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Cummins v. Curo Health Services, LLC

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

February 3, 2017




         Traci Cummins filed her Complaint [1] in this Court on June 1, 2015 against her former employer SouthernCare, Inc.[1] Cummins thereafter filed her Amended Complaint [27] alleging that SouthernCare violated her rights protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. SouthernCare filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [54] requesting judgment in its favor on all of Cummins' claims. Cummins responded [58] and SouthernCare replied [60] making this motion ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Cummins is a Registered Nurse. SouthernCare is hospice care provider. Around June of 2013 Cummins was hired by SouthernCare's Clinical Director Le Downing as a Case Manager. Le Downing was Cummins' direct supervisor. After approximately one month, Downing moved Cummins from part-time to full-time. Cummins' duties included traveling to patients' homes and to care facilities to provide direct care, supervising nurse aides, and occasionally training other nurses.

         In the Fall of 2013, Cummins applied for an open position in SouthernCare's sales department. Community Relations Director Scott Burroughs was in charge of the sales department and interviewed Cummins.[2] Burroughs hired another candidate for the open sales position. Cummins continued working as a Case Manager. The person that Burroughs hired for the sales position did not work out, and the position was open again in January of 2014. Cummins continued to express her interest in the position to Burroughs. Although the two had some informal discussions about the sales position, Burroughs did not formally re-interview Cummins, and did not hire anyone to fill the position.

         In February of 2014, Cummins injured her shoulder while treating a patient. Because of her injury, Cummins was restricted from lifting more than ten pounds. SouthernCare placed Cummins on light duty and reassigned her to work in the office. Cummins continued to work in the office for several months. In June of 2014 SouthernCare was acquired by Curo Health Services.

         Cummins continued to request an interview for the sales position that remained open. On July 14, 2014, Cummins again approached Burroughs and requested an interview. According to Cummins, Burroughs gave her a brief and informal interview. Later that day, Burroughs and Downing laid Cummins off.

         In her Amended Complaint, Cummins alleges that SouthernCare fired her because of her physical disability and refused to provide her with a reasonable accommodation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Cummins further alleges that SouthernCare failed to provide her with notice and opportunity for leave as required by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

         In its Motion for Summary Judgment, SouthernCare argues that Cummins does not qualify as an individual with a disability under the ADA, that Cummins never requested an accommodation, that SouthernCare provided an accommodation until it could no longer do so without creating undue hardship, and that Cummins was not fired because of her disability but was instead terminated as part of a general reduction in force.

         As to Cummins' claim brought under the FMLA, SouthernCare argues that Cummins never requested leave and that even if she had it was not available to her. SouthernCare requests that the Court enter judgment in its favor on all of the Plaintiff's claims.

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “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, 106 S.Ct. 2548. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

         Disability Discrimination

         The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee's disability. Under the ADA, it is unlawful for an employer to “discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures [. . .] discharge of employees, [. . .] and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. §12112(a).

         Where, as here, the Plaintiff produces no direct evidence of discrimination, but instead relies on circumstantial evidence to sustain her case, the Court applies the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to determine whether she can sustain her claim. Demarce v. Robinson Prop. Grp. Corp., 642 F. App'x 348, 352 (5th Cir. 2016). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination the plaintiff must show: “(1) that she has a disability; (2) that she was qualified for the job; [and] (3) that she was subject to an adverse employment decision on account of her disability.” E.E.O.C. v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 697 (5th Cir. 2014) (adopting the specific elements of a prima facie case as outlined in Zenor v. El Paso Healthcare Sys., Ltd., 176 F.3d 847, 853 (5th Cir. 1999)).

         If the Plaintiff successfully establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to SouthernCare to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. LHC Grp., 773 F.3d at 694. If SouthernCare articulates a reason, the burden then shifts back to the Plaintiff to show that the proffered reason was merely pretext. Id.

         As to the first prong, for purposes of summary judgment, SouthernCare concedes that the Plaintiff has a disability. Moving to the second prong, SouthernCare argues that the Plaintiff was not qualified for the job. A “qualified individual” is one “who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” 42 U.S.C. §12111(8). To demonstrate qualification, the Plaintiff must show either that “(1) she could perform the essential functions of the job in spite of her disability, or (2) that a reasonable accommodation of her disability would have enabled her to perform the essential functions of the job.” Demarce v. Robinson Prop. Grp. Corp., No. 2:12-CV-34-SA, 2013 WL 6528843, at *4 (N.D. Miss. Dec. 12, 2013), aff'd, 642 F. App'x 348 (citing Burch v. City of Nacogdoches, 174 F.3d 615, 619 (5th Cir. 1999); see Appel v. Inspire Pharms., Inc., 428 F. App'x 279, 284 (5th Cir. 2011) (stating “an employee who cannot perform essential job requirements, even with accommodation, is not a qualified person with a disability.”)).

         SouthernCare argues that the Plaintiff was not qualified to perform the duties of an RN Case Manager because of her ten-pound lifting restriction. According to SouthernCare, one aspect of the RN Case Manager job is providing physical assistance to patients including helping them move and turn in order to properly examine them. SouthernCare argues that Cummins lifting restriction prevented her from performing this essential function. The Plaintiff argues that she could have performed all of the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation such as adjusting her patient list or having an aide accompany her on certain patient visits. ...

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