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Waters v. Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 20, 2018

LAURA WATERS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marcia S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (# 29), the Plaintiff's Response (# 32), and the Defendant's reply (# 37). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted, in part.

         I. JURISDICTION

         The Court exercises jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Laura Waters was a teacher at Columbine Christian School, part of the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists (the Conference), from 2008 to 2013. In January 2012, Ms. Waters suffered multiple injuries after falling on a hill while she was supervising students sledding during recess. Her injuries required multiple surgeries and time away from the classroom to recuperate. After a jaw surgery over spring break during the 2012-2013 academic year, Ms. Waters was placed on a four-hour work restriction by her physician, Dr. Randal Jernigan. Ms. Waters had a second jaw surgery scheduled for May 24, 2013.

         On May 2, 2013, Ms. Waters informed Principal May Oles that she had been “diagnosed with a physical disability” and was “not sure if she can teach ever again”. When Principal Oles told Ms. Waters that she wanted to know her doctor's opinion as to whether or not she courld work, Ms. Waters responded that she was not making any decisions about teaching during the 2013-2014 school year until she got more information from her doctor. Principal Oles initially asked Ms. Waters to tell her if could return for the next school year by May 15, but then extended the deadline for such information until May 21. On May 20, Ms. Waters sent Principal Oles a text message stating that it was her full intent to return to teach after a summer of healing.

         Principal Oles would have “loved” to have had Ms. Waters return working with the same accommodations that the school gave her in 2012-2013, but on May 23 the school board unanimously decided not to renew Ms. Waters' contract. On May 30, Dr. Jernigan placed Ms. Waters on a no-work restriction due to a second jaw surgery. This no-work restriction continued to June 17 and then from July 23 to September 5, 2014.

         In her Complaint (# 4), Ms. Waters brings suit alleging disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Conference moves for summary judgment (# 29).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Int'l Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law governs what facts are material and what issues must be determined. It also specifies the elements that must be proved for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. v. Producers Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary judgment is precluded if the evidence presented in support of and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).

         If the movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the movant must establish every element of its claim or defense by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to avoid summary judgment the responding party must present sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus. Inc. v. Arvin Indus. Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991); Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.

         If the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, it must point to an absence of sufficient evidence to establish the claim or defense that the non-movant is obligated to prove. If the respondent comes forward with sufficient competent evidence to establish a prima facie claim or defense, a trial is required. If the respondent fails to produce sufficient competent evidence to establish its claim or defense, then the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Conference moves for summary judgment on all three of Ms. Waters' claims, arguing that she cannot ...


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