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Groom v. Army Fleet Support LLC

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

April 18, 2018

TODD GROOM, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Todd Groom, who has a right leg prosthesis following an amputation in 1989, alleges he was wrongfully terminated by his former employer, Defendant Army Fleet Support, LLC, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Family Medical Leave Act, ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (Doc. 1). Before the court is Army Fleet Support, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 31). The matter has been fully briefed. See (Docs. 32-34, 37-40). For the reasons stated herein, it is the RECOMMENDATION of the undersigned that the motion for summary judgment be DENIED


         This court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(4). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds sufficient information of record to support both. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391. On January 5, 2017, the above-styled matter was referred to the undersigned for recommendation on all pretrial matters by United States District Judge Myron H. Thompson. (Doc. 12); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Rule 72, Fed. R. Civ. P.; United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ. of State of Ga., 896 F.2d 507 (11th Cir. 1990).


         "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). However, when faced with a "properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the nonmoving party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations." Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997).

         Summary judgment is mandated "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's ease, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative." Sawyer v. Southwest Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986)).

         ''[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. "Essentially, the inquiry is 'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law."' Sawyer, 243 F.Supp.2d at 1263 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).


         Todd Groom ("Groom") has been a right leg amputee since 1989. (Doc. 37-2 at 13:30-14:17). He began working for Army Fleet Support, LLC ('AFS") as a mechanic in 2008. Id. at 6:16-7:13. While working for AFS, Groom used a prosthetic device on his right leg. Id. at 16:14-20. In late 2014, Groom's prosthesis wore out, and it was recommended he replace it. Id. at 24:1-13. The new prosthesis caused him to develop blisters where the stump of his leg met the device. Id. at 24:22-25:10. It took one to three weeks for the blisters to heal depending on if they became infected. Id. at 42:3-12. Additionally, Groom experienced more phantom right leg pain since getting the new prosthesis. Id. at 25:11-26:1. In November 2014 Groom applied for and went on short-term disability while waiting on his wound to heal. Id. at 27:7-29:20; 41:3-6. AFS records show Groom was on short-term disability from November 24, 2014, until January 19, 2015. (Doe. 33-1 at 36-37). Within a week or so of returning to work from short-term disability, Groom began having the same problems with his leg. Id. at 40:8-21.

         Groom applied for FMLA leave on February 4, 2015, which was approved February 10, 2015. (Doc. 33-1 at 28-29). In conjunction with his request for leave, Groom provided medical certification from his prosthetist, Willis Smitherman, see Id. at 23-26, but he did not review the certification. (Doc. 37-1, ¶2). Groom knew he could take up to 12 weeks per year, but was unaware of any restriction as to how much time he could take off at any given time. Id. The certification by Smitherman stated that Groom "may experience occasional temporary conditions that may require removing the prosthesis for several days for skin conditions." (Doc. 33-1 at 25). According to Smitherman, the frequency of the flare-ups and related incapacity was expected to be one to five days every three months. Id.

         According to AFS records, Groom used 288 hours of FMLA leave from May 2014 until May 2015. Id. at31. Groom was absent from work five times in February 2015, but only one of the days provided a reason of "Family Medical Leave." Id. at 38. Groom was absent fifteen days in March 2015 for "Family Medical Leave." Id. at 38. In April 2015, Groom was out fourteen days due to "Family Medical Leave, " four times for "Employee sick, " and two days for "Personal." Id. Groom had six absences in May identified as "Family Medical Leave, " and thereafter time taken off was noted as "Unauthorized absence." Id. at 38-39. All of Groom's absences in 2015 where he called in requesting FMLA leave was due to blisters on his leg, including the dates of May 11, 12, and 13, see (Doc. 37-1, ¶2), which were listed by AFS as "unauthorized absences" (Doc. 33-1 at 39).

         On a Thursday in early May 2015, Liz Neering in AFS human resources told Groom that he was running out of leave time under FMLA. (Docs. 37-l, ¶3; 37-2 at 53:12-18). Neering never said he exceeded his allotted absences, but rather only told him that he was running out of FMLA. (Doc. 37-1, 13). Groom told Neering he thought he had four weeks of FMLA time left. Id.; see also (Doc. 37-2 at 53:12-18). Neering suggested he go back on disability, but he felt he would be healed up by Monday, May 11, so he told her he did not need to go on short-term disability. (Docs. 37-1, ¶3; 37-2 at 51:1-19, 59:18-61:18, 62:5-63:9). According to Groom, Neering, nor anyone else, ever told him he needed another medical certification or any updated medical information prior to termination. (Doc. 37-1, ¶¶3, 6). Penny Poole, manager of labor relations and benefits for AFS, testified that Neering did not direct Groom to submit new FMLA medical certification. (Doc. 37-3 at 53:13-19).

         On Monday May 11 Groom did not return to work because he developed another blister on his leg over the weekend. (Docs. 37-1, ¶4; 37-2 at 126:6-18). On each day May 11 through May 13, Groom advised his supervisor, via text message, that he would be missing work due to an FMLA issue. (Doc. 37-1, ¶4). On May 14, one of his supervisors sent Groom a text that he needed to contact the union shop steward because Groom could not be put in for FMLA leave effective May 13. Id.; see also (Doc. 37-2 at 58:19-59:5). Groom called and spoke with a union representative who told Groom he needed to attend a meeting. (Docs. ...

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