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Bridges v. City of Indianapolis

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

July 11, 2019



          Debra McVicker Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff 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”).

         Defendant City of Indianapolis[1] has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons addressed below, the City's motion is GRANTED.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary 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).

         A “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.

         Statement of Facts

         The designated admissible evidence, with all reasonable inferences drawn and evidentiary conflicts resolved in Ms. Bridges's favor, reveals the following.

         Ms. 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.

         As of 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).

         In late 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.

         An 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.

         Ms. 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).

         Eventually, 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).

         Ms. 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) would ...

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