Hamilton v. Alston Wilkes Society

Filing 57

ORDER RULING ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS adopting 52 Report and Recommendations, granting defendant's 35 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Honorable Joseph F Anderson, Jr on 03/20/09. (bshr, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA C O L U M B IA DIVISION S a n d ra J. Hamilton, ) ) P l a in tif f , ) ) v. ) ) A ls to n Wilkes Society, ) ) D e f e n d a n t. ) ___________________________ ) C / A No. 3:07-3404-JFA O R D E R ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT T h is matter is before the court for review of the magistrate judge's report and re c o m m e n d a tio n in accordance with 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) (West 2006) and L o c a l Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) (D.S.C.). As the jurisprudence in this district outlines: T h e magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the Court, to which any p a rty may file written objections . . . . The Court is not bound by the re c o m m e n d a tio n of the magistrate judge but, instead, retains responsibility for t h e final determination. The Court is required to make a de novo d e te rm in a tio n of those portions of the report or specified findings or re c o m m e n d a tio n as to which an objection is made. However, the Court is not re q u ire d to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal c o n c lu s io n s of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the report and re c o m m e n d a tio n to which no objections are addressed. While the level of s c ru tin y entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends on whether o r not objections have been filed, in either case the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify any of the magistrate judge's findings or r e c o m m e n d a tio n s . W a lla c e v. Housing Auth. of the City of Columbia, 791 F. Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (citatio n s omitted). T h is is an employment discrimination case in which plaintiff Sandra J. Hamilton (" H a m ilto n " ) alleges that her former employer, defendant Alston Wilkes Society ("Alston W ilk e s" ), fired her because she was disabled. The magistrate's report and recommendation d e a ls with a motion for summary judgment filed by Alston Wilkes, see [dkt. # 35], in which A l s to n Wilkes argued that Hamilton did not have a disability and could not make a prima fa c ie case of discrimination. The magistrate recommended that Alston Wilkes' motion be g r a n te d , and for the reasons that follow, the court agrees. A ls to n Wilkes is a non-profit organization that assists persons who have been c o n v ic te d of a crime with the transition from incarceration back into society. One of the se rv ice s Alston Wilkes provides is assistance to former inmates searching for employment. T h is leads to Hamilton's involvement with Alston Wilkes. In 2005, she applied with Alston W ilk e s for the position of "Employment Services Coordinator." Alston Wilkes hired H a m ilto n shortly thereafter. During the hiring process, Hamilton informed Alston Wilkes that she has Multiple S c le r o s is . Hamilton alleges that her condition does not inhibit her activities in any way so lo n g as she is not exposed to extreme heat. T h e scope of services Alston Wilkes provides is governed in large part by Alston W ilk e s' contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). That contract, titled a " S tat e m e n t of Work," has a great deal to say about the staff positions required at a facility c o n tra c tin g with the BOP and the duties of those staff positions. BOP conducted a random a u d it of Alston Wilkes shortly after Hamilton's employment began, and BOP thereafter in f o rm e d Alston Wilkes of some deficiencies in Alston Wilkes' compliance with 2 re q u ire m e n ts relating to employment services. Specifically, BOP informed that Alston W ilk e s was not conducting person-to-person contact with former inmates who were under in-h o m e confinement as required by the Statement of Work. Such visits were Hamilton's re sp o n s ib ility. Hamilton contended that she did not know, prior to the audit, that the re sp o n s ib ility for these visits were hers, and this does not appear to be disputed. Hamilton th e n had what she refers to as a "flare-up" of her Multiple Sclerosis which caused her to be a b se n t from work for nine days in September of 2005 and to have to leave work after only a couple of hours on another day. A representative from Alston Wilkes phoned Hamilton sh o rtly thereafter and informed her that Alston Wilkes was terminating her employment. H am ilto n filed a charge of discrimination with the South Carolina Human Affairs C o m m is s io n and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and after both a g e n cie s declined to pursue the charge, Hamilton initiated this lawsuit. Alston Wilkes th e re a fte r filed a motion for summary judgment in which it advanced three bases entitling it to judgment as a matter of law. First, Alston Wilkes argued that Hamilton is not disabled w ith in the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This argument rests on the fact (a ) that although Hamilton's diagnosis of her Multiple Sclerosis is permanent, the negative e f f e c ts of Hamilton's condition is only temporary; (b) that Hamilton is not limited in any m a jo r life activity; and (c) that Hamilton has not shown an inability to work a broad class of jo b s . Second, Alston Wilkes argued that Hamilton could not establish a prima facie case of d is c rim in a tio n . This argument relies on the fact that Hamilton could not perform the 3 e ss e n tia l functions of her job, that she was not performing her job at the level of Alston W ilk e s' expectations, and that Hamilton's termination did not raise a reasonable inference o f discrimination. Third, Alston Wilkes argued that Hamilton was terminated for her failure to perform the duties related to her work -- a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. In his report and recommendation, the magistrate agreed with each of these arguments a n d found that each argument independently entitled Alston Wilkes to summary judgment. S e e [dkt. # 52]. Hamilton filed objections to the magistrate's report and recommendation, s e e [dkt. # 54], and those objections all go along the line of arguing that Alston Wilkes knew w h a t it was getting when it hired Hamilton. Hamilton specifically argues that there is a d i s p u t e regarding the depth in which she and the Alston Wilkes interviewer discussed her m e d ic a l condition in her job interview; that the handwriting indicating "N/A" by the medical a c c o m m o d a tio n s section of Hamilton's application is not hers; that Hamilton does not recall re c eiv in g the job orientation sheet spelling out the essential duties of the position for which s h e was hired; and that Alston Wilkes should perhaps not have hired Hamilton given her lim itatio n s and the needs of the employment services position. None of these arguments are p e rs u a siv e . T h e re is no material dispute about the requirements of the employment services p o s itio n at Alston Wilkes. Alston Wilkes' contract with the BOP spells them out and those re q u ire m e n ts are echoed in the audit report furnished to Alston Wilkes by the BOP. The fact th a t both Hamilton and Alston Wilkes may have misunderstood the requirements of the BOP 4 c o n tra c t does not mean those requirements do not govern the job Hamilton held. Hamilton a c k n o w le d g e d having received, read, and understood her job description. That she may have g e n u in e ly misunderstood part of it for a time is irrelevant. S im ila rly, Hamilton's arguments about not recalling having marked "N/A" for ac co m m o d atio n s required, about previous allowances Alston Wilkes made for Hamilton's c o n d itio n , and about whether Hamilton should have even been hired are not persuasive. As H am ilton points out, an employer need not reallocate the essential functions of a job. Part o f the essential function of the job Hamilton held was to regularly travel to interact with in d iv id u a ls in their homes and workplaces, and Hamilton has presented evidence that she c a n n o t perform these duties during the hot summer months. Indeed, Hamilton has testified th a t during certain hot weather, she cannot go from her vehicle to her office or walk from her o f f ic e to her vehicle. See [dkt. 43-3, p.90]. Alston Wilkes and the BOP cannot be required to so change the nature of the employment services coordinator position that for the hot m o n th s of the year, Hamilton's travel duties must be handled exclusively by other employees. W ith these limited additions, the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge is incorporated herein by reference and adopted as the order of this court. The objections are o v e rr u le d , and the pending motion for summary judgment is granted. IT IS SO ORDERED. M arc h 20, 2009 C o lu m b ia , South Carolina J o s e p h F. Anderson, Jr. U n ite d States District Judge 5

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