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Hudson v. Tyson Farms Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

January 19, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant Tyson Farms, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment. Doc. 27. The motion is GRANTED .

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Nicola Hudson began working for Tyson as a tray packer at its Vienna, Georgia facility on August 31, 2015.[2] Doc. 27-2 ¶ 16. On her “Post-Offer Health Assessment, ” she stated that she suffered from asthma and back pain caused, as she elaborated, by “over exertion when working with residents at previous jobs (nursing home).” Doc. 27-6 at 102-03. In her deposition, however, she said the injury stemmed from a 2010 car accident. Doc. 27-5 at 211:7-10. On that same Post-Offer Health Assessment, she answered “No” when asked if she had “any work restriction.” Doc. 27-6 at 102. However, within her first week on the job, Hudson complained of back pain to her line leader. Docs. 27-5 at 143:14-144:24. “[A] day or two later, ” Hudson was sent to the nurse's station to discuss her complaints of back pain. Id. at 147:2-17. The nurse on duty sent Hudson home because of her complaints and gave her a “job placement and physical recommendations form” to be filled out by her personal doctor. Id. at 147:22-148:6; Doc. 27-6 at 106.

         On September 11, 2015, Hudson saw her personal doctor, a Dr. Oliver, who completed the Job Placement Physical Recommendations form, giving Hudson a “temporary work restriction” with no “prolonged standing . . .[for] more than an hour” and “sit[ting] for 15 min[utes] after every hour of standing.” Doc. 27-6 at 107; see also Doc. 27-5 at 160:2-9. However, Dr. Oliver gave no diagnosis of Hudson's condition and failed to state how long Hudson was required to be on those restrictions. See Doc. 27-6 at 107. That same day, Hudson returned to work for her evening shift and gave Dr. Oliver's recommendation to Tyson's human resources department. Doc. 27-5 at 169:24-170:12. Hudson was then told that Tyson could not accommodate, and that she could not work under, Dr. Oliver's restrictions. Id. at 170:19-25, 180:7-23. Hudson then saw Dr. Christopher R. Inhulsen. Id. at 183:12-24; Doc. 27-6 at 109. According to Dr. Inhulsen's notes, Hudson asked him to lift Dr. Oliver's restrictions so that she could return to work and “also requested that [Dr. Inhulsen] mention that she should have a stand and [two] floormats.” 27-6 at 109. But based on his examination, Dr. Inhulsen concluded that Hudson's back was “normal” and that she could return to work with “[n]o [r]estrictions.” Doc. 27-6 at 110, 112. Nevertheless, as Hudson apparently requested, Dr. Inhulsen also recommended that Hudson use two floor mats and a stand.[3] Docs. 27-5 at 190:20-191:4; 27-6 at 109-112.

         Based upon Dr. Inhulsen's recommendations, Tyson informed Hudson she could return to work with no restrictions and that she could use floor mats and a stand, which were available to employees throughout the facility. Doc. 27-5 at 190:21-25, 191:10-22, 192:7-22. Although Hudson was also told there were not enough mats and stands to guarantee one or the other would always be available, there is no evidence that Hudson was not able to use a mat or stand after returning to work that day, which was her last on the job. Id. at 200:6-20. However, that last day on the job, Hudson asked her line leader if she could leave her station to use her inhaler, stating that the ammonia in the plant was aggravating her asthma; Hudson was told to wait until her lunch break. Id. at 205:2-25. Hudson then finished her shift. Id. at 204:17-18. The next day, September 16, she did not come into work, and on September 17 she resigned from her job. Doc. 27-6 at 113. On September 18, 2015, Hudson filed an intake questionnaire with the EEOC stating that Tyson discriminated against her because of her asthma and back pain. Doc. 27-6 at 116-17. Then, on October 20, 2015, Hudson filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC in which she stated Tyson refused to accommodate her because there were not enough “stands in the plant” and that, generally, she was “discriminated against because of [her] disability.” Id. at 118. Hudson then received a right to sue letter and timely filed this lawsuit, proceeding pro se, alleging that Tyson failed to accommodate her disabilities and constructively discharged her. Docs. 1; 1-1. Tyson now moves for summary judgment. Doc. 27.


         A court must 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). In determining whether there is a genuine dispute of material fact to defeat a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [her] favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citation omitted). A material fact is that which is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. And a factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         Hudson is proceeding pro se. “Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir.1998) (citation omitted). “However, ‘a pro se litigant does not escape the essential burden under summary judgment standards of establishing that there is a genuine issue as to a fact material to [her] case in order to avert summary judgment.'” Nalls v. Coleman Low Fed. Inst., 307 Fed.Appx. 296, 298 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir.1990)). “Although [courts should] show leniency to pro se litigants, [they] will not serve as de facto counsel or rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).[4]


         The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual on the basis of disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Hudson claims that Tyson violated the ADA by failing to accommodate her disabilities: her back pain and asthma. Doc. 1 at 5. The burden-shifting analysis of Title VII employment discrimination cases also applies to ADA claims. Hilburn v. Murata Elec. N. Am., Inc., 181 F.3d 1220, 1226 (11th Cir.1999) (citation omitted). Under this analysis, a plaintiff first holds the burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that she “(1) is disabled, (2) is a qualified individual, and (3) was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of her disability.” Id. (citation omitted).

         A plaintiff can establish that she has a disability be proving she has “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). Under the physical impairment definition of disability, a plaintiff must first establish she has an impairment; then, the court “must identify the life activity that the [p]laintiff claims has been limited and determine whether it is a major life activity under the ADA.” Rossbach v. City of Miami, 371 F.3d 1354, 1357 (11th Cir. 2004) superseded by statute on other grounds as recognized by Adkison v. Willis, 214 F.Supp.3d 1190 (N.D. Ala. 2016). “Finally, the [C]ourt must determine whether the impairment ‘substantially limits' that activity.” Id. When making this determination, the Court should consider the manner in which the individual is limited in the activity as “compared to most people in the general population” and may consider the “difficulty, effort, or time required to perform a major life activity” as well as the length of time the individual can perform the activity and pain experienced. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(4).

         Additionally, to avoid summary judgment on a failure to accommodate claim, a plaintiff must (1) identify an accommodation that allows her to perform the essential functions of her job and (2) establish that accommodation is reasonable “in the run of cases” or, alternatively, “is reasonable under the particular circumstances of the case.” United States Equal Empl. Opportunity Comm'n v. St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc., 842 F.3d 1333, 1346 (11th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted); see also Earl v. Mervyns, Inc., 207 F.3d 1361, 1367 (11th Cir. 2000); Willis v. Conopco, Inc., 108 F.3d 282, 283 (11th Cir. 1997).

         A. Failure to Accommodate ...

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