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Israel v. Tennessee Dep't of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

September 5, 2006

DANIEL ISRAEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge

(VARLAN/SHIRLEY)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Daniel Israel initiated this civil action against his employer, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, claiming disability discrimination and harassment in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).*fn1 Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 25], which is now ripe for determination. After careful consideration of the parties' briefs [Docs. 26, 33, 36], the Court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment and this case will be dismissed.

I. Relevant Facts

Plaintiff has been employed as a physician at Lakeshore Mental Health Institute ("Lakeshore") in Knoxville, Tennessee, since May 1, 1984. Lakeshore is owned and operated by defendant, an agency of the state of Tennessee. In August 2003, plaintiff was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that results in plaintiff becoming "extraordinarily fatigued as the work day progresses." [Doc. 1 at ¶ 9.] This condition causes him increased discomfort in the early afternoon, and plaintiff claims it is therefore necessary for him to "have an accommodation to work early and complete my shift at work by mid-afternoon." [Doc. 33, Israel Aff. at 2.] Plaintiff does not deny defendant's contention that his fibromyalgia does not otherwise limit him with respect to any of the activities which are necessary for him to carry out his job [Doc. 25, Pl. Depo. at 282-84], nor that is he unable to do anything since his diagnosis that he was able to do prior to it. [Doc. 26 at 29-30.]

Ordinarily, plaintiff worked a shift beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 4:30 p.m. [Doc. 33, Israel Aff. at ¶ 2.] However, after plaintiff told defendant of his fibromyalgia diagnosis, defendant informed him that his shift would have to be changed to one beginning at 10:00 a.m. and ending at 6:30 p.m.*fn2 [Id.] Defendant asserts that this change was necessary because the workload after 4:30 p.m. had become too great for the one physician assigned to that time period to perform and it was therefore proposed that plaintiff work later in the day. [Doc. 36 at 5.] Plaintiff responded by telling defendant that his condition would not allow him to work until 6:30 p.m., and he submitted letters from his primary care physician, Dr. David Rankin, to support his contentions.*fn3 [Doc. 33, Ex. A.]

Plaintiff asserts that starting in December 2003, defendant began to "press Plaintiff and his physician about working from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m." [Doc. 34 at 5] and continued to do so until April 2004, when plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination. [Id. at 3.] This alleged pressure from defendant took the form of correspondence from Leslie Hargrove, the medical director of Lakeshore, that was sent to plaintiff and his physician. [Doc. 33, Israel Aff. at ¶ 3; Doc. 33, Ex. A, B.] This correspondence includes the following:

(1) An email sent to plaintiff on December 11, 2003 asking for a "written rationale" explaining plaintiff's medical condition, as well as "submitted MDs letters to that effect." [Doc. 33, Ex. B.]

(2) An email sent to plaintiff on December 16, 2003 notifying plaintiff that he was to begin working the 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. schedule immediately and noting that Dr. Hargrove was "sensitive" to plaintiff's medical condition and that plaintiff was "certainly free to discuss this new schedule with HR." [Doc. 33, Ex. B.]

(3) A letter sent to plaintiff on December 22, 2003 asking for additional medical documentation from plaintiff's physician regarding his fibromyalgia a n d informing plaintiff that "[u]ntil the issues regarding your medical condition can be resolved, you will work your regular shift until January 2, 2004, at which time you will be expected to begin working 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m." [Doc. 33, Ex. B.]

(4) A letter sent to plaintiff on January 2, 2004 informing him that he could continue to work the 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. schedule, but notifying him that the need for senior staff to expand their coverage might require that he "be assigned some shift other than 8:00 to 4:30 to ensure the best patient care." [Doc. 33, Ex. B.]

(5) A letter sent to plaintiff on January 30, 2004 asking that he submit doctor's excuses for plaintiff's alleged absences from work. The letter also requests that plaintiff ask his physician to reply to Dr. Hargrove's inquiries about plaintiff's medical condition "so that we can determine whether or not we can count on your ability to routinely work your assigned shift." [Doc. 33, Ex. B.]

(6) A letter sent to plaintiff on February 9, 2004 asking that plaintiff provide excuses for seven occasions in January 2004 when plaintiff was absent from work due to illness. [Doc. 33, Ex. B.]

Additionally, Laura Morton, director of Human Resources at Lakeshore, sent plaintiff a letter on June 8, 2004 containing a medical release, questionnaire and job description that she requested plaintiff forward to his physician for the purpose of determining plaintiff's "ability to perform the essential job functions of your job based upon the restrictions indicated by Dr. Rankin in his letters...." [Doc. 33, Ex. A.]

Also during this time, plaintiff received two emails from Dr. Hargrove asking whether plaintiff was planning to retire. [Doc. 33, Israel Aff. at ¶ 4.] This correspondence includes two brief emails informing plaintiff that "some staff members have suggested you are considering retiring, perhaps within the next several weeks" and asking plaintiff to clarify whether this was true "so that adequate coverage can be obtained for [Lakeshore] patients." [Doc. 33, Ex. C.] Plaintiff claims that defendant "was attempting to force me into retirement by changing my shift after they had been informed by my physician that my physical condition prohibited me from working those hours." [Doc. 33, Israel Aff. at ¶ 6.] Plaintiff also notes that he began seeing a psychiatrist during this time due to the "great mental and physical stress" caused by the correspondence regarding the proposed work schedule. [Id. at ¶ 5.]

Defendant points out that plaintiff was never made to work the 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. schedule because another physician was hired for that shift. [Doc. 36 at 9.] Defendant also notes that plaintiff has been allowed to leave work early if he begins experiencing pain or fatigue. [Doc. 26 at 30.]

Presently, plaintiff is still employed by defendant [Doc. 25, Pl. Depo. at 284] and continues to work the 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. schedule. [Doc. 25, Pl. Depo. at 261-62.] Additionally, Plaintiff admits that his fibromyalgia has been accommodated by defendant in that he continues to work the 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m shift ...


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