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Harris v. Rock Tenn CP, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

February 10, 2014

PATRICK O. HARRIS,
v.
ROCK TENN CP, LLC

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID A. SANDERS, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment (# 43). Also before the court are the defendant's motion to strike (# 50) and the defendant's motion for leave to file supplemental authority (# 55). In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct all proceedings in this case, including an order for entry of final judgment on any or all of the plaintiff's claims. After considering the motions and the responses thereto, the court finds as follows:

I. FACTS

Patrick Harris worked for the defendant, Rock Tenn CP, LLC, ("Rock Tenn") and Rock Tenn's predecessor from August 1990 until his termination on October 13, 2011. Rock Tenn manufactures packaging products, and when Harris began working there he worked the second shift stacking boxes. After approximately five years, he moved to running the "jumbo, " also on the second shift and five years later began driving a forklift on the second shift. Next, Harris moved to the first shift or "day shift, " making glue/starch for the corrugator until 2007, when Rock Tenn installed an automated system for making glue/starch and moved Harris to the third shift. Two years later, in the summer of 2009, Harris made his first application for intermittent FMLA leave as a result of sleep apnea. He was treated for this condition on August 5, 2009 and September 10, 2009.

In the spring of 2011 Rock Tenn obtained new waste water equipment and created a waste water treatment operator job. Harris wanted this job and wanted to perform this job on the first shift. However, while this job paid the same as Harris's previous starcher job, the operator's duties differed from the starcher job, and the starcher job lacked the same need for detail as the waste water job. Indeed, the equipment manufacturer made clear the equipment required an operator with a meticulous adherence to procedure. Rock Tenn hired Jason Bridges as the waste water treatment operator.

Shortly after Rock Tenn gave the job to Bridges in 2011, Harris had a second bout with sleep apnea, and on July 14, 2011, he again applied for intermittent FMLA leave. When he sought intermittent leave, Rock Tenn provided to Harris a "Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities." Along with that document Rock Tenn provided a certification form, setting forth the information necessary to support his request. Harris had to return the certification form no later than July 29, 2011, and when he returned it on July 27, he obtained intermittent leave. On August 22, 2011, Harris sought continuous leave rather than intermittent leave and was again given a "Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities" and another certification form. This time the certification form had to be returned no later than September 7, 2011. However, on that same day - August 22 - Tenn Rock received a notice from Harris's treating physician, Dr. William Edmonson, explaining that Harris could "return to regular duties."[1] Additionally, on August 10, Rock Tenn had received notice from Internal Medicine Associates of Tupelo that Harris could return to work on August 15 "with no restrictions." On August 31, Tenn Rock received notice from Med Serve that Harris could return to work on September 2.

Despite receiving the "Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities" and the second certification form on August 22, Rock Tenn never received any additional medical information. Consequently, Rock Tenn had nothing to use to make its determination as to whether Harris was entitled to continuous leave or not. When it did not receive any additional information suggesting Harris needed continuous leave, Rock Tenn notified Harris that without the additional information he would be discharged. Nevertheless, Harris provided nothing and did not show up for work from August 25, 2011 until his October 13, 2011 discharge.

Harris then filed the present lawsuit, and made the following claims:

(1) Under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), he made a (a) retaliation claim; and (b) an interference claim;
(2) Under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), he made (a) a failure to accommodate claim; (b) a discrimination claim for failing to hire him as the waste water treatment operator; and (c) a discrimination claim for terminating him; and
(3) Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, he made a (a) a failure to promote claim; (b) a discrimination claim for failing to hire him as the waste water treatment operator; and (c) a discrimination claim for terminating him.

The court will address each of these claims in turn.

II. DISCUSSION

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if "[t]here is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing 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 party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324.

On motion for summary judgment, "[t]he inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). To determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to any material fact, the court must consider "all of the evidence in the record but refrain from making any credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). The court must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150; ...


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