles Heiney’s testimony contained in the following paragraphs of his declaration:
Paragraph 7: While there are occasions when a 20-minute
uninterrupted meal break is not able to be taken, there is
always time for a conductor to eat and drink items brought
Paragraph 11: Conductors working off the extra board do
not primarily work nights, weekends and holidays. They
are protected by hours-of-service rules.
Paragraph 13: Trains are not traveling under time
deadlines. A conductor can consume food or beverages
any time he wants.
Paragraph 14: When a train arrives at its destination, there
are opportunities to eat.
Paragraph 15: Most days a twenty (20) minute meal break
is given between 4 ½ and 6 hours after the shift starts.
Paragraph 16: I cannot remember any occasion when the
demands of the conductor’s job would not have allowed the
conductor to eat a candy bar or drink a can of soda for
more than 10 or 15 minutes.
Paragraph 17: Under the safety rules of [NSRC], an
accident should never happen even in the event a conductor
Paragraph 20: The conductor’s job is not physically
demanding or strenuous. Conductors rarely lift a knuckle
Paragraph 21: It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that a
conductor’s failure to remain alert for even one second can
result in a catastrophe.
Paragraph 22: Occasionally, signals are “dark” or
obstructed. In such situations the train is stopped until
[instructions] are obtained. If the conductor misses a signal
which the engineer also misses, the train is stopped until
instructions are obtained.
(Doc. 31-2, pp. 2-4 of 5.)
A declaration submitted in opposition to a motion for summary
judgment “must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be
admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify
on the matters stated.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). The declaration must contain facts
demonstrating a basis for the affiant’s claim that his statements are based on his
personal knowledge. See Maldonado v. Ramirez, 757 F.2d 48, 50-51 (3d Cir. 1985)
(“The affidavit must be made ‘on personal knowledge,’ must set forth ‘such facts as
would be admissible in evidence’ and must ‘show affirmatively that the affiant is
competent to testify to the matters stated therein.’”). Declarations that are essentially
conclusory and lacking in specific facts have no probative value. Id. at 51.
Defendant contends that Heiney is not competent to make the
statements contained in Paragraphs 7, 13, 14, 15, and 16 about a conductor’s ability
to eat on the job as he was never employed as a conductor and attests only that he has
worked for Defendant since 1999 as an engineer, that he retired in 2012 after 38 and
a half years of railroad work, and that he worked with and observed conductors. (See
Doc. 37, p.5.) Likewise, Defendant argues that Heiney lacks the personal knowledge
to make the statements in Paragraphs 11 and 20 regarding the schedules of
conductors working off the extra board and the physical demands of the conductor
position because he has never worked as a conductor. (Id. pp. 6-7.) Finally,
Defendant asserts that Paragraphs 17, 21, and 22 are conclusory in nature and
lacking in specific facts, and thus should be stricken. (Id. at p. 7.)
Under the standard, Defendant can challenge the admissibility of
evidence and Plaintiff can show how it is capable of admission at trial. Here, based
on Heiney’s extensive employment as an engineer, it is not clear that he would be
unable to present lay opinion testimony as to the duties and schedules of conductors
who undisputably work closely with engineers. Accordingly, the court is not
prepared to strike Paragraphs 7, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, and 22 of the declaration for
their inability to be produced in an admissible form at trial. The court believes
Defendant’s arguments in this regard more properly attack the weight of the evidence
than the admissibility thereof. However, the court will strike Paragraphs 17 and 21
of the declaration because the statements are highly speculative and conclusory in
nature, and the declaration offers nothing to show that Heiney is competent to testify
on such matters. Accordingly, the court will strike Paragraphs 17 and 21 of
Heiney’s declaration from the record, and the balance of Defendant’s motion to
strike will be denied.
Motion for Summary Judgment
Defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis that the facts of
record clearly establish that Plaintiff was unqualified to perform the essential
functions of the conductor position, and because Plaintiff’s requested
accommodation would have presented an undue hardship to Defendant and its
Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party demonstrates
that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). “[T]his standard provides
that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence
would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Id., 477 U.S.
at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An
issue as to a material fact is “genuine” if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on
which a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. Kaucher v. County of
Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). In
determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must view the
facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.
Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004)
(citation omitted). In addition, the “court may not make credibility determinations or
engage in any weighing of the evidence.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
The initial burden is on the moving party to show an absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986)
(citations omitted). The moving party may meet this burden by “pointing out to the
district court  that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s
case when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof.” Id. at 325. In
order to avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not rest on the
unsubstantiated allegations contained in his or her pleadings, but is required by Rule
56 to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions, answers to
interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give
rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. Summary judgment should be granted where the
party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party’s case and on which that party will bear the burden at trial.”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir.
With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence provided by the
nonmoving party, the court should grant summary judgment where the party’s
evidence is merely colorable, conclusory or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 24950. That is, there must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the
nonmoving party’s claims and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts. Id. at 252; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
The underlying dispute in this case is revolves around Defendant’s
employment policies related to diabetics and the risks associated with performance
of the full range of a conductor’s duties, many of which are safety-sensitive, by an
individual diagnosed with Type I insulin dependent diabetes. More specifically, the
dispute concerns the rescission of Plaintiff’s job offer and the manner in which
Defendant made its assessment of Plaintiff’s condition and the safety risks his
condition would pose to him, fellow railroad employees, and the public in the event
he experienced a hypoglycemic episode or other adverse effect from his diabetes
while on the job. Against this background, the court will summarize the facts
pertinent to the instant matter as follows.
Defendant is a Class I railroad company engaged in freight
transportation. (Stinson Decl., ¶ 2.) In 2010, Defendant posted a job opening on its
website for the position of conductor trainee based out of Defendant’s Harrisburg
In considering the instant motion, the court relied on the uncontested facts or, if the facts
were disputed, viewed the facts and deduced all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff as nonmoving party. See Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, 527 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir.
2008) (stating that on motion for summary judgment, evidentiary materials of record must be viewed in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party). While Plaintiff denied many of Defendant’s
statements of material fact, Plaintiff’s proffered “facts” in support of his denials, or disputed
designations, lack support and/or appropriate citations to the record. According to Local Rule 56.1,”a
statement of material facts in support of, or in opposition to, a [motion for summary judgment] shall
include references to the parts of the record that support the statements.” L.R. 56.1 (emphasis added).
As Plaintiff frequently fails to follow Local Rule 56.1 in his response, his unsupported denials will be
deemed insufficient and taken as admitted for purposes of the instant motion. See L.R. 56.1 (“All
material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be
admitted unless controverted by the statement required to be served by the moving party.”).
Nevertheless, many of the pertinent facts in this matter are undisputed.
Consolidated Terminal located within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (MacKay
Dep. at pp. 10-11, 15-16, Ex. A.) Conductors work closely with locomotive
engineers as members of a two or three person train crew charged with the safe and
efficient movement of freight. (Stinson Decl., ¶ 8; Cox Decl., ¶ 8; Doc. 28-3, p.
117.) The physical duties of a conductor require lifting up to eighty pounds;
assembling railcars to form a train; uncoupling cars from an assembled train; moving
or throwing track switches to align track sections; applying and releasing hand
brakes on train cars; and participating in shove moves, which may require the
conductor to ride the side ladder of a railcar for as far as two miles while moving at
speeds up to twenty miles per hour. (Doc. 28-3, p. 117; Stinson Decl., ¶¶ 9-13; Cox
Decl., ¶ 9; Prible Decl., ¶ 17.) In addition, a conductor must recognize and interpret
railroad signals and accurately judge distances between stationary and moving train
cars. (Doc. 28-3, p. 117; Stinson Decl., ¶ 8; Cox Decl., ¶ 8.) The terms and
conditions a conductor’s employment are governed by a collective bargaining
agreement, resulting in conductors with the lowest seniority having little control over
their schedule. (Stinson Decl. ¶¶ 17-18; Cox Decl., ¶ 5.) Consequently, conductors
lacking in seniority frequently work nights, weekends, and holidays, and often have
shifts lasting up to twelve hours. (Stinson Decl., ¶ 19.) In addition, the conductor
position is designated as a “safety sensitive” position and is subject to the rules of the
Hours of Service Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20101, and the Federal Railroad Administration’s
Drug Testing Program. (Stinson Decl., ¶ 7; see Prible Decl., ¶¶ 10, 14.)
Due to the nature and demands of its safety sensitive positions,
Defendant developed medical guidelines concerning a number of medical conditions,
including diabetes, that could impact the safety of its employees and the public.
(Prible Decl., ¶ 14.) These guidelines require applicants for safety sensitive positions
to undergo post-offer pre-employment medical evaluations to determine their fitness
for duty. (Prible Decl., ¶ 4.) If an examination reveals that an applicant has a
medical condition that could impact his or her fitness for duty, the medical
department may pursue a further individualized inquiry into the applicant’s particular
situation. (Prible Decl., ¶ 5.)
According to Defendant, in the event that an applicant for a safetysensitive position has diabetes, Defendant requires the applicant’s diabetes to be
“under good control and stable,” in order to qualify him or her for the position.
(Prible Decl., ¶ 6.) This medical guideline is due to the potential for diabetes to
adversely affect the individual’s vision and concentration and cause hypoglycemic
episodes, potentially resulting in incapacitation through disorientation, dizziness,
confusion, loss of consciousness, and other symptoms. (Id.) Although Defendant’s
medical department reviews all applicants on a case-by-case basis, it applies its
guidelines uniformly and, in doing so, prefers that the applicant has an HgA1C level
of less than 9 and blood sugar levels consistently below 200, thereby reflecting that
the applicant’s diabetes is well controlled and that he or she is not experiencing
regular hypoglycemic episodes. (Prible Decl., ¶¶ 7-8.) If the medical department
determines that the applicant’s diabetes is not well controlled and stable, the
department will consult with the applicant’s treating physician to get his or her
opinion as to whether the applicant can safely perform the essential functions of the
safety sensitive position, with or without reasonable accommodation, before making
its final fitness for duty determination. (See Prible Decl., ¶ 10.)
Pursuant to Defendant’s job posting for conductors at its Harrisburg
Terminal, Plaintiff, a Type I insulin dependent diabetic who was diagnosed at the age
of thirteen, applied for the conductor position and subsequently received a
conditional job offer, contingent upon his passing Defendant’s post-offer preemployment medical evaluation and criminal background check. (Bender Dep. at
pp, 39-40, 43; MacKay Dep. at pp. 18-19.) The results of Plaintiff’s medical
examination revealed the presence of glucose, blood, and protein in his urine. (Prible
Dep. at pp. 20-21; Bender Dep. at p. 44.) Upon receiving these results, Defendant’s
medical department advised Plaintiff that they needed additional medical information
to assess the impact of Plaintiff’s condition on his ability to perform the essential
duties of a conductor. (Caruso Dep. at Ex. 1, pp. 115-16.) Specifically, the medical
department requested a written statement from Plaintiff’s treating physician
indicating the current status of his diabetes and whether the physician recommended
any work restrictions and/or necessary accommodations, and provided a copy of the
conductor job description for his physician to review. (Id.) In addition, the medical
department asked Plaintiff to provide a daily monitoring log of his glucose levels.
In a letter dated November 16, 2010, Plaintiff’s physician, Dr. Kelly S.
Caruso, advised the medical department that Plaintiff’s blood sugars were well
controlled and that his condition was stable on an insulin pump. (Caruso Dep. at p.
118 of 123.) Dr. Caruso added that Plaintiff had infrequent hypoglycemic episodes
that he is able to successfully treat with glucose supplementation. (Id.) She
described Plaintiff as “compliant with all treatments,” and noted that he “has a very
good understanding of his disease state and is very capable of compensating for both
low and high blood sugars.” (Id.) Finally, Dr. Caruso approved Plaintiff for the
position, stating that he “is very capable of performing the essential functions of
[the] job provided he is able to eat regularly scheduled meals and has access to
glucose tablets to take as needed for infrequent hypoglycemic episodes.” (Id.)
However, on November 18, 2010 – two days after sending her letter to Defendant’s
medical department – Dr. Caruso entered a notation in Plaintiff’s medical record in
which she described Plaintiff’s blood sugars as “not well controlled with [HgA1C] at
9.3.” (Id. at p. 106 of 123.)
Defendant sought clarification of the frequency of Plaintiff’s
hypoglycemic episodes and the phrase, “regular meals.” (Id. at p. 122 of 123.) Dr.
Caruso responded that Plaintiff experienced hypoglycemic episodes approximately
one to two times per month at night and would “need to eat breakfast, lunch and
dinner daily as well as have access to glucose supplementation as needed if he
experiences hypoglycemia.” (Id.) She added that Plaintiff’s meals would “need to
occur [at] regularly scheduled times [each day].” (Id.)
On November 23, 2010, Dr. C. Ray Prible,3 Director of Medical
Services for Defendant, reviewed Plaintiff’s medical file to assess Plaintiff’s fitness
for duty. (Prible Dep. at pp. 21-23; Prible Decl., ¶ 11.) Dr. Prible reviewed
Plaintiff’s medical file, including the documentation Plaintiff’s post-offer preemployment medical examination, Plaintiff’s medical records, Plaintiff’s glucose
monitoring log, and Dr. Caruso’s letters. (Prible Dep. at pp. 12-14, 23-26, 30; Prible
Decl., ¶ 11.) As a result of his review and pursuant to Defendant’s medical
Dr. Prible is board certified in Internal Medicine and has practiced occupational medicine
for over thirty years. He has been employed with Defendant for more than nineteen years. (Prible Dep.
at p. 7.)
standards, Dr. Prible determined that Plaintiff was not medically qualified to perform
the essential functions of the conductor position because Plaintiff did not have good
control or stability of his diabetes. In addition, Dr. Prible found that Defendant could
not accommodate Dr. Caruso’s stipulation that Plaintiff eat three regularly scheduled
meals each day. (Prible Dep. at pp. 33-34; Prible Decl. at ¶ 12.)
In concluding that Plaintiff did not have good control of his diabetes,
Dr. Prible was particularly concerned with Plaintiff’s HgA1C level of 9.3 and several
notations in Plaintiff’s glucose log, revealing that Plaintiff had sugar levels over 200
as well as one level in the 40s. (Prible Dep. at pp. 33-34.) In addition, Dr. Prible
opined that the symptoms Plaintiff experienced during a hypoglycemic episode,
including tachycardia and anxiety, would have distracted Plaintiff from his duties
while he focused on taking a glucose supplementation tablet, even if he could
quickly access such supplementation. (Prible Dep. at pp. 32-33;Prible Decl., ¶¶ 1213.) However, Dr. Prible acknowledged in his deposition that Defendant employs
Type I diabetics who carry glucose supplementation tablets with them on the job.
(Prible Dep. at pp. 32-33.)
Dr. Prible determined that Defendant could not accommodate Dr.
Caruso’s requirement that Plaintiff eat three regularly scheduled meals per day,
because conductor trainees, as least-senior, work erratic and unpredictable schedules
with no guarantee of a set break for a meal. (Prible Dep. at pp. 31-34, 40-43; Prible
Decl. ¶ 12.) However, Dr. Prible subsequently testified that requiring a Type I
diabetic to eat three regularly scheduled meals each day is “fairly typical standard
advice.” (Prible Dep. at p. 41.)
As a result of Dr. Prible’s recommendation that Plaintiff was not
medically qualified for the conductor position, Defendant sent Plaintiff a letter
advising him that he was medically disqualified from the position and inviting him to
apply for other positions.4 (Mackay Dep. pp. 13-14.)
Rather than challenging Plaintiff’s ability to establish a prima facie case
of discrimination, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by its defense
that the qualification standard it relied upon in rescinding Plaintiff’s job offer was a
business necessity due to safety considerations, or, alternatively, by its defense that
Plaintiff posed a direct threat to the safety of himself, other employees, and the
public. Defendant has the burden of proving these defenses. Thus, with regard to
Defendant’s motion, Plaintiff need only show that a genuine issue of material fact is
in dispute or that Defendant has not substantiated an essential element of its
Defendant argues that Plaintiff posed an unacceptably high risk of
injury to himself, other employees and the public due to his lack of control and
stability over his Type I insulin dependent diabetes, and therefore he is not otherwise
qualified to perform the essential safety-sensitive duties of a conductor. Asserting
that there are no reasonable accommodations available that would render Plaintiff
capable of performing the essential functions of the position in a safe manner,
Defendant contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff’s
Although both parties cite to the letter in their briefs, the letter is not before the court as an
discrimination claims on the basis of the business necessity and direct threat
Plaintiff counters that Defendant rescinded his job offer because of his
Type I insulin dependent diabetes based upon an impermissible blanket application
of its medical guideline, which purportedly prohibits employment of individuals with
uncontrolled or unstable diabetes in safety-sensitive positions. The medical
guideline was, at least in part, developed by Dr. Prible, who, Plaintiff claims, applied
this blanket policy to Plaintiff without making a proper individualized determination
of Plaintiff’s actual condition and the effects his diabetes had on his ability to
perform the essential safety-sensitive functions of the conductor position, and
without adequate deference to the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr.
Caruso, who had authorized him for the position with the restriction that he eats three
regularly scheduled meals each day.
Business Necessity Defense
Defendant’s medical guideline pertaining to individuals with diabetes
constitutes a qualification standard, as it is a medical requirement which must be
satisfied to work in a safety-sensitive position, such as that of conductor. It is
undisputed that Defendant medically disqualified Plaintiff from the conductor
position due to his failure to meet the requirements of its qualification standard, and
Defendant does not challenge Plaintiff’s prima facie case of discrimination.
Accordingly, the court’s preliminary analysis as to Plaintiff’s discrimination claims
begins with Defendant’s affirmative defense of business necessity.
Defendant contends that its medical guideline qualifies as a business
necessity under the ADA, which bars Plaintiff’s recovery, because the guideline is
both job-related and justified by business necessity. In response, Plaintiff asserts that
it is difficult to discern the content of the guideline as it is not part of the record and,
while Defendant represents that the guideline requires “good control and stability” of
diabetes, Defendant also states that it prefers a diabetic’s tests fall within certain
criteria, e.g., blood sugar levels consistently below 200. (Doc. 29, pp. 6-7 of 27.)
Either way, Plaintiff contends that the medical guideline is an improper blanket
exclusion on diabetics that does not meet the ADA’s requirement for an
individualized assessment, and therefore is invalid. (Doc. 29, pp. 7-9 of 27.)
The ADA prohibits an employer from applying a qualification standard
“that screen[s] out or tend[s] to screen out an individual with a disability or a class of
individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(6). However, the law also
affords an employer an affirmative business necessity defense to claims challenging
the application of an otherwise problematic standard. Verzeni v. Potter, 109 F.
App’x 485, 490 (3d Cir. 2004); Allmond v. Akal Sec., Inc., 558 F.3d 1312, 1316
(11th Cir. 2009); see 42 U.S.C. § 12113(a). The parties rely on these competing
provisions here: Plaintiff claims that Defendant’s medical guideline precludes
individuals with diabetes from employment in safety-sensitive positions, and
Defendant contends that the medical guideline is a lawful business necessity.
To benefit from the affirmative defense, an employer must prove that
the pertinent qualification standard is job-related for the position in question and is
consistent with business necessity, and cannot be met by a person with the plaintiff’s
disability even with a reasonable accommodation. Verzeni, 109 F. App’x at 490;
Allmond, 558 F.3d at 1317-18 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12113(a)); Chevron U.S.A. Inc., v.
Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73, 78 (2002) (explaining that 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(b)(6) and
12113 create an affirmative defense for standards shown to be job-related for the
position in question and consistent with business necessity); Rohr v. Salt River
Project Agric. Imp. And Power Dist., 555 F.3d 850, 862 (9th Cir. 2009) (“Once an
employee shows that a qualification standard tends to screen out an individual with a
disability, the employer shoulders the burden of proving that the challenged standard
is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”); Atkins v. Salazar, 677 F.3d
667, 681-82 (5th Cir. 2011) (requiring the employer to prove by a preponderance of
the evidence that such standards are “(1) uniformly applied; (2) job-related for the
position in question; (3) consistent with business necessity; and (4) cannot be met by
a person with plaintiff’s disability even with a reasonable accommodation”). The
employer’s burden in proving that its qualification standard satisfies the business
necessity defense “is quite high, and is not to be confused with mere expediency.”
Indergard v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 582 F.3d 1049, 1057 (9th Cir. 2009). Once the
employer demonstrates that the qualification standard at issue is job-related and
consistent with business necessity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to offer a
reasonable accommodation that would allow him to satisfy that standard. Allmond,
558 F.3d at 1317 (citing Moses v. Am. Nonwovens, Inc., 97 F.3d 446, 447 (11th Cir.
1996) (“The employee retains at all times the burden of persuading the jury . . . that
reasonable accommodations were available.”)).
To show that a qualification is job related, “the employer must
demonstrate that the qualification standard is necessary and related to the ‘specific
skills and physical requirements of the sought-after position.’” Atkins, 677 F.3d at
682; see Allmond, 558 F.3d at 1317 (noting that job-relatedness “is used in analyzing
the questions or subject matter contained in a test or criteria used by an employer in
making hiring or promotional decisions”). To show that the qualification is a
business necessity, the employer must demonstrate that a business reason makes
necessary the use of a test or criteria in hiring or promotional decision making. See
Atkins, 677 F.3d at 682; see also Allmond, 558 F.3d at 1317.
In assessing whether a safety-based qualification standard meets the
business necessity defense, the Third Circuit has instructed that the factfinder must
determine whether the qualification is reasonable. Verzeni, 109 F. App’x at 493.
To be reasonable, it must be “well informed in the light of current objective medical
knowledge considering the medically accurate nature of the risk, the duration of the
risk, the severity of the risk, and the probabilities that the disability will cause harm.”
Id.; see School Board of Nassau Cnty. v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 279 (1987)
(establishing this four factor analysis in the context of the direct threat defense). In
evaluating these factors, the court should take into account that the “acceptable
probability of an incident will vary with the potential hazard posed by the particular
position: a probability that might be tolerable in an ordinary job might be intolerable
for a position involving atomic reactors.” Atkins, 677 F.3d at 682 (quoting E.E.O.C.
v. Exxon Corp., 203 F.3d 871, 875 (5th Cir. 2000). In other words, “the probability
of the occurrence is discounted by the magnitude of its consequences.” Id.
However, the qualification must not be based on “unfounded fears,” but rather only
on “medically accurate facts” about the disability and “on the real risks that the
disability may present.” Verzeni, 109 F. App’x at 491-92. “Even an employer’s
good faith actions will not save [it] if the employer is misinformed about the realities
of the disability.” Id.
In the matter sub judice, Defendant asserts that its medical guideline
requiring a diabetic’s condition “to be under good control and stable” meets both
criteria of the business necessity defense. First, Defendant argues that the guideline
is job-related for the conductor position because it is designed to ensure that
individuals employed in safety-sensitive positions, such as that of conductor, are
physically able to perform the essential duties of the position and that their
performance does not constitute a threat to the health and well being of themselves,
fellow railroad employees, or the public. (See Doc. 26, p. 15 of 34.) A conductor’s
safety-sensitive duties include controlling track switches, monitoring the train’s air
pressure and track conditions, communicating railroad signals to other crew
members, moving rail cars, and mounting and dismounting equipment. (Id. at p. 18
of 34.) In addition, trains for which a conductor is responsible may be one mile in
length, weigh up to 200 tons, hit speeds of sixty miles per hour, and transport
hazardous or combustible materials through populated areas. (Id.) Consequently, a
conductor must be able to maintain alertness, concentration, focus, and situational
Thus, Defendant argues that the medical guideline under which
Plaintiff’s job offer was rescinded is congruent with Defendant’s legitimate concern
for ensuring the safety of the public and its employees, focusing on the propensity of
uncontrolled diabetes to adversely effect an individual’s vision and concentration
and cause other complications, such as hypoglycemic episodes. (See id. at pp. 15-19
of 34.) Such symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes are impediments to safely
performing the work of a conductor, and, therefore, according to Defendant, it is
clear that the medical guideline’s focus on uncontrolled diabetes was “related to the
specific skills and requirements” of being a conductor. (Id.)
Next, Defendant asserts that the medical guideline also substantially
promoted Defendant’s needs consistent with business necessity because it is a safetybased qualification designed to protect the public. (Id. at p. 16 of 34 (citing Atkins,
677 F.3d at 683).) Defendant elaborates that, even if an individual has never
experienced a complication from uncontrolled diabetes, the possibility of its
occurrence is always present and inherently dangerous when the individual is
employed in a safety-sensitive position (see id. at pp. 16-17 of 34), as “even a
momentary lapse of attention or distraction . . . may result in serious harm to the
[employee], [a] coworker, or the public” (Doc. 26, p. 15 of 26). Consequently,
Defendant contends that implementing its medical guideline in an effort to prevent
future harm was proper because an employer is not required to wait until after a
catastrophe occurs to take action. (Doc. 26 at p. 24 of 26 (citing Atkins, 677 F.3d at
683).) Moreover, the conductor position is among the various railroad positions that
courts have universally recognized as safety-sensitive, affecting not only the
conductor’s own safety but also that of his coworkers and the public, (Doc. 26, p. 17
of 34 (citing Skinner v. Railway Labor Exec. Ass’n, 489 US. 602, 621 (1989))), and
courts routinely grant summary judgment to an employer asserting that a safetybased qualification standard was justified by business necessity when, like here,
public safety is implicated (Doc. 26, pp. 10-11 of 34 (citing, inter alia, Atkins, 677
F.3d 667 and Allmond, 558 F.3d at 1318)).
While there is factual support for Defendant’s formulation of a safetybased qualification guideline for applicants with uncontrolled Type I insulin
dependent diabetes due to the potential risk that such an individual could pose in a
safety-sensitive position, Defendant has failed to put forth into evidence the
guideline itself, instead relying on the declaration and deposition testimony of Dr.
Prible. Not only does the absence of the guideline create gaps in the court’s analysis
of Defendant’s business necessity defense since such a defense inherently rests on
the reasonableness of the guideline itself, it also calls into question the actual content
of the guideline. Defendant represents that the “guideline is for an individual’s
diabetes to be under good control and stable” (Doc. 26, p. 15 of 34), and, consistent
with that representation, Dr. Prible states in his declaration that “the medical
department evaluates all [applicants] with Type I insulin dependent diabetes for,
among other things, control, stability and any complications.” (Prible Decl., ¶ 6.)
However, Dr. Prible also references additional “guidelines” in his declaration,
including Defendant’s preference for diabetic applicants to have HgA1C levels
below 9 and blood sugar levels consistently below 200. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-9.) Although a
guideline encompassing each of these requirements may be permissible under the
ADA, the guideline’s notable absence from the record is troublesome to the court,
especially light of Defendant’s argument that the guideline is dispositive of its
motion. Considering Defendant carries the burden of proving its affirmative defense,
the court cannot grant summary judgment with certainty based on a policy that it has
been unable to review because it is not in the record.
Direct Threat Defense
In addition to the business necessity defense, Defendant also asserts a
direct threat defense to Plaintiff’s claims of discrimination. Both defenses are very
similar in nature and “do not present hurdles that comparatively are inevitably higher
or lower but rather require different types of proof. See E.E.O.C., 203 F.3d at 875.
Business necessity focuses on the pertinent qualification standard, assessing whether
it can be justified by an across-the-board requirement for all employees. Id. In
contrast, direct threat focuses on the individual employee, examining the specific risk
posed by his or her disability. Id. (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r)).
A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk of substantial harm to
the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced
by reasonable accommodation.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r); 42 U.S.C. § 12111(3). The
key inquiry when considering whether an applicant or employee poses a direct threat
is “not . . . whether a risk exists, but whether it is significant.” Bragdon v. Abbott,
524 U.S. 624, 641 (1998). An employer’s determination that an applicant or
employee poses a direct threat must be based on “a reasonable medical judgment that
relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or the best available objective
evidence and upon an individualized assessment of the individual’s present ability to
safely perform the essential functions of the position.” Chevron ,536 U.S. at 86. A
court considering the presence of a direct threat must take into account specific
characteristics of the harm allegedly posed by the individual with a disability,
including: (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature and severity of the potential
harm; (3) the likelihood that potential harm will occur; and (4) the imminence of
potential harm. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r); Arline, 480 U.S. at 279. The defendant bears
the burden of proving that the plaintiff posed a direct threat. Chevron, 536 U.S. at
78. In light of these considerations, the court concludes that a genuine issue of
triable fact exists as to whether Plaintiff’s physical condition presents a significant
risk of substantial harm to himself and others.
Direct Threat Analysis
First, with respect to the question of the duration of the risk, Defendant
submits that the objective evidence shows the risk Plaintiff posed was permanent,
and cites to Dr. Caruso’s November 19, 2010 letter stating that Plaintiff experienced
one to two hypoglycemic episodes each month (Caruso Dep. at p. 122 of 123), and
Dr. Caruso’s testimony that Plaintiff’s diabetes was poorly controlled at best (Id. at
p. 72 of 123). Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that he has never had any
symptoms of severe hypoglycemia and, while he occasionally experiences mild
hypoglycemia at night, he is able to recognize the event and treat it promptly. (See
id. at p. 118 of 123.) In essence, he argues that the risk is of short duration, if any.
(See Doc. 29, p. 11 of 27.) Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to
Plaintiff, the court concludes that a reasonable trier of fact could find that the
duration of any risk would not be significant.
With respect to the second factor under the direct threat analysis, i.e.,
the nature and severity of the harm, Defendant argues that, due to the safety-sensitive
nature of a conductor’s job duties, the severity of potential harm includes bodily
injury or death. (Prible Decl., ¶¶ 17-19; Doc. 28-3, p. 117 of 123.) Indeed, as the
Supreme Court recognized in upholding drug testing for freight train employees:
“Employees subject to the tests discharge duties fraught with such risks of injury to
others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.”
Skinner, 489 U.S. at 628. In this regard, Plaintiff agrees that the potential harm could
be severe. (Doc. 29, p. 12.) Thus, the second factor is undisputed.
Defendant, however, has not established the third factor in the analysis,
the likelihood of the potential harm. Defendant argues that, while the potential harm
cannot be determined with mathematical certainty, the risk is real, pointing to
Plaintiff’s deposition testimony that he has experienced shakiness, increased heart
rate, and anxiousness as a result of his diabetes. (See Bender Dep. at p. 63.) On the
other hand, Plaintiff asserts that he has never experienced confusion, disorientation,
unconsciousness, or dizziness during a hypoglycemic episode and that it only takes
him one minute or less to treat the event with glucose. (Id. at p. 61.) Defendant
contends that the shift in focus to obtain glucose could cause an accident even if
Plaintiff is able to access the supplementation immediately and if it would quickly
eliminate his symptoms. In addition, Dr. Caruso admitted that Plaintiff would not be
able to access the glucose if he was holding on to the side of a train. (Caruso Dep. at
pp. 46-47.) Drawing all inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, the court cannot conclude
that a momentary distraction to obtain glucose supplementation or the mild
symptoms Plaintiff occasionally experiences as a result of his diabetes rise to the
level of a significant risk of harm. In fact, in light of the evidence of record, a
reasonable jury could conclude that the likelihood of the harm that Defendant fears is
For similar reasons, the court finds little evidence to support
Defendant’s contention that Plaintiff posed an imminent threat of harm. Defendant
submits that the risk of harm was imminent based upon Dr. Caruso’s written
statement that Plaintiff experienced two hypoglycemic episodes each month (Caruso
Dep. at p. 122 of 123), and her deposition testimony that an inability to eat on a
regular basis combined with physical exertion increases the risk of a hypoglycemic
event. (Caruso Dep. at pp. 14-15.) This evidence, without more, is insufficient to
meet Defendant’s burden at this stage. Given the relatively mild symptoms Plaintiff
experiences when he has a hypoglycemic episode and his ability to control such
episodes (Bender Dep. pp. 61-63), the evidence does not suggest that the risk of
injury was sufficiently likely to occur. Consequently, a reasonable jury could
conclude that the imminence of potential harm was insignificant.
In opposing Defendant’s direct threat defense, Plaintiff also argues that
an issue of fact exists about whether Defendant conducted a sufficiently
individualized assessment of Plaintiff’s diabetic condition and his ability to perform
the essential functions of the conductor position that was supported by objective,
medical evidence, or whether its assessment was based on stereotypes and
insufficient data, and relied too heavily on its medical guidelines. Plaintiff argues
that, had Defendant engaged in the proper assessment, it would have determined that
Plaintiff could safely perform the essential functions of the position. Defendant
argues that Dr. Prible completed his due diligence in making his recommendation
based on a comprehensive, individualized assessment of Plaintiff’s ability to work in
a safety-sensitive environment in accordance with his knowledge of the essential
functions of the conductor position and the standard of care.
The rescission of a conditional job offer due to the failure to meet the
requirements of Defendant’s guidelines must be based on an individualized
assessment of the objective evidence that an applicant’s impairments affected his
ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job. Chevron, 536 U.S. at 86.
Indeed, it is only through a proper individualized assessment that an employer can
show that the applicant would pose a significant risk of substantial harm in the
safety-sensitive position. A question of fact, however, exists regarding whether a
proper individualized assessment was conducted here.
It is clear from the record that Defendant did individualize its inquiry to
some extent and did not simply rely upon an absolute “anti-diabetes” rule. Instead, it
had Plaintiff submit to a medical examination and, based on the results of that
examination, asked Plaintiff to submit a written statement from Plaintiff’s physician
indicating the current status of his diabetes and asked Plaintiff to provide a daily
monitoring log of his glucose levels. (Caruso Dep. pp. 115-16.) In addition, after
receiving Dr. Caruso’s written statement, Defendant sought clarification of the
frequency of Plaintiff’s hypoglycemic episodes and Dr. Caruso’s use of the phrase,
“regular meals.” (Id.) Based on the information it collected during this inquiry,
Defendant concluded that Plaintiff was not medically qualified to safely perform the
duties of the conductor position. While these facts do show that Defendant
performed an individual inquiry, a question remains as to whether Defendant relied
too heavily on certain general standards contained within its medical guidelines,
disputably running afoul of the ADA’s requirement for individualized assessment,
and whether it was required to make a more detailed and individualized inquiry into
Plaintiff’s individual circumstances, in effect deciding whether it might be safe to
permit him to work in a safety-sensitive position given the actual effects the
condition had on Plaintiff and his real ability to perform the job. In this regard,
Plaintiff has presented evidence showing that he poses little risk of a hypoglycemic
episode or other adverse effects from his diabetes, and has shown that he has never
had a severe hypoglycemic episode. While the law does not require Defendant to put
the lives of its employees or the public at risk by taking a chance that Plaintiff will
not experience a hypoglycemic episode on the job, it does require NSRC to make an
informed individualized determination about the disability’s effects on the particular
employee. See Taylor v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., 177 F.3d 180, 193 (3d Cir. 1999)
(finding that it is the employer’s burden to educate itself about the varying nature of
an impairment and to make an individualized determination about an affected
employee); Britting v. Shineski, Civ. A. No. 08-1747, 2010 WL 500442, * 6 (M.D.
Pa. Feb. 5, 2010) (“When an impairment is the type whose symptoms will vary
greatly from person to person, [an employer] must engage in an individualized
assessment of the effect of the impairment” in the employee or applicant’s own
experience) (citing Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 199 (2002)).
Thus, the court finds that a reasonable jury could conclude that NSRC failed to
perform the kind of individual assessment envisioned by the ADA.
For these reasons, the court concludes that there exists a genuine issue
of material fact with regard to Defendant’s affirmative defenses. Thus, the court will
deny Defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s discrimination
Failure to Accommodate Claim
In addition to his discrimination claim, Plaintiff asserts a failure to
accommodate claim, wherein he alleges that Defendant did not offer or attempt to
engage in an interactive process with him to determine how it could accommodate
his condition, and refused to grant Plaintiff reasonable accommodations for his
disability in violation of the ADA. (Doc. 13, ¶ 24.) More specifically, Plaintiff
asserts that Defendant refused to accommodate the restriction Dr. Caruso placed on
Plaintiff’s employment, i.e., that he eat three regularly scheduled meals each day and
have access to his glucose supplementation tablets. (See Caruso Dep., pp. 15, 118 of
123.) Defendant contends that the requested accommodation is not reasonable in the
railroad environment and that, even if providing such an accommodation was
reasonable, it would not eliminate the risk Plaintiff presented and would impose an
undue hardship on Defendant and its employees. (Doc. 26, p. 27 of 34.)
An employer must “mak[e] reasonable accommodations to the known
physical or mental limitations of the individual unless the [employer] can
demonstrate that the accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the
operation of the business of the [employer].” Turner v. Hershey Chocolate U.S., 440
F.3d 604, 614 (3rd Cir. 2006) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A)). “Reasonable
accommodations” include measures such as “job restructuring, part-time or modified
work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of
equipment or devices, . . . and other similar accommodations for individuals with
disabilities.” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)).
The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is subject to certain
limitations. For instance, the ADA does not require an employer to create a new
position in order to accommodate an employee with a disability, or to transform a
temporary light duty position into a permanent position. Id. at 614. Relevant here,
an employer is not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would pose
a “direct threat” to the safety of the applicant or others or, if doing so, would conflict
with seniority rules. Id. (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.15(b)(2) and U.S. Airways, Inc. v.
Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002)).
The issue of reasonable accommodation is a question for the trier of
fact. Id. In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding the
reasonableness of the requested accommodation, the court must first examine
whether the plaintiff has made a prima facie showing that his proposed
accommodation is possible. Id. If he has done so, the burden then shifts to the
defendant to prove, as an affirmative defense, that the accommodation requested by
the plaintiff is unreasonable or would cause undue hardship. Id.
Plaintiff has satisfied his initial burden because his proposed
accommodation appears practical. Specifically, Dr. Caruso required Plaintiff to eat
three meals at regularly scheduled times each day, an accommodation that appears
possible. The burden thus shifts to Defendant to demonstrate that the
accommodation is unreasonable or would cause undue hardship.
First, Defendant argues that, pursuant to Defendant’s seniority rules,
Plaintiff’s work schedule would be “totally erratic and unpredictable” and often too
intense to provide time to eat. (Doc. 26, p. 21.) The record in this regard is not well
developed. In light of the basic human necessity to eat, especially in the context of a
physically demanding job where safety considerations require its employees to
maintain “alertness, concentration, [and] focus” (Doc. 26, p. 12), the court finds
Defendant’s argument unavailing. The court must assume that Defendant’s
employees working twelve hour shifts are able to eat, and Plaintiff has presented
witness testimony to support this assumption. (See Heiney Decl. at ¶¶ 6-7, 15-16.)
Whether Defendant could reasonably accommodate Plaintiff’s need to eat at
regularly scheduled times each day is a question for the trier of fact.
In this regard, the court notes that Defendant’s argument assumes that
Plaintiff must sit down to a time consuming meal to comply with Dr. Caruso’s
requirements. (See Doc. 26, pp. 27-28.) However, to accommodate Plaintiff,
Defendant need not polish the silver; rather, providing Plaintiff the brief opportunity
to consume something to bring his glucose levels to normal would be sufficient.
Indeed, to maintain his glucose levels, Dr. Caruso testified that Plaintiff would only
need to eat sixty grams of carbohydrates, an amount which can be found in a half a
bottle of Mountain Dew or in a Snickers bar. (Caruso Dep., pp. 47-48, 82.) A
reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant’s refusal to accommodate Dr.
Caruso’s restriction was unreasonable given that its employees must find time to eat,
whether at a table or on the go.
In addition, to the extent Defendant was concerned it could not
appropriately accommodate Plaintiff, Defendant had a duty under the ADA to
engage in an “interactive process” of communication with Plaintiff wherein both
parties “assist in the search for appropriate reasonable accommodation and to act in
good faith.” Mengine v. Runyon, 114 F.3d 415, 420 (3d Cir. 1997) (discussing the
duty in the context of the Rehabilitation Act); Williams v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth.
Police Dep., 380 F.3d 751, 771 (3d Cir. 2004); see also 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3)
(“To determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation it may be necessary for
the [employer] to initiate an informal, interactive process with the individual with a
disability in need of the accommodation. This process should identify the precise
limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations
that could overcome those limitations.”). A plaintiff can demonstrate that an
employer breached its duty to provide reasonable accommodations because it failed
to engage in good faith in the interactive process by showing that: (1) the employer
knew of the plaintiff’s disability; (2) the plaintiff requested accommodations or
assistance for his or her disability; (3) the employer did not make a good faith effort
to assist the plaintiff in seeking accommodations; and (4) the employee could have
been reasonably accommodated but for the employer’s lack of good faith. Williams,
380 F.3d at 772 (quoting Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 319-320).
In the instant matter, it is undisputed that Defendant knew of Plaintiff’s
disability and Dr. Caruso’s restriction on Plaintiff’s employment. As discussed
above, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Defendant’s decision not to
accommodate Plaintiff’s need for regularly scheduled meals was not made in good
faith and that Plaintiff could have been reasonably accommodated but for
Defendant’s lack of good faith. Thus, a material dispute of fact exists as to whether
Defendant failed to engage in good faith in the interactive process, thereby failing to
reasonably accommodate Plaintiff.
In the alternative, Defendant argues that the proposed accommodation
nevertheless fails to eliminate the risk presented by Plaintiff’s uncontrolled diabetes.
As discussed above, a genuine issue of fact exists as to whether Plaintiff’s condition
did, in fact, pose a risk of harm.
Finally, Defendant contends that the accommodation, even if reasonable,
would impose an undue hardship on Defendant’s business operations and Plaintiff’s
coworkers. An undue hardship may result when an accommodation would be
disruptive to the business or the ability of other employees’ to work.
See Milton v.
Scrivner, Inc., 53 F.3d 1118, 1125 (10th Cir. 1995) (“An accommodation that would
result in other employees having to work harder or longer hours is not required.”).
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s meal breaks would result in the work stopping for
Plaintiff and his coworkers; otherwise, his coworkers would have to cover his
responsibilities or his work would be delayed while he ate. (Doc. 26, p. 29 of 34.)
Defendant has offered little evidence to support this contention (see Doc. 26, p. 29 of
34 and Doc. 28, ¶¶ 28-29, 33, 35), and thus it has not met its burden of proving
undue hardship. Moreover, consuming the carbohydrates necessary to stabilize his
glucose levels would take no more time that using the restroom, a type of break for
which employees cover. Thus, there remains a genuine issue of material fact
regarding whether the accommodation would place an undue hardship on
Accordingly, the court finds that genuine issues of material fact exist as
to whether Defendant denied the employment opportunity to Plaintiff based on the
need to make reasonable accommodation in accordance with Plaintiff’s treating
physician’s instructions, in violation of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(5)(B).
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that there are genuine issues of
material fact remaining as to Plaintiff’s discrimination and failure to accommodate
claims against Defendant. Therefore, the court will deny Defendant’s motion for
An appropriate order will issue.
s/Sylvia H. Rambo
United States District Judge
Dated: January 14, 2014.
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