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Elliott v. Huntington Ingalls, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

September 23, 2014

CLARA E. ELLIOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
HUNTINGTON INGALLS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

LOUIS GUIROLA, Jr., Chief District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT is the Motion for Summary Judgment [24] filed by the defendant, Huntington Ingalls, Inc., in this lawsuit filed pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The plaintiff, Clara E. Elliott, has filed a response in opposition to the Motion, and Ingalls has filed a reply. After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the record in this matter, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted as to Elliott's ADA claims and denied as to Elliott's FMLA retaliation claim.

FACTS

Clara Elliott began working at the Ingalls shipyard in 2000. (Def.'s Mem. at 5, ECF No. 25). She was employed as an electrician. In 2001 Elliot was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 at 9, ECF No. 24-1). She has testified that the condition causes her to suffer from shortness of breath, the inability to stand or walk for long periods of time, and the inability to lift objects weighing more than ten to twenty pounds. ( Id. ) Her husband helps her with all of her household chores, because she tires very easily. ( Id. at 11). In 2003, Elliott reached the point where she could no longer work aboard ships, because she could not go up and down stairs. ( Id. at 52). As a result, Ingalls transferred her to another area of the shipyard. ( Id. ) Ingalls also gave her a drive-in pass so that she would not be required to walk long distances. ( Id. at 52-53). In 2005, Elliott submitted medical restrictions that provided she should not climb any stairs, lift heavy objects, or be exposed to inhalants or noxious dust. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 9, ECF No. 24-9). Ingalls accommodated these restrictions. ( Id. ) Soon afterwards, Elliott was evaluated for a heart transplant. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 at 77, ECF No. 24-1; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 10, ECF No. 24-10). Her physician notified Ingalls that Elliott could not stand for prolonged periods of time, and she could not lift objects that weigh over five to ten pounds. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures were prohibited, and frequent rest periods in an air- conditioned environment were prescribed. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 10 at 2, ECF No. 24-10). Elliott testified that she was removed from the heart transplant list after she received a defibrillator implant. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 at 77, ECF No. 24-1).

In 2010, Elliott underwent a heart catheterization. ( Id. at 79-80). In July of that year, Elliott's physician notified Ingalls that she could not tolerate extreme temperature variations and requested that she be permitted to work in an airconditioned environment in the summer and a heated environment in the winter. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 11, ECF No. 24-11). Ingalls determined that Elliott could not work with these restrictions, because the shipyard had no positions available for electricians in an air-conditioned environment. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 8, ECF No. 24-8). She was placed on non-industrial medical leave. ( Id. ) Several weeks later, Elliott's physician notified Ingalls that air conditioning was no longer required, so Elliott was permitted to return to work and to use a fan. ( Id. ) On February 7, 2011, Elliott submitted a Charge of Discrimination to the EEOC, claiming that Ingalls transferred her to a position that violated her medical restrictions. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 14, ECF No. 24-14).

In June 2011, the air conditioning restriction was again imposed, and Elliott was placed on leave. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 8, ECF No. 24-8; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 15, ECF No. 24-15). Elliott's physician specifically stated that fans were insufficient. ( Id. ) On June 24, 2011, Elliott filed another Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, in which she alleged (1) that she was placed on leave in retaliation for her prior EEOC charge and (2) that Ingalls discriminated against her by failing to accommodate her. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 17, ECF No. 24-17). In September 2011, Elliott was permitted to return to work with a fan after her physicians provided updated restrictions that did not require air conditioning. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 11, ECF No. 24-11).

In January 2012, Elliott's condition worsened, and she had to undergo surgery to have her pacemaker repaired. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 at 10, ECF No. 24-1). Her physician placed her on medical leave until April 9, 2012. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 20-22, ECF Nos. 24-20, 24-21, 24-22). The following restrictions were imposed: no lifting over twenty-five pounds; avoid exposure to temperatures over ninety-five degrees and under sixty degrees; avoid working from unrestricted heights; avoid bending due to dizziness; do not work overhead for any significant period of time; do not stand for over one hour at a time; do not walk over 500 feet without resting; and limit stairs due to shortness of breath and dizziness. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 22, ECF No. 24-22). The physician stated that these restrictions are lifelong. ( Id. ) Ingalls determined that she could not perform electrical work with these restrictions. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 16, ECF No. 24-16).

On May 17, 2012, Elliott submitted documentation that she was no longer suffering from dizziness and she asked to return to work, but Ingalls took the position that Elliott could not return to work because her restrictions had not changed. ( Id.; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 23, ECF NO. 24-23). On June 20, 2012, Elliott submitted medical records in which her physician opined that she should be able to return to work. Ingalls claims that these records were unclear and did not modify Elliott's restrictions. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 16, ECF No. 24-16). Michelle Edwards, Ingalls' Nursing Manager, has testified, "I spoke with her physician's office again to seek clarity. I tried to convey that we would need documentation showing changes to Ms. Elliott's prior restrictions before she could be permitted to return to work. The restrictions that were established in April 2012 were never modified." ( Id. ) Elliott also claims that she provided Ingalls with additional information on August 22, 2012, but she has not provided any details regarding this information. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. A, ECF NO. 31-1). The only documentation located in the record that is dated August 22, 2012, is a Certificate to Return to School or Work that stated Elliott had been under her physician's care from 2005 to the present and that she was able to return to work on August 27, 2012. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 25, ECF No. 24-25).

On May 8, 2013, Elliott filed an Application for Disability Insurance Benefits with the Social Security Administration. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 5, ECF No. 24-5). In support of her application, she stated that sometimes she is unable to clean her house, and she is required to take breaks frequently. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 3, ECF No. 24-3). She reported that she is unable to take a shower due to dizziness, so she must sit in the bath tub. ( Id. ) Her arms quickly tire when she is combing and curling her hair. ( Id. ) When she was asked what she was able to do before her illness that she cannot do now, she replied, "Go to work on my job." ( Id. ) She also listed travel and yard work as activities that she can no longer perform. ( Id. ) She explained that she is unable to do yard work, because that requires bending, stooping, standing, and lifting. ( Id. ) She explained that her heart problems keep her from working, because she gets short of breath, and she cannot do much climbing, lifting, and bending. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 4, ECF No. 24-4). Elliott's Application for Disability Insurance Benefits was granted, and she continues to receive benefits. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 7, ECF No. 24-7; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 at 16, 107, ECF No. 24-1).

At her deposition, Elliott testified that the statements she made to the Social Security Administration regarding her inability to work were truthful. ( Id. ) Elliott has now submitted an affidavit to the Court in which she testified:

In my deposition I was questioned about whether I could work in my prior position. In every situation where Defendant questioned me about whether I could work in my deposition it referenced my social security status in the same question or the question before it. I answered that I could not work because I understood the Defendant to be asking me if I could work based on the definition of disabled under the social security administration, and not whether I could work with reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

(Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 1, ECF No. 31-1).

On December 10, 2012, Elliott submitted a Charge of Discrimination to the EEOC, alleging failure to accommodate her disability as well as retaliation. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. 26, ECF No. 24-26). The EEOC sent a right to sue notice to Elliott on August 20, 2013, and she filed this lawsuit on November ...


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