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Turner v. United Parcel Service

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

September 10, 2014

YOLANDA TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILLIAM M. ACKER, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Yolonda Turner ("Turner") brings this action against defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS"), alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. UPS, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, has moved for summary judgment on both of Turner's claims. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons stated below, UPS's motion is due to be granted.

SUMMARY OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

Turner has been a UPS employee since 1990. She has held her current position of Human Resources Supervisor since 2006, in the company's Birmingham-Roebuck location. Her immediate supervisor is Area Human Resources Manager Lonzell Wilson, a male. As a Human Resources Supervisor, Turner is responsible for the human resources needs of four UPS facilities, primarily relating to recruiting, hiring, and employee relations. As listed by UPS, the essential functions of the position include, among others, working in a seated position for "9-10 hours per day, 5 days per week"; reporting to work "on a regular and timely basis"; working "additional hours depending on service needs"; and possessing the cognitive ability to "concentrate, memorize, and recall." (Doc. 19-2 at 11).

Turner suffers from fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, cervical degenerative disc disease, depression, and anxiety. Because of these conditions, UPS approved Turner for intermittent leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because of her continuing health issues, however, Turner approached Lonzell Wilson concerning a permanent change in her schedule, requesting "some flexibility in the morning" start time. (Doc. 19-1 at 164:19-21). Wilson advised Turner that she must submit an ADA accommodation request in order to receive such an accommodation; otherwise, she must continue to use her allotted FMLA leave time.

Pursuant to UPS's ADA protocol, Turner submitted a request for accommodation on June 12, 2012, whereupon UPS requested Turner to submit paperwork from her physician, which she did on July 10, 2012. The Request for Medical Information form, completed by Dr. John Riser (Turner's neurologist), stated that Turner was not currently able to perform all the functions of her position, as defined by the Essential Job Functions list. Specifically, Dr. Riser stated that Turner had difficulty with concentrating and memorizing and recalling information; that she should avoid early morning work hours (as this increased Turner's fibromyalgia symptoms); that she should have significant time for rest and flexible work hours (for doctor's appointments and otherwise); and that she should avoid working long hours. (Doc. 19-2 at 7-9). Dr. Riser also advised that Turner could perform her job duties "within restrictions, " including flexible work hours, time off for appointments, elimination of fluorescent lighting, and the ability to work from home. (Doc. 19-2 at 9).

Upon receiving this information, UPS determined that Turner possibly had a condition qualifying as a disability under the ADA. UPS then scheduled what is known as a "checklist meeting" with Turner. UPS describes the meeting as an opportunity "to review her medical restrictions and discuss potential reasonable accommodations that would enable her to perform the essential functions of her current position or another position at UPS." (Doc. 18 at 7). In reality, the only "discussion" that occurred at the meeting was a reading of the questions and answers on a form that UPS requested Turner to fill out. (Doc. 19-1 at 199:22-24). On the form and during the meeting, Turner reported that fatigue and pain made it difficult to get up in the mornings and that she had difficulty concentrating and remembering things. Turner requested accommodations in the form of a flexible work schedule, time off to attend appointments, elimination of fluorescent lights in her office, periodic rest breaks, and the right to work from home. (Doc. 26-3 at 11, 13).

Based on the checklist meeting, UPS determined that Turner was unable to perform the essential functions of a Human Resources Supervisor or any other available position, [1] either with or without reasonable accommodations. UPS thereupon sent Turner home and told her to apply for short-term disability benefits.

Turner grudgingly began a leave of absence on July 18, 2012. She applied for short-term disability benefits through AETNA, the third-party administrator of UPS's short-term disability program. She was initially denied short-term disability, though her appeal was successful, allowing her to receive benefits for the period of July 18, 2012, to October 17, 2012.[2]

After the initial denial of disability benefits, Turner, on September 21, 2012, filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination based on disability and gender. (Doc. 1-1). She received a "right to sue" letter on February 1, 2013. (Doc. 1-2).

In January of 2013, despite her EEOC complaint, Turner contacted UPS about returning to work. Turner provided UPS with a new Request for Medical Information form that was completed by Turner's rheumatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Perkins. Dr. Perkins stated that Turner was not currently able to perform all of the functions of her position - namely, that Turner was unable to properly concentrate, memorize or recall information, or work more than an eight-hour shift. Dr. Perkins advised that Turner required a daylight shift with a flexible start time, limited to eight hours with a 30-minute break. Starting after 8 am and requiring a flexible work schedule were deemed to be permanent restrictions. (Doc. 26-3 at 40-41).

Following receipt of this form, UPS conducted another checklist meeting with Turner, who once again requested a flexible work schedule, indicating that she could work up to eight hours per day, so long as those hours were between 7 AM and 7 PM. (Doc. 26-3 at 45-48). She also requested to be allowed to work from home. UPS reviewed this information and again determined that Turner was not able to perform the essential functions of the HR Supervisor or any available position, with or without reasonable accommodations. UPS then informed Turner that no positions were available.

On March 8, 2013, after receiving her "right-to-sue" letter but before she filed this suit, Turner submitted a work release form to UPS, completed by Dr. Perkins, indicating that Dr. Perkins had reviewed the essential functions of Turner's position and was releasing her to return to work on March 18. (Doc. 19-2 at 54).

UPS then required Turner to submit to an examination by its doctor, Dr. Michael Cloyd, because previous documents from Dr. Perkins indicated that Turner's restrictions were permanent. Dr. Cloyd examined Turner on March 20, 2013, and initially reported that Turner must avoid fluorescent lighting and prolonged sitting or standing, must work a daytime shift, and must not lift more than 10-20 pounds repetitively. (Doc. 19-5 at 39). After receipt of this report, UPS sought clarification from Drs. Cloyd and Perkins. Dr. Perkins indicated that "decreased exposure to fluorescent lighting in her personal office would be helpful, " and frequent lifting and strenuous movement (stooping, squatting, and climbing stairs) should be avoided, but otherwise Turner could return to work without restrictions. (Doc. 19-5 at 50). Based on this clarification, UPS allowed Turner to return to work as a Human Resources Supervisor, and she did so on April 22, 2013. UPS replaced the lights in her office upon her return but made no other accommodations.

After returning to work, Turner filed suit in this court on May 1, 2013, alleging discrimination based on disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and based on gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is impossible to tell from the pleadings whether Turner is pursuing a claim under a mixed motive theory or under alternative theories. UPS moved for summary judgment on both claims on June 26, 2014.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). The court must "examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, " drawing all inferences in favor of such party. Earl v. Mervyns, Inc., 207 F.3d 1361, 1365 (11th Cir. 2000). "[A] judge's function' at summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam) (quoting Anderson v Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)).

Because the court finds that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and UPS is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on both claims, summary judgment is due to be granted.

A. Turner's ADA Claim

Title I of the ADA prohibits an employer from "discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual on the basis of disability" in any one of a number of employment areas. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (2012). Discrimination is defined to include failing to make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of a qualified individual, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). Thus, in order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, Turner must prove that "(1) [s]he has a disability; (2) [s]he is a qualified individual; and (3) [s]he was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of [her] disability." Holbrook v. City of Alpharetta, 112 F.3d 1522, 1526 (11th Cir. 1997).

UPS does not deny that Turner satisfies the first prong at this stage but challenges Turner's ability to prove the second and third. Because Turner cannot establish that she is a qualified individual under the statute or that UPS ...


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