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Dantzler v. Georgia Ports Authority

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

November 29, 2018



         Before the Court is Defendant Georgia Ports Authority's ("GPA") Motion for Summary Judgment, doc. 32, to which Plaintiff Mary N. Dantzler has filed a response, doc. 36. Dantzler brought this suit contending that GPA discriminated against her when it failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disability and then terminated her employment. See doc. 11 at 12, ¶ 65 (Amended Complaint); doc. 19 at 14, ¶ 65 (date of plaintiffs termination). GPA contends first, that it has presented an unrebutted, non-pretextual, nondiscriminatory reason for Dantzler's termination, see doc. 32-1 at 12-14, second, that Dantzler has failed to state a prima facie failure-to-accommodate claim, see Id. at 14-21, and, finally, that GPA is entitled to partial summary judgment based on its discovery, during litigation, of Dantzler's misconduct, see Id. at 21-24. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion should be GRANTED.


         Mary Dantzler was a GPA employee in the Trade Development Group. Doc. 32-2 at 1, (GPA's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts). She was initially hired as an Administrative Specialist, and was later promoted to the position of "Market Research Analyst" in 2012. Doc. 36 at 1-2. While she admits that her annual performance ratings as an Administrative Specialist ranged from the low to mid-30s out of 50 available points, it was after her promotion that more serious issues arose. Id. at 1. Dantzler's performance was criticized and she acknowledged that she frequently made mistakes. Doc. 32-3 at 25. She had a fraught relationship with her supervisors, particularly Jennifer Tatom and John Petrino. Doc. 36 at 7 (disputing GPA's characterization that she felt "hostility" toward Ms. Tatom and Petrino, but conceding she was afraid of them). And on at least one occasion, she complained that she was inadequately trained. Id. at 2. In 2015, Dantzler became concerned that she might suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD").[2] Id. Shortly thereafter, Dantzler informed GPA's EEOC officer that Dantzler believed that she had a disability and that this disability was responsible for her performance problems. Id. at 3. A medical evaluation confirmed her suspicions and she received an official diagnosis in July of 2015, although she did not immediately inform GPA.[3]Id. at 2.

         Also in July of 2015, Dantzler received another performance evaluation rated in the 30s. Doc. 36 at 2-3. Because of the low score, she was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") and warned that failure to complete this plan could result in her termination. Id. at 3. She was instructed to complete PIP paperwork which allowed her to make certain requests to address the perceived deficiencies in her work. Id. On July 22, 2015, Dantzler requested a quiet place to work and further training as part of her PIP. Id. After GPA reviewed that request for a "quiet place to work," it informed Dantzler that there were no available private offices and that she should remove this request from her PIP. Id. Dantzler did so. Id. On July 29, 2015, Dantzler informed Tatom of her ADHD, after Dantzler had removed her request and after the PIP had been approved.[4] Id. at 4. Dantzler requested, and received, some subsequent training, but was ultimately terminated. Id. at 5.

         The parties do not dispute that Dantzler provided GPA with some notice of her diagnosis, but they disagree on the extent and circumstances of that notice. GPA concedes that Dantzler discussed her suspicion that she suffered from ADHD with her supervisor, Tatom, in June of 2015, but contends, at that time, Dantzler "did not . . . claim to actually have [ADHD], did not indicate that she had received a diagnosis of [ADHD1, and did not ask for an accommodation concerning it at that point." Doc. 32-1 at 6. Dantzler responds that, although her discussions with Tatom were not formal, she had reason to believe that GPA either was aware of the process leading to her diagnosis, or should have been. Doc. 36 at 8-9. And she did file an affidavit with the court establishing that she told Tatom about her diagnosis prior to her termination. Doc. 36-1 at 4-7. Moreover, Dantzler contends that GPA's lack of established disability policy and procedure was (at least partly) to blame for Tatom's failure to recognize the significance of Dantzler's communications and act on them appropriately. Doc. 36 at 9 ("That Tatom failed to communicate [Dantzler's disclosure of her ADHD concerns] to anyone is evidence of the GPA's disregard for the ADA in failing to train managers and supervisors in those matters.").


         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         According to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought." Such a motion must be granted "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." Id. The "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial."1 Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 advisory committee notes).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmovant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The substantive law governing the action determines whether an element is essential. DeLong Equip. Co. v. Wash. Mills Abrasive Co., 887 F.2d 1499, 1505 (11th Cir. 1989).

         As the Supreme Court explained:

[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 pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (citations omitted). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to establish, by going beyond the pleadings, that there is a genuine issue as to facts material to the nonmovant's case. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 92 9 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).

         The Court must review the evidence and all reasonable factual inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88. However, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. at 586. A mere "scintilla" of evidence, or simply conclusory allegations, will not suffice. See, e.g., Tidwell v. Carter Prods., 135 F.3d 1422, 1425 (11th Cir. 1998). Nevertheless, where a reasonable fact finder may "draw more than one inference from the facts, and that inference creates a genuine issue of material fact, then the court should refuse to grant summary judgment." Barfield v. Brierton, 883 F.2d 923, 933-34 (11th Cir. 1989).

         Substantively, a factual dispute is "material" if it concerns "facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . ." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "The materiality inquiry is independent of and separate from the question of the incorporation of the evidentiary standard into the summary judgment determination. That is, while the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant ...

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