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Kassa v. Synovus Bank

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

January 3, 2019

TONY KASSA, Plaintiff,
v.
SYNOVUS BANK, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Tony Kassa was terminated from his job at Synovus Bank after he told a female bank teller that he hates working with women. Kassa claims that he had a disability that Synovus refused to accommodate and that he made the statement when his disability flared up. Kassa brought discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.[1] Synovus seeks summary judgment on all of Kassa's claims. As discussed below, the Court grants Synovus's summary judgment motion (ECF No. 14).

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         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.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Viewed in the light most favorable to Kassa, the present record reveals the following facts.

         Kassa began working for Synovus in 2015. Before he joined Synovus, Kassa served in the U.S. Army for more than a decade; worked in various information technology roles for employers in Columbus, Georgia; received a Bachelor of Arts in communication information systems maintenance; worked in the economic development department at Columbus Technical College; and was a Cisco/Network Instructor at Virginia College.

         Over the years, Kassa has received treatment for depression, anxiety, intermittent explosive disorder, bipolar disorder, alcohol addiction, paranoid personality disorder, and impulse control disorder. In 2013, Kassa's psychiatrist, Kashmira Parekh, wrote a “To Whom it May Concern” letter explaining that Kassa was under Parekh's care for “Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Paranoid Personality Disorder, and Alcohol Abuse.” Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. F, Parekh Letter (Oct. 23, 2013), ECF No. 14-8. The same year, Kassa's primary care physician, Jatin Pithadia, wrote a “To Whom it May Concern” letter explaining that Kassa was under Pithadia's care for “Alcohol related illnesses, Depression, Anger issues, and Bipolar issues.” Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. G, Pithadia Letter (Nov. 11, 2013), ECF No. 14-9.

         Synovus hired Kassa as a Network Support Analyst, Lead in November 2015. His job was to manage the Network Operations Center, and his team monitored Synovus's websites, automated teller machines (“ATMs”), server performance, and transaction servers to make sure they worked properly. If there was a problem, the Network Operations team determined its root cause and contacted the appropriate people to fix the problem.

         When Kassa began working at Synovus, he worked the night shift Friday through Monday, and his supervisor was Diana Young. During his training, Kassa told Young “that he had issues . . . sometimes he would get angry or upset;” Young believed Kassa had post traumatic stress disorder. Young Dep. 39:7-10, 43:5-6, ECF No. 36-10. Kassa asked Young if it would be a problem “if he needed to get up and . . . take a break” when that happened. Id. at 39:12-13. Young told Kassa that there was no problem with him getting up to walk around as long as his area was covered, people knew where he was, and he could be reached if needed. Id. at 39:12-20, 42:16-24. According to Young, this arrangement worked. Kassa also told his coworkers that “they had nothing to worry about because [he] wasn't violent and [he] just speak[s] the truth.” Kassa Dep. 109:9-12, ECF No. 22. And, Kassa stated that his disorders were under control when he took his medicine and took a short break. Id. at 108:17-19, 109:7-9.

         In 2016, Synovus decided to outsource the Network Operations Center functions to an Indian company called Happiest Minds. The transition began in July 2016. Many of Kassa's coworkers were laid off as part of the transition, but Kassa's supervisors wanted to keep him because he was a hard worker, very knowledgeable, and very smart. Kassa's supervisors wanted a network engineer expert like Kassa to support the ATM team, which handled customer service calls for issues with Synovus ATMs. So, Kassa was moved to the ATM team day shift, although he remained in the Network Operations Center until the transition to Happiest Minds was complete in February 2017 and officially transitioned to the ATM team February 27, 2017. The new position involved answering customer service calls, and Kassa told Young that he was concerned about having to answer the phones on the day shift. Young believed that the position was not a good fit for Kassa, but it “was like the last resort of choices [Young and senior director Antonio Sampson] had for . . . Kassa.” Young Dep. 48:6-21. Kassa also expressed his concerns to his senior director, Antonio Sampson, and to human resources manager Charles Burks. He told them that the ATM team was “not a good place for [him] to go” because he was “going to end up losing [his] temper talking to somebody on the phone.” Kassa Dep. 168:17-19. It was Sampson's intention for Kassa to be a technical resource who would assist ATM technicians in resolving technical issues, not directly answering telephone calls. Sampson Dep. 33:14-34:17, ECF No. 18. But Sampson was reassigned during the transition, and he was no longer responsible for Kassa's department.

         In August 2016, Kassa updated his team member profile to state that he is disabled; the profile does not contain any specific information regarding his disability. Wes Mason became Kassa's supervisor in October 2016.[2] Kassa told Mason, “I have a condition that sometimes I can't control what I say. Moving me to the phones is not going to be a good idea and I'm probably going to get fired[.]”[3] Kassa Dep. 111:22-112:1. At the time, Kassa did not provide Mason with any documentation regarding his condition, and Mason did not ask for any. Kassa later asked Mason if he was supposed to answer the phones. Mason said, “yeah, that's kind of your job.” Id. at 117:2-5. Kassa asked if he could “just talk to the technicians.” Id. at 117:7-9. Mason replied that he did not have enough people for that. Kassa also applied for positions outside the ATM team, but he was not selected. He asked for permission to work nights or from home, but those requests were denied; the ATM support position could not be performed from home “because the Synovus telephone system does not enable calls to be routed to off-site employees, ” and the network support duties Kassa had previously performed at night had been outsourced to Happiest Minds. Mason Aff. ¶ 13, ECF No 14-12. Finally, Kassa told Mason that he may need “to get up and take a break.” Kassa Dep. 117:17-19. Kassa did not point to evidence that Mason told him he could not take a break as Young had permitted him to do.

         In November 2016, Kassa was written up for failure to report a server outage properly, which resulted in a lengthy outage that had “a major impact on business operations.” Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. N, Team Member Counseling Form 2 (Nov. 8, 2016), ECF No. 14-16. The counseling form states that Synovus typically uses a progressive disciplinary process, beginning with documented verbal counseling. Id. at 1. But the form also states that Synovus “reserves the right to escalate disciplinary procedures . . . at any time based upon the specific situation and business conditions.” Id. And, it says that a first written warning like the one Kassa received may be used “when the severity of an issue warrants.” Id. Kassa does not dispute that the incident happened, but he believes that he should have received verbal counseling instead of a written warning. He did not point to any evidence to suggest that Synovus skipped the verbal warning because of Kassa's disorders.

         Kassa's first performance review with Mason was in January 2017. Mason rated Kassa as “Exceeds Expectations” in technical resource but “Below Expectations” in team performance. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. O, Performance Review Report 2-3, ECF No. 14-17. Mason noted that if the review were based solely on “the technical side of things, ” Kassa would “be reflected as a rockstar.” Id. at 3. He further noted that valuable skills for support team roles like Kassa's include being “open to working with other teams” and “engaging others.” Id. Mason also stated that although Kassa's night shift peers were “deeply loyal to him, ” there was “a definite disconnect” between Kassa and the rest of the team, “and there have been some issues because of this.” Id. at 2. Mason stated that he would like to see Kassa “be less confrontational . . ., more open to suggestions, and more able to work with his peers, without requiring management intervention or assistance.” Id. Mason concluded by stating that Kassa had “a ton of potential” and would do “great things” with Synovus if he could “get past some of the attitude/perception issues and start fresh with his peers.” Id. at 4. Kassa agreed that his potential was “great” and that he just needed “to work on [his] communication issues.” Id. The performance review report does not mention any disability or request for accommodations, but Kassa asserts that he and Mason discussed his anger disorder during the performance review meeting and that he asked to be taken off the phones. Kassa Dep. 332:3-333:7.

         In late January 2017, Kassa sent emails to Mason and others regarding the Happiest Minds transition. In one email, which he sent to the entire team, including the Happiest Minds personnel (he asserts that he accidentally included them), Kassa asked when Synovus team members would “stop showing and telling [the Happiest Minds resources] the same things over and over again[.]” Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. Q, Email from T. Kassa to W. Mason, et al., (Jan. 28, 2017), ECF No. 14-19. In a separate email, Kassa attached several instant message chat logs between himself and Happiest Minds personnel, including the following:

Ashe, Perron 10:33 PM what is the problem with the atm list
Gunti, Rajesh 10:34 PM give you in 2 min perron
Kassa, Tony 10:37 PM Why Has No One done anything with the SQL Alert that is over 30 mins old?
Narsale, Chandrakant 10:37 PM we are checking.
Kassa, Tony 10:38 PM nothing to check handle the Alert. How often do you check our screens?
Narsale, Chandrakant 10:40 PM Sorry Tony, we areworking on it.
Kassa, Tony 10:41 PM You did not answer my question.. How Often do You Check Our Screens compared to ...

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