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Bluitt v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

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

July 19, 2019




         Before the Court is Wall-Mart Stores East, LP's motion for summary judgment. Doc. #50.


         Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[s]ummary judgment is proper only when the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Luv N' Care, Ltd. v. Groupo Rimar, 844 F.3d 442, 447 (5th Cir. 2016). “A factual issue is genuine if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, and material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Burton v. Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., 798 F.3d 222, 226 (5th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted). In evaluating summary judgment issues, a court must “consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.” Edwards v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 841 F.3d 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2016).

         In seeking summary judgment, “[t]he 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.” Nola Spice Designs, L.L.C. v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and alterations omitted). If the moving party satisfies this burden, “the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party satisfies this initial burden by demonstrating an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celtic Marine Corp. v. James C. Justice Cos., Inc., 760 F.3d 477, 481(5th Cir. 2014).


         Factual Background and Procedural History

         In 1988, Dorothy Bluitt began work as a cashier at the Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Mississippi. Doc. #57-1 at 44-45. After working there for three years, Bluitt left Wal-Mart for a higher paying job at Fred's Discount. Id. at 45. Bluitt stayed with Fred's for approximately four years and then returned to Wal-Mart in 1995 as a sales associate in the shoe department. Id. at 47, 65. One year later, she transferred to a “people greeter” position. Id. at 69. Bluitt suffered work injuries in 2001, 2002, and 2007, but was able to continue working. Id. at 85-91.

         In 2014, Bluitt was promoted to the position of department manager for cosmetics. Id. at 77. One year later, she transferred to the position of CAP Team Associate. Id. at 81. As a CAP Team Associate, Bluitt's job duties included unloading trucks, stocking shelves, and zoning. Id. at 81-82; Doc. #50-2 at ¶ 11.[1]

         A. January 2016 Injury and Subsequent Reassignments

         While working on January 16, 2016, Bluitt fell from a ladder and injured her knee. Doc. #50-1 at 95-96. Soon after, Bluitt presented to a physician and had x-rays taken of her knee. Id. at 104. Nine days after the injury, Bluitt saw Russell Linton, M.D., for treatment. Doc. #57-12. Linton diagnosed Bluitt with an MCL sprain and declared her unable to work pending the results of an MRI. Id. at 2.

         On February 3, 2016, Linton cleared Bluitt to return to work with a “[m]ust be seated” restriction. Doc. #57-13 at 3. That day, Bluitt returned to work on temporary assignment as a door greeter. Doc. #50-1 at 105; Doc. #57-10. In this role, Bluitt's primary duties were to check receipts and answer customer questions. Doc. #57-16 at 10.

         In “late spring/early summer of 2016, ” Wal-Mart commenced a company-wide initiative which replaced the people greeter position with the position of customer host. Doc. #50-2 at ¶ 13. As a part of this process, Wal-Mart eliminated the people greeter position at its Columbus store. Id. The essential functions of the customer host position required that candidates be able to “[m]ove, lift[], carr[y], and place[] merchandise and supplies weighing up to 25 pounds without assistance.” Doc. #50-1 at Ex. 39.

         On or about September 16, 2017, Bluitt was placed in a Temporary Alternative Duty[2]position on the night shift in a “night door” position. Doc. #50-3 at 9. This position-which was functionally loss prevention but was coded as “maintenance” for administrative purposes- required Bluitt to watch the door and “go around the store and pick up returns.” Id. at 9-10; Doc. #50-4 at 15. Bluitt shared these duties with Lisa Moore, another employee with physical limitations. Doc. #50-4 at 15. During this time, Bluitt felt that Pam Wilson, the co-manager and night shift supervisor, treated her unfairly by making her walk around the store, even when Moore, who Bluitt believed had no walking restrictions, was available to do so. Doc. #50-1 at 152.

         B. Leave and Termination

         On September 22, 2016, Bluitt underwent a Physical Work Performance Evaluation at the Columbus Orthopaedic Clinic. Doc. #50-1 at PageID #381.[3] The evaluation determined Bluitt suffered from numerous physical restrictions, including an inability to squat, crouch, climb stairs, and climb ladders. Id. at PageID #384. The ...

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