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Williams v. Prospect, Inc.

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

April 7, 2015

BILLY D. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
PROSPECT, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Pending before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the defendant, Prospect, Inc. ("Prospect") (Docket No. 19), to which the plaintiff, Billy D. Williams ("Williams") has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 23), and Prospect has filed a Reply (Docket No. 26). The parties have also filed supplemental briefs at the request of the court. (Docket Nos. 28, 29.) For the following reasons, the defendant's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

This dispute involves alleged discrimination against, and termination of, Williams by Prospect on the basis of a disability.[1] Prospect is a not-for-profit corporation, based in Lebanon, Tennessee, that assists and employs individuals with disabilities. Williams is a resident of Dickson County, Tennessee. In December 2011, Prospect hired Williams for the position of Rest Area Attendant, as part of a maintenance crew for a rest area on the westbound side of Interstate near Dickson, Tennessee. Williams worked twelve-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. Williams's job duties generally included (1) cleaning countertops, mirrors, and restrooms; (2) collecting trash on the grounds and in the parking lot; and (3) transporting bags of trash to onsite dumpsters. Prospect's "Position Description" for the Rest Area Attendant Position explains that the employee provides janitorial, custodial and landscaping services. (Docket No. 20-5, Williams Dep., Ex. 4.) The Position Description lists seventeen categories of duties, of which two are mopping and trash pick-up. ( Id. ) In addition, the Position Description lists the "physical demands" of the job as "the ability to bend, squat, twist, lift, pull and push" up to 35 pounds as well as "the ability to stand and walk for a 12 hour shift." ( Id. ) Williams has acknowledged that the job description accurately reflects the duties and responsibilities of the Rest Area Attendant position. (Docket No. 20-1, Williams Dep. at pp. 19-20.)

On August 26, 2012, Williams injured himself while on duty. While Williams was throwing a bag of trash into a dumpster, the bag "got hooked, " he "felt something pop and snap" in his back, " and he "fell to his knees" in pain. ( Id. at pp. 30-31.) Williams called his supervisor, David Moore ("Moore"), who transported Williams to a hospital for treatment.

Williams subsequently sought treatment for his back injury from Dr. Weiss, Prospect's worker's compensation panel doctor. Dr. Weiss had plaintiff undergo an LMRI and kept him out of work until it was completed. After reviewing the LMRI results, Dr. Weiss concluded that William's back injury was the re-aggravation of a prior injury and was therefore not work-related. Williams was also seen by Dr. Dinkins, a personal physician who had surgically treated Williams for a back injury over a decade prior. Dinkins concluded that (1) Williams' injury was work related and that (2) Williams needed further back surgery. Dr. Dinkins informed Williams that she would only clear him to return to work with the restrictions that Williams not perform heavy lifting, twisting, or mopping.

Moore informed Williams that Prospect's Director of Human Resources, Gary Clingman, required a doctor's release for Williams to return to work. Williams verbally informed Moore about Dr. Dinkins' willingness to release him to return to work with certain restrictions. Prospect admits the fact that Williams verbally requested light duty alternatives from Moore. Williams does not remember if he ever subsequently provided written documentation to that effect (to Moore or Clingman) from Dr. Dinkins. Prospect avers that Williams never provided any written medical excuse giving a reason to extend his return to work date or otherwise apprising Prospect of Williams's medical situation. Having received no such written communication from Williams, on October 17, 2012, Clingman terminated Williams' employment for failure to return from a medical leave.

Williams filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on November 29, 2012. On August 20, 2013, after receiving a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, Williams filed a complaint in this court against Prospect. (Docket No. 1.) The Complaint alleges that (1) Prospect failed to make reasonable accommodations for Williams and terminated him because of a disability in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), the Tennessee Disability Act, T.C.A. § 8-50-103 ("TDA"), and Tennessee Human Rights Act, T.C.A. §§ 4-21-101 et seq. ("THRA"); and (2) under Tennessee common law, Prospect retaliated against Williams for pursuing workers' compensation benefits. Id.

On December 31, 2014, Prospect filed the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 19.) On January 30, 2015, Williams filed a Response opposing Prospect's motion as to all claims. (Docket No. 23.) On February 9, 2015, Prospect filed a Reply. (Docket No. 26.) In response to an Order of the court, the parties filed supplemental briefing on March 23, 2015. (Docket Nos. 28, 29.)

ANALYSIS

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 requires the court to grant a motion for summary judgment if "the movant shows 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). If a moving defendant shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to at least one essential element of the plaintiff's claim, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to provide evidence beyond the pleadings, "set[ting] forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 374 (6th Cir. 2009); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "In evaluating the evidence, the court must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Moldowan, 578 F.3d at 374 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

At this stage, "the judge's function is not... to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). But "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient, " and the party's proof must be more than "merely colorable." Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, at 252. An issue of fact is ...


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