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Voss v. Housing Authority of City of Magnolia

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

June 21, 2016

PAUL VOSS, PLAINTIFF
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF MAGNOLIA, ARKANSAS, et al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants. ECF No. 24. Plaintiff has filed a response (ECF No. 29), [1] and Defendants have filed a reply. ECF No. 31. The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant, the Housing Authority of the City of Magnolia, Arkansas (“Housing Authority”), employed Plaintiff Paul Voss for approximately fourteen years. Voss held the position of maintenance supervisor at all times relevant to this lawsuit. He was responsible for the technical supervision of maintenance activities for low-rent housing developments. In performing his duties, Voss drove a Housing Authority pickup truck and occasionally operated Housing Authority equipment, such as a backhoe, tractor, and lawnmower. Voss also purchased supplies from vendors. Voss reported directly to Defendant Richard Wyse, Executive Director of the Housing Authority.

         On February 25, 2014, all Housing Authority employees who were present were drug tested. Voss failed the drug test because he tested positive for opiates/morphine. On March 13, 2014, Executive Director Wyse informed Voss that he had failed the drug test and suspended Voss without pay.

         The next day, Voss emailed Wyse a copy of Voss’s hydrocodone prescription. Because Voss was taking hydrocodone at the time of the testing, the drug test was positive for opiate/morphine. In an email response, Wyse thanked Voss for providing a copy of the prescription and asked that Voss provide a letter from his team of healthcare professionals acknowledging the prescription and stating whether any side effects of the prescribed medication could hinder Voss’s ability to perform his work duties. Voss did not respond to the email.

         On March 24, 2014, Wyse sent Voss a letter again asking for an acknowledgement from Voss’s healthcare professionals that Voss had been prescribed the medication. The letter also requested that Voss’s healthcare professionals describe how and when Voss took the prescription and state whether any side effects of the prescribed medication could hinder Voss’s ability to perform his work duties. Voss received the letter but did not respond.

         On April 1, 2014, the Magnolia city attorney mailed Voss a letter requesting that Voss provide the Housing Authority with the previously requested information regarding his prescription. The letter noted that Voss’s pay was reinstated, retroactively, and that a suspension with pay could not be indefinite. By letter dated April 14, 2014, Voss again was instructed to provide the Housing Authority with the requested information by April 18, 2014. The letter further instructed Voss to return to work no later than April 21, 2014. Voss did not respond to the letter and did not return to work. On April 23, 2014, the city attorney informed Voss that if he did not provide the Housing Authority with the information regarding his prescription by May 5, 2014, the Housing Authority would terminate his employment. Voss did not respond to the letter or provide the requested information to the Housing Authority.

         On May 5, 2014, the city attorney sent Voss another letter informing him that Wyse accepted his explanation for the drug screen results and wished for Voss to return to work. The letter requested that Voss return to work no later than May 12, 2014. Voss did not return to work that day, but he did call in sick. Voss returned to work on May 14, 2014.

         After Voss returned to work, he met with Wyse. Voss had not submitted a physician’s statement indicating that he could safely perform his job duties while taking hydrocodone. Thus, Voss was restricted from operating the Housing Authority’s vehicles and equipment pending receipt of the requested information regarding the hydrocodone prescription. Wyse informed Voss that, because of funding issues, he was not to place any orders for supplies without advanced approval from Wyse.

         Voss claims that he told Wyse at the May 14 meeting that he had a 70% rating, [2] that he had arthritis and sciatica, and that there were things he used to be able to do that he could not do now. Voss cannot recall what exactly he told Wyse he was unable to do, and Voss does not claim that Wyse made him do any of these unnamed activities or duties.

         Voss worked on May 15 and May 16, 2014. On May 19, Voss left a resignation letter in Wyse’s office while Wyse was out. Voss claims that he resigned because he could not stand the restrictions regarding operating vehicles and equipment pending the receipt of the requested information, because he was unable to make purchases without Wyse’s approval, and because Wyse had called him once on his company provided cellphone and told him to get back to work.

         Before Voss had returned to work, on May 6, 2014, he signed a charge of discrimination that was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). ECF No. 24-4. Voss alleged that he was placed on suspension and discharged because he refused to provide a copy of all his prescription medications. On May 16, 2014, Voss signed an amended charge of discrimination that was filed with the EEOC. ECF No. 24-5. Voss alleged that he was suspended and threatened with termination because he did not provide the Housing Authority with the requested information regarding his prescription. The amended charge stated that Wyse asked Voss whether he had filed an EEOC complaint. In the “discrimination based on” section in the amended charge, Voss checked the boxes for disability and retaliation.

         The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on September 30, 2014. ECF No. 1-1. On January 5, 2015, Voss filed the present lawsuit. In a March 23, 2016 order, the Court dismissed some of Voss’s claims. ECF No. 20. The order stated that the remaining claims are as follows: (1) Voss’s claim that the Housing Authority discriminated against him because of a perceived disability; (2) Voss’s due process claim that he was deprived of a constitutionally protected property right; and (3) Voss’s claim that he was retaliated against for reporting discriminatory conduct in violation of Title VII. ECF No. 20, p. 9. The Housing Authority and Wyse assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on all of the remaining claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that when a party moves for summary judgment:

The court shall grant summary judgment if 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); Krenik v. County of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953 (8th Cir.1995). The Supreme Court has issued the following guidelines for trial courts to determine whether this standard has been satisfied:

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 ...

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