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TYLER v. ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION

November 16, 2005.

MILDRED C. TYLER, Plaintiff,
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN WRIGHT, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Mildred C. Tyler ("Tyler") brings this suit against the Arkansas Department of Correction ("ADC") alleging employment discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. Now before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's response, and defendant's reply. After careful consideration, and for the reasons stated below, the Court determines that the motion for summary judgment should be granted.

Background

  Plaintiff Tyler was employed by the ADC as a correctional transport sergeant. Correctional sergeants were expected to perform a number of duties, including supervising inmates in field work, monitoring inmates from horseback, preventing inmate escapes, checking building security, transporting inmates to job sites throughout Arkansas, and observing inmate visitation. See Def's. Statement of Undisputed Material Fact, Ex. B. The essential job functions of a correctional sergeant include: standing for prolonged periods, walking for prolonged periods, sitting for prolonged periods, ascending and descending stairs, subduing inmates, restraining inmates in handcuffs or other restraints, running, and carrying injured inmates on backboards or stretchers. Id., Ex. C.

  On March 25, 2002, while working at the ADC, Tyler injured her leg. She filed for and received compensation for her injury through the State workers' compensation system. Plaintiff Tyler began treatment with Dr. James Bryan for her knee and ankle pain. Id., Ex. D. On February 20, 2003, Bryan completed a Work Status Form indicating that Tyler could not stand for prolonged periods, but that her temporary injury would improve such that she could work light duty by February 24, 2003. Id., Ex. E. Dr. Bryan completed similar forms on March 21, March 31, April 10, and June 9, 2003, indicating that Tyler could not stand for prolonged periods, but that her temporary injury would improve. Id.

  On March 12, 2003, ADC Human Resources Manager Kenny Wiscaver mailed Tyler an application for Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") leave and Essential Job Function Questionnaire to be completed by her physician. Id., Ex. F. On March 14, 2003, Tyler submitted a request for leave time under FMLA beginning on February 25, 2003. Id., Ex. G. On March 17, 2003, Bryan filled out an Essential Job Function Questionnaire for Tyler, stating she could not perform essential functions of her job and that her injuries were temporary. Id., Ex. H. On the same day, Dr. Timothy Simon completed an Essential Job Function Questionnaire for Tyler also stating she could not perform essential functions of her job and that her injuries were temporary. Id., Ex. I. On or about March 24, 2003, Tyler submitted a Certificate of Health Care Provider in support of her request for FMLA leave time. Id., Ex. J. Dr. Bryan wrote on Tyler's certificate that she would not be able to perform her job functions for approximately four weeks. Id. Dr. Bryan wrote that Tyler was unable to kneel, squat, or climb a ladder, and that she needed to be absent from work for treatment of her injuries. He also stated Tyler could perform work that did not require kneeling, squatting, and ladder climbing. Id.

  On April 3, 2003, ADC Assistant Human Resources Administrator Nedenia L. Blair wrote Tyler a letter approving her request for FMLA leave beginning February 25, 2003 and ending on May 19, 2003. Id., Ex. K. On April 28, 2003, Bryan completed an Essential Job Function Questionnaire for Tyler indicating her injuries were temporary and that she could not perform essential job functions. In particular, the April 28 questionnaire indicated Tyler could not stand for more than thirty minutes at a time; could not stand more than four hours total per shift; could not assist in subduing inmates and placing them in handcuffs and restraints; and could not assist in carrying an injured inmate on a backboard or stretcher. In a separate letter, Bryan wrote that if Tyler were required to perform certain job functions, she, her co-workers, and inmates would be at risk. Id., Ex. L.

  On May 20, 2003, Tyler was granted a two-week extension of her FMLA leave. Dr. Bryan re-evaluated her on June 9, 2003. He completed another Essential Job Function Questionnaire, indicating she could not perform essential job functions. Id., Ex. C. On June 14, 2003, the ADC terminated Tyler because her FMLA leave had expired and she could not perform essential functions of her job because of her temporary injury. Id., Ex. M.

  Plaintiff Tyler filed a grievance on June 20, 2003, challenging her termination. She stated in her grievance that she believed she should have been placed on light duty or some temporary job until she recovered from her injury. Id., Ex. N. At a hearing on July 23, 2003, Tyler testified that a Dr. Wallace had released her to return to work within two weeks of her initial injury, id., Ex. at 3, and that Dr. Bryan never told her she could not work. Id. at 4. She never told her superiors that her injury was permanent, and she consistently told her supervisors that she would be released back to work. Id. at 9. The Grievance Hearing Panel recommended that Tyler's termination be upheld. Id., Ex. A.

  On July 24, 2003, Tyler filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging discrimination based on disability.*fn1 On August 5, 2003, ADC Director Larry Norris reversed Tyler's termination until her leave time was exhausted. Director Norris wrote Tyler that if she were unable to perform the essential job functions on her return date, she would remain terminated until such time as she could perform those job functions, at which time she would be rehired, assuming she met all other employment qualifications. Id., Ex. Q. On August 11, 2003, Tyler wrote Norris and forwarded a note dated August 4, 2003, from the South Arkansas Orthopaedic Center, stating Tyler had had surgery on July 28, 2003, and would begin physical therapy. She was scheduled for a follow-up visit in three weeks, and a decision on return-to-work status would be made at that time. Id., Ex. R. According to the ADC, Tyler has not applied for work with the ADC since her termination. She received her Dismissal and Notice of Rights from the EEOC on July 19, 2004, and filed a federal lawsuit on October 1, 2004.

  Standard of Review

  Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As a prerequisite to summary judgment, a moving party must demonstrate "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials of her pleading but must "come forward with `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

  "[A] genuine issue of material fact exists if: (1) there is a dispute of fact; (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case; and (3) the dispute is genuine, that is, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party." RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 401 (8th Cir. 1995). The inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be cautiously granted in discrimination cases because such cases often depend on inferences rather than on direct evidence. Crawford v. Runyon, 37 F.3d 1338, 1341 (8th Cir. 1994). ...


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