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Bundy v. Methodist Home For Aging

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

March 29, 2019

TAWANNA J. BUNDY, Plaintiff,
v.
METHODIST HOME FOR THE AGING, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an employment discrimination and retaliation case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. Plaintiff Tawanna J. Bundy, [1] a laundry worker suffering from knee problems, sued Defendant Methodist Home for the Aging[2] after she was fired, purportedly because she was physically unable to do all the tasks her job required. Plaintiff says she offered a reasonable accommodation by asking Defendant to give her an electric cart to carry loads of laundry, but Defendant refused. Plaintiff filed suit, claiming that Defendant should have made that accommodation and fired her in retaliation for requesting it.

         Before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 16.) Defendant argues that because Plaintiff was not able to fulfill all the essential functions of the laundry worker job even with the help of an electric cart, she was not a “qualified individual” within the meaning of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. It contends that Plaintiff's retaliation claims fail as a matter of law, too. For the reasons below, Defendant is correct and is entitled to summary judgment.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         Because this case arises under two federal statutes, subject-matter jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate 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, and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

         The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for the motion.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Alternatively, a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party “cannot produce admissible evidence to support” a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 advisory committee's note (“Subdivision (c)(1)(B) recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials. . . . [A] party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden as to the fact.”).

         If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish-with evidence beyond the pleadings-that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

         III. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Tawanna J. Bundy was a laundry worker at Wesley Place on Honeysuckle, a nursing home operated by Defendant Methodist Home for the Aging.[3] Plaintiff began working there in 1996 as a housekeeper but was reassigned as a laundry worker following an on-the-job knee injury in 2001. (Doc. # 18-4, at 4, 6-7.) That injury required a knee replacement in 2002. After her knee replacement, Plaintiff was restricted in how much she could lift and bend, how much time she could stay on her feet, and was ordered not to push or pull laundry carts.[4]

         After her knee replacement, Plaintiff's typical day included folding clothes and linens and loading and unloading washers and dryers. (Doc. # 18-4, at 7.) Her co-employees never asked her to collect clothes in the laundry carts to bring them down to the laundry room “because they knew [she] couldn't” push or pull the carts. (Doc. # 18-4, at 8.) Plaintiff's supervisor at Wesley Place was apparently willing to allow her to work within those limitations. (Doc. # 18-4, at 7.)

         Plaintiff's inability to perform laundry collection was thus not a problem until Defendant decided to change its operating model. Prior to June 2017, Defendant was operating Wesley Place under what is known as the “Healthcare Model.” Under the Healthcare Model, care is delivered in hospital-style settings. Employees are specialized and do not typically perform duties outside their area of specialization. (See Doc. # 18-1, at 3.) “For example, housekeeping associates perform all housekeeping duties; maintenance performs all maintenance duties; [and] nurse aids perform basic personal care functions and assist residents with activities of daily living.” (Doc. # 18-1, at 3.)

         Defendant's new model, called the “Household Model, ” apparently required employees to have more comprehensive roles than under the old model. Under the Household Model, ancillary functions such as housekeeping, laundry, and food service “are moved into the nursing units that are the residents' home.” (Doc. # 18-1, at 3.) Decentralizing these functions decreases staffing needs, “and those employees who remain in the departments must be able to perform all the essential functions of their jobs, with or without accommodation.” (Doc. # 18-1, at 3.) New Executive Director Patrick Davies was tasked with transitioning Wesley Place from the Healthcare to the Household Model. To that end, he reviewed the operations of each department and the job descriptions of the employees who worked in those departments. (Doc. # 18-1, at 3-4.)

         As part of this review, Davies met with each laundry employee individually, including Plaintiff, to have them review and re-sign their job description “certifying that they could perform the essential functions of their job.” (Doc. # 18-1.) The job description Plaintiff was asked to sign included a section on “physical and sensory requirements (with or without the aid of mechanical devices)” that included “[w]alking, reaching, bending, lifting, grasping, fine hand coordination, [and] pushing and pulling.” (Doc. # 18-7, at 2 (emphasis added).) Plaintiff admitted that pushing and pulling carts was typically part of the duties of a laundry worker. (Doc. # 18-4, at 12.)

         Plaintiff informed Davies that based on her knee injury, she could not push or pull the laundry carts. (Doc. # 18-1, at 4.) She also told Davies that she could not stay on her feet for more than four hours in an eight-hour period, but she had been disregarding her doctor's orders and doing it anyway. (Doc. # 18-6; Doc. # 18-4, at 15.) Davies told her she should not disregard her doctor's orders, (Doc. # 18-1, at 4), but should instead come up with another accommodation that was reasonable and would allow her to perform all the required functions of her job. He also said that if Plaintiff could not come up with such an accommodation, she would be discharged. (Doc. # 18-4, at 11.)

         Plaintiff came back to Davies with an option: If Defendant provided Plaintiff with an electric cart, she would be able to collect and deliver laundry. (Doc. # 18-9.) However, she had no suggestions as to how Defendant could accommodate her restrictions on being on her feet, lifting, or stooping or squatting. (Doc. # 18-1, at 5.) Plaintiff said she would continue to disregard her doctor's orders as to those restrictions, which Davies said he would ...


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