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Bell v. O'reilly Auto Enterprises LLC

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 19, 2018

BRIAN BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
O'REILLY AUTO ENTERPRISES, LLC d/b/a O'REILLY AUTO PARTS, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JON D. LEVY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Brian Bell was the manager of O'Reilly Auto Enterprises, LLC's (“O'Reilly Auto”) store in Belfast, Maine for approximately one year. Bell has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, and Major Depressive Disorder. To help alleviate his symptoms, Bell's healthcare provider proposed a scheduling accommodation in June 2015 that would limit Bell's work schedule to 45 hours per week, but also permit him to occasionally work additional unscheduled hours. In his Amended Complaint, Bell contends that O'Reilly Auto, in the course of processing and denying his accommodation request, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101, et seq. (2018) and the Maine Human Rights Act (the “MHRA”), 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551, et seq. (2017).

         Specifically, Bell claims that O'Reilly Auto discriminated against him based on his disability (Counts I and II); retaliated against him based on his request for accommodation (Counts III and IV); and unlawfully failed to accommodate his request for accommodation (Counts V and VI).[1] See ECF No. 4 at 12. O'Reilly Auto disputes Bell's claims and has moved for summary judgment on all counts pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 37).

         I address the facts as developed in the summary judgment record, as well as the summary judgment standards, and then turn to Bell's contention that O'Reilly Auto (1) unlawfully failed to accommodate his scheduling request; (2) discriminated against him; and (3) retaliated against him.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. The Store Manager Position

         The following facts are construed in the light most favorable to Bell as the non-moving party and any reasonable inferences have been resolved in his favor. See Whitlock v. Mac-Gray, Inc., 345 F.3d 44, 45 (1st Cir. 2003). The job description for the Store Manager position at O'Reilly Auto states, under the heading “General Summary, ” that a Store Manager is:

Responsible for the sales, profitability, appearance, and overall operations of the store. Objectives are to show consistent sales growth, ensure store projects proper O'Reilly image, operates as a profit center, and follows policies and procedures to ensure company is operating as economically and efficiently as possible.

ECF No. 41 at 2 ¶ 6; see also 36-13. With respect to scheduling, the job description states in relevant part that the manager is “[r]esponsible for scheduling the proper amount of help (neither too much, nor too little) to ensure that customers receive the best service, store appearance is maintained, and the store is profitable.” ECF No. 36-13 at 1; see also ECF No. 41 at 3 ¶ 10. The job description does not state the required or expected work hours. ECF No. 43 at 6 ¶ 24; see also ECF No. 36-13.

         Bell applied for a Store Manager position at O'Reilly Auto in August 2014. ECF No. 41 at 1 ¶ 1. On his application, Bell represented that he was able to work evenings, weekends, holidays, and overtime. Id.; see also ECF No. 36-22 at 3. Bell was told during the interview process that if he was hired, he would be responsible for the overall financial and operational health of his store. ECF No. 41 at 6 ¶ 23.

         O'Reilly Auto initially hired Bell as a “Store Manager in Training.” Id. at 1 ¶ 2. From the outset Bell understood that he was responsible for responding to unexpected developments in the workplace, which might require him to work unpredictable and long hours from week-to-week. Id. at 14 ¶ 36. Bell claims that, in practice, he was scheduled to work an average of 46 hours per week as a Store Manager.

         After Bell completed his training in September 2014, he became the Store Manager at O'Reilly Auto's Belfast store. Id. at 7 ¶ 25. Early in his tenure, Bell's immediate supervisor, Division Manager Chris Watters, told Bell that he was to manage the store as though his name was on the front door, and used the terms “ownership” and “owning the business” when discussing O'Reilly Auto's expectations of a Store Manager. Id. at 7 ¶¶ 26, 27.

         Every O'Reilly Auto store is its own profit center. Id. at 38 ¶ 85. Accordingly, employee compensation across the company is not uniform, and compensation at each store is determined by a variety of factors including the overall success of the store and the employee's experience and tenure. Id. at 38 ¶ 86. As the Store Manager at the Belfast store, Bell was paid 42, 000 dollars annually. ECF No. 43 at 38 ¶ 164. It is undisputed that O'Reilly Auto found Bell's job performance to be satisfactory. ECF No. 43 at 10, 14 ¶ 45, 61; see also ECF No. 41-5.

         Throughout his tenure, Bell clashed with Watters due in part to Watters' management style, which Bell perceived as being “authoritarian.” ECF No. 41 at 14 ¶ 37. Additionally, during the time Bell was working at O'Reilly Auto, he experienced some-related stress because his wife wanted to move out of state. Id. at 15 ¶ 38; see also ECF No. 36-24 at 44.

         B. The Accommodation Request

         Things took a turn for the worst in May and June 2015. In the two weeks immediately preceding June 4, Bell worked abnormally long hours because he was required to fill in for two employees who had been terminated. ECF No. 4 at ¶ 24; ECF No. 41 at 15 ¶ 42. Bell alleges, though O'Reilly Auto disputes, that O'Reilly Auto knew he had previously been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, and Major Depressive Disorder. ECF No. 43 at 2 ¶ 8.

         At the end of the two-week period, Bell began experiencing dizziness, severe headaches, increased frequency of his pre-existing tics, and fatigue. ECF No. 41 at 16 ¶ 45. On June 4, Bell had what O'Reilly Auto characterizes as (and Bell admits was) a “meltdown, ” during which he experienced a number of new symptoms, including an inability to concentrate. Id. at 16 ¶ 46; see also ECF No. 36-24 at 62-63. The meltdown was caused, at least in part, by the long hours he had been working. ECF No. 41 at 16 ¶ 48.

         On the day of the meltdown, Bell sought treatment from his healthcare provider, Judy Weitzel, a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Id. at 16 ¶ 49. Weitzel completed a “Fitness for Duty” (FFD) form, which Bell subsequently submitted to O'Reilly Auto. Id. at 17 ¶ 50; see also ECF No. 36-2. The FFD is an O'Reilly Auto form, and it contains a “Note to Health Care Provider[s]” which explains that the “form is required by O'Reilly to determine the team member's (employee's) fitness for job duty, ” and instructs healthcare providers to “complete the form and return the form to the patient.” ECF No. 36-2. Weitzel wrote in Bell's FFD form that because of “his mental health issues[, Bell] should not be scheduled for more than 9 hours 5 days a week.” Id.; see also ECF No. 41 at 17 ¶ 50. She also indicated that he should not return to work until June 9, giving Bell a five-day reprieve. ECF No. 36-2; see also ECF No. 41 at 18 ¶ 54. On the same day (June 4), Weitzel also wrote a letter on Penobscot Bay Medical Center letterhead, which stated that Bell was being treated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, and Major Depressive Disorder. ECF No. 36-3. The letter went on to explain that “[h]is present mental health issues are stable with medication, however he would benefit from having accommodations such as a regular work week.” Id. The letter also included a phone number at which Weitzel could be contacted with any questions. Id.

         C. The Response

         During the relevant time period, Watters reported to the Regional Manager, Nick Thomas. O'Reilly Auto claims that when Thomas received Weitzel's communications, he believed that allowing Bell to return to work would constitute a tacit acceptance of the requested accommodation. ECF No. 41 at 18 ¶ 56. Accordingly, Thomas decided that Bell should not be permitted to return to work until the outcome of the accommodation request was determined. Id. at 18 ¶ 55.

         Initially, Thomas and Watters believed that the accommodation request proposed in Weitzel's FFD form strictly limited Bell's work schedule to nine hours per day, five days per week (a forty-five hour work week). Id. at 18 ¶ 57. Watters did not interpret the completed form to suggest that Bell would be able to occasionally work unscheduled hours that may exceed nine hours per day, or five days per week. Id. at 19 ¶ 58.

         On June 8, 2015, Watters sent an e-mail to O'Reilly Auto's leave of absence coordinator in which he expressed his opinion that the accommodation request was incompatible with Bell's duties as a store manager.[2] See ECF No. 36-5 at 3-5. When Watters sent the e-mail, he interpreted the FFD form completed by Weitzel as limiting Bell's weekly work schedule to nine hours per day, five days per week, without exception. It is undisputed that Watters misinterpreted the accommodation request. ECF No. 43 at 25 ¶ 111.

         When Watters told Bell that he interpreted the FFD form as limiting Bell's work to nine hours per day, five days per week, without exception, Bell met with Weitzel again and asked her to the clarify the form. ECF No. 41 at 26 ¶ 72. Weitzel told Bell that she did not need to clarify the form because she believed that it clearly indicated that he should be scheduled for a maximum of nine hours per day, five days per week, but he could be scheduled for more hours on occasion. Id. at 26 ¶ 73.

         In an e-mail dated July 13, Bell informed Watters and Thomas, among others, that Weitzel believed he could “work some hours beyond the scheduled 45 hours on occasion . . . so long as [his] scheduled hours [were] limited to 45 hours per week.” ECF No. 36-8; see also ECF No. 41 at 26 ¶ 74. Bell went on to write, “I am still hopeful that O'Reilly Auto Parts will accommodate me by permitting my return to work at the Belfast store as a store ...


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