United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
consolidated employment discrimination cases come before the
court on Defendant Gestamp of Alabama's motions for
summary judgment. (Doc. 25). In his two complaints, which are
based on identical sets of facts, Plaintiff George Brown
charges Gestamp with violations of the Americans With
Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical
Leave Act (“FMLA”). In short, Mr. Brown asserts
that Gestamp wrongfully placed him on unpaid
continuous FMLA leave when he requested only
intermittent FMLA leave.
first complaint, Mr. Brown charges Gestamp with violating the
FMLA by improperly placing him on continuous FMLA leave
instead of intermittent FMLA leave, retaliating against him
for requesting intermittent FMLA leave, and subjecting him to
a hostile work environment that caused him to quit his
position involuntarily. In his second complaint, Mr. Brown
charges Gestamp with failing to accommodate his disability
and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. This court
dismissed Mr. Brown's intentional infliction of emotional
distress claim, but consolidated the two cases because of
their identical parties and facts and because proceeding on
both complaints separately would constitute improper claim
splitting. And because the two cases involve the same facts
and parties, the court will treat Mr. Brown's two sets of
claims as if he brought them in a single complaint. Gestamp
likewise submitted a single motion for summary judgment in
both cases that requests summary judgment in its favor as to
all of Mr. Brown's claims.
discussed in more detail below, the court will DENY
Gestamp's motion as to Mr. Brown's ADA reasonable
accommodation claim and his FMLA interference claim because a
genuine issue of material fact exists about whether Mr. Brown
was “qualified” to continue in his position as a
Materials Handler with Gestamp. The court will likewise DENY
Gestamp's motion for summary judgment as to Mr.
Brown's retaliation claim. The court will GRANT
Gestamp's motion as to Mr. Brown's hostile work
environment/constructive discharge claim. Accordingly, the
court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Gestamp's
motion for summary judgment.
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).
moving party “always bears the initial responsibility
of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,
and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). The moving
party can meet this burden by offering evidence showing no
dispute of material fact or by showing that the non-moving
party's evidence fails to prove an essential element of
its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Id. at 322-23.
the moving party meets its burden of showing the district
court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the
burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to
demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact
that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats
& Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).
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 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254
(1986); Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d
570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). And, all evidence and inferences
drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. Graham v. State
Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir.
operates an automotive component production facility in
McCalla, Alabama. Gestamp hired George Brown as a full-time
“Materials Handler” in 2012. Mr. Brown's
duties included physically moving objects exceeding 10 pounds
around Gestamp's production facility and operating a
first few years at Gestamp, Mr. Brown, who suffers from gout,
arthritis, and hypertension, occasionally missed work during
“flare ups” of those conditions. Eventually, a
coworker recommended that Mr. Brown apply for FMLA leave so
that he would not receive disciplinary action for missing
with the FMLA, Gestamp provides eligible employees such as
Mr. Brown up to 12 weeks of medical leave on a rolling
calendar year. To receive FMLA leave, an employee must submit
a certification form completed by a physician or healthcare
provider. The certification form, created by the U.S.
Department of Labor for use by employers like Gestamp,
consists mainly of generic questions to which a physician can
check “Yes” or “No.” The physician
may provide additional explanation in fields after each
“Yes” or “No” question. Gestamp
requires its employees to submit a new certification form for
FMLA leave each year they seek FMLA leave.
his physician, Mr. Brown submitted an FMLA certification form
to Gestamp in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Mr. Brown's physician
offered virtually identical responses on the forms for each
year, checking the same boxes and describing the same
example, in “Part A, ” the “Medical
Facts” section of the form, the healthcare provider
must respond “Yes” or “No” to the
question whether “the employee is unable to perform any
of his/her job functions due to the condition.” In
2014, 2015, and 2016, Mr. Brown's physician checked
“Yes, ” and explained that Mr. Brown was unable
to lift above 10 pounds, push, pull, manipulate, or bend. The
physician described Mr. Brown's conditions as
“gout, ” “arthritis, ”
“hypertension, ” “chronic joint pain,
” “chronic headaches, ” and
B, ” the “Amount of Leave Needed” section
of the form, asks whether the employee will be
“incapacitated for a single continuous period of time
due to his/her medical condition, including any treatment and
recovery.” Mr. Brown's physician checked
“Yes.” But Mr. Brown's physician provided
additional information, estimating that Mr. Brown would need
to make a doctor's appointment every 3 to 4 months, with
“recovery after flare up in 1-2 weeks.” (Doc.
27-3 at 75). In the same section, the form asks whether the
condition would “cause episodic flare-ups periodically
preventing the employee from performing his/her job
functions.” (Id.). Mr. Brown's physician
checked “Yes.” The form asked the frequency of
flare ups and duration of related incapacity. Mr. Brown's
physician indicated that the frequency would be once each
month and five days of incapacity per episode.
approved Mr. Brown for intermittent FMLA leave in 2014 and
2015, and Mr. Brown used intermittent FMLA leave
sporadically. In 2016, however, Gestamp denied Mr.
Brown's FMLA recertification for intermittent
leave and instead placed Mr. Brown on continuous
FMLA leave, stating that Mr. Brown could not work with the
restrictions listed on his physician-provided FMLA
certification form. Gestamp told Mr. Brown that he could
return to work if his physician lifted the restrictions
listed on his FMLA form. Mr. Brown's physician refused,
however, to remove the restrictions, and he did not clarify
whether the restrictions applied only during flare ups.
human resources representative who made the decision to deny
Mr. Brown's request for intermittent leave did not
believe that Mr. Brown's physician-imposed restrictions
applied only during flare ups. Although Gestamp's
decision maker did not know that Gestamp had authorized
intermittent leave in 2014 and 2015 for Mr. Brown, she
testified in her deposition that knowledge of that
information would not have changed her decision to deny Mr.
Brown's 2016 intermittent leave certification. Rather,
she interpreted Mr. Brown's 2016 FMLA certification form
to state that Mr. Brown could not perform his job at all
because the physician had checked the box indicating that he
was unable to lift more than 10 pounds. Furthermore, she
interpreted the form to say that Mr. Brown was requesting
both intermittent FMLA leave and continuous FMLA leave
because the physician checked the box indicating that Mr.
Brown would be incapacitated for “continuous”
periods of time. (Doc. 27-7 at 11).
Mr. Brown had unused FMLA leave, he did not have unused
vacation time.Gestamp told Mr. Brown that he could apply
for disability benefits, but Mr. Brown did not think the
income from those benefits alone would be sufficient for his
needs. Mr. Brown could not collect unemployment benefits
because he remained employed with Gestamp, and he did not
believe he could draw funds from his retirement account.
Accordingly, after spending slightly more than one month on