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Sapp v. Western Express, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

December 23, 2014

RYAN M. SAPP, Plaintiff,


ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Pending before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment brought by the defendant, Western Express, Inc. ("Western" or "defendant") (Docket No. 21), to which the plaintiff, Ryan M. Sapp ("Sapp" or "plaintiff") has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 26). For reasons discussed herein, the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.


I. The Facts

This dispute involves alleged discrimination against, and termination of, the plaintiff by the defendant on the basis of a disability.[1] Western is a company that provides trucking services. In July 2010, Western hired Sapp for an "extended coverage" position on the night shift. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 1; Docket No. 29-1 ("Easterday Dep.") at 27.) Sapp's night shift duties included tracking freight, answering phone calls, responding to messages, and handling other office tasks such as processing accident reports. (Easterday Dep. at 32-33.) At the time that he was hired by Western, Sapp had no work experience other than "on and off" positions at Kroger during high school and college. (Docket No. 29-5 at ¶ 5.) Sapp represented to Western that he was able to fully perform the duties of his position. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 1; Docket No. 29-2 ("Sapp Dep.") at 47.)

Sapp allegedly suffers from an anxiety disorder that is often of moderate intensity but can sometimes be severe or result in a panic attack in stressful situations. (Docket No. 28 at ¶¶ 1-2; Sapp Dep. at 46-48.) Sapp cannot "flip [his anxiety] off like a light switch." (Sapp. Dep. at 93.) Sapp is prescribed the anti-anxiety medication clonazepam by his family practitioner.[2] (Sapp. Dep. at 8, 46; Docket No. 29-5 at ¶ 6.) Prior to his employment, Sapp verbally informed Western owner Wayne Wise, corporate representative Mike Ershkin, and supervisor Daniel Knuutila that he was being treated for an anxiety disorder and, as a result, an anti-anxiety medication would be detected in his pre-employment drug screening.[3] (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 16; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 3; Sapp. Dep. at 50.) Aside from providing this information regarding a prescription medication, Statement of Disputed Material Facts in its entirety, it has relied upon the contents of that filing only where appropriate. Future filings by the plaintiff's counsel should be prepared with more care. Sapp did not present medical evidence of a disability to Western prior to or during his period of employment.[4]

On one occasion, Sapp explained to night shift supervisor Jack Knuutilla that he was having a panic attack and that it was just something that Sapp "had to deal with." (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 16; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 5) In response to being told to calm down, Sapp told then-Vice President of Flatbed Operations Geoff Grenier ("Grenier") that he suffered from anxiety with panic attacks and that Sapp couldn't just "turn it off." (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 16; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 6; Sapp. Dep. at 93-94.) Grenier does not remember this conversation. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 10; Docket No. 29-3 ("Grenier Dep.") at 25-28.) Sapp's direct supervisor, Matthew Wallace ("Wallace"), was not aware that Sapp alleged any disability. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 16.)[5] There is no evidence that Sapp ever requested any accommodation on the basis of a disability related to the performance of any night shift duties.

In April 2012, Sapp requested, and was granted, a transfer to the day shift. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 1; Docket No. 22-4 ("Easterday Aff.") at ¶ 5; Docket No. 29-4 ("Wallace Dep.") at 17-18.) The day shift position involved some additional duties, including driver management, customer interaction, checking the status of trucks in the shop, and tracking trailers, and was a promotion for good performance on the night shift. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 11; Grenier Dep. at 38; Easterday Dep. at 35.) There is no evidence that Sapp requested any accommodation related to the performance of any specific duties when he was transferred to the day shift.

Sapp had performance issues on the day shift, including uncompleted assignments and falling asleep. (Easterday Aff. at ¶ 7.) Grenier spoke with Sapp multiple times about his job performance; Grenier chastised Sapp.[6] (Docket No. 28 at ¶¶ 15-16; Grenier Dep. at 21; Sapp Dep. at 36-38, 49, 56, 93.) Sapp has testified that, on one occasion, he had a panic attack when being yelled at by Grenier and that Sapp walked away. (Sapp. Dep. at 49.) Sapp has testified that, on occasion, Grenier asked Sapp why he was "nervous" or "anxious, " and Sapp replied that he had anxiety. (Sapp. Dep. at 93-94.) Sapp also testified that Grenier told him, "you suck at your job." (Sapp. Dep. at 53.) On one occasion, Western Terminal Manager Alex Trent advised Sapp, "this is just the way [Grenier] is" and advised Sapp that he "just [had to] deal with it." (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 17; Sapp. Dep. at 50.) Wallace told Sapp to "keep [his] head down" and ignore Grenier. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 21; Sapp. Dep. at 56, Wallace Dep. at 56.)

On July 13, 2012, Sapp informed Wallace, "I can't do this anymore, " and requested a transfer back to the night shift. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 5; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 22; Easterday Aff. at 10; Sapp. Dep. at 52.) Sapp said nothing more and specifically said nothing about a disability accommodation. ( See id.; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 13). Sapp was excited to return to the night shift and believed he could perform his job well. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 24; Easterday Aff. at 13; Sapp. Dep. at 52.) Wallace and Western Supervisor Jack Knuutila agreed to arrange Sapp's transfer to the night shift within two weeks. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 6; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 12.) Grenier endorsed Sapp's transfer and stated his belief that Sapp was good at his night shift job. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 23; Grenier Dep. at 30-31.)

Around the same time, Sapp contacted Western's Chief Operations Officer Robert Stachura ("Stachura") to voice complaints about Grenier's workplace behavior. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 10; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 31; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 14; Sapp. Dep. at 84.) Stachura instructed Sapp to speak with Western Executive Vice President Clarence Easterday ("Easterday"). (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 11; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 15.) Easterday arranged to meet with Sapp on July 17, 2012. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 18; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 19.)

On July 15, 2012, Sapp failed to timely report for work on the day shift. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 7; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 16.) Rather, Sapp reported to work at noon on that day. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 8; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 18.) Sapp stated the belief that, despite the fact that he had been told that his transfer to night shift would be accomplished within two weeks, he was supposed to report to the night shift on July 15, 2012 ( i.e., two days after he requested the transfer). (Docket No. 28 at ¶¶ 25-27; Sapp. Dep. at 52, 58; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 17.)

Sapp met with Easterday on July 17, 2012. (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 12; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 33; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 19; Sapp. Dep. at 86.) According to his uncontradicted affidavit, Easterday had previously been made aware of Sapp's job performance issues on the day shift, including the failure to report to work on July 15, 2012. (Easterday Aff. at ¶¶ 7-9; Easterday Dep. at 36.) Easterday did not initially plan to terminate Sapp. (Docket No. 28 at ¶ 38; Easterday Aff. at ¶ 20; Easterday Dep. at 49-50.) According to Sapp, Easterday informed him that his "performance was not up to par." (Sapp. Dep. at 86.) According to Easterday, Sapp "launched into a tirade" and became hostile and "physically angry;" Easterday became apprehensive that Sapp's aggression would become physical. (Easterday Dep. at 54-56; Easterday Aff. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Easterday made the decision to immediately terminate Sapp's employment; Easterday stated, "We're done. I'm going to terminate you right now." (Docket No. 27 at ¶ 13; Docket No. 28 at ¶ 34; Easterday Aff. at 23; Easterday Dep. at 55.) Easterday was unaware that Sapp claimed to have any disability until several months after Sapp's termination.[7] (Easterday Aff. at ¶ 24.)

After being terminated by Western, Sapp became employed first at Tennessee Steel Haulers and later in the brokerage field at Pearce Worldwide Logistics. (Sapp. Dep. at 23, 87.) Sapp has testified that he has never had any problems at any employment other than general problems under Grenier at Western:

Q: Now, while you were at [Pearce Worldwide Logistics], have you had ...

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