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Goodrich v. Wellpoint, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 5, 2015

TIMOTHY GOODRICH, Plaintiff,
v.
WELLPOINT, INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JON D. LEVY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Timothy Goodrich has sued his former employer, WellPoint, Inc., alleging one count of disability discrimination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2015) ("ADA"), and a second count of disability discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act, 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551, et seq. (2014) ("MHRA"). WellPoint has moved for summary judgment as to both counts. ECF No. 24. For the reasons set forth below, WellPoint's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

WellPoint is a company that provides healthcare benefits as an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. ECF No. 25 at 1. In January 2012, Goodrich took a leave of absence from his position as an analyst for WellPoint's Federal Employee Program Workforce Management Team due to persistent back pain. ECF No. 28 at 4.

In May 2012, while still on leave, Goodrich underwent back surgery and by late June he had exhausted his short-term disability benefits. Id. Goodrich's leave file was referred to Kathleen Jeffries, a member of WellPoint's Leave of Absence unit, to determine whether additional leave was merited. ECF No. 25-8 at 3. Jeffries approved additional leave time as an accommodation under the ADA, ECF No. 28-1 at 11, and after further layers of review, WellPoint granted long-term disability benefits to Goodrich, ECF No. 28 at 5.

In July 2012, Goodrich's manager, Jennie Broyles, wrote to Jeffries requesting that Jeffries authorize her to replace Goodrich because his continuing leave was imposing an "undue hardship" on her team and was jeopardizing its ability to meet business expectations. ECF No. 25-5 at 3, 5-6. WellPoint announced a vacancy for Goodrich's position in September 2012. Id. at 3. Despite being replaced, Goodrich remained a WellPoint employee. ECF No. 25-1 at 4. He was informed that he would need to apply for a new position at WellPoint, id., and the company granted Goodrich several extensions of his disability leave through March 9, 2013, ECF No. 25-4 at 4.

Goodrich's neurosurgeon, Dr. James Wilson, cleared him to return to work effective January 28, 2013, but recommended that WellPoint provide Goodrich with a sit-stand station and an ergonomic assessment upon his return. ECF No. 28-8 at 4. Wilson also recommended that Goodrich return to work on a limited schedule of 24 hours for the first week, 32 hours for the second week, and 40 hours for the third week. Id.

In February 2013, Goodrich applied for a position as a workforce management analyst on a team managed by Jason Toot. ECF No. 28-10 at 8. Although Toot did not want to hire Goodrich, id., WellPoint's human resources department told Toot that Goodrich's situation was urgent, Id. at 12. Goodrich was ultimately offered the position and reported for work on March 11 on a full-time, 40-hour per week basis. ECF No. 25-1 at 5.

Approximately one month later, on April 10, Goodrich emailed Toot to inform him that his pain medication occasionally made him sick, and to ask if he could participate in WellPoint's work at home program. ECF No. 28 at 9. Toot understood Goodrich's request as one for a medical accommodation, ECF No. 28 at 10; ECF No. 34 at 21-22, and the two met to discuss the request the next day, ECF No. 25-7 at 4. At the meeting, Toot told Goodrich that working from home was only permitted after a three-month probationary period, and only after employees have "demonstrate[d] clear understanding of processes/procedures." ECF No. 28-10 at 14; ECF No. 25-7 at 4. Goodrich told Toot that he was also in the process of submitting medical documentation to Jeffries to obtain an intermittent leave of absence for days that his medication prevented him from being able to work in the office. ECF No. 25 at 12. On April 12, Jeffries wrote to Goodrich to inform him that she had granted his request for intermittent leave, which permitted him to take 8 hours' leave one to two times per month as necessary. ECF No. 25-3 at 35-36.

On April 16, 2013, Goodrich was examined by his family physician, Dr. Jill Mahoney, and he told her that his back pain had worsened. ECF No. 28-12 at 2. Mahoney wrote a letter to Cheryl Flippo, WellPoint's Lead Disability Case Manager, and recommended that Goodrich "stop work immediately and resume long term disability." ECF No. 25-3 at 37. Mahoney also warned that "if [Goodrich] continues his current employment, it will further aggravate his chronic back pain and spasm." Id. She indicated on a separate form that Goodrich "probably will not be able to [return to work full time] due to symptoms." Id. at 38. Mahoney's recommendation was based on her understanding that WellPoint would not permit Goodrich to work from home. ECF No. 28-12 at 4.

Upon receipt of Mahoney's letter, Flippo began a review of Goodrich's longterm disability eligibility by requesting and forwarding Goodrich's medical records to a WellPoint nurse, Beth Szopinksi, for review. ECF No. 28-5 at 2-3. Szopinksi concluded that the severity of Goodrich's condition did not prevent him from performing the essential functions of a sedentary job. Id. at 3-4, 11. Based upon Szopinksi's assessment, Flippo discontinued Goodrich's long-term disability benefits in July 2013. Id. at 11; ECF No. 34 at 40.

Mahoney's assessment was also sent to Jeffries, who concluded that Goodrich would never be able to return to work. ECF No. 25-8 at 4, 5-6. On May 6, Human Resources Manager Suzanne Hagerty wrote to Goodrich to inform him that WellPoint had terminated his employment, effective May 14. Id. at 5-6.

On May 28, 2013, Goodrich filed a Charge of Discrimination against WellPoint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate his request to work from home. ECF No. 25-10. On January 30, 2014, Goodrich filed this lawsuit against WellPoint. ECF No. 1.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56

Summary judgment is appropriate only if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Ahmed v. Johnson, 752 F.3d 490, 495 (1st Cir. 2014). In making that determination, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Johnson v. Univ. of P.R., 714 F.3d 48, 52 (1st Cir. 2013). "[A] judge's function at summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (citations and quotations omitted).

B. Local Rule 56

Local Rule 56 defines the evidence that this court may consider in deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist for purposes of summary judgment. First, the moving party must file a statement of material facts that it claims are not in dispute, with each fact presented in a numbered paragraph and supported by a specific citation to the record. See Loc. R. 56(b).

Second, the non-moving party must submit its own short and concise statement of material facts in which it admits, denies, or qualifies the facts alleged by the moving party, making sure to reference each numbered paragraph of the moving party's statement and to support each denial or qualification with a specific citation to the record. Loc. R. 56(c). The non-moving party may also include its own additional statement of facts that it contends are not in dispute. Id. These additional facts must also be presented in a numbered paragraph and be supported by a specific citation to the record. Id.

Third, the moving party must then submit a reply statement of material facts in which it admits, denies, or qualifies the non-moving party's additional facts, if any. Loc. R. 56(d). The reply statement must reference each numbered paragraph of the non-moving party's statement of additional facts and each denial or qualification must be supported by a specific citation to the record. Id.

The court may disregard any statement of fact that is not supported by a specific citation to the record, Loc. R. 56(f), and the court has "no independent duty to search or consider any part of the record not specifically referenced in the parties' separate statement of fact." Id .; see also, e.g., Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). Properly supported facts that are contained in a statement of material or additional fact are deemed admitted unless properly controverted. Loc. R. 56(f).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Disability Discrimination Based on WellPoint's Termination of Goodrich's Employment

To prove disability discrimination pursuant to the ADA and the MHRA, Goodrich must demonstrate the following: first, that he suffers from a disability; second, that he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation; and third, that he was discharged or otherwise suffered an adverse employment action by WellPoint based in whole or in part on his disability. Jones v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co., 696 F.3d 78, 86-87 (1st Cir. 2012); Doyle v. Dep't of Human Servs., 2003 ME 61, ¶ 14, 824 A.2d 48. See also, Dudley v. Hannaford Bros. ...


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