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.
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.,
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.
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.
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). ...