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Pfendler v. Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii, LLC

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 22, 2016

VICTOR E. PFENDLER, Plaintiff,
v.
LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NO. 34)

          Helen Gillmor United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Victor E. Pfendler has filed a Complaint alleging his former employer Defendant Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii, LLC discriminated against him on the basis of his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiff also alleges he was retaliated against for filing a disability discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

         Defendant seeks summary judgment on both of Plaintiff's claims. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff injured his shoulder in January 2012 and could not lift enough weight to perform the essential functions of his position as a Dialysis Technical Specialist. Defendant asserts it provided Plaintiff with reasonable accommodations when it approved his requests for medical leave between January 2012 and December 2012.

         Defendant argues that it reasonably accommodated Plaintiff's injury further in January 2013 when it approved Plaintiff's request for an internal position transfer to the position of a Hemodialysis Technician II, which did not require heavy lifting.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant discriminated against him by refusing to allow him to return to his Dialysis Technical Specialist position. Plaintiff acknowledges that he accepted the Hemodialysis Technician II position but asserts that the position was a demotion and was in retaliation for the Charge of Discrimination Plaintiff filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

         Defendant Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 34) is GRANTED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint. (ECF No. 1).

         On June 8, 2016, Defendant filed DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT along with DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S CONCISE STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS. (ECF Nos. 34 and 35).

         On June 16, 2016, the Court issued a briefing schedule. (ECF No. 36).

         On June 27, 2016, Plaintiff requested a two week extension to file his Opposition. (ECF No. 38).

         On the same date, the Court issued a Minute Order granting Plaintiff's request for an extension of time. (ECF No. 39).

         On July 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF VICTOR PFENDLER'S MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT and PLAINTIFF VICTOR PFENDLER'S CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN RESPONSE TO DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S CONCISE STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS. (ECF Nos. 41 and 42).

         On July 21, 2016, the Court issued a Minute Order striking Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition and Concise Statement of Facts (ECF Nos. 41 and 42) for failure to comply with the Local Rules for the District of Hawaii. (ECF No. 43).

         On July 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF VICTOR PFENDLER'S MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT and PLAINTIFF VICTOR PFENDLER'S FIRST AMENDED CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS IN RESPONSE TO DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S CONCISE STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS. (ECF Nos. 44 and 45).

         On August 5, 2016, Defendant filed DEFENDANT LIBERTY DIALYSIS-HAWAII, LLC'S REPLY MEMORANDUM. (ECF No. 47).

         On August 16, 2016, the Court held a hearing on Defendant's Motion. (ECF No. 49).

         BACKGROUND

         The Parties do not dispute the following facts:

On January 15, 2006, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii, LLC. (Deposition of Plaintiff Victor Pfendler (“Pfendler Depo.”) at p. 35, ECF No. 35-8).

         Defendant Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii, LLC provides treatment to individuals with impaired kidney function at 17 clinics in Hawaii. (Declaration of Mary Ann Whaley (“Whaley Decl.”) at ¶¶ 3, 8, attached to Defendant's Concise Statement of Facts, ECF No. 35-2).

         Over a five year period, Plaintiff held various positions with Defendant, including the supervisory position of Chief Technician from 2008 to 2011. (Pfendler Depo. at pp. 36-38, 61, 89, ECF No. 35-8). On June 20, 2011, Plaintiff applied to change his position to that of a Dialysis Technical Specialist. (Internal Application dated June 20, 2011, attached as Ex. 10 to Pfendler Depo, ECF No. 35-9 at p. 9).

         The responsibilities of the Dialysis Technical Specialist position included the overall operation, repair and maintenance of the physical plant, water treatment equipment, medical equipment plumbing, electrical systems and maintaining environmental cleanliness. (Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii Job Description and Performance Evaluation, attached as Ex. 13 to Pfendler Depo., ECF No. 35-9 at p. 12).

         The written job description for the Dialysis Technical Specialist position indicated that it required lifting 75 to 100 pounds. (Id. at p. 14).

         On June 22, 2011, Plaintiff accepted the Dialysis Technical Specialist Position. (Applicant Routing/Interview Evaluation Sheet, attached as Ex. 11 to Pfendler Depo., ECF No. 35-9 at p. 10).

         Approximately seven months later, in January 2012, Plaintiff Pfendler injured his left shoulder at home and sought medical leave from work. (Pfendler Depo. at 99-13-14, ECF No. 35-8; Whaley Decl. at 11, ECF No. 35-2).

         On January 16, 2012, Plaintiff provided Defendant with a certificate from Dr. Elizabeth M. Ignacio that stated Plaintiff was “totally incapacitated” and he could not work due to his shoulder injury. (Orthopedic Associates of Hawaii Certificate dated January 16, 2012, Ex. 17 attached to Pfendler Depo., ECF No. 35-10 at p. 1; Whalen Decl. at ¶ 12, ECF No. 35-2).

         Plaintiff remained on approved medical leave until February 9, 2012, when he requested an extended medical leave from work due to his left shoulder injury. (Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee's Serious Health Condition, attached as Ex. 14 to Pfendler Depo., ECF No. 35-9 at p. 16-19).

         Defendant approved Plaintiff's request for extended medical leave. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 15, ECF No. 35-2).

         In March 2012, Plaintiff Pfendler contacted Mary Ann Whaley, the Human Resources Manager for Defendant. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 18, ECF No. 35-2). Plaintiff asked Ms. Whaley if he could return to his position as a Dialysis Technical Specialist in a “light duty” capacity where he would be excused from lifting duties. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 18, ECF No. 35-2). Ms. Whaley informed Plaintiff that heavy lifting was an essential part of the position and that there was no “light duty” available for a Dialysis Technical Specialist. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 19, ECF No. 35-2).

         Defendant permitted Plaintiff to remain on medical leave from March 2012 until December 2012 because of his shoulder injury. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 23, ECF No. 35-2).

         Plaintiff Pfendler provided Defendant with updated medical certificates in April, June, August, September, October, and December 2012, all of which stated that Plaintiff was unable to lift heavy weights and was not allowed to engage in repetitive overhead lifting. (Medical certificate dated February 27, 2012, Ex. 17 attached to Pfendler Depo., ECF No. 35-10 at p. 8; Return to Duty Form dated March 14, 2012, ECF No. 35-10 at p. 10; Medical Certificates dated June 5, 2012 and June 22, 2012, ECF No. 35-10 at p. 13-14; Medical Certificate dated August 3, 2012, ECF No. 35-10 at p. 15; Medical Certificates dated September 18, 2012 and October 30, 2012, ECF No. 35-10 at p. 16-17; Medical Certificates dated December 18, 2012 and December 28, 2012, ECF No. 35-10 at p. 18-19).

         On November 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming Defendant discriminated against him on account of his disability. (Charge of Discrimination at p. 2, ECF No. 44-3).

         In December 2012, Defendant's Human Resource Manager, Mary Ann Whaley, spoke to Plaintiff Pfendler and asked him if he would consider applying for an internal transfer to a position that did not require heavy lifting. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 28, ECF No. 35-2).

         A month later, on January 8, 2013, Plaintiff Pfendler applied for an internal transfer with Defendant to a Hemodialysis Technician II position. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 29, ECF No. 35-2). Plaintiff stated on his application that he applied to transfer from the Dialysis Technical Specialist position because he was unable to meet the lifting requirements. (Pla.'s Application dated January 8, 2013, attached as Ex. 15 to Pfendler Depo., ECF No. 35-9 at p. 20).

         On January 17, 2013, Defendant accepted Plaintiff's transfer application and placed him in the Hemodialysis Technician II position. (Whaley Decl. at ¶ 30, ECF No. 35-2; Letter from Defendant to Plaintiff dated January 17, 2013, attached as Ex. D to Def.'s CSF, ECF No. 35-6).

         On January 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed an Amended Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming disability discrimination and retaliation. (Charge of Discrimination dated January 22, 2013, attached as Ex. 2 to Pla.'s CSF, ECF No. 44-3).

         Plaintiff remained in the Hemodialysis Technician II position until March 2014, when Plaintiff suffered another injury that left him unable to perform his job. (Pfendler Depo. at p. 158, ECF No. 35-8).

         On May 27, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. (Complaint at ¶ 6, ECF No. 1).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendant's Motion is titled a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment.” (ECF No. 34). The Court considers Defendant's Motion as a Motion for Summary Judgment as ...


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