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Pryor v. Americold Logistics, LLC

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

November 5, 2019

DONALD PRYOR, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICOLD LOGISTICS, LLC, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Donald Pryor alleges claims for disability discrimination against his former employer, Defendant Americold Logistics, LLC, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Specifically, Pryor alleges that Americold discriminated against him by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability and by terminating his employment. Americold moves for summary judgment. (ECF No. 52.)

         Legal Standard

         Rule 56(a) provides that “[t]he 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). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court “must construe all the facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Monroe v. Ind. Dep't of Transp., 871 F.3d 495, 503 (7th Cir. 2017). However, the district court must also view the evidence “through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986), and does not draw “inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture, ” Singer v. Raemisch, 593 F.3d 529, 533 (7th Cir. 2010).

         To withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff “must do more than raise some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts; he must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, ” summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Background

         Americold provides temperature-controlled food warehousing and distribution services. Its Indianapolis warehouse consists of five cooler rooms, two freezer rooms, a loading dock, a designated battery-changing room, and a small office. (Pryor Dep. 14:2-7, 18:8-14, 24:4-5, 27:6-8, ECF No. 53-1.) The cooler rooms, the loading dock, the battery room, and the office are kept at 38 degrees. (Pryor Dep. 14:14-16, 23:20- 21, 24:18-20, 27:15-18, 27:23-25.) The freezer rooms are kept at subzero temperatures. (Pryor Dep. 23:17-19.)

         Beginning in August 2011, Pryor worked the second shift (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) at the Indianapolis warehouse as a Lift Truck Operator (“LTO”). (Pryor Dep. 8:17-24, 11:8- 10.) According to the job description, the LTO job classification's physical requirements include “Constant (67%-100% of the time)” exposure to “Temperature Extreme, ” described as “Freezer zero - negative 5 degrees.” (ECF No. 53-15 at 3.)

         Within the LTO job title, there were various positions. The order selector (evidently also referred to as “picker”) picked the various items for an order from the various rooms, wrapped the order on a skid, and placed the skid in a pick-up spot. (Pryor Dep. 21:15-18.) The runner picked up skids from the pick-up spot and took them to the dock. (Pryor Dep. 21:16-18, 24:6-10.) The loader put the skids on the trucks. (Pryor Dep. 24:6-17.) The stocker refilled the bins when they ran out of product. (Pryor Dep. 66:4-9.) The battery changer changed the batteries on the fork-lifts. (Pryor Dep. 20:2-4.)

         Those positions were awarded through a bidding process based on seniority and training as provided in the collective bargaining agreement. (Devney Decl. ¶ 6; ECF No. 53-8 at 9.) Pryor testified that if an LTO wanted a particular position-e.g., stocker or loader-the employee would bid on an open position under the union contract. (Pryor Dep. 67:25-68:22.) Pryor further testified that he had “no idea” whether those positions were awarded based on seniority. (Pryor Dep. 68:16-18, 68:23-25.) Pryor never bid on a position while at Americold. (Pryor Dep. 28:7-12, 69:1-5.)

         Pryor worked as an order selector. (Pryor Dep. 21:15-18.) The controller, who worked in the office, sent the orders to the computer mounted to Pryor's lift truck. (Pryor Dep. 22:4-13.) Pryor's job was to retrieve the items in the order, wrap the order on a skid, and place the skid in a pick-up spot. As an order selector, Pryor did not work in a particular room but instead would “go to various rooms.” (Pryor Dep. 21:19-21.) “The order could have product in every room from 7 to 1 to be completed. Sometimes it would just be the freezer.” (Pryor Dep. 21:24-22:2.) The amount of time spent in each room varied greatly because “[e]ach room had a particular amount of product that had to be picked. . . . [I]t depended on how fast [the LTO] could pick the order.” (Pryor Dep. 23:8-16.) The percentage of time spent in the freezer area varied from day to day for Pryor and all order selectors. (Pryor Dep. 29:3-14.) Pryor elaborated, “[A]ny given time they, the orders will fluctuate from room to room. You are not going to be in there every day, every hour of the day.” (Pryor Dep. 78:6-9.) Similarly, John Devney testified that, in a typical day, an LTO “could work anyplace in the warehouse, ” that no LTOs work exclusively in the cooler, but that an LTO could work in the cooler for an entire shift “if you get lucky.” (Devney Dep. 22:3-13.) Pryor and another former order selector, David Williams, testified that a handful of order selectors worked exclusively in the coolers, though neither Pryor nor Williams identified anyone by name. Pryor further testified that the cooler-only job “had a title under the contract with the union, ” (Pryor Dep. 74:2-6), but Williams stated that such assignments were given at the start of each shift, (Williams Decl. ¶¶7-8).

         The other LTO positions-runner, loader, stocker-involved less time in the freezers. The loaders and runners worked in areas kept at the same temperature as the coolers. The stocker would be exposed to the freezer for less time than an order selector because “pickers have sometimes forty-five lines to pick so that is forty-five different locations you are going to pick from. A stocker would bring product from the dock into the freezer, place it in the location and then exit.” (Pryor Dep. 71:2-12.)

         In October 2013, Pryor suffered severe frostbite on his left hand after he spent three-quarters of a shift in the freezer with defective gloves. (Pryor Dep. 33:9-35:3; ECF No. 53-3 at 2.) As a result of the frostbite, subsequent exposure to the freezer's extreme cold caused pain and risked further injury. (Pryor Dep. 51:10-15.) Pryor was out for several months and received worker's compensation through October 1, 2014. (Pryor Dep. 40:13-25, 42:22-43:7.) While on worker's compensation, Pryor visited several doctors who imposed temporary restrictions barring Pryor from working in “deep cold.” (Pryor Dep. 46:22-47:4, 48:24-49:6, 49:24-50:7, 50:21-51:3.)

         Americold's Safety Supervisor John Devney asked Pryor to return to work, and Pryor returned in April 2014 for about eight and a half days under Americold's “return-to-work” or “alternate duty” program. (Pryor Dep. 62:1-24, 92:2-14; Devney Dep. 16:8-12, 17:3-8.) Alternate duty is limited to six months. (Devney Dep. 29:9- 23.) While on alternate duty, Pryor worked with Devney to see whether Pryor could work in the freezer. (Pryor Dep. 63:3-19.) Pryor was allowed to leave the freezer to warm up as often as necessary. (Pryor Dep. 63:13-19.) Pryor wore three layers of gloves while working in ...


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