United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
McVicker Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge.
Amber Bridges worked in various capacities for the Marion
Superior Court from December 2010 through May 11, 2017, when
her employment was terminated. Her termination occurred after
her superiors conducted an inquiry of various employees that
was prompted by a complaint Ms. Bridges had brought to their
attention-that another employee was the source of an odor
within the office environs. Ms. Bridges asserts in this
lawsuit that (a) her employer regarded the other employee as
disabled and terminated Ms. Bridges's employment because
of her “association” with that employee and (b)
her termination therefore violated the
“association” discrimination provision of the
Americans with Disabilities as Amended (“ADAAA”).
City of Indianapolis has moved for summary judgment. For the
reasons addressed below, the City's motion is GRANTED.
judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine disputes of
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The court views
the facts and the reasonable inferences flowing from them in
the light most favorable to the nonmovant. McConnell v.
McKillip, 573 F.Supp.2d 1090, 1097 (S.D. Ind. 2008).
“material fact” is one that “might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if
“there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving
party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.”
Id. at 249. The party moving for summary judgment
bears the initial burden to inform the district court of the
basis for its motion and the evidence it believes
demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material
fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The nonmovant may
not rest on her pleading but must “make a sufficient
showing on [each] essential element of her case with respect
to which she bears the burden of proof, ” id.
at 323, by designating “specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at
324. Disputes about irrelevant facts do not matter; only
factual disputes that might affect the outcome of the suit in
light of the substantive law will prevent summary judgment.
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248.
designated admissible evidence, with all reasonable
inferences drawn and evidentiary conflicts resolved in Ms.
Bridges's favor, reveals the following.
Bridges was hired in December 2010 by the Marion Superior
Court to work at the Arrestee Processing Center
(“APC”). She generally worked the night shift,
and her job included obtaining information from arrestees to
assist in the development of a bonding recommendation, court
reporting, updating case files in the court's database
system, and preparing files for the court. (Bridges Dep.
Trans., Dkt. 42-2, p. 4, lines 17-20, p. 5, lines 15-23, p.
6, lines 6-9). In early March 2016, Ms. Bridges was promoted
as the new “Staff Lead” for the APC. Although
Staff Lead was a non-management position and Ms. Bridges
continued to perform her usual duties, the job as Staff Lead
included leadership responsibilities, such as training new
employees, helping to promote office efficiencies, working
closely with the APC Director, and filling in for employees
(whether day, night, or weekend shifts) who were absent from
work because of sickness or vacation.
this period, Ms. Bridges was considered an exceptional
employee. She received very high marks in her June 2016
annual performance evaluation of her work as a bailiff and
then Staff Lead for the APC in the preceding year and was
assessed at the highest Outstanding level of 10, on a 1 to 10
scale, in nearly all performance categories. Her high level
of job competence, dependability, and willingness to help
while an APC bailiff were emphasized, and it was noted that
the APC Staff Lead position was a natural progression for her
because of her exceptional knowledge and skills as an APC
bailiff. Her lowest score-a 7 out of 10-was in the area of
“judgment.” The evaluator explained that Ms.
Bridges could improve on “setting better
boundaries” with other APC bailiffs, should not
“micromanage, ” and should make better judgment
calls in her new leadership role. (Dkt. 42-6 at pp. 2-5).
July 2016, at the request of a supervisor for the Magistrate
Court (a court that provided judicial functions in connection
with arrestees within the Arrestee Processing Center), Ms.
Bridges began also assisting from time to time with that
court's operations. (See July 26, 2016 email,
Dkt. 42-7 at p. 2). When the APC group was fully-staffed for
a particular shift-and Ms. Bridges therefore did not need to
fill in for an absent employee-Ms. Bridges would move to the
Magistrate Court staff's area and assist its functions.
The Magistrate Court staff worked a day shift, and Ms.
Bridges began working in that staff's office about once
or twice per week until January 2017. In January 2017, Ms.
Bridges was named the “Lead” for the Magistrate
Court staff, in addition to continuing her duties as Staff
Lead for the APC staff. Although not completely clear from
the record, when Ms. Bridges was named Lead for the
Magistrate Court staff in January 2017, her base of
operations moved to the Magistrate Court staff's room.
employee named Ms. McRoy-the person about whom Ms. Bridges
brought complaints to the attention of her superiors-began
working for the Magistrate Court on September 6, 2016. The
Magistrate Court staff (generally five people) had their work
desks in one office space that they shared with two clerks
for the court. Their five desks were in two rows. Ms.
Bridges's desk was in the row of three and she sat in the
middle desk in front of Ms. McRoy's desk.
Bridges thought there was a foul odor in the Magistrate
Court's staff's work room that she noticed every time
she worked in that office. She did not know where the odor
was coming from, but one of the employees kept air freshener
in her desk and “it would be like, ‘What's
that smell?' and then the spray would come out just to
clear it up.” (Bridges Dep., p. 28, lines 23-25). Some
time in late 2016- maybe November or December-Ms. Bridges
reached the conclusion that Ms. McRoy was the source of the
smell because she perceived that the office did not smell if
Ms. McRoy was not there and the smell was more pronounced
when Ms. McRoy came to Ms. Bridges's desk or reached over
it. (Id., p. 32, lines 18-23).
Ms. Bridges decided to report the issue to her superior,
Angela Biddle, who supervised the Magistrate Court staff. The
record is inconsistent about when this happened. Ms. Bridges
testified in her deposition that she reported the issue to
Ms. Biddle in December 2016, but Angela Biddle testified by
affidavit that this occurred in April or early May 2017.
Ultimately, the date is not material. The record is
consistent that-whenever it happened-Ms. Bridges made an
appointment with Ms. Biddle and told her that there was an
unbearable odor, the staff had all complained about it, and
there was a consensus that Ms. McRoy was the source. Ms.
Biddle told Ms. Bridges that she needed to ask her superior
(Paige Bova Kervan, the Chief Operations Officer for the
Marion Superior Court) how to handle the situation. Ms.
Biddle then reported back to Ms. Bridges after discussing it
with Ms. Bova Kervan “that there was nothing that we
could really do about it because it could be a health issue,
and that could come off as discrimination and it was
something that they couldn't have from the court.”
(Bridges Dep., p. 46, line 20 to p. 47 line 1).
Bridges addressed the odor issue by bringing a scent-warmer
to the office-a device that heats scented wax and fills the
air with that scent. (Id., p 47, lines 10-24). She
put it on her desk, took votes about which scents she should
buy, and she and others in the office (but not Ms. McRoy)