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Goodman v. DTG Operations, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 23, 2015

JOHN GOODMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DTG OPERATIONS, INC., Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING, IN PART, AND DENYING, IN PART, DEFENDANT DTG OPERATIONS, INC.’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 69)

Helen Gillmor United States District Judge

Plaintiff John Goodman filed a complaint alleging claims of racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, disability discrimination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, and a violation of the Hawaii State Whistleblower’s Protection Act against his former employer, Defendant DTG Operations, Inc.

Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to each of Plaintiff’s claims.

Plaintiff abandoned his claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Plaintiff opposes summary judgment on his claims pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act and the Hawaii State Whistleblower’s Protection Act.

The Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 69) is

GRANTED, IN PART, AND DENIED, IN PART.

Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Count I for racial discrimination, Count II for disability discrimination, and Count III for retaliation is GRANTED.

Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to Count IV for a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act and Count V for a violation of the Hawaii Whistleblower’s Protection Act is DENIED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 12, 2014, Plaintiff John Goodman filed a Complaint. (ECF No. 1).

On August 1, 2014, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 16).

On August 21, 2014, Defendant filed a MOTION FOR PARTIAL DISMISSAL OF FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT FILED AUGUST 1, 2014. (ECF No. 24).

On September 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed a SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT. (ECF No. 29).

On September 16, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued a Minute Order striking Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 31).

On September 30, 2014, the Court filed the Parties’ STIPULATION 1) TO ALLOW PLAINTIFF TO FILE SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT AND 2) TO WITHDRAW DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR PARTIAL DISMISSAL OF FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT. (ECF No. 32).

On October 9, 2014, Plaintiff filed his SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT. (ECF No. 35).

On October 7, 2015, Defendant filed DEFENDANT DTG OPERATIONS, INC.’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. (ECF No. 69).

On the same date, Defendant filed DEFENDANT DTG OPERATIONS, INC.’S CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN SUPPORT OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. (ECF No. 70).

On October 27, 2015, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF JOHN GOODMAN’S OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT DTG OPERATIONS, INC.’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED ON OCTOBER 7, 2015. (ECF No. 73).

On the same date, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF JOHN GOODMAN’S CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN RESPONSE TO DEFENDANT DTG OPERATIONS, INC.’S CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN SUPPORT OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED OCTOBER 7, 2015. (ECF No. 72).

On November 10, 2015, Defendant filed DEFENDANT DTG OPERATIONS, INC.’S REPLY MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED ON OCTOBER 7, 2015. (ECF No. 74).

On December 1, 2015, the Court held a hearing on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 75).

BACKGROUND

The Parties agree to the following facts:

On September 13, 2005, Plaintiff John Goodman began his employment with Defendant DTG Operations, Inc., doing business as Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group. (Declaration of Terri Nani Mitchell, City Operations Manager for Defendant DTG Operations, Inc., (“Mitchell Decl.”) at ¶ 4, ECF No. 70-1; Deposition of Plaintiff John Goodman (“Goodman Depo.”) at p. 52, ECF No. 70-24).

Plaintiff was employed at one of Defendant’s rental car facilities on the island of Maui. (Mitchell Decl. at ¶ 3, ECF No. 70-1). Plaintiff was employed as a Service Agent and his duties included washing, cleaning, and preparing vehicles for rental as well as moving vehicles to the rental areas for customers’ use. (Id. at ¶ 4).

Defendant’s Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace Policy

Plaintiff was provided with notice of Defendant’s Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace Policy at the beginning of his employment. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 387-88, ECF No. 70-24; Defendant DTG’s Drug and Alcohol Policy created in July 2001 and last revised on April 2011, attached as Ex. B to Declaration of General Manager Nancy Sulenta (“Sulenta Decl.”), ECF No. 70-10).

Defendant’s policy contains a Post-Accident Testing Provision that requires any employee involved in an accident that causes damage to Defendant’s vehicles or equipment to submit to drug and alcohol testing. (Defendant DTG’s Drug and Alcohol Policy at p. 4, attached as Ex. B to Sulenta Decl., ECF No. 70-10) (emphasis added).

Plaintiff’s Complaints of Workplace Safety

In 2009, Plaintiff complained to Defendant’s Senior Operations Manager Douglas Austria and Operations Manager Scott Ferreira that he believed other employees were driving too fast when moving vehicles in the lot. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 282-83, ECF No. 70-24).

Sometime in either July, August, or September of 2012, Plaintiff complained of the same safety issue to his direct supervisor, Operations Manager Zamuel Kalani Tomas (“Operations Manager Tomas”). (Goodman Depo. at pp. 281-84, ECF No. 70-24).

Plaintiff’s First Notice to Defendant of His Need for Cataract Surgery in August 2012

Plaintiff learned that he had cataracts in June 2009. (Goodman Depo. at p. 176, ECF No. 70-24). In mid-August 2012, Plaintiff Goodman spoke with Defendant’s General Manager Nancy Sulenta (“General Manager Sulenta”) about his need to have cataract surgery. (Goodman Depo. at p. 185, ECF No. 70-24).

General Manager Sulenta provided Plaintiff with information as to how to contact Unum, Defendant’s third-party leave administrator, about seeking leave. (Id.)

Plaintiff’s Workplace Incident on September 8, 2012

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, Plaintiff was moving one of Defendant’s vehicles and reversed it into a padded pole. (Goodman Depo. at p. 327-28, ECF No. 70-24).

Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he checked the vehicle for damage and did not see any. (Id. at p. 328).

Plaintiff stated that “[Operations Manager Tomas] was the first one to check for damage and conveyed to [Plaintiff] that there was no damage.” (Id. at p. 329). Plaintiff stated that when Tomas examined the vehicle he said, “Oh, it’s okay. No damage. Put it on the line.” (Id. at p. 331). Plaintiff claims Tomas said, “The car is fine. It’s fine. No damage.” (Id. at p. 332).

Plaintiff explained that he was sure that there was no damage based on his own observations as well as Tomas’ clear, confident, and sincere statements that there was no damage to the vehicle. (Id. at p. 333).

Plaintiff testified that Tomas did not place a sticker on the vehicle to indicate that there was damage to it. (Id. at p. 330). Plaintiff said if there was a scratch or any other damage to the car it would have been “put down.” (Id. at p. 333).

The vehicle was not removed from Defendant’s inventory of vehicles to rent out. Rather, immediately following the incident the Defendant rented out the vehicle that Plaintiff had backed into a pole. (Incident Report dated Sept. 8, 2012, completed by Zamuel Kalani Tomas, attached as Ex. A to Tomas Decl., ECF No. 70-6).

Operations Manager Tomas wrote an “Incident Report” that stated the following:

I was at the pumps when I heard a collision in the back of me. I turned around to see John Goodman backed up against the pole with the rear bumper pushed in. In the heat of the moment I accidently shouted out to him “BACK UP.” Right after I corrected myself and told him “NO I mean pull forward.” I checked the car for damages & couldn’t barely see anything. I was going to let this go then decide[d] to have him fill out an [Accident/Damage Report] & take pictures of the car.

(Id.)

Tomas’ Report does not describe the make, model, year, color, license plate, or VIN number of the vehicle, and Tomas’ Report itself acknowledges that Tomas did not write down any information about the vehicle before it was rented out. (Id.)

Plaintiff Goodman completed the rest of his shift on September 8, 2012, following the incident. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 189-90, ECF No. 70-24). Plaintiff was not instructed on September 8, 2012, that he was required to undergo a drug and alcohol screening. (Id. at p. 336).

Tomas claims that he provided Plaintiff with an Accident/Damage Report to complete following the incident. (Tomas Decl. at ¶ 6, ECF No. 70-5). Plaintiff disputes Tomas’ claim and testified in his deposition that he never received an Accident/Damage Report to complete. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 334-336, ECF No. 70-24).

Plaintiff Worked on September 9, 2012, the Day after the Incident

Plaintiff also worked his scheduled shift on September 9, 2012, the day following the incident. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 189-90, ECF No. 70-24).

On September 9, 2012, Operations Manager Tomas sent an email to General Manager Sulenta. (E-mail from Kalani Tomas to Nancy Sulenta dated Sept. 9, 2012, attached as Ex. B to Tomas Decl., ECF No. 70-7). Tomas’ e-mail with the subject “John Goodman” stated:

Yesterday he got into an accident by the gas pumps. He reversed into the new yellow poles blocking the new vacuum. I told him to fill out an accident report and I took pictures of the car. A slight crease on the rear bumper, barely visible. John still didn’t finish the report because he can’t see what he’s filling out.
Anyway Nancy he wants to talk to you tomorrow. He is going to plead his case and say that oil on the pedal was the reason for this accident. This might be his last accident. Will follow up with you tomorrow.

(Id.)

Despite Tomas’ e-mail on September 9, 2012, that stated concerns as to Plaintiff’s vision, Defendant permitted Plaintiff to work. He did not mention to Plaintiff a need to undergo a drug and alcohol screening on either September 8th or 9th of 2012. Plaintiff was not told that he could not work until he completed a drug and alcohol screening. (Id.)

Plaintiff’s September 10, 2012 Request for Leave

On September 10, 2012, Plaintiff called Defendant’s office prior to his shift and informed Senior Operations Manager Diane Martin (“Senior Operations Manager Martin”) that he needed cataract surgery and was requesting leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. (Sulenta Decl. at ¶ 7, ECF No. 70-8; Goodman Depo. at pp. 188-89, ECF No. 70-24). At this point no one had talked to Plaintiff about the incident or indicated that there had been damage to the vehicle and that a drug test would be requested.

Plaintiff stated that after the incident on September 8, 2012, he realized that his cataracts began impacting his ability to perform his job functions. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 192-94, ECF No. 70-24). Plaintiff testified in his deposition,

I could see. I could still drive. I could park cars. I could detail cars. At the same time, that was starting to impact -- it was crossing that line where it was starting to be difficult. That was quite a motivator right there to go -- I needed to just -- to actually get this taken care of....[By September 10, 2012, when I called to start leave], [my eyesight] was impaired [by cataracts] to the point where I needed -- this required leaving for the surgery. (Goodman Depo. at pp. 193-94, ECF No. 70-24).

Defendant’s Communications with Plaintiff Following His Leave Request on September 10, 2012

Following Plaintiff’s call to Defendant’s office on September 10, 2012, Senior Operations Manager Martin informed General Manager Sulenta that Plaintiff had requested leave. (Sulenta Decl. at ¶ 7, ECF No. 70-8).

According to General Manager Sulenta, she relied on the email communication from Operations Manager Tomas that Plaintiff “caused minor damage to a rental vehicle” and decided that Plaintiff was required to undergo a drug and alcohol screening pursuant to its policy for accidents that result in damage. (Sulenta Decl. At ¶ 4, ECF No. 70-8). Subsequent to Plaintiff’s request for leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act, General Manager Sulenta scheduled ...


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