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Adduci v. Federal Express Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

March 21, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant Federal Express Corporation (“FedEx”)'s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 40.) FedEx seeks summary judgment on the four federal law claims that remain following the dismissal of Plaintiff Cassandra Adduci (“Adduci”)'s claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. (ECF Nos. 26, 27.) The Court previously granted FedEx's motion as to both of Adduci's claims under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). (ECF No. 67.) FedEx's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to Adduci's claim for disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and MOOT as to punitive damages. FedEx's motion is DENIED as to Adduci's disparate impact claim.

         I. Background

         a. Factual History

         This action arises out of Adduci's employment at FedEx's Memphis Hub and the subsequent termination of her employment. (ECF No. 16, ¶¶ 4, 27.) Adduci began working part-time in FedEx's Memphis Hub on January 6, 2014. She was promoted to the position of Material Handler on August 17, 2014. (Id., ¶4; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 53, ¶ 14.) Adduci's duties as a Material Handler were to load and unload aircraft, containers, and FedEx vehicles. (FedEx Job Description, ECF No. 41-9; Fruhauf Decl., ECF No. 41-15, ¶ 4.) FedEx's stated job responsibilities for Material Handlers included that the employee be able to lift 75 pounds unassisted. (FedEx Job Description, ECF No. 41-9 at 254.[1]) Adduci worked part-time in the Offload section of the Memphis Hub's Air Freight Ground Services (“AFGS”) division until December 24, 2014. (Id., ¶¶ 20-21; Fruhauf Decl., ECF No. 41-15, ¶¶ 3, 8-12. See also Pl.'s Compl., ¶¶ 4-5.)

         Earlier in December 2014, Adduci became pregnant. On December 17, 2014, she informed her FedEx supervisor, Jim Fruhauf, of the pregnancy and that she had a 15-pound lifting restriction as a result. (Adduci Dep., ECF No. 52-2 at 43:5-14; Fruhauf Decl., ECF No. 41-15, ¶¶ 8-12.) Fruhauf requested that Adduci provide medical documentation of the restriction. On December 24, 2014, Adduci provided a doctor's note that indicated a 25-pound lifting restriction, to be reduced to 20 pounds later in the pregnancy. (Fruhauf Decl., ECF No. 41-15, ¶ 9; Doctor's Note, ECF No. 41-17.) Later on December 24, 2014, Fruhauf and FedEx Senior Manager Pat Whalen met with Adduci to inform her that she could not continue working, because her 25-pound lifting restriction prevented her from meeting the job's requirement of being able to lift 75 pounds unassisted. (Fruhauf Decl., ECF No. 41-15, ¶ 10; Adduci Dep., ECF No. 52-2 at 47:6-48:19.)

         At that time, the AFGS division maintained a policy that its part-time employees who were placed on non-work related medical leave (a group that included Adduci) were categorically ineligible to return to work on temporary reassignments.[2] (Fowler Decl., ECF No. 41-21, ¶ 7.) More broadly, FedEx allowed its employees who were unable to perform the full range of their regular job duties to seek temporary work reassignments through its Temporary Return to Work (“TRW”) program. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 53 at ¶ 7.) Although Adduci was excluded from TRW eligibility because of the AFGS policy, Fruhauf “verified that there was no temporary work available in the offload/reaload area . . . that did not require lifting in excess of Adduci's 25 pound lifting restriction.” (Fruhauf Decl., ECF No. 41-15, ¶ 11.)

         Following Adduci's December 24, 2014, meeting with Fruhauf and Whalen, FedEx placed her on unpaid medical leave effective December 26, 2014, citing safety concerns for Adduci and her co-workers if she were allowed to continue working despite her doctor's lifting restriction. (Trouy Decl., ECF No. 41-18, ¶ 3; Fowler Decl., ECF No. 41-21, ¶ 9.)[3]FedEx also considered Adduci to be on leave for purposes of the FMLA effective December 26, 2014. (Fowler Decl., ECF No. 41-21, ¶ 10.) On December 26, 2014, FedEx's human resources manager John Trouy sent Adduci a memorandum, “Medical Leave of Absence Information & Requirements, ” that detailed her obligations to communicate with FedEx while on medical leave. (Trouy Decl., ECF No. 41-18, ¶ 3.) These obligations included providing FedEx “with a current treating physician's statement substantiating continued absence beyond your expected release date or every thirty (30) days, whichever is earlier.” (ECF No. 41-19.)

         While Adduci was on unpaid leave, FedEx human resources advisor Bradly Fowler sent her several letters regarding updates to her status. (Fowler Decl., ECF No. 41-21, ¶¶ 11- 17.) In the first letter, dated February 4, 2015, Fowler requested that Adduci submit medical documentation by February 11, 2015, to verify her continued need for medical leave, and advising her that failing to do so would be considered a voluntary resignation from her job at FedEx. (ECF No. 41-23.) On March 2, 2015, Adduci submitted a note to Fruhauf regarding her upcoming doctor's appointments. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statements of Material Fact, ECF No. 53, ¶ 34.) In the second letter, dated April 2, 2015, Fowler advised Adduci that she had been on medical leave for over 90 days and that “operational necessity” might require replacing her or eliminating her position at FedEx. (ECF No. 41-25.) In the third letter, also dated April 2, 2015, Fowler advised Adduci that, under FedEx's policy, her medical leave would end on June 23, 2015, and that she could apply for other positions with the company if she could not perform the Material Handler job duties. (ECF No. 41-26.) In the final letter, [4]dated April 29, 2015, Fowler advised Adduci that she had failed to provide the medical documentation required to verify her continued need to be absent, and that if she failed to do so by May 6, 2015, FedEx would consider her to be on an unauthorized leave of absence and consider her to have voluntarily resigned. (ECF No. 41-28.) FedEx claims, and Adduci does not dispute, that Adduci failed to provide any additional documentation by the May 6, 2015, deadline. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statements of Material Fact, ECF No. 53, ¶ 42.) Adduci does not dispute that she received the letters, but instead characterizes them as “harassment.” She also asserts, in contradiction of the record, that FedEx “provided that Adduci was granted leave until June 23, 2015.” (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statements of Material Fact, ECF No. 53.)

         Following Adduci's failure to comply with the May 6, 2015, deadline, Fruhauf verified that no temporary work was available in the offload/reload area that did not require lifting in excess of Adduci's 25-pound restriction.[5] (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statements of Material Fact, ECF No. 53, ¶ 43.) FedEx terminated Adduci's employment on May 7, 2015. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statements of Material Fact, ECF No. 53, ¶ 45.)

         b. Procedural History

         On December 22, 2014, Adduci filed a notice of charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination based on sex. (Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Response to Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 56, ¶ 48.) The EEOC mailed Adduci a Notice of Right to Sue on September 23, 2016 (ECF No. 1-1 at 19) and Adduci filed suit in Tennessee Chancery Court on December 16, 2016. (ECF No. 1-1.) FedEx removed the suit to this Court on January 10, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Adduci amended her complaint on February 9, 2017. (ECF No. 16.) The amended complaint asserts claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), the FMLA, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. (Id.) FedEx filed its answer to the amended complaint on February 23, 2017. (ECF Nos. 16, 21.) On March 27, 2017, Adduci voluntarily dismissed her claims for violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act. (ECF No. 26.) The Court entered an order dismissing the claims on March 28, 2017. (ECF No. 27.)

         The Court held an initial scheduling conference on February 14, 2017. (ECF No. 20.) On October 3, 3017, the Court held a status conference at the parties' request, and subsequently amended the scheduling order to extend the deadlines for completing discovery and filing dispositive motions. (ECF No. 38.) Later, the Court re-set the trial date to April 2, 2018. (ECF No. 51.)

         On November 20, 2017, FedEx filed the instant motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 40.) Adduci filed her response on February 2, 2018.[6] (ECF No. 52.) FedEx filed its reply on February 16, 2018. (ECF No. 55.) On March 19, 2018, the Court entered an order granting in part FedEx's motion for summary judgment, which granted summary judgment as to Adduci's claims under the FMLA. (ECF No. 67.)

         II. Summary Judgment Standards

         “The court shall grant 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); accord Haddad v. Alexander, Zelmanski, Danner & Fioritto, PLLC, 758 F.3d 777, 781 (6th Cir. 2014) (per curiam). “A genuine dispute of material facts exists if ‘there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'” Am. Copper & Brass, Inc. v. Lake City Indus. Prods., Inc., 757 F.3d 540, 543-44 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)).

         “The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.” Mosholder v. Barnhardt, 679 F.3d 443, 448 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). “In considering a motion for summary judgment, [the] court construes all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Robertson v. Lucas, 753 F.3d 606, 614 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). “Once the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing a triable issue of material fact.” Mosholder, 679 F.3d at 448-49 (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). “When the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of his case on which he bears the burden of proof, the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and summary judgment is proper.” Martinez v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 703 F.3d 911, 914 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Chapman v. UAW Local 1005, 670 F.3d 677, 680 (6th Cir. 2012) (en banc)). “A fact is ‘material' if its proof or disproof might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law.” Reeves v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 446 F.3d 637, 640 (6th Cir. 2006) (abrogated on other grounds by Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1338 (2015)) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248(1986)).

         To show that a fact is, or is not, genuinely disputed, both parties are required to either “cite[] to particular parts of materials in the record” or “show[] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Bruederle v. Louisville Metro Gov't, 687 F.3d 771, 776 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 866 (2013). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); see also Pharos Capital Partners, L.P. v. Deloitte & ...

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