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Wilson v. Lowe's Home Center, LLC

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

November 12, 2019

NATHANIEL WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
LOWE'S HOME CENTER, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JEFFREY U. BEAVERSTOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court is Defendant Lowe's Home Centers, LLC's (“Lowe's”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35), Plaintiff Nathaniel Wilson's (“Wilson”) brief in opposition thereto (Doc. 40), and Lowe's brief in reply (Doc. 44). The Motion is now ripe for resolution. Following the Order dated July 18, 2019 (Doc. 52), and upon due consideration, the Court concludes that the Motion is due to be GRANTED for the reasons set forth below.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is due when 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). An issue of fact is “material” if, under the substantive law governing the claim, its presence or absence might affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If the movant fails to satisfy its initial burden, the motion for summary judgment will be denied. Kernel Records Oy v. Mosley, 694 F.3d 1294, 1300 (11th Cir. 2012). If the movant adequately supports its motion, the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish, “by producing affidavits or other relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings, ” specific facts raising a genuine issue for trial. Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “All affidavits and declarations must be based on personal knowledge and must set forth facts that would be admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence.” Josendis, 662 F.3d at 1315; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). "In reviewing whether the nonmoving party has met its burden, the court must stop short of weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations of the truth of the matter....Instead, '[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Dortch, Figures, & Sons, Inc. v. City of Mobile, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 183075 at *13-14 (S.D. Ala. October 22, 2019)(quoting Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998-999 (11th Cir. 1992)).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Wilson filed this lawsuit against Lowe's, his employer, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101-12213. Wilson claims that he is “disabled” and Lowe's failed to accommodate him as required by the ADA. He also claims that Lowe's discriminated and retaliated against him by unfair discipline and other miscellaneous actions.

         A. Wilson's Employment with Lowe's, At-Work Injury, and Subsequent Restrictions

         Wilson is a current Lowe's employee working as a Sales Specialist in the Millworks Department at Lowe's retail store location in Daphne, Alabama. (Doc. 36-1). Lowe's hired Wilson in 2007 as a Customer Service Associate in the Lawn and Garden Department. (Id.). He became a Department Manager, performing overnight stocking, shortly thereafter. (Id.). Over the next several years, Wilson was a Zone Manager and subsequently an Assistant Store Manager in several different departments. (Id.).

         In April 2013, Wilson suffered a back injury at work. (Doc. 36-1). He received workers' compensation medical treatment and benefits, and has taken Family and Medical Leave at different times over the years since his injury. (Id.). Wilson's physician placed an 8-hour shift restriction on Wilson's workday, as well as miscellaneous lifting restrictions ranging between ten and thirty pounds. (Id.). Following his injury, Wilson was kept in his Zone Manager position, a predecessor position to the Assistant Store Manager position, similar but with a different title and slightly different responsibilities. At times, other Zone Managers filled in to cover his job, including George Strange and Justin Crist. (Docs. 36-1 and 36-3).

         In August 2014, Wilson reached Maximum Medical Improvement and was assigned the following permanent restrictions: no more than an 8-hour shift and a lifting restriction of 30 pounds. (Docs. 36-1). The Lowe's Accommodations Department is charged with reviewing an employee's job and restrictions after the employee reaches Maximum Medical Improvement. (Doc. 36-2). In Wilson's case, however, the Accommodations Department did not complete that review until October 2016. (Id.).

         B. Wilson's Temporary and Permanent Accommodations and the Interactive Process.

         With Wilson's permanent restrictions, he cannot perform some of the functions of the Assistant Store Manager (or “ASM”) position that he held at the time of his injury; the ASM position requires that he be able to lift 50 pounds or more and to work a minimum of 48 hours per week. (Doc. 36-1). Salaried managerial positions like the ASM role are generally scheduled for 48 hours per week, and possibly more based on the needs of the business. (Doc. 36-3). Members of the salaried management team must be able to work Lowe's corporate schedule. (Doc. 36-2). This corporate schedule requires managers to work 9 to 10 hour days, to come in prior to the store opening and stay after it closes to handle zone recovery (distributing, restocking merchandise), and to take assigned shifts (opening, middle, closing) according to management roles on a rotating basis. (Id.). Managers are always on call in case the store has an emergency, someone gets hurt, or there is a natural disaster. For these unanticipated circumstances, salaried managers must be available to answer emails, take phone calls, or report to the store in the middle of the night. (Docs. 36-2 and 36-3).

The Job Description for the Assistant Store Manager Position states as follows:
Work Schedule
Requires morning, afternoon, and overnight availability any day of the week. Required to work a Corporate schedule determined by the needs of the business. Requests to be scheduled off for a specific day require advanced notification and approval by supervisor. Salaried positions are generally scheduled for 48 hours. More hours may be required based on the needs of the business.

(Doc. 36-1) (emphasis added). On the ASM job description, Wilson drew a line through the words “generally scheduled for 48 hours. More hours may be required based on the needs of the business.” (Id.). Below these crossed out words, Wilson wrote: “I can only work 8 hours per day (due to on the job injury).” (Id.). A copy of his revision to the job description is below:

         (Image Omitted)

(Id.). By his statement on the actual job description combined with striking the 48-hour requirement, Wilson acknowledged that by only being able to work eight hours a day, he could not work the 48 hours per week required of Assistant Store Managers. Further, as this job description evidences, an Assistant Store Manager has to be available to work ...


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