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Walker v. United Parcel Service

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 20, 2015




This cause is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 39], filed on April 11, 2014. Plaintiff Danielle Walker, proceeding pro se, brings this claim against her current employer, the United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS), alleging that UPS failed to accommodate her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

Factual Background

General Background

UPS is engaged in the business of transporting and delivering packages across the world. UPS operates the following three facilities in the Indianapolis, Indiana, area: the 81st Street and 16th Street "hub" facilities, and the Castleton package center.

In August or September 2007, Ms. Walker was hired by UPS to work at the 81st Street facility as a part-time package loader/unloader. During all relevant times of her employment with UPS, Ms. Walker worked solely at the 81st Street facility and only in part-time positions. As a part-time employee, Ms. Walker worked about twenty-five hours per week, loading customer packages from an automated belt onto outgoing UPS trailers and unloading packages from incoming trailers to an automated belt. Depending upon the season, she was at times allowed to work overtime hours.

As a loader/unloader at UPS, Ms. Walker was a member of the Teamsters Local 135 Union and the terms of her employment were governed by the Local 135 Rider Supplement to the National Master United Parcel Service Agreement and Central Region Supplemental Agreement (hereinafter the "CBA"). According to UPS, Ms. Walker remains an employee of the company but is out on a medical leave of absence.[1]

Customer packages processed at the 81st Street facility are divided into three categories: "small sort, " "regular" or "standard, " and "bulk" packages. Small sort packages are smaller in size, typically equivalent to a shoe box or letter size, and can weigh no more than 8 pounds each. Regular or standard packages weigh between 9 and 70 pounds, and are larger in size than small sort packages. Bulk packages weigh between 70 and 150 pounds, or are unusually large in size. Loaders/unloaders are required to handle all three of these categories of packages.

Plaintiff's April 2010 Injury

On April 13, 2010, Ms. Walker had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament ("ACL") in her right knee. The cause of Ms. Walker's knee injury and the resulting surgery was not work related. Ms. Walker was seen by Dr. Thomas Trainer who opined that she could return to work on July 12, 2010 with the restriction of lifting no more than 8 pounds. Ms. Walker contends that on July 12, 2010, she returned to work and showed Dr. Trainer's report to UPS Manager Carmen Edwards. According to Ms. Walker, Mr. Edwards told her that she could not return to work with restrictions because her injury was not work-related and that she would need to return to her treating physician to get the restrictions removed before she could come back to work at UPS. Ms. Walker contends that she did so and then returned to Mr. Edwards, who told her that she would need to see a UPS treating physician before returning to work. According to Ms. Walker, after visiting the physician required by UPS, she returned to work on July 18, 2010 in the position of sorter[2] (another position at UPS).

UPS, however, contends that she did not return to work without restrictions until September 17, 2010. According to UPS, when Ms. Walker returned to work after the surgery, she performed a job assignment for approximately one month (from September to October 2010) that she described as "jam-breaker." This assignment required Ms. Walker to stand next to an automated belt carrying small sort packages and to break apart groups of packages that were jammed together, by leaning over the belt and physically manipulating those packages. The "jam-breaker" position also entailed lifting off of an automated belt standard sized customer packages that had mistakenly been sorted in with the small sort packages. Finally, the "jam-breaker" assignment required Ms. Walker to place empty canvas bags on bin racks located next to the automated belt carrying small sort packages, into which other employees would then place small sort packages. According to Ms. Walker, approximately twenty-five percent of her time as a "jam-breaker" was spent moving improperly sorted packages and hanging the canvas bags on racks.

In November 2010, Ms. Walker requested that UPS move her back to her loading/unloading position because the "jam-breaker" assignment was more difficult than loading packages. Outside of the one month she spent as a "jam-breaker, " Ms. Walker performed the loading/unloading position at all other times relevant to this litigation. Plaintiff's December 2010 Injury and Temporary Alternative Work Assignment

Eight months after her first injury, on December 14, 2010, Ms. Walker again injured her knee while performing her loader/unloader job. Ms. Walker received immediate treatment and was issued a return to work note that same day with the following restrictions: "[m]ust use crutches 100% of the time" and "[s]hould be sitting 100% of the time" with "no climbing stairs or ladders" and no lifting, standing, or walking. Dkt. No. 48-2 at 19. A worker's compensation claim arising from her December 2010 injury was subsequently submitted on Ms. Walker's behalf.

The CBA that governs Ms. Walker's employment provides that UPS may at its discretion assign an employee who is temporarily unable to perform the essential functions of her position because of an injury to a temporary alternative work assignment ("TAW") involving "light duty" tasks for a limited time period, typically around thirty days. TAW tasks are not permanent positions but rather are "designed to provide temporary work opportunity to those employees who are unable to perform their normal work assignments due to an on-the-job injury" as they recover. Exh. 1 to Walker Dep. Pursuant to the CBA, UPS "maintains the right to determine the availability and designation of all TAW assignments." Id.

Following Ms. Walker's December 14, 2010 injury, UPS provided her with a TAW assignment at the 81st Street facility between January 4, 2011 and February 17, 2011, a period of approximately seven weeks. During this time, Ms. Walker was paid for approximately 75 hours and was occasionally assigned to perform miscellaneous administrative or "light duty" tasks. For example, for two of the days Ms. Walker was on TAW status, she was asked to fold t-shirts that are given as prizes to UPS employees who earn incentive points in their jobs. Ms. Walker also was asked to study for and to take two routine safety tests while she was on TAW status. Additionally, for one day, Ms. Walker was assigned to work in UPS's small sort area. Ms. Walker was given a chair and a cart, placed next to a belt with numerous standard size packages that had been improperly placed in the small sort area, and asked to move the packages off the belt and onto the cart. According to Ms. Walker, the packages weighed between ten and fifteen pounds. She was only able to perform this task for one or two hours before stopping due to pain and being "very uncomfortable" sitting in the chair. UPS did not ask Ms. Walker to perform this task again. UPS also offered Ms. Walker the opportunity to use work time while she was on TAW status to study for and take a written test that would qualify her to become a "sorter, " but she declined to do so.

Because the purpose of the TAW assignments is to provide work for employees temporarily unable to perform their assigned jobs while they recover from workplace injuries, UPS rarely allows employees to remain on TAW status for more than eight weeks. According to UPS, in February 2011, the company's risk management group learned that Ms. Walker's doctors were recommending that she have another surgery on her right knee, which would necessitate a longer recovery time.[3] Smith Decl. ΒΆ 10. Because Ms. Walker had at that point already been on TAW status for a number of weeks, UPS ended her TAW assignment on February 16, 2011, after seven weeks, and placed her on a medical leave of absence at that time. Ms. Walker, however, contends that in February 2011 her doctors were still not certain that she would require surgery. Dkt. No. 48-2 at 34-35.

Plaintiff's Work Restrictions in 2011 and Early 2012

On March 1, 2011, UPS sent Ms. Walker to Dr. Scott Lintner for treatment. Dr. Lintner determined that surgery was necessary and, on April 11, 2011, Ms. Walker underwent an ACL reconstruction surgery on her right knee. Throughout the remainder of 2011, Ms. Walker continued to receive treatment, including physical therapy on her right knee. While Ms. Walker was on a medical leave of absence, she was eligible for a weekly income replacement benefit through worker's compensation insurance as long as she continued to receive treatment and continued to recover from her injury.

UPS uses Liberty Mutual Insurance to provide worker's compensation insurance and to administer worker's compensation claims. Liberty Mutual representatives communicated frequently with Ms. Walker and the health care professionals providing her treatment to discuss her medical status, medical expenses, medications, physical therapy treatments, and the status of her benefits. UPS's Risk Management department, located at the company's corporate offices in Louisville, Kentucky, coordinated directly with Liberty Mutual to assist in managing Ms. Walker's worker's compensation claim. UPS operations personnel from the 81st Street facility also periodically communicated with Ms. Walker in 2011 and 2012 to discuss her ongoing treatment progress and return to work status. According to Ms. Walker, Liberty Mutual faxed her doctors' notes to UPS each time she received treatment in order to keep UPS updated on her condition.

Prior to April 2012, Ms. Walker never communicated to anyone at UPS her desire to return to work. Rather, throughout 2011 and at least through January 2012, Ms. Walker consistently told UPS operations personnel that she was receiving treatment for her injury and that neither she nor her doctors anticipated her return to work. During this same time period, Ms. Walker's treating physician, Dr. Lintner, repeatedly communicated to Ms. Walker and to Liberty Mutual representatives that she should continue to receive physical therapy and treatment for her right knee injury, and that her work status remained "sit down work" only. This information was in turn communicated to UPS by Liberty Mutual representatives.

Plaintiff's Request for Independent Medical Examination

In late January 2012, Liberty Mutual determined that it was likely that Ms. Walker had reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI") on her right knee, based on its review of her medical history and treatment progress since suffering the injury, despite her treating health care provider not yet having made that determination. MMI is a term used in the worker's compensation context to describe the point at which the patient will no longer gain benefit or improve functionality with further treatment or physical therapy. Based on its determination that Ms. Walker had reached MMI, on February 27, 2012, Liberty Mutual sent ...

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