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Durham v. Rural/Metro Corp.

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

October 9, 2018

KIMBERLIE MICHELLE DURHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
RURAL/METRO CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kimberlie Durham (“Ms. Durham”) sued her former employer, Defendant Rural/Metro Corporation (“Rural/Metro”) for discrimination in violation of Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”). Ms. Durham's claim arises out of Rural/Metro's refusal to assign her a “light duty” or dispatch position after Ms. Durham's doctor imposed lifting restrictions during her pregnancy. Ms. Durham maintains that Rural/Metro intentionally refused to accommodate her lifting restrictions in the same way it accommodated other individuals with lifting restrictions because she was pregnant.

         Before the court is Rural/Metro's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 40). The parties have fully briefed the motion. (Docs. 41, 44, 45). For the reasons explained below, the court GRANTS the motion.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “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). The court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Baas v. Fewless, 886 F.3d 1088, 1091 (11th Cir. 2018). “The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” FindWhat Inv'r Grp. v. FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On March 2, 2015, Rural/Metro hired Kimberlie Durham to work as an Emergency Medical Technician (“EMT”) at their Pell City, Alabama location. (Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 42-3 at 17). Rural/Metro describes an EMT as someone who “[r]esponds to emergency and non-emergency requests, provides Basic Life Support (BLS) as needed[, ] and transports sick or injured people . . . .” (Doc. 42-2 at 114). There is a physical component to the job as well, which requires that EMT's “frequently lift and/or move up to 20 pounds and occasionally lift and/or move, with help, up to 100 pounds.” (Doc. 42-2 at 115). According to Ms. Durham the physical demands of the job as physically lifting stretchers, moving patients, restocking supplies, and moving equipment between trucks “[p]retty much all day long.” (Doc. 42-1 at 17).

         Mike Crowell managed Rural/Metro's Pell City, Alabama location where Ms. Durham worked. (Doc. 42-3 at 11, 17). In September 2015, approximately five months after she was hired, Ms. Durham told Crowell that she was pregnant. (Doc. 42-1at 19; Doc. 42-3at 31). In the same conversation, Ms. Durham also disclosed to Crowell that her doctor had restricted her from lifting more than fifty pounds during her pregnancy. (Doc. 42-1 at 20; Doc. 42-3at 31). Crowell told Ms. Durham that she would not be able “work on the truck” with the lifting restriction. (Doc. 42-1 at 21). Durham agreed. (See Doc. 42-1 at 21; doc. 42-3 at 25).

         As an alternative to working on the truck, Ms. Durham requested that Crowell “move [her] to either light duty or dispatch.” (Doc. 42-1 at 21). Rural/Metro has a written “light duty” policy, formally known as the Transitional Work Program (“Light Duty Policy”). (Doc. 42-6). Rural/Metro created the Light Duty Policy “to temporarily modify an employee's existing position or work schedule, or provide transitional assignments to accommodate temporary restrictions identified by an employee's medical provider.” (Doc. 41, ¶17 (citing doc. 42-6)). By its terms, the Light Duty Policy only applies to employees who suffer from a work-related injury or illness. (Doc. 42-6).

         Consistent with the Light Duty Policy, Crowell informed Ms. Durham that Rural/Metro only provided “light duty” to employees who suffered on the job injuries and were on workers' compensation. (Doc. 42-1 at 22). Thereafter, Crowell contacted Human Resources about Durham's pregnancy and lifting restriction. (Doc. 42-3 at 32). Human Resources confirmed that Ms. Durham was ineligible for light duty because she was not “workers' comp” and, as such, did not qualify for the “Transitional Work Program.” (Doc. 42-3 at 28-29, 37).

         In response to Ms. Durham's request for a “move” to dispatch, Mr. Crowell informed Ms. Durham that he would have to “get back with [her].” (Doc. 42-1 at 21). Mr. Crowell then discussed with Human Resources whether there were any open, off-truck positions. (Doc. 42-3 at 33-34). Mr. Crowell testified that his office was fully staffed and to put Ms. Durham on dispatch would be “creating an extra person that I did not need.” (Doc. 42-3 at 36-37). During her deposition, Ms. Durham also testified that she was not aware of any available light duty positions at the time she sought accommodation. (Doc. 42-1 at 60). But in a declaration submitted after her deposition, she recalled open dispatch positions “at the time she informed Rural/Metro of her lifting restriction.” (Doc. 44 at 10 (citing doc. 44-2, ¶3)).

         Because Ms. Durham was not eligible for FMLA leave due to her short tenure at Rural/Metro, the only available option was unpaid personal leave. (Doc. 42-1 at 23, 27). Rural/Metro's Unpaid Personal Leave Policy “allows employees to take unpaid personal leave for medical reasons, and is available to employees who have either exhausted their leave under the FMLA, or are not eligible for FMLA leave.” (Doc. 41, ¶ 21). Leave is granted for up to ninety days, with the possibility of an extension of up to an additional ninety days. (Id.). Employees are prohibited from taking unpaid personal leave “for the purpose pursuing another position, temporarily trying out new work, or venturing into business.” (Doc. 43-8 at 3).

         On October 6, 2015, Rural/Metro mailed Ms. Durham a letter advising that she could request a personal leave of absence. (Doc. 41, ¶ 25). The letter instructed Ms. Durham to complete the leave request and return it to Human Resources. (Id.). Ms. Durham reviewed the policy and understood its language to prohibit her from finding another job or filing for unemployment. (Doc. 44 at ¶ 18). Ms. Durham contacted Human Resources to ask if there were any other options outside of taking unpaid leave. (Doc. 42-1 at 27). She was advised that unpaid leave was her only option. (Doc. 42-1 at 27).

         Ms. Durham decided not to sign the unpaid leave paperwork. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 38). She was not scheduled to work after September 28, 2015. (Doc. 44 at ¶13). On November 12, 2015, Ms. Durham filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sex discrimination based on her pregnancy. (Doc. 43-13). Thereafter, she was issued a Notice of Right to Sue and filed ...


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