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Twila Hickmon, Pro Se v. Teco Energy

January 9, 2012



THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant Tampa Electric Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 36) and pro se Plaintiff Twila Hickmon's Response in opposition (Dkt. 46). The Court, having reviewed the motion, response, record evidence, and being otherwise advised in the premises, concludes that the motion should be granted in its entirety.


In 2006, pro se Plaintiff Twila Hickmon began working for Defendant Tampa Electric Company ("TECO") through Strategic Staffing, a temporary staffing agency. In January 2007, TECO offered Hickmon a permanent position as a customer service professional ("CSP"). As a CSP, Hickmon was responsible for answering phones and responding to customer inquiries. Hickmon suffers from the following medical issues: bipolar disorder; post traumatic stress disorder; major depression disorder; migraines; degenerative disk disease of the neck and back; asthma; bursitis; tendinitis; arthritis; and high blood pressure. Hickmon stated during her deposition that TECO was aware of her medical disorders when it hired her for the CSP position.

TECO has a positive discipline system in place for all of its employees. The key components of positive discipline are: positive reinforcement; problem solving techniques; coaching and counseling; oral reminder; written reminder; decision making leave; and termination.

On January 16, 2009, Hickmon received a verbal warning from her supervisor Tina Findley regarding her "unacceptable availability," and for her repeated failure to return on time from lunch and other breaks.

On February 9, 2009, Findley and Hickmon met for a side by side meeting, which is a meeting where a supervisor observes and offers counseling to a CSP while he or she is assisting a customer over the telephone. At some point prior to the meeting, Hickmon informed Findley that she was bipolar. During the meeting, Hickmon and Findley disagreed about the manner in which Hickmon handled a customer call. According to Findley, Hickmon became very argumentative and loud and in order to diffuse the situation, Findley informed Hickmon that they would have to continue their discussion at a later time. According to Hickmon, Findley was the one that "messed up" during the call and Findley "got angry" with Hickmon. (Pl. 64:17-21).

Findley reported her concerns about Hickmon's behavior to Luly Martin, TECO's Return to Work Administrator. Findley informed Martin that Hickmon was having difficulty returning to work after lunch and other breaks. She also stated that Hickmon was very emotional and was constantly complaining about the demands of her job and the stress it was causing her and the other employees. TECO decided that it was appropriate to require Hickmon to submit to a fitness for duty evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation was to determine if Hickmon was able to perform her regular work duties and responsibilities as a CSP.

On February 11, 2009, Hickmon was placed on oral reminder, the first step of TECO's positive discipline system, for failure to adhere to her work schedule and for her tardiness after lunch/breaks. Findley advised Hickmon that immediate improvement was necessary. Findley also informed Hickmon about TECO's decision to require her to submit to a fitness for duty evaluation.

On February 12, 2009, Hickmon met with Dr. Gary Wood, a licensed psychologist. Dr. Wood recommended that Hickmon be placed on short-term leave and referred her to Dr. Bala Rao, a licensed psychiatrist.

On or about February 13, 2009, Dr. Rao evaluated Hickmon and on February 15, 2009, he prepared a fitness for duty evaluation report. In that report, Dr. Rao recommended the following:

I recommend that she be under psychiatric care seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis to monitor and stabilize her on appropriate medications. Her pain medications may be an issue to be addressed by her psychiatrist and her pain management physician. She may return back to work once she has established her started her [sic] psychiatric treatment with the psychiatrist of her choice. I would also recommend on going to therapy to deal with issues of coping skills and dealing with boundary issues. (Dkt. 45-1).

Based on Dr. Rao's recommendation, TECO placed Hickmon on short-term leave. Subsequently, Hickmon saw Dr. Fern Harman, who provided Hickmon with a doctor's note dated March 10, 2009, that confirmed Hickmon was in psychiatric treatment and receiving medication therapy. Dr. Harman stated that Hickmon was eligible to return to work and recommended that she go back on a limited schedule for the first two weeks.

On April 6, 2009, Hickmon returned to work. On April 15, 2009, Donald Ware, Hickmon's new supervisor, met with her to discuss the importance of adhering to her work schedule.

On April 21, 2009, Hickmon missed a previously scheduled performance review meeting with Ware.

On April 27, 2009, Hickmon received a written reminder, the second step in TECO's positive discipline system, regarding her ...

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