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Hollingsworth v. O'Reilly Automotive Stores, Inc.

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

January 30, 2015

BILLY HOLLINGSWORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
O'REILLY AUTOMOTIVE STORES, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This case is before the court on Defendant O'Reilly Automotive Stores, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 21). Petitioner Billy Hollingsworth brings three separate claims in this suit. (Doc. 1). First, Hollingsworth claims that O'Reilly discriminated against him on the basis of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"). Second, Hollingsworth claims that O'Reilly discriminated against him on the basis of his disability and denied him reasonable accommodation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Finally, Hollingsworth claims that O'Reilly subjected him to a hostile work environment in violation of the ADA and ADEA.

For the reasons discussed below, the court will GRANT O'Reilly's motion for summary judgment as to the ADEA and ADA disparate treatment claims, and the ADEA and ADA hostile work environment claim. The court will DENY O'Reilly's motion for summary judgment as to the ADA failure to accommodate claim.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is an integral part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must "view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, " to determine whether the nonmoving party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). The moving party need not present evidence in a form admissible at trial; "however, he may not merely rest on [the] pleadings." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. If the evidence is "merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). The court must refrain from weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations, because these decisions fall to the province of the jury. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins. Co., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000); Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). "Even if a district court believes that the evidence presented by one side is of doubtful veracity, it is not proper to grant summary judgment on the basis of credibility choices.'" Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach, 707 F.3d 1244, 1252 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Miller v. Harget, 458 F.3d 1251, 1256 (11th Cir. 2006)). The court should not disregard self-serving statements made in sworn testimony simply because they are self-serving at the summary judgment stage, and if the self-serving statements create a genuine issue of material fact, the court should deny summary judgment on that basis. Id. at 1253.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

Hollingsworth is a fifty-six year old man. As a teenager, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with a curved spine, an immobile right hip joint, and one leg that is several inches shorter than the other. As a result of his injuries, Hollingsworth now walks with a noticeable limp.

In July of 2007, O'Reilly hired Hollingsworth to work as a "Parts Specialist" at O'Reilly's Store 1312 in Arab, Alabama. In the Fall of 2008, Hollingsworth transferred to a Delivery Specialist position, which required that he be able to lift and carry items weighing up to sixty pounds without assistance and perform "team lifts" of items weighing sixty-one pounds or greater. Although the delivery specialist job description provided that items weighing greater than sixty pounds would be moved using "team lifts, " Hollingsworth was frequently required to lift and carry items weighing in excess of sixty pounds without assistance. Additionally, even when he requested assistance, other employees would refuse to help.

During his time as a delivery specialist, Hollingsworth informed the manager of store 1312, Donnie Reliford, [1] that lifting the heavy items was hurting his back and hip. He also complained that the other delivery specialist, James Casey, was allowed to play on his phone instead of making deliveries. Hollingsworth explained to Reliford that he was lifting a disproportionate number of heavy items because Casey was not performing his work obligations and asked Reliford to have Casey or one of the other employees assist him in lifting heavier items. In response, Reliford told Hollingsworth that if he could not perform the work, then Reliford would find someone who could. In addition to complaining to Reliford, Hollingsworth called the O'Reilly HR department on two separate occasions to complain about Casey and the uneven distribution of work. Hollingsworth did not speak to an HR representative either time but left a voice message.

Reliford failed to take any steps to insure that Hollingsworth received assistance lifting heavy items, and Hollingsworth never received a return call from anyone in the HR department.

Evidence supporting Hollingsworth's hostile work environment claim

During his employment, Hollingsworth was occasionally called "gimpy" or "crip" by some of the other employees, including two assistant managers. Hollingsworth also testified that on five to ten occasions Reliford called him "old man" and told him "I don't know why don't just you [sic] go home and draw a check, you know, instead of coming over here." (Doc. 23-1, p. 51-52).

Hollingsworth's termination

On July 20, 2012, O'Reilly terminated Hollingsworth for violating O'Reilly's cell phone policy, which provides that "[c]ell phones... are not permitted in the passenger compartment of delivery vehicles." (Doc. 29). A driver does not need to use the phone to violate the policy; simply having the phone in the passenger compartment is a violation. Although O'Reilly has no written discipline policy, Human Resources Manager Farlon Williams testified that the first time an employee violates the cell phone policy he is issued a "first and final warning." An employee who violates the policy a second time is terminated.

In January of 2012, an O'Reilly employee saw Hollingsworth talking on his cell phone while driving a company vehicle. Based on this report, District Manager Bo Waldrop issued Hollingsworth his first and final warning. (Doc. 23-1). In June of 2012, Waldrop saw Hollingsworth driving with a cell phone and informed Human Resource Manager Williams. Williams told Waldrop that he would not terminate Hollingsworth at that time because Waldrop had not confronted Hollingsworth about the violation.

On July 17, 2012, Daniel Pierce, a store manager of a nearby O'Reilly's store, spent the day helping Reliford catch up on paperwork at Store 1312 in Arab. On his way home from Arab, Pierce saw Hollingsworth with his hand up to his ear while driving a company vehicle. Pierce called Reliford and informed Reliford that he had seen Hollingsworth talking on his cell phone. Reliford told Pierce that he should inform District Manager Waldrop of what he had seen. (Doc. 23-2). The next morning, July 18, 2012, Pierce spoke with Waldrop, who told Pierce to send him an e-mail regarding what Peirce had witnessed. (Doc. 23-10; Doc. 23-6). Pierce sent the following e-mail to Waldrop on July 18, 2012:

Yesterday I was working at store 1312 Arab. When I left the Arab store headed North on Hwy. 231 I looked over seen [sic] Billy in a delivery truck driving beside me. [sic] in front of Tractor Supply. I threw up my hand to wave at him and I noticed he did not wave back I looked again and saw that he had his cell phone to his ear and was talking on the phone. When Billy was confronted about it when he got back to the store, he denied it. He stated that he wasn't on the phone and didn't know what I was talking about. He was given notice that Bo Waldrop, the DM, would be notified.

(Doc. 23-2, p. 162).

Upon receiving the e-mail, Waldrop forwarded Pierce's statement to Human Resources Manager Williams. Waldrop also sent Williams a statement made by Reliford that he and two employees saw a phone charger plugged into Hollingsworth's company vehicle. (Doc. 23-2). After reviewing the evidence, Williams consulted the corporate Team Member Relations Department and then approved Hollingsworth's termination. (Doc. 23-5).

On July 20, 2012, Reliford and Waldrop met Hollingsworth in the parking lot behind the O'Reilly's store and informed Hollingsworth that he was being terminated for violating O'Reilly's cell phone policy. That same day, Hollingsworth's wife, Kim Hollingsworth, had driven to the O'Reilly store to meet Hollingsworth for lunch, and she recorded part of the termination proceeding on her Ipad. In the video, another delivery driver, Mike Casey, can be seen walking from his delivery vehicle with an object that appears to be a cell phone clipped to his shorts pocket. Casey appears in the video a second time, walking back to his delivery vehicle and driving away. Neither Reliford nor Waldrop give any indication that they saw Casey carrying the cell phone, and Waldrop later declared that he did not see the phone on Casey's hip.[2] (Doc. 30, Doc. 23-3).

On September 18, 2012, Williams visited the store managed by Pierce. During the visit, Pierce informed Williams that he had not actually seen Hollingsworth speaking on the phone but had only seen Hollingsworth with his hand up to his head like he was talking on a cell phone. (Doc. 23-5). On January 7, 2013, Williams approved the issuance of a first and final warning against Pierce for falsely stating that he saw Hollingsworth on the cell phone while driving a company vehicle. (Doc. 29-6, p. 2).

Additional statements Pierce made in his e-mail to Waldrop were also inaccurate. First, although Pierce claimed that Hollingsworth was "confronted" on July 17, 2012, the record contains no evidence any O'Reilly employee ever confronted him. (Doc. 23-6; Doc. 23-2). Pierce explained in his deposition that he had told Waldrop that Hollingsworth had been confronted because that is what another employee had told him. However, Pierce could not remember from whom he had heard this information. Pierce also falsely stated in his e-mail that "[Hollingsworth] was given notice that Bo Waldrop, the DM, would be notified." Pierce admitted that he never spoke with Hollingsworth after seeing him driving the company vehicle on July 17, 2012. His explanation for this inaccuracy was that what he had meant to say was that he had notified Waldrop.

On November 20, 2012, Hollingsworth filed an EEOC charge against O'Reilly.[3]

In August of 2012, Hollingsworth applied for Social Security Disability Insurance. In his application, Hollingsworth states that he stopped working on July 20, 2012, "because of ...


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