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Stout v. Barnhart

March 5, 2007

AVA STOUT PLAINTIFF
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge

COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Presently before the Court Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1

I. Background

The following facts are undisputed: Plaintiff Ava Stout has worked for the Social Security Administration since 1975. Since 1990, Ms. Stout has been a service representative in the Little Rock, Arkansas office. As a service representative, Ms. Stout's primary responsibility was responding to inquiries from the public on questions relating to the administration of the Social Security Act. In 1999, Ms. Stout was diagnosed with depression and has received medication to treat the depression since 1999.

In 2002, a Claims Representative Training (CRT) position opened. The Social Security Administration announced the vacancy for the position of Claims Representative trainee for the field office in Searcy, Arkansas, under vacancy announcement No. 344-03 with an opening date of August 4, 2003 and a closing date of August 22, 2003. A Claims Representative (CR) must deal with the general public in preparing and processing claims for all types of social security benefits.

Prior to applying for the claims representative training position, Ms. Stout sought the advice of her operations supervisor, Vicky Steward. Ms. Stout asked Ms. Steward whether Ms. Steward thought Ms. Stout should apply for the position. Ms. Steward advised Ms. Stout that she felt that Ms. Stout should not apply as the claims representative position was extremely stressful. Ms. Steward advised Ms. Stout that she felt Ms. Stout would have difficulty in performing the work of a claims representative. Ms. Stout applied for the position and was appointed to the position on September 8, 2002.

Ms. Stout was required, as were all selectees for a claims representative position, to attend a technical training class in the Dallas Regional Training Center. Retention in the claims representative trainee position was subject to successful completion of the training class. Ms. Stout's training class commenced September 24, 2002.*fn2

Prior to leaving Little Rock, Arkansas, to travel to Dallas, Texas, to attend the required training course, Ms. Stout sought and received some training. Ms. Stout had a difficult time mastering the materials taught in the training course. She was reminded by the Arkansas District Manager (DM), Chuck Stovall, that she must pass the course in order to retain the claims representative trainee position. In November 2002, Ms. Stout returned to Little Rock for two weeks of on-the-job training. Ms. Stout then returned to Dallas where she received a passing score in the required training course. She had a difficult time passing the required course work.

In December 2002, Ms. Stout returned to Little Rock and commenced working as a claims representative trainee. Lisa Morris and Vicky Steward were appointed to mentor Ms. Stout. Ms. Stout sought permission to work overtime. Permission was denied because she was unable to work independently. On May 29, 2003, DM Chuck Stovall removed Ms. Stout from the claims representative trainee position and placed her in a service representative position. It appears that beginning on June 16, 2003 until at least July 30, 2003, Plaintiff obtained notes from her doctor recommending leaves of absence for her depression.

On July 18, 2003, Ms. Stout filled out her EEO Discrimination Complaint Form, which appears to have been filed on July 25, 2003. On December 19, 2005, Ms. Stout filed her Complaint in this matter alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of race, color, and disability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 701 et seq.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when, in reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit set out the burdens of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., '[to] point[] out to the District Court,'that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339 (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-74 (8th Cir. 1988)) (citations omitted)(brackets in original).

"A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). However, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Id.

Once the moving party demonstrates that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The plain language of Rule 56© mandates the entry of summary judgment against a non-moving party which, after adequate time for discovery, fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. In reviewing Plaintiff's claims, the Court bears in mind that summary judgment is disfavored in employment discrimination cases, as such cases are "inherently fact-based." Simpson v. Des Moines Water Works, 425 F.3d 538, 542 (8th Cir. 2005). Nonetheless, "summary judgment is proper when a plaintiff fails to establish a factual dispute on an essential element of her case." Id.

III. Discussion

A. Reasonable Accommodation

"The ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified employee with a disability." Miller v. Nat'l Cas. Co., 61 F.3d 627, 629 (8th Cir. 1995) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12112 (Supp. V 1993); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.9 (1994)). "Before an employer must make accommodation for the physical or mental limitation of an employee, the employer must have knowledge that such a limitation exists." Id. "The Interpretative Guidance on Title I of the ADA states that 'an employer [is not] expected to accommodate disabilities of which it is unaware.'" Id. (citing 29 C.F.R. app. § 1630.9 (1994)). "The logic of this proposition is overwhelming and has been affirmed repeatedly by other courts construing both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973." Id. at 629-30 (citing Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931-34 (7th Cir.1995); Landefeld v. Marion General Hospital, Inc., 994 F.2d 1178, 1181-82 (6th Cir.1993); McIntyre v. Kroger Co., 863 F. Supp. 355, 358-59 (N.D. Tex. 1994); Mazzarella v. United States Postal Serv., 849 F. Supp. 89, 96-97 (D. Mass. 1994)). "In general, 'it is the responsibility of the individual with a disability to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.'" Id. at 630 (citing 29 C.F.R. app. ...


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