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Achors v. FCA US, L.L.C.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana

September 29, 2017

KIMBERLY ACHORS, Plaintiff,
v.
FCA US, L.L.C., Defendant.

          ENTRY GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DOC. 34]

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kimberly Achors claims that her employer, defendant FCA US, L.L.C., is liable to her for various violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. FCA moves for summary judgment on all of Ms. Achors's claims and its motion is now fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons explained herein, the motion is granted despite a denial in part on a single underlying, nondispositive issue..

         A 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). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and a dispute about a material fact is genuine only if, on the presented evidence, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” id., at 248.

         “As the ‘”put up or shut up” moment in a lawsuit, ' summary judgment requires a non-moving party to respond to the moving party's properly-supported motion by identifying specific, admissible evidence showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial.” Grant v. Trustees of Indiana University, No. 16-1958, 2017 WL 3753996, *4 (7th Cir., August 31, 2017). “If there is no triable issue of fact on even one essential element of the nonmovant's case, summary judgment is appropriate.” Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). A court construes the cited evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). However, the non-moving party “is not entitled to the benefit of inferences that are supported only by speculation or conjecture.” Boss, 816 F.3d at 916. A court does not weigh the evidence or determine credibility because those tasks are reserved for the fact-finder at trial. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011).

         I. Undisputed facts

         Except as specifically noted, the following facts have been established by the parties through citations to admissible evidence in the record and have not been genuinely disputed by cited evidence or they have been admitted in the parties' pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); Perez v. El Tequila, L.L.C., 847 F.3d 1247, 1254 (10th Cir. 2017).

         FCA hired Ms. Achors on March 7, 1994. Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial [doc. 1] (“Complaint”), ¶ 10; Defendant's Answer and Affirmative Defenses [doc. 15] (“Answer”), ¶ 10. Ms. Achors was first assigned to a transmission assembly line where she continued to work until 2001. Defendant's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 35] (“Defendant's Brief”), Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (“SMF”), at 5. The parties dispute the specific title of Ms. Achors's job but they do not dispute that she actually performed assembly-line work.

         In 2001, Ms. Achors experienced a seizure and was diagnosed with Tardive dyskinesia, a disorder that results in seizures occurring on average once a month.[1] The medical statement that she submitted to FCA restricted her from working in close proximity to moving parts and flashing lights, which meant that she no longer could work on or around the assembly line. These restrictions were continuously in effect during her employment. Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 5. For the next fourteen years, FCA assigned her to jobs that complied with her medical restrictions. Id. Ms. Achors testified that FCA was “pretty good and found me a lot of jobs” that all complied. Id., at 5-6. No one at FCA questioned or rejected her medical restrictions. Id., at 5-6.

         After her seizure and submission of medical restrictions in 2001, Ms. Achors was off work for several months. Following another seizure in 2012, FCA placed her on “Code 31” status, which meant that she remained on the employment rolls despite there being no work for her and she was paid approximately ninety percent of her normal wage. She remained on Code 31 status for two years, from 2012 to October 2014, until FCA called her back because it found work that she could perform. Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition [doc. 60] (“Response”), Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts (“SAMF”), at 4, ¶ 2; Defendant's Reply [doc. 63] (“Reply”), Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts (“RSAMF”), at 6, ¶ 2; Defendant's Brief, Exhibit A, Excerpts of Deposition of Kimberly Achors [doc. 35-1] (“Achors Dep.”), at deposition pp. 67-69.

         Mr. Larrison's alleged comments.

         Myron “Mike” Larrison was “the Joint Team Leader Selection Committee for the Kokomo Transmission Plant” (a union-appointed position) and a co-worker of Ms. Achors. They did not actually work together but occasionally saw each other in the outdoor smoking area during breaks and while walking around the plant. Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 7. Before October 15, 2014, Mr. Larrison made certain unwelcome comments to Ms. Achors. The first such comment occurred after she returned to work in October 2014 following her Code 31 status. While conversing with other employees in the smoking area on a hot day, someone mentioned that popsicles were not brought around and Ms. Achors expressed surprise and said that “[w]e never got Popsicles” (before her Code 31). Mr. Larrison responded, “Well, how would you know? You never come to work, you know, you've always been on sick leave.” Response, SAMF, at 4, ¶ 1; Achors Dep., pp. 64-66. He made additional, similar comments prior to October 15, 2014: (1) he commented about her being in the hospital, (2) he said that she is a “mental patient, ” (3) he asked her husband, “How could you stay with her? She's a bitch, ” and (4) he asked her husband, “How could you stay with her when she's crazy.” Id., at 4, ¶ 3; Achors Dep., p. 72. Ms. Achors testified that Mr. Larrison made many such comments to her, “one after another.” Achors Dep., p. 72.

         According to Ms. Achors, on October 15, 2014, she and Mr. Larrison attended a fundraiser at the plant and were present in the dunk tank area. In return for a five dollar donation, a thrower received five balls to throw at the tank. Mr. Larrison was getting ready to get in the dunk tank when Ms. Achors said to others that she would donate ninety dollars to anyone who could dunk him. Ms. Achors testified that, after someone told Mr. Larrison what she had said, he approached her and said, “Yeah, well I know somebody that would give $2, 000.00 if you go home and shoot yourself in the head.” Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 7; Achors Dep., pp. 72-73.[2] On October 21, 2014, Ms. Achors reported Mr. Larrison's alleged October 15, 2014, comment to James Smith, an FCA Labor Relations representative at the time, and Mr. Smith investigated. He interviewed Mr. Larrison, who denied making the statement, and two witnesses whom Ms. Achors had identified as having heard the comment, but those witnesses denied hearing it. No disciplinary action was taken against Mr. Larrison. Response, SMF, at 7-8.

         Ms. Achors testified that, after she had reported Mr. Larrison's comment to Mr. Smith, Mr. Larrison said to her in passing, “You was stupid. That was about dumb of you to do something like that.” Response, SAMF, at 4, ¶ 4; Achors Dep., pp. 78-79. Mr. Larrison has testified that he did not make the comment. Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 8 n. 1.

         November 11, 2014, incident.

         On November 11, 2014, Ashley Baugues, a Safety Specialist at the Kokomo Transmission Plant, told Deidre Fultz, a Manufacturing Manager, to find a job for Ms. Achors that would accommodate her medical restrictions. Before this date, Ms. Fultz had not met or interacted with Ms. Achors, and she was unaware of her restrictions and previous accommodations. Ms. Baugues explained Ms. Achors's restrictions to Ms. Fultz and Ms. Fultz responded that they could create an accommodating work area where Ms. Achors would be prevented from having to see moving objects. Ms. Fultz helped set up the workstation where Ms. Achors would be performing her new job of taking parts out of a tub and placing them into a cart to be taken to the assembly line. Curtains were installed to block Ms. Achors's view of “vehicular traffic” (apparently, motorized carts driven by employees), and she was supplied with an ergonomic chair. In performing these tasks, Ms. Achors was able to face toward the wall. Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 8-9.

         When Ms. Achors arrived at her work area, she questioned why the curtains were placed to block the aisleway but would not block her view of a moving conveyor belt, which she claimed would be visible when she would turn to retrieve parts from the tubs. Ms. Achors testified that Ms. Fultz responded that the aisleway was screened so that other employees would not stop their passing carts and talk to her, and that she should not worry about viewing the conveyor belt, since she was to stare at the wall. Because this would entail her having such a limited view, Ms. Achors asked that her union steward be called. Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 9; Response, Statement of Disputed Material Facts (“SDMF”), at 3; Achors Dep., pp. 86-87.

         Ms. Achors testified that, at that point, a heated altercation commenced between her and Ms. Fultz, with Ms. Fultz screaming at her and spit getting on her face and in her mouth. Ms. Achors told Ms. Fultz to “get the f out of my face.” Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 9; Response, SDMF, at 5, ¶ 10; Reply, RSAMF, at 9, ¶ 10; Achors Dep., p. 87. Ms. Fultz asked Ms. Achors to get on her cart to go to Labor Relations and Ms. Achors refused. Ms. Fultz called security. Security officers arrived and asked for Ms. Achors's badge. She refused to give it to them and told them not to touch her. Ms. Achors's union committeeman and union steward arrived at the area, as did Mr. Smith and his boss, Doug Lutes, the Labor Relations Supervisor. Mr. Lutes asked for Ms. Achors's badge and she complied. Either the union committeeman and steward walked her out of the Plant, Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 10; Achors Dep., pp. 87-89, or security escorted her out, Fultz Dep., p. 23.

         Ms. Achors was indefinitely suspended as a result of the incident. Ms. Fultz and Mr. Smith denied making the decision to suspend her. Consistent with standard practice at the plant in cases of suspension, Ms. Achors's union grieved the suspension and Mr. Smith investigated the incident as part of the grievance process. He considered a statement written by Ms. Fultz and signed by her and Ms. Baugues[3] and he interviewed other witnesses. Ms. Fultz's statement related that Ms. Achors screamed and yelled throughout the incident; engaged in threatening behavior; and refused to surrender her badge to security before finally handing it to Mr. Lutes. An agreement was reached between FCA and the union whereby Ms. Achors's indefinite suspension was amended to allow her to return to work on January 20, 2015. Defendant's Brief, SMF, at 10-11; Response, SDMF, at 3.

         II. Discussion

         In her response, Ms. Achors has abandoned her claims under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., Complaint, Count Two, and her ADA claims based on her termination, id., Count One ¶¶ 50, 52, and last clause of 51. Response, at 1 n. 1. What remain are three claims under the ADA: (1) FCA failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations for her Tardive dyskinesia; (2) FCA's suspension of her in November 2014 because of her disability, her requests for accommodation, and/or her complaint of harassment because of her disability; and (3) FCA subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her disability. Response, at 7.

         A. Reasonable accommodation.

         The elements of a failure-to-accommodate claim under the ADA are: (1) the plaintiff is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) her employer was aware of her disability; and (3) her employer failed to reasonably accommodate her disability. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Autozone, Inc., 809 F.3d 916, 919 (7th Cir. 2016). There is no dispute for purposes of the present motion that Ms. Achors has a disability and that FCA was aware of it. Ms. Achors claims that FCA failed three times to reasonably accommodate her Tardive dyskinesia: (1) a job created for her in 2012 involved moving machinery; (2) the workstation created by Ms. Fultz on November 11, 2014, allowed Ms. ...


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