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Akridge v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Co.

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

February 20, 2019

JENNIFER AKRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
ALFA MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Now before the court are a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 76 & 126) and a and a Motion to Strike (Doc. 134) filed by Defendant Alfa Mutual Insurance Company (“Alfa”).[1]

         Jennifer Akridge filed this lawsuit on June 9, 2017 and amended her complaint on July 31, 2017. Doc. 15. She brings a single count which includes allegations both of the denial of reasonable accommodation and disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Docs. 20 & 21. After careful consideration of the parties' submissions and the applicable law, and for reasons discussed below, the motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED and the Motion to Strike is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate allegations to support both.

         II. FACTS

         The facts viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmovant are as follows: Akridge began working with Alfa in 1989. Her position was eliminated in December 2016. At the time her employment ended, Akridge was working in the Underwriting Department as a Strategic Underwriting Administrator. At the time her employment was terminated, Akridge was supervised by Bob Plaster, the Director of Underwriting Services. Plaster reported to Beth Chancey, the Vice President of the Property, Commercial, and Automobile underwriting department.

         Akridge received excellent evaluations during her employment with Alfa and was named its “Employee of the Year” in 1995. In January 1993, Akridge was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (“M.S.”). Akridge states in an affidavit that various Human Resources employees and Alfa executives were aware of her condition and that her physical limitations were apparent because she used a walker for one year. Doc. 129-1 at ¶ 4. Akridge presents evidence that Plaster was aware of her condition (Doc. 129-1 at ¶ 7), and that Chancey had heard she had M.S. and knew that she had migraine headaches in connection with that condition. Doc. 78-4 at 12:13-13:8.[2] The Senior Vice President of Underwriting, Tommy Coshatt, testified in his deposition that he is aware that Akridge had migraine headaches but he does not recall having any conversation about M.S. Doc. 78-3 at 110:15-111:6. Akridge explains that due to her M.S. she suffers from migraine headaches and cannot sit for long periods of time. Akridge presents evidences that her medications cost ten to twelve thousand dollars per month and that this cost was paid by Alfa, which was self-insured, during her employment. Doc. 129-1 at ¶ 8.

         Alfa underwent a corporate reorganization in 2015. Alfa also implemented a new computer system called Guidewire and other computer programs that allowed for the automation of some tasks. Doc. 78-3 at 36:8-21. Coshatt states in his deposition that Alfa's focus in installing the new system was to increase operational efficiency in the property and casualty underwriting department by leveraging any potential for automation. Doc. 78-3 at 119:9-21. As a result of this process, Coshatt, Chancey, and Plaster made the decision to eliminate Akridge's position. Doc. 78-4 at 69:2-6. Coshatt testified that the responsibilities of Akridge's position were no longer needed, so Alfa eliminated her position. Doc. 78-3 at 113:11-14. The position responsibilities were no longer needed because they had been automated or absorbed into other areas. Doc. 78-3 at 33:3-7 & 116:13-17.

         Akridge presents evidence in an attempt to show that the real reason for her termination was the cost to Alfa of treating her M.S. In support, Akridge cites to Coshatt's deposition testimony that Alfa “looked at the salary and the position responsibilities and whether we needed that or not. And obviously when we automate, those position responsibilities go away.” Doc. 78-3 at 116:13-17. Coshatt agreed when asked the following, “So you're just talking her salary and what other benefits she may have gotten as an employee.” Doc. 78-3 at 116:18-21. Akridge also cites to Plaster's deposition in which he states that the decision to terminate Akridge was discussed for some time (Doc. 78-5 at 49:17-20) and that the directive to cut costs came from the President of Alfa and was communicated down the corporate structure. Doc. 78-5:12-17. Plaster stated that this was a business decision and it was “just numbers.” Doc. 78-5 at 35:12-17. Chancey also testified that “it's a savings when you eliminate a job that has a salary like that, ” and agreed with the statement that “when you eliminate a job, you eliminate not only the salary but also any of the benefits that go with the job.” Doc. 78-4 at 44:5-11.

         Akridge has stated in an affidavit that in the two-year period before she was terminated, Alfa employees were verbally cautioned about rising health care costs and expenses and reminded that their costs and expenses affected employees' healthcare premiums. Doc. 129-3 at ¶ 6.

         After her termination, Akridge contacted Al Dees in the marketing department to see if other jobs were available in that department. Doc. 78-2 at 85:14-86:3. Akridge says that Dees told her that he could not create a position for her. Doc. 78-2 at 9:1-13. Akridge testifies that she was not approached by Alfa about open positions.

         Akridge contends that Alfa retained similarly situated employees who did not have her health care costs. Akridge states in an affidavit-which is subject to Alfa's motion to strike-that Hillary McCaleb worked on the property/home side of the underwriting department and worked with agents who were not profitable. Akridge also points to Emily Davenport and Kayla Dill as employees from the underwriting department who still work at Alfa. Akridge further states that Becky Roper, Terry Williams, Sonya McInvale, Kim Byrum, and Brynnan Gorey retained their job duties and their salaries remained unchanged.

         Akridge presents evidence that she remained insured through COBRA insurance, but that on August 3, 2017 Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the administrator of Alfa's insurance plan, wrote to Akridge and informed her that the cost of her prescription medication no longer would be covered. Doc. 126-2 at 85.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper “if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” relying on submissions “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         Both the party “asserting that a fact cannot be, ” and a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed, must support their assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, ” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1)(A) & (B). Acceptable materials under Rule 56(c)(1)(A) include “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.”

         To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, the evidence of the nonmovant must be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). After the nonmoving party has responded to the motion for summary judgment, 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).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Alfa has moved to strike aspects of Akridge's evidence offered in opposition to the motion for summary judgment and has moved for summary judgment on Akridge's accommodation and disability discrimination claims.

         A. Motion to Strike

         Alfa asks that in ruling on the pending motion for summary judgment the court not consider various aspects of affidavits submitted by Akridge in 2016, 2018, and 2019, as well as one affidavit submitted by Tony Bohannon. Akridge has argued that a motion to strike is not an appropriate way to seek exclusion of the evidence, and that Alfa should have objected to the evidence instead. The court will consider Alfa's arguments in its motion as objections to the admissibility of the identified portions of the affidavits and, for reasons to be discussed, will grant in part and deny in part the motion to strike.

         1. 2016 Affidavit

         With respect to the 2016 affidavit, Alfa states that it is improper for Akridge to offer opinions on the costs of her treatment relative to other employees, the reason for her termination, and the pay of other employees, including Executive Vice President Angie Bradwell. Akridge responds that ...


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