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Moore v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

January 12, 2018

BOBBY MOORE, Plaintiff,


          Max O. Cogburn Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the court on defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Having considered the parties' motions and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following Order.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff worked for defendant beginning in October 2007 as a trailer truck mechanic in defendant's Transportation Office in Shelby, North Carolina. In 2009, plaintiff was promoted to parts clerk. In his new role, plaintiff was responsible for safely and correctly organizing, storing, and managing parts. In doing so, plaintiff was sometimes required to lift and shelve products that could exceed fifty pounds in weight.

         In June 2014, plaintiff suffered a stroke and was given a 90-day medical leave of absence. The stroke primarily impacted the left side of his body, including movement in his left arm and leg, facial drooping, slurred speech, and the loss of peripheral vision in his left eye. Plaintiff returned to work on September 2, 2014 after 82 days of medical leave and extensive physical and occupational therapy. Plaintiff's healthcare provider released him to return to his prior job of parts clerk without restrictions.

         At the time of his return, plaintiff continued his rehabilitation and expected to continue improving, and his supervisors indicated they would do their best to accommodate him as long as he could reasonably perform most of his job functions. While plaintiff was still fully capable of performing much of his past work, certain issues arose. Supervisors observed plaintiff leaving tasks undone and not safely and properly stocking and shelving parts; however, they declined to reprimand plaintiff or otherwise discuss these issues with him, in light of his full release from his healthcare provider and belief that plaintiff would continue to improve.

         In December 2015, plaintiff attended a meeting with his supervisors and a human resources manager. One of plaintiff's supervisors had noticed plaintiff fall backwards when attempting to enter a forklift, due to plaintiff's inability to properly grasp the forklift with his left hand and balance himself. Other observations similarly suggested that plaintiff's condition had not improved since returning, and reflected a possible impairment that would require accommodation. After plaintiff filed the necessary paperwork requesting an accommodation, defendant denied the request, saying that he was no longer able to perform the essential functions of his position. Instead, defendant offered plaintiff a job transfer. Two weeks later, an opening for the position of Driver Coordinator became available, which plaintiff was qualified to perform within his restrictions. However, plaintiff experienced difficulties adjusting to the new position and carrying out its functions, leading to various errors and ending in his termination in April 2016. As a result of these experiences, plaintiff has filed suit against defendant and claims discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted “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). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material only if it may affect the suit's outcome under governing law. Id. The movant has 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations omitted). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party. That party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 322 n.3. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 324. Instead, that party must present sufficient evidence from which “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cnty., Md., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995).

         The Court views evidence and any inferences from evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “‘Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Matsushita v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). The question posed by summary judgment is whether the evidence “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff's claim in this matter under the ADA is twofold: (1) he alleges that he was denied a reasonable accommodation for his disability; and (2) he was wrongfully terminated due to his disability. As to damages, plaintiff argues that an award back pay is warranted; however, since back pay is only awarded if plaintiff is successful, that issue will not be reached for the reasons that follow on the substantive claims.

         a. Whether plaintiff was denied a reasonable accommodation

         First, the Court will consider plaintiff's allegation that he was denied a reasonable accommodation. To support a prima facie claim for a failure to accommodate under the ADA, plaintiff must now present evidence that could establish: (1) that he had a disability within the meaning of the statute; (2) that the employer had notice of his disability; (3) that with reasonable accommodation he could perform the essential functions of the position; and (4) that the employer refused to make such accommodations. See Wilson v. Dollar Gen. Corp., 717 F.3d 337, 345 (4th Cir. 2013). If plaintiff successfully establishes these four elements, defendant may still avoid liability by showing ‚Äúthat the ...

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