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Jackson v. Regal Beloit America, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division

June 21, 2018




         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Regal Beloit America, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff Sheila Jackson's employment-discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”), the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”). In its Motion, Regal Beloit America, Inc. (“Regal”) argues that Jackson has failed to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Regal violated the ADA, KCRA, FMLA, or GINA. The Court has federal-question jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.


         In November of 2011, Plaintiff Sheila Jackson began working for Regal[1] at its Florence, Kentucky location, where Regal operates the Power Transmission Solutions segment of its business and manufacturers couplings for Kop-Flex and components for System Plast. (Docs. # 40-1 at 19; 41-1 at 7). At all times relevant to this action, Jackson worked on a swing-shift (from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) as a Value Added Packer (Grade 5) on the Distribution side of Regal's facility. (Docs. # 40-1 at 14-17, 51; 51-2 at 2). As a Value Added Packer (Grade 5), Jackson picked and packed drive kits, “retriev[ing] parts ordered by customers from various areas in Regal's warehouse” and then “assembl[ing] those parts on a pallet for shipping to the customer.” Id. To perform those job duties, Jackson operated powered industrial equipment. Id. Specifically, Jackson operated a Taylor-Dunn motorized three-wheel cart and a Crown forklift. (Doc. # 40-1 at 17-18).

         In July of 2014, Jackson was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery. (Doc. # 40-1 at 31). As a result, Jackson requested, and was granted, leave under the FMLA. (Doc. # 40-1 at 232-240). Jackson's doctor cleared her to return to work on September 23, 2014. (Doc. # 40-1 at 242). After using vacation time, Jackson returned to Regal on October 1, 2014. Id. Upon her return to work, Jackson resumed her position as a Value Added Packer (Grade 5) and performed her job as she had before, with no restrictions and no performance issues. (Doc. # 41-1 at 52).

         In the early part of 2015, Regal notified Jackson that she would need to undergo a medical screening. (Doc. # 40-1 at 34). Regal contracted with Saint Elizabeth Business Health to provide medical screenings of its employees. (Doc. # 41-1 at 19). On January 15, 2015, Jackson underwent a medical screening with Dr. Haskell. Id. at 111. During this appointment, Dr. Haskell obtained information regarding Jackson's medical history and conducted a medical examination. (Doc. # 36-5 at 10-11). The Occupation/Medical Health Examination form shows that Jackson passed her vision test and that she had no physical abnormalities. Id. at 11.

         At some point during the appointment, Dr. Haskell inquired about Jackson's history of colon cancer and her prior surgery.[2] (Doc. # 40-1 at 44). Jackson, however, refused to discuss her colon cancer or her surgery with Dr. Haskell. Id. at 37. At the conclusion of the appointment, Dr. Haskell requested that Jackson provide her medical records for his review. Id. at 39. Dr. Haskell also sent a letter to Regal, detailing Jackson's visit and the status of her medical clearance:

This is to inform you that Sheila Jackson was seen for a physical examination on 01/15/2015. The examination has been placed on medical hold pending receipt of additional information concerning the individual. The patient has been instructed to provide the requested documentation within two weeks in order for the provider to make a medical determination. If the information is not received within the time allotted the physical results will be reported as incomplete.

Id. at 112. Attached to Dr. Haskell's correspondence was a “Medical Condition Clarification” form, which identified Jackson's “medical condition of concern” as “surgery - all medical records” and requested that Jackson “provide the following information from [her] treating medical provider to the Business Health center within two weeks”:

1. Current diagnosis of your medical condition
2. The treatment you have received to date
3. The prognosis
4. Any relevant tests
5. List any medications you are receiving and any restrictions arising from their use
6. Any restrictions or limitations that may limit your activities at home or at work and the time period during which those restrictions will be in effect
7. Any additional information that your medical provider thinks would help us to make our medical recommendation

Id. at 111. The Medical Condition Clarification form also warned that the employee “may be unable to perform any work related duties until you provide the requested information.” Id.

         When Jackson returned to work, she met with Nicole George, Regal's Human Resource Manager, and explained that she had passed the medical screening and did not believe Dr. Haskell needed access to her medical records. Id. at 39. At the conclusion of that conversation, Jackson offered to provide a note from the doctor who had performed her colon-cancer surgery, Dr. Moon. Id. On January 16, 2015, Dr. Moon faxed a letter to Regal's Human Resources Department, which opined: “Sheila Jackson is able to drive any [t]ype of vehicles since she was released to go back to work without restrictions. If you have any questions please contact my office.” (Doc. # 41-1 at 109-110). That day, Nicole George forwarded Dr. Moon's correspondence to Dr. Haskell. Id. at 28. Dr. Haskell did not respond to the submission of Dr. Moon's letter. Id.

         After approximately two weeks had passed, Nicole George contacted Saint Elizabeth Business Health to inquire about the status of Jackson's medical clearance. Id. at 33. Although she confirmed that they had received the note from Dr. Moon, George was told that the information provided was inadequate. Id. George then informed Jackson's supervisor, Mike Tobias, that Jackson's medical clearance was still pending and summoned Jackson to a meeting. Id. At that meeting, George advised Jackson that she would need to provide the requested documentation to Dr. Haskell in order to operate powered industrial equipment, and warned Jackson that if she did not comply, “she could potentially be displaced per [Regal's] policy.” Id.

         On February 10, 2015, Dr. Haskell rendered his final Occupational Determination on a pre-printed form, checking the box next to “Additional medical information has not been received concerning this individual. Physical results are incomplete.” Id. at 113. Three days later-on February 13, 2015-George, Tobias, and Jackson had a meeting, where Regal notified Jackson that she was being displaced from her Value Added Packer (Grade 5) Position “due to [Jackson's] inability to operate a powered industrial vehicle per the incomplete medical screening results.” Id. at 130. At that time, Jackson was offered three Grade 3 positions that did not require the use of powered industrial equipment. Id. Jackson was also informed that she had approximately one year, until February 11, 2016, “to bid into another internal opportunity that does not require the operation of a powered industrial vehicle” and warned that “[f]ailure to bid and take another opportunity before February 11, 2016, [would] result in [her] being placed into any open available job at the time” and that her “employment [would] be terminated” if she “refuse[d] the placement.” Id. Jackson elected “displacement” in lieu of selecting an open position outside of the drive-kit department. Id.

         Jackson was displaced into a Grade 3 position, and her job duties no longer included the operation of powered industrial equipment. (Doc. # 41-1 at 38). However, Jackson retained her swing-shift hours and her rate of pay stayed the same. (Doc. # 40-1 at 82). Approximately seven months after being displaced-on September 21, 2015- Jackson filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, alleging that Regal had violated the ADA and GINA. (Docs. # 41-1 at 57; 31 at ¶ 4).

         On February 2, 2016-as Jackson's one-year displacement deadline drew near- Nicole George and Joe DeVillez, the Director of Distribution at Regal's Florence, Kentucky Facility, summoned Jackson to a meeting. (Docs. # 51-2 at 2; 41-1 at 58). During that meeting, Jackson was reminded that her displacement time would expire on February 11, 2016, and was presented with a document that listed positions that had been open for bidding during Jackson's displacement. (Docs. # 40-1 at 63; 41-1 at 137). Jackson was also offered another opportunity to complete a medical screening with Saint Elizabeth Business Health. Id. When Jackson asked if the medical screening would require her to submit her medical records, Regal responded in the affirmative and explained that the doctor “needed to understand her history so they could authorize her to be safe to operate [powered industrial equipment].” (Doc. # 41-1 at 137). Despite Regal's assurance that it would not receive Jackson's medical records from Saint Elizabeth Business Health, Jackson declined another medical examination because she did not want to disclose her medical records. (Docs. # 40-1 at 63-64; 41-1 at 137).

         Because of her unwillingness to submit to a medical examination and provide her medical records, Regal presented Jackson with five positions, which did not require the use of powered industrial equipment: three Grade 3 positions in the Molding Department covering first, second, and third shifts; a third-shift Grade 7 Extrusion Set-Up Tech position; and a second-shift Grade 7 CNC Operator position. (Doc. # 41-1 at 127). Jackson refused to accept placement in any of those positions and Regal terminated her employment, effective February 11, 2016. Id. When presented with her termination letter, Jackson refused to sign. (Docs. # 40-1 at 72; 41-1 at 127). Shortly after her termination- on April 25, 2016-Jackson filed another EEOC charge, claiming that Regal had discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the ADA and Title VII. (Doc. # 31 at ¶ 4). The EEOC issued Jackson right-to-sue letters for Charge One and Charge Two, on April 14, 2016 and May 3, 2016, respectively. Id. at ¶ 5.

         On July 12, 2016, Jackson filed suit against Regal, alleging that Regal had discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the ADA, KCRA, FMLA, and GINA.[3](Doc. # 1). After the parties completed discovery, Regal filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment as a matter of law on each of Jackson's claims. (Doc. # 36). Jackson having filed her Response (Doc. # 42), Regal having filed its Reply (Doc. # 51), and the Court having heard oral argument on the Motion on June 15, 2018 (Doc. # 53), Regal's Motion for Summary Judgment is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, Regal's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 36) is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “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 genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence … for a jury to return a verdict for” the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The “moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact.” Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008). Once a party files a properly supported motion for summary judgment, by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. However, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient.” Id. at 252.

         The Court must “accept Plaintiff's evidence as true and draw all reasonable inferences in [her] favor.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). The Court is not permitted to “make credibility determinations” or “weigh the evidence when determining whether an issue of fact remains for trial.” Id. (citing Logan v. Denny's, Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001)). “The ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Back v. Nestle USA, Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under governing law, the entry of summary judgment is precluded. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         As the moving party, Regal must shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming Regal satisfies its burden, Jackson “must-by deposition, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file-show specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.” Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).

         B. Discrimination and Retaliation under the ADA and KCRA

         The ADA prohibits employers[4] from discriminating against “a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A “qualified individual” is “an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). Because the language of the KCRA “mirrors that of the ADA, ” Jackson's claims under the KCRA will be analyzed concurrently and “consistently with the standards developed under the ADA.” Bryson v. Regis Corp., 498 F.3d 561, 574 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Howard Baer, Inc. v. Schave, 127 S.W.3d 589, 592 (Ky. 2003).

         If “the plaintiff seeks to establish discrimination through indirect, rather than direct, evidence, ” the tripartite burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), provides the proper approach for analyzing the discrimination claim. Talley v. Family Dollar Stores of Ohio, Inc., 542 F.3d 1099, 1105 (6th Cir. 2008). Under this approach, the initial burden is on the plaintiff to make out a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating that “(1) he or she is disabled; (2) otherwise qualified for the position, with or without reasonable accommodation; (3) suffered an adverse employment decision; (4) the employer knew or had reason to know of the plaintiff's disability; and (5) the position remained open while the employer sought other applicants or the disabled individual was replaced.” Whitfield v. Tennessee, 639 F.3d 253, 259 (6th Cir. 2011); see also Barlia v. MWI Veterinary Supply, Inc., No. 17-1185, 2018 WL 327448, at *4 (6th Cir. Jan. 9, 2018).

         If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, then the burden “shifts to the defendant to set forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action it took against the plaintiff.” Kocsis v. Multi-Care Mgmt., Inc., 97 F.3d 876, 883 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802). The defendant's burden of providing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason is not especially demanding. “The defendant bears only the burden of production; the burden of persuasion is with the plaintiff at all times.” Weigel v. Baptist Hosp. of E. Tenn., 302 F.3d 367, 377 (6th Cir. 2002); see also Chappell v. GTE Prods. Corp., 803 F.2d 261, 266 (6th Cir. 1986).

         “If the defendant carries that burden of production, plaintiff must then prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's proffered reasons were not its true reasons, but were merely a pretext for illegal discrimination.” Kocsis, 97 F.3d at 883. A plaintiff “can demonstrate pretext ‘by showing that the proffered reason (1) has no basis in fact, (2) did not actually motivate the defendant's challenged conduct, or (3) was insufficient to warrant the challenged conduct.'” Bender v. Hecht's Dep't Stores, 455 F.3d 612, 624 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Wexler v. White's Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 576 (6th Cir. 2003)). “To survive a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff need not prove that the defendant's proffered rationale is pretextual, as that would be enough proof for summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.” Whitfield, 639 F.3d at 260. “Rather, the plaintiff must prove only enough to create a genuine issue as to whether the rationale is pretextual.” Id. Again, “[a]t all times, the plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that illegal discrimination took place.” Kocsis, 97 F.3d at 883.

         Jackson claims that Regal violated the ADA and KCRA in three ways: (1) conditioning her continued employment on submitting to a medical examination and producing medical records, (2) displacing and demoting her for refusing to turn over all of her medical records related to her cancer treatment and surgery, and (3) terminating her because of her continued refusal to turn over those medical records. (Doc. # 42 at 11). These allegations give rise to three distinct claims-one disability-discrimination claim and two retaliation claims. Each claim will be addressed in turn.

         1. Medical Examination/Inquiry

         Once an employee has been hired, the ADA prohibits an employer from “requir[ing] a medical examination” or making “inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A); see also Denman v. Davey Tree Expert Co., 266 Fed.Appx. 377, 379 (6th Cir. 2007). Although the statute clearly permits medical examinations and inquiries, “an employer's discretion to order employees to undergo examinations is hardly unbounded.” Sullivan v. River Valley Sch. Dist., 197 F.3d 804, 811 (6th Cir. 1999). In the post-hiring context, “demands for examinations can only be made where shown to be ‘job-related and consistent with business necessity.'” Id. (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A)).

         Jackson claims that Regal's request that she submit to a medical examination was unlawful because it was neither job-related nor consistent with business necessity. (Doc. # 42 at 14-18). And relatedly, Jackson claims that Regal's request, and the subsequent demand for Jackson's past medical records, was overly broad. Id. at 18. Regal, by contrast, argues that it was permitted to require a medical examination and that its request for Jackson's medical records was lawful. (Doc. # 51 at 5-6). Thus, Regal contends that it did not violate the ADA by making such requests and claims that Jackson's refusal to comply with Regal's requests constituted “legitimate grounds” for her termination. Id. at 8-9.

         Armed with their arguments, both parties attempt to analyze Jackson's unlawful-medical-examination claim under the typical five-element test for ADA discrimination claims, focusing much of their attention on the second element-whether Jackson was qualified for her position, despite the lack of Dr. Haskell's medical clearance. Such an approach, however, is akin to shoving a square peg into a round hole. Jackson's unlawful-medical-examination claim simply does not fit into the typical five-element test for ADA discrimination claims.

         To begin, “a plaintiff need not prove” the first element-that he or she is disabled- “to contest an allegedly improper” medical examination or inquiry under § 12112(d)(4)(A). Lee v. City of Columbus, 636 F.3d 245, 252 (6th Cir. 2011); see also Kroll v. White Lake Ambulance Auth. (Kroll I), 691 F.3d 809, 816 (6th Cir. 2012) (“The importance of § 12112(d)(4)(A) in preventing discrimination is underscored by the fact that, in contrast to many other provisions of the ADA, all individuals-disabled or not-may bring suit in aid of its enforcement.”). Similarly, then, the fourth element-whether the defendant-employer knew or had reason to know of the plaintiff's disability-makes little sense in the unlawful-medical-examination context. The second, third, and fifth elements-which focus on whether the plaintiff was qualified for her position, whether the plaintiff suffered a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of her employment, and the defendant-employer's actions with respect to plaintiff's position after the adverse ...

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