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Diggs v. The Burlington Northern and Santa FE Railway Co.

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

April 20, 2017




         Christopher Diggs filed his Complaint [1] in this Court on November 4, 2015 against his former employer, The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company (“BNSF”). This matter is presently before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [66]. Diggs has answered [72] and BNSF replied [74], making this motion ripe for review.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Christopher Diggs was hired by BNSF in 1992, first as a brakeman and later as a conductor. According to Diggs, he was subjected to racial harassment by other BNSF employees over the years. Regarding this harassment, Diggs filed a race discrimination lawsuit against BNSF in 2000. He settled his claim in 2001, and this Court dismissed his case with prejudice. See Diggs v. The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, Civil Action No.: 1:00-cv-001-D-D (N.D. Miss. April 27, 2001).

         In 2009, Diggs took off work from BNSF because of health issues related to his foot. Around this time, he was diagnosed with diabetes, as well. Because of complications arising from his foot and his other health problems, Diggs was off work for several years. Diggs had an operation on his foot, but still he could not return to his current position, which required standing for long periods. His podiatrist, Dr. Boles, advised further surgery only as a last option because of its potential risks and recommended he take a sedentary job. Thereafter, Diggs took a BNSF exam for a job that was more sedentary but failed twice. Then, in 2013, he was diagnosed with an autoimmune myonecrosis, also known as myositis. This illness causes pain, inflammation, and weakness, and the doctor treating him for this illness, Dr. Housley, recommended a sedentary job as well. However, treatment for this illness was effective immediately, and Diggs reported feeling normal. Furthermore, in June 2014, Diggs had a second surgery on his foot that corrected his remaining issues. After his surgery, Diggs was released to work with no restrictions by Dr. Boles, and Dr. Housley similarly released him for work in August of 2014.

         After an absence of over five years, Diggs asked to return to his job at BNSF. Diggs provided documentation of his recovery to his division train master, Isiah Waller. Waller forwarded the information to the supervisor, Carter Tuggle, and BNSF's medical staffer, Ben Gillam. In response, BNSF sent Diggs a form letter, asking him to complete a fitness for duty questionnaire. Also, Dr. Laura Gillis, BNSF's medical director, asked Diggs to provide further information from his doctors regarding symptoms, treatment, medication side effects and recommended activity restrictions. Further, because Diggs had been diagnosed with diabetes, Gillis asked that he fill out an enclosed medical status form regarding his treatment for diabetes.

         Each of Diggs' doctors attempted to send the required information to Dr. Gillis. Dr. Housely and his staff sent records regarding his myonecrosis to BNSF on July 22, November 22, and again on December 11, of 2014. Dr. Glasgow, who was treating Diggs' diabetes, similarly filled out multiple medical releases, the first dated October 16, 2014. Again, BSNF deemed Diggs' information incomplete, so Dr. Glasgow sent another form to BNSF on April 21, 2015. Next, Dr. Boles sent BNSF a release as to Diggs' foot injury on August 4, 2014, releasing him to work without restriction. Because of similar inadequacies, he sent another letter on November 2, 2014. However, on December 8, 2014, Dr. Gillis explained to Diggs that she had received completed records from Dr. Boles, but had somehow received nothing from the other doctors.

         Diggs was unable to complete his medical file until two years later. BNSF explains that though the doctors were sending documents, Dr. Gillis found their documentation incomplete. For example, she found that one letter referred to “enclosed visit notes, ” but the doctor had failed to enclose the referenced notes. In any event, on September 9, 2016, Diggs provided the final missing documents to Gillis, and he was released for full-duty work on September 12. However, Diggs complains that Dr. Gillis intentionally prolonged his return to work for two years without legitimate reason. During his five year leave, he remained employed by BNSF, but he was placed on “vocational rehabilitation” status. Dr. Gillis reports that she requested Diggs' medical records pursuant to normal practice for the Medical Department in such scenarios.

         Thereafter, Diggs brought this claim of race discrimination under Title VII and disability discrimination under the ADA. He argues that management at BNSF did not want him to return to work at all, both because he is African American, and because he had been temporarily disabled.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         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). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Analysis and Discussion

         Plaintiff has alleged that BNSF management did not allow him to return to work for two years after his doctors had cleared him to work because he is ...

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