United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. BRASHER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Kenneth Thomas (“Thomas”) filed a four-count
complaint alleging that Defendant STERIS Corporation
(“STERIS”) fired him for engaging in protected
conduct and belonging to a protected class. Count 1 alleges
that STERIS fired him because he was disabled in violation of
the ADA. (Doc 24 ¶¶35-39). Count 2 alleges that
STERIS fired him for requesting that his disability be
accommodated in violation of the ADA. Id.
¶¶40-45. Count 3 alleges that STERIS fired him
because he was over forty in violation of the ADEA.
Id. ¶¶46-50. Count 4 alleges that STERIS
fired him for complaining that STERIS was firing other people
because they were over forty in violation of the ADEA.
Id. ¶¶51-56. This matter comes before the
Court on Defendant STERIS' motion for summary judgment on
all four counts. (Doc. 56). Upon consideration, the motion is
GRANTED as to all counts.
STERIS is a globe-spanning enterprise that styles itself a
“leading provider of infection prevention and other
procedural products and services.”STERIS operates a
plant in Montgomery, where Thomas was employed for the better
part of 40 years as a human resources manager. (Doc. 56 at 3).
At times relevant to this action, Thomas was supervised by
Denise DeThomas and Mac McBride. (Doc. 56 at 3-4).
April 15, 2015, Thomas' employment came to an end. (Doc.
60 at 2). The parties find themselves embroiled in
controversy because they each have distinctly different
memories of Thomas' tenure with the company. Thomas
alleges that his firing was the result of a veritable
cannonade of STERIS civil rights abuse, including age
discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation for
requesting disability accommodations, and retaliation for
protesting age discrimination. Id. at 3. Conversely,
STERIS alleges that Thomas was an incompetent employee who
could not continue to serve as a human resources manager
because none of the human resources he was managing trusted
or respected him and Thomas had been given over a decade to
convince them of his conviviality. (Doc. 58-1 at 13).
was 63 years old at the time of his departure from STERIS.
(Doc. 61-1 at 1). He was also disabled as a result of an
injury sustained while serving in the United States military.
(Doc. 61-1 at 1). Thomas' left knee required multiple
surgeries and he needed a cane to walk. Id. at 2.
After an initial stint as the human resources manager in the
Montgomery plant during the 1980s, Thomas was rehired to the
same position in 2001. (Doc. 58-1 at 3). During the relevant
periods of his employment with STERIS, Thomas was in
possession of an authentic handicapped placard and made use
of a handicapped parking space. (Doc. 56-6 at 1).
2014, Thomas received passable performance reviews, either
“meeting” or “achieving” expectations
with the only criticism being that he should spend more time
walking amongst the plant workers. (Doc. 58-1 at 3). In late
2014, a decline in Thomas' performance seems to have
coincided with the appointment of DeThomas as his new
supervisor. Id. at 4. In just two months,
Thomas' spotless record began to fall apart. In August,
Thomas failed to attend an important corporate meeting and
then, during DeThomas' first visit to the Montgomery
plant, she was told by employees, including members of the
leadership team, that they did not trust Thomas. (Doc. 58-1
at 7). In September, Thomas attended a corporate training
session but failed, not only to successfully complete the
training, but also to follow-up with remedial education.
Id. at 8. Thomas' unhappy fall continued when he
accidentally deleted a presentation he was supposed to give
at STERIS' headquarters and just days later incorrectly
informed McBride as to the rates that the Montgomery plant
paid independent contractors, resulting in significant
embarrassment when McBride conveyed the incorrect figures to
executives. Id. at 9-10. Thomas himself described
the latter mistake as a “big deal.” Id.
November of 2014, Thomas attended his mid-year performance
review with DeThomas, during which the two spoke about his
recent difficulties and the lack of confidence that some
employees had in Thomas' management. Id. at 10.
Thomas admitted during this review that he was a “work
in progress” and had “a lot of areas for
improvement.” Id. To follow up on the
discussion, DeThomas conducted a Hogan 360 review on Thomas
by sending surveys to 28 of Thomas' coworkers asking them
to give her feedback about his performance. Id. at
11. The results of the review showed Thomas to be in the
bottom 10% of managers, with particularly low marks in areas
imperative to success as a human resource manager, including
the ability to build trust and relationships. Id. at
his winter of discontent, Thomas met with DeThomas and
McBride on April 16, 2015 to discuss his performance issues.
Id. He stated during the meeting that he knew he had
dropped the ball on at least one occasion and failed to meet
expectations. Id. at 12. At this meeting,
Thomas' supervisors mentioned two courses of action. The
first course involved a “transition” plan that
would effectively terminate Thomas but allow him to stay on
for a few months to ease the process. (Doc. 58-1 at 13-14).
The second involved a performance improvement plan but
DeThomas made clear that, given the lack of trust Thomas'
co-workers had in him, she did not believe it would work.
(Doc. 62 at 5). At this point, Thomas left the building and
returned only once to collect his things. (Doc. 58-1 at 14).
On April 29, DeThomas filled out and returned a notice of
claim to the Alabama State Department of Labor confirming
that Thomas has been discharged for performance issues and
misconduct. (Doc. 61-2 at 2).
explains the foregoing series of undisputed facts by saying
that the timeline of his alleged inadequacy, which he argues
is comprised only of the second half of 2014, conveniently
began after a series of discriminatory interactions with his
employer. (Doc. 61-8 at 45). Thomas presents three instances
of interaction between himself and STERIS that he believes
are enough to show that STERIS fired him for engaging in
protected activity or belonging to a protected class. First,
in 2013, Thomas opposed STERIS' firing of Alan Burnett,
who was over the age of 40 at the time, on the grounds that
the decision did not comply with the corporation's
policies and procedures. (Doc. 1-1 at 2). Second, in May of
2014, McBride asked Thomas to consider how employees would
view his use of the handicapped spot considering his stories
about playing golf over the weekend. (Doc. 60 at 16). Third,
in both 2012 and early 2014, McBride reported to Thomas'
direct supervisor that he needed to walk the plant floor more
often, despite McBride's knowledge of Thomas'
handicap. (Doc. 60 at 17).
now seeks summary judgment that Thomas' firing was not
motivated by a desire to discriminate or retaliate.
court will grant summary judgment when there is no genuine
issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Chapman v. AI
Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en
banc). The moving party need not produce evidence disproving
the opponent's claim; instead, the moving party must
demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). In turn, the nonmoving party must go beyond mere
allegations to offer specific facts showing a genuine issue
for trial exists. Id. at 324. ...