United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Cooley was a van driver for East Tennessee Human Resource
Agency, Inc. In that role she transported ETHRA clients, who
were occasionally elderly or disabled. Because Cooley would
have to lift these clients' wheelchairs and help them in
and out of the van, the job required that she be able to lift
fifty pounds. Cooley held this position from March 2006 until
she was fired on August 27, 2015.
also had back problems that required her to take painkillers.
In February 2015, Cooley slipped on ice and fell, worsening
her back problems. Cooley requested leave under the Family
and Medical Leave Act of 1993 so that she could undergo back
surgery. ETHRA granted her request, and Cooley began her FMLA
leave on May 21. Her painkiller use increased.
exhausted her twelve weeks of FMLA leave on August 12. Her
personal doctor, Bradley Hall, cleared her to work on August
24, with a thirty-pound limit for pushing, pulling, and
lifting until October. Before Cooley could return to work,
however, ETHRA required her to receive a medical exam to
ensure that she was fit to return to work. The exam was
performed by Dr. John McElligott. On August 27, Dr.
McElligott deemed Cooley unfit to return to work because of
her continued painkiller use. Mere moments after the exam
ended, he informed ETHRA that Cooley had failed her exam,
though ETHRA management never learned why.
executive director, Gary Holiway, soon learned that Cooley
had failed. He made the call that Cooley had to be fired
because she could not return to work. The human-resources
coordinator completed Cooley's separation notice, which
Norman signed for Holiway.
Cooley trudged to the ETHRA office to tell management that
she had not passed her exam. She walked into the office,
handed her exam paperwork to someone, walked out, got in her
car, and drove off. While driving away, Cooley received a
call from her supervisor, Melinda Norris, asking her to come
back to the office. Cooley returned, bringing along a letter
requesting an accommodation for her thirty-pound restriction;
the parties dispute whether Cooley had previously sent the
letter to ETHRA and whether ETHRA had received it. When
Cooley returned to the office, she was met by Norris, Norman,
and Transportation Director Mike Patterson. They told Cooley
that she could not return to work because she had failed her
fitness exam, and they gave her the separation notice. Cooley
left either in tears or in a rage.
sued ETHRA on October 20, 2015, and an amended complaint
followed in April 2016. She alleges that ETHRA interfered
with her entitlement to FMLA benefits and fired her for
taking FMLA leave. She also asserts that ETHRA refused to
accommodate her thirty-pound restriction, in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008.
before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For
the following reasons, Cooley's motion is denied and
ETHRA's is granted.
judgment is proper only if there is no genuine dispute on any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if a
reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of
the suit under the governing law.” Id.;
Stiles ex rel. D.S. v. Grainger Cty., 819 F.3d 834,
847 (6th Cir. 2016).
moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there
is no genuine issue of material fact on any element of the
other party's claim or defense. Stiles, 819 F.3d
at 847. In determining whether this burden is satisfied, the
Court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and draws all inferences in her favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Once the movant has
satisfied this burden, the other party must identify specific
facts in the record that raise a genuine issue of material
fact. Stiles, 819 F.3d at 847. If this is not done,
summary judgment is granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court
does not weigh evidence, judge witnesses' credibility, or
decide the truth of the matter. Anderson, 477 U.S.
brings claims for FMLA interference, FMLA retaliation, and
failure to accommodate in violation of the ADA. The FMLA
claims can be proved through either direct or indirect
evidence. Cooley offers only indirect evidence. Her claims
are thus governed by the three-step McDonnell
Douglas test. See Donald v. Sybra, Inc., 667
F.3d 757, 762 (6th Cir. 2012) (interference); Edgar v.
JAC Prods., Inc., 443 F.3d 501, 508 (6th Cir. 2006)
first step falls on Cooley. Donald, 667 F.3d at 776.
She must make a prima facie showing of all the elements of
her claim. ETHRA asserts that Condrone cannot meet this task.
But if she does, then the Court proceeds to the second step.
Id. The burden shifts to ETHRA to show that it had a
legitimate reason for firing Cooley. Id. Finally, if
it meets this demand, then the burden shifts back to Cooley
to show that this reason was pretextual. Id. ETHRA
has offered a reason for firing Cooley. It contends that this
reason is legitimate and that Cooley cannot show it to be
Cooley has brought two FMLA claims against ETHRA, ETHRA
offers only one reason for firing her, and Cooley levels one
set of arguments against this reason. The first issue, then,
is whether Cooley has made a prima facie showing on her FMLA
has stated a prima facie case of FMLA interference. To state
a prima facie case of FMLA ...