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Goodwin v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 10, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on defendant American Honda Motor Company, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 38].[1] The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         This case arises out of an employment dispute. Plaintiff began working for defendant in 1987. Docket No. 38 at 3, ¶ 3. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, plaintiff was a Senior District Parts & Service Manager (“DPSM”) in defendant's Zone 10, which encompasses the states of Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and West Texas. Id., ¶¶ 4-5. DPSMs are assigned to specific districts within their respective zones and are responsible for improving the performance of parts and service departments at dealerships within their districts. Id., ¶¶ 6-7. Candidates for DPSM positions are informed during the interview process that travel and relocation are core components of the job. Id. at 4, ¶ 12. Conducting in-person visits to dealerships enables DPSMs to build rapport with dealers, personally observe parts and service operations, verify the accuracy of dealer reports, inspect inventory, handle customer complaints, and assess vehicles for problems. Id., ¶ 11. While working as a DPSM, plaintiff spent 80% of his time traveling. Id., ¶ 13.

         As part of an effort to reorganize its districts, defendant transferred plaintiff from the Utah/Western Colorado District to the Denver District on or about April 1, 2014. Id. at 5, ¶¶ 21-22. Plaintiff lived in a hotel in Denver during the week and commuted back home to Salt Lake City on the weekends. Id. at 5-6, ¶ 25. On May 13, 2014, plaintiff experienced a panic attack while visiting a dealership in Thornton, Colorado. Id. at 6, ¶ 27. After being taken to a local hospital, plaintiff returned home to Salt Lake City. Id., ¶¶ 28-29. He was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Id., ¶ 30. Defendant granted plaintiff an initial leave of absence from work through June 23, 2014. Id., ¶¶ 31-32.

         On June 18, 2014, plaintiff gave defendant a note from his physician requesting that plaintiff's duties be confined to Salt Lake City until July 30, 2014. Id. at 7, ¶ 35. Defendant rejected the proposed accommodation on the basis that it would eliminate an essential function of plaintiff's position, namely, in-person contact with dealerships. Id., ¶ 36.[3] Instead, defendant allowed plaintiff to remain on leave provided that he did not continue to work. Id., ¶¶ 37-39.

         Despite defendant's instructions to stop working, plaintiff contacted dealers on or about June 13, 2014 via his personal email. Id., ¶ 39. On July 2 and August 1, 2014, defendant granted plaintiffs' requests to extend his leave of absence, thereby continuing plaintiff's leave through the end of August 2014. Id., ¶¶ 40-41. On August 20, 2014, plaintiff submitted reasonable accommodation request forms proposing that his duties be confined to Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas. Id. at 8, ¶¶ 43-44; see also Docket No. 39-6 at 3. The forms stated that the anticipated end date of these restrictions was “unknown.” Docket No. 38 at 8, ¶ 44; see also Docket No. 39-6 at 3. On August 29, 2014, plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Gregory S. Daynes, submitted a note stating that plaintiff had “reached the maximum effectiveness of [his] current treatment” and that it was “imperative that he work remotely and . . . from Salt Lake City.” Docket No. 39-7; Docket No. 38 at 8, ¶ 45. That same day, defendant's Senior Associate Relations Representative, Catherine Petrillo, informed plaintiff that defendant could not agree to the proposed accommodation. Docket No. 38 at 8, ¶ 47. Ms. Petrillo offered plaintiff continued medical leave or reassignment to a Utah-based position as soon as one became available. Id., ¶ 48. She also told plaintiff that he was required to stop all work while on leave and that failure to do so would result in his termination. Id. at 9, ¶ 49. On September 2, 2014, plaintiff contacted dealers via his personal cell phone and email account. Id., ¶ 50.

         On October 6, 2014, plaintiff requested that defendant move the employee working in the Denver-based Collision Select Position into plaintiff's role as DPSM and then transfer the Collision Select position to Salt Lake City where it could be filled by plaintiff. Id., ¶ 53. Defendant did not accept this proposal because the Collision Select position required even more travel than the DPSM position. Id.

         On October 9, 2014, plaintiff traveled to Colorado and visited at least four dealerships. Id., ¶ 54. After learning of plaintiff's conduct, defendant's Senior Manager of Parts and Service Operations, Bryan Morris, again instructed plaintiff to stop contacting dealers. Id. at 9-10, ¶ 56. The next day, plaintiff visited another dealership. Id. at 10, ¶ 57.[4] On October 11, 2014, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment. Id., ¶ 58.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah on May 26, 2016. Docket Nos. 1-28 at 2. The case was transferred to this Court on November 21, 2016. Docket No. 1. In his complaint, plaintiff asserts claims for age and disability discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., failure to provide reasonable accommodations in violation of the ADA, retaliation, and denial of disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. Docket No. 5.[5] Defendant moved for summary judgment on all claims on November 17, 2017. Docket No. 38. On December 12, 2017, plaintiff filed a response to defendant's motion for summary judgment, Docket No. 53, to which defendant replied on December 27, 2017. Docket No. 55.


         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the “movant shows 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); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986). A disputed fact is “material” if under the relevant substantive law it is essential to proper disposition of the claim. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). Only disputes over material facts can create a genuine issue for trial and preclude summary judgment. Faustin v. City & Cty. of Denver, 423 F.3d 1192, 1198 (10th Cir. 2005). An issue is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997).

         Where “the moving party does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may satisfy its burden at the summary judgment stage by identifying a lack of evidence for the nonmovant on an essential element of the nonmovant's claim.” Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., 252 F.3d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998)). “Once the moving party meets this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate a genuine issue for trial on a material matter.” Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1518 (10th Cir. 1994). The nonmoving party may not rest solely on the allegations in the pleadings, but instead must designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant must establish, at a minimum, an inference of the presence of each element essential to the case.” Bausman, 252 F.3d at 1115.

         If the party moving for summary judgment bears the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it must “support its motion with credible evidence . . . that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 331. This “shifts the burden of production to the party opposing the motion and requires that party either to produce evidentiary materials that demonstrate the existence of a ‘genuine issue' for trial or to submit an affidavit requesting additional time for discovery.” Id. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Disability Discrimination Claims

         Plaintiff asserts two claims for disability discrimination under the ADA: failure to accommodate and discriminatory discharge. Docket No. 51 at 2; Docket No. 53 at 14-18. While there are some differences between the analyses applied to these two claims, [6] a plaintiff seeking to establish a prima facie case under either theory must generally “show that (1) he is disabled as defined under the [ADA]; (2) he is qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation by the employer, to perform the essential functions of the job; and (3) he was discriminated against because of his disability.” Adair v. City of Muskogee,823 F.3d 1297, 1304 (10th Cir. 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a)); see also Punt, 862 F.3d at 1050 (stating that employee asserting a failure-to-accommodate claim “must make an initial showing that (1) [he] is disabled; (2) [he] is ‘otherwise qualified'; and (3) [he] requested a plausibly reasonable accommodation”). “Discrimination” under the ADA ...

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