United States District Court, D. Colorado
ROBERT J. RUIZ, Plaintiff,
WOODWARD, INC., Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
S. Krieger Senior United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court pursuant to the
Defendant's (“Woodward”) Motion for Summary
Judgment (# 34), Mr. Ruiz's response
(# 39), and Woodward's reply
(#42); and Mr. Ruiz's Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment (# 35), Woodward's
response (# 38), and Mr. Ruiz's reply
(# 43). Also pending are several unopposed
motions (## 37, 41, 45) seeking to restrict
public access to certain filings, and Mr. Ruiz's motion
(# 46) to substitute a signed affidavit for
an unsigned one.
Court summarizes the pertinent facts here and elaborates as
necessary in its analysis. Mr. Ruiz was employed by Woodward
as a Global Supply Manager (“GSM”). GSMs are
responsible for managing Woodward's relationships with
its domestic and international suppliers, including
negotiating contracts, attending meetings, and addressing any
production issues the suppliers might experience. Often
times, these tasks are performed at various Woodward offices
or suppliers' locations, which requires GSMs to engage in
significant domestic and international travel. The exact
extent to which such travel is required is disputed and
discussed in more detail below.
Ruiz suffers from renal cell carcinoma, a type of cancer that
affects his kidneys. He had a kidney removed in or about
2007, and since then has continued to suffer from chronic
kidney disease and hyperpohospatemia (high phosphate levels
in the blood, a sign of poor kidney function). The extent to
which this condition affects Mr. Ruiz's activities of
daily living are also in dispute and discussed in more detail
10, 2016, Dr. Rubin, one of Mr. Ruiz's treating medical
providers, issued a letter stating:
I have concerns about [Mr. Ruiz's] travel to Mexico. Both
from a general stress as well as an environmental stress
perspective. Travel causes Mr. Ruiz to unfavorably augment
his exercise routine as well as interrupts the continuum of
his diet. To boot, he is exposed to toxic chemicals such as
solvents which cause endocrine disruptions[ ] and may be at
the root of his current endocrine disruptions. Moreover, Mr.
Ruiz has only one kidney to help remove these chemicals from
his blood, leaving him at a disadvantage and thus a higher
overall body burden. I would propose a travel restriction
over the next 6 months.
Human Resources department discussed Dr. Rubin's letter,
but took no immediate action. Mr. Ruiz also provided the
letter to Mark Alvis, his direct supervisor. Mr. Alvis
immediately advised Woodward's HR department that Mr.
Ruiz “does not have any travel plans for the near
future and, at this point, I will not ask him to
roughly the same time as the letter was considered, an issue
arose with a Woodward supplier named Hubbell located in
Monterey, Mexico. Because GSMs are expected to tend
personally to the needs of their assigned clients, Mr. Ruiz
would be responsible for traveling to Hubbell's location.
But Mr. Alvis, mindful of Mr. Ruiz's health concerns,
instructed another GSM to travel to Hubbell instead.
June 2016, Woodward finally addressed Dr. Rubin's letter.
Woodward requested that Mr. Ruiz meet with Dr. Mull, a
Woodward corporate physician. At the conclusion of an
appointment on June 27, 2016, Dr. Mull requested that Mr.
Ruiz obtain more information from his physician about his
condition and any possible restrictions. The next day, Mr.
Ruiz produced a letter from his nephrologist, Dr. Simmons,
You face travel-related risks to your kidney if you develop
dehydration from excessive sweating or traveler's
diarrhea. A safe food and water supply and an air-conditioned
work environment is essential. You are at risk of developing
overt diabetes if you eat a high carbohydrate-high fat diet,
gain weight and do not engage in regular exercise. . .
From the kidney viewpoint, whether or not you can travel for
work depends on the circumstances of individual trips. If you
are staying at an air conditioned hotel and working in an air
conditioned facility where you receive liquids and meals from
vendors that meet the health department requirements of
commercial restaurants in the United States then you can
travel and work there as long as you have regular work hours
and mealtimes. The same requirements apply both domestically
and internationally. They are life long. I recommend that you
speak with your supervisors concerning the details of
individual trips in deciding what is acceptable. I cannot
provide blanket approval or restrictions since it depends on
the specifics of a trip as I have described above.
a day of receiving Dr. Simmons' letter, Dr. Mull prepared
his own report that stated that Mr. Ruiz “[m]ay travel
to 1st world countries and domestically. Must have
air conditioned work space and lodging. Food and liquids must
meet commercial standards of the United States.” Dr.
Mull's report notes that these restrictions are
permanent, although Mr. Ruiz disagreed - Mr. Ruiz believed
that a six-month restriction was all that was required.
18, 2016, Mr. Ruiz completed a Reasonable Accommodation
Request Form. He indicated that he was requesting “no
travel outside of the U.S. and limited [travel] in U.S.,
” explaining that “excessive travel and travel
outside of U.S. causes extreme harm to my body. It increases
my health risks.” Mr. Ruiz further mentioned
“stress from travel and exposure to manufacturing
chemicals . . . that exists in 3d world countries and many
domestic manufacturing facilities. . . increases my risk for
both kidney dialysis and kidney failure since I have only one
kidney. Furthermore, stress from travel and unsanitary
exposure that exists in 3d world countries and domestic
locations which do not meet U.S. E.P.A. standards will cause
life limiting harm.”
HR department then had Mr. Alvis prepare a document
identifying Mr. Ruiz's expected travel obligations for
the next year (the “Travel Requirements
Document”). Mr. Alvis identified 8 suppliers -- 5
domestic and one each in Mexico, the UK, and France - that
Mr. Ruiz would be expected to visit at least once in the
upcoming year. In addition, he estimated that there might be
two unexpected “crisis/triage events” requiring
Mr. Ruiz to travel to any supplier. Woodward asked Mr. Ruiz
to address the Travel Requirements Document, and Mr. Ruiz
indicated that he believed he could travel to two of the
suppliers -- one in Wisconsin and one in Wyoming -- with
certain accommodations (i.e. “office only, no
exposure to manufacturing [floor] because of
chemicals”). But he stated that no accommodations would
allow him to travel to any of the other six suppliers. In
most instances, Mr. Ruiz's objections to traveling to the
suppliers was based on his exposure to chemical or
environmental contaminants and the fact that travel outside
of the Mountain time zone would require him to disrupt his
morning exercise routine. See Docket # 39-8 at 3
(refusing to travel to supplier in Western New York because
“sale baths, chemicals, varnishes being used.
Ventilation system [ ] poor. . . A/C in offices, can't
recall on manufacturing floor. . . Two hour time zone
difference would require that I get up at 3:30 MT to exercise
before supplier visit . . . I cannot travel to this supplier
with or without a reasonable accommodation”) and at 4
(refusing to travel to supplier in U.K., despite never having
been to the facility in question, because “Definitely
no time for exercise while traveling . . . I cannot travel to
this supplier with or without a reasonable
days later, Mr. Ruiz met with HR representative Amy
McNaughton to discuss possible accommodations. Ms. McNaughton
proposed several accommodations to address the concerns
raised in Dr. Rubin and Dr. Simmons' letters, as well as
the issues raised by Mr. Ruiz in the Travel Requirements
Document. Among the accommodations suggested by Ms.
McNaughton were limited working hours when traveling and Mr.
Ruiz's use of a ventilator mask when working in
chemical-polluted areas. Mr. Ruiz responded that he did not
believe those accommodations would be sufficient, although
the record does not clearly identify his
reasons.Mr. Ruiz testified at his deposition that
he proposed alternative potential accommodations, including
having suppliers travel to Colorado instead of him traveling
to them, conducting supplier meetings by telephone or
videoconference, and having other GSMs engage in necessary
travel on his behalf for the six-month period that he
believed an accommodation was necessary. It is not clear what
response, if any, Ms. McNaughton or Woodward had to these
proposals. Ms. McNaughton and Mr. Ruiz then discussed the
possibility of Mr. Ruiz looking for vacant positions at
Woodward, but no available positions matched Mr. Ruiz's
qualifications and preferences and he chose not to apply for
any other openings.
there is some dispute as to when the decision was first
announced, it is undisputed that in or about early August
2016, Woodward concluded that it could not accommodate Mr.
Ruiz's restrictions. Thus, Woodward terminated Mr.
action, Mr. Ruiz asserts five claims: (i) that his
termination was the result of discrimination against him on
the basis of his disability in violation of the Americans
With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §
12101 et seq.; (ii) discriminatory failure to hire,
in that Woodward refused to consider Mr. Ruiz for other open
and available positions due to his disability, in violation
of the ADA; (iii) failure to accommodate Mr. Ruiz's
disability, in violation of the ADA; (iv) retaliation for
having engaged in protected activities - namely, for having
requested an accommodation - in violation of the ADA; and (v)
age discrimination, in violation of the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623.
(Mr. Ruiz has since withdrawn his age discrimination claim.)
Woodward and Mr. Ruiz now move for summary judgment.
Woodward's motion (# 34) argues that:
(i) Ruiz cannot show that he is “disabled” under
the ADA because he is not substantially limited in a major
life activity; (ii) Mr. Ruiz cannot show that he was
“qualified” for his position because he was
unable to perform, with or without an accommodation, the
essential function of traveling to suppliers' locations;
(iii) that Mr. Ruiz cannot show that he was discriminatorily
rejected from any open positions because he never actually
applied for such positions; and (iv) Mr. Ruiz cannot
establish that he was subjected to an adverse employment
action (other than termination) that would support his
retaliation claim and cannot demonstrate that any such action
was a pretext for retaliation. Mr. Ruiz's motion
(# 35) seeks summary judgment in his favor
on his failure to accommodate claim, as well as on
Woodward's affirmative defenses of failure to exhaust,
failure to mitigate damages, waiver, and estoppel.
Standard of review
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry
of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v.
York Intern. 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.
Producer's 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).
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.
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).
case involves cross-motions for summary judgment.
"Because the determination of whether there is a genuine
dispute as to a material factual issue turns upon who has the
burden of proof, the standard of proof and whether adequate
evidence has been submitted to support a prima facie
case or to establish a genuine dispute as to material fact,
cross motions must be evaluated independently." In
re Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Securities Litig.,
209 F.Supp.2d 1106, 1112 (D. Colo. 2002); see also
Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita,
226 F.3d 1138, 1148 (10th Cir. 2000); Buell Cabinet Co.
v. Sudduth, 608 F.2d 431, 433 (10th Cir. 1979)
("Cross-motions for summary judgment are to be treated
separately; the denial of one does not require the grant of
Court begins with Woodward's motion for summary judgment.
Because all of Mr. Ruiz's ADA claims require proof that
Mr. Ruiz is both “disabled” and “qualified,
” as those terms are defined in the ADA, the Court
begins with those inquires.
Definition of ...