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Brooks v. Chao

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

April 24, 2018

JONATHAN N. BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
ELAINE L. CHAO, Secretary, Department of Transportation,[1] Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARCIA G. COOKE United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jonathan N. Brooks (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pro se against Defendant Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq.., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., (“ADEA”), alleging disability and age discrimination. Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 32), which included a statement of facts. Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 45), and Defendant filed a Reply (ECF No. 46). Plaintiff also filed a Response to Defendant's Reply (ECF No. 47).[2] The matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[3]

         Plaintiff was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) as an Engineering Technician FV0802-G on July 28, 2014. Statement of Facts (“SOF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 44; Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 2. For the first few months of employment, Mr. Jerry Martinez was Plaintiff's first level supervisor. Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 7. Plaintiff's permanent immediate supervisor was Kraig Beahn, a manager, and his second level supervisor was Darrell Roberts, a regional manager. SOF ¶ 2. Plaintiff has a skeletal condition dating back to his military service in 1977. Id. at ¶ 3. Plaintiff's condition mostly affects his back, neck and shoulders, and limits his ability to perform physical activities involving the upper body, including his ability to reach, bend, and/or lift up objects. Id.

         In August 2014, shortly after Plaintiff was hired, he informed Mr. Martinez and Mr. Roberts of his disability. Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 13. Mr. Beahn became aware of Plaintiff's need for accommodation when he asked Plaintiff to pressure clean or paint a building and Plaintiff told Mr. Beahn he could not do it by himself. Pl.'s Depo., 20:4-15. Consequently, Mr. Beahn began the reasonable accommodation process. SOF, ¶ 5. As of September 5, 2014, Mr. Beahn approved temporary limited duties for Plaintiff which remained in effect through the course of Plaintiff's employment. See Memorandum dated 7/23/15, ECF No. 43, p. 87; Termination Letter, ECF No. 44-3. According to Mr. Beahn, Plaintiff's disability required Mr. Beahn to assign another employee to assist Plaintiff with his duties. Beahn Aff., ¶ 14, ECF No. 44-2. As part of the reasonable accommodation process, and prior to terminating Plaintiff, Mr. Beahn engaged in a job search in consultation with the Human Resources and Labor Relations Department to find another position to accommodate Plaintiff's physical limitations. Id. at ¶ 18. According to Mr. Beahn, the process was lengthy, but they could not locate any other position which Plaintiff would accept based on his requirements and physical limitations. Id. at ¶ 18, 23. Plaintiff received a letter, dated July 23, 2015, informing Plaintiff his employment was being terminated effective July 25, 2015, during his probationary period. See Term. Letter. The letter stated Plaintiff had been unable to perform the duties of his position and therefore had not demonstrated he could meet the performance requirements of the position of Engineering Technician. Id.

         After receiving his termination letter, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination on the basis of age and disability. SOF, ¶¶ 9-10. After the EEOC denied his claim and issued a Notice of Right to Sue, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The function of the trial court is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

         “The moving party bears the initial burden to show the district court . . . that there is no genuine issue of material fact that should be decided at trial. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). If the moving party meets this burden, then the non-moving party must “demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Id. Any inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant first argues it is entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff made contact with the EEO Counselor outside the forty-five day time period required by law. Since I have already determined that Plaintiff is entitled to equitable tolling, see Order on Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 49), and Defendant has presented no additional facts on this issue, I will turn to Defendant's other arguments.

         Defendant next argues that Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of age or disability discrimination. A plaintiff bringing a cause of action for employment discrimination must first “carry the initial burden” of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). Once a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination, “[t]he burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.” Id. “[S]hould the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.” Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).

         A. Disability Discrimination

         “The [Rehabilitation] Act prohibits federal agencies from discriminating in employment against otherwise qualified individuals with a disability.” Mullins v. Crowell, 228 F.3d 1305, 1313 (11th Cir. 2000). “To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act, a plaintiff must show that (1) he has a disability, (2) he is otherwise qualified for the position, and (3) he was subjected to unlawful discrimination as a result of his disability.” Id. It is undisputed that Plaintiff's skeletal condition qualifies as a disability under the Rehabilitation Act and that Plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action via his termination. Defendant, however, argues Plaintiff has not shown he is otherwise qualified nor that a reasonable accommodation was available to assist ...


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