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Ford v. Synovus Bank

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

December 13, 2018

MATTHEW FORD, Plaintiff,
SYNOVUS BANK, Defendant.



         Matthew Ford brought this action against his former employer, Synovus Bank (“Synovus”).[1] He claims Synovus interfered with his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., and retaliated against him for exercising those rights. He also claims Synovus discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. Synovus moved for summary judgment (ECF No. 7). For the following reasons, Synovus's motion is granted.


         Summary judgment may be granted only “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 a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.


         Viewed in the light most favorable to Ford, the record reveals the following facts:

         I. Ford's Medical Condition

         Ford has an autoimmune disorder known as aphthous stomatitis. When his condition “flares up, ” Ford suffers from painful oral ulcers. During a flare-up, Ford may have as many as twenty ulcers in his mouth. His flare-ups may last from a few weeks to six months. His flare-ups also cause other symptoms, including a low-grade fever, muscle pains and aches, joint pains, and a generalized feeling of being unwell. Sometimes, Ford's flare-ups are so severe that he is bedridden. Ford's physician prescribed Vicodin for his flare-ups and advised him not to drive when taking the medication.

         II. Ford's Position at Synovus

         In December 2013, Ford applied for the position of “customer care coordinator” at Synovus. When Ford applied, he did not tell Synovus about his ulcer condition. Synovus hired Ford, and Ford started work in March 2014. His responsibilities included handling customer issues via email, online submission, or phone calls. Ford later moved into the new role of “card services support specialist.” In this position, he handled Synovus's credit card portfolio, including collections, fraud, analytics, and performance.

         As a card services support specialist, Ford worked at a cubicle in an open area. He shared a community printer with other Synovus employees in different departments. He had access to confidential financial information, including names, social security numbers, transaction histories, and credit card numbers of Synovus's customers. Employees needed a security badge to enter the building where Ford worked. Ford had one co-worker, Terrie James. He and James reported to Chris Eskue. He, James, and Eskue exclusively performed Synovus's fraud and collections work.

         III. Ford's FMLA Leave Requests

         During the latter part of 2015 and early 2016, Ford's flare-ups worsened. He consulted with Eskue, who advised him to speak with someone in Synovus's human resources department. Ford then spoke with a Synovus human resources employee named Daniel Steele. Steele Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 7-2. Steele advised Ford to submit paperwork for “intermittent” FMLA leave. Id. Ford submitted his paperwork and then exercised intermittent FMLA leave in 2015 and 2016.

         At some point in 2016, Ford made a request to work from home during his more severe medical flare-ups. In July 2016, Steele wrote Ford's physician, Dr. Linda Chin, to acquire more information about Ford's condition. See Letter from D. Steele to L. Chin (July 26, 2016), ECF No. 12-1 at 2. Dr. Chin told Steele that Ford was “quite capable” of performing the essential functions of his position. See Letter from L. Chin to D. Steele (Aug. 9, 2016), ECF No. 12-1 at 4. Dr. Chin noted that Ford sometimes required pain medications for his condition and that Ford had been advised against driving while taking his medication. Id. She likewise suggested that Ford be allowed to work from home during flare-ups that required pain medication therapy. Id.; see also Steele Aff. ...

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