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Samson v. City of Naples

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

June 26, 2019

RICHARD SAMSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NAPLES, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SHERI POLSTER CHAPPELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         [1]Before the Court are Plaintiff Richard Samson's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 40) and Defendant City of Naples' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 38), along with each party's response in opposition (Docs. 47; 50). Also, Samson's Motion to Strike (Doc. 46) and the City's response (Doc. 52) are here. For the following reasons, the Court denies the motions.

         BACKGROUND

         This is an American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) disability discrimination case for failure to hire.[2] Samson is a mechanic with diabetes. And diabetes makes him disabled under the ADA. When Samson applied for a position with the City, his disability disqualified him for the job. Now, he sues the City for disability discrimination in violation of the ADA and FCRA. Here are the facts.

         While looking for a new job, Samson came upon a posting for a City mechanic. (Doc. 38-6 at 26-27). In terms of mechanical skills, licensing, and experience, he was qualified in every way. (Docs. 40-5 at 1; 47-1 at 6). From the posting, nothing indicated that his physical fitness would be an issue. (Doc. 38-8 at 2). So he applied and interviewed before the City extended a conditional job offer. (Docs. 38-6 at 6, 33; 40-3 at 1v). Among other things, that offer was contingent on Samson passing a physical exam. (Doc. 40-3 at 1). When Samson learned the City required a Department of Transportation (“DOT”) physical, he knew it was a problem. (Doc. 38-6 at 31-32).

         A few years prior, Samson had issues with a DOT physical for a different job because he treats his diabetes with insulin. (Doc. 38-6 at 31-32). This was automatically disqualifying for the exam, absent an exemption. Samson v. Fed. Express Corp., 746 F.3d 1196, 1199 (11th Cir. 2014). The DOT physical was a requirement of obtaining a Class B commercial driver's license (“CDL”), which City mechanics must have. (Doc. 38-3 at 14-15, 60). Yet Samson had a CDL because Florida allowed an exception for diabetics who drive intrastate. (Doc. 38-6 at 27-28, 36-37). It appears the City did not know about this exemption, but the City required passing the DOT exam for all mechanics nonetheless. (Doc. 38-3 at 15, 65-68).

         Before taking the DOT test, Samson spoke to an employee in the City's human resources department. (Doc. 38-3 at 65-68). Samson told the employee about the state CDL exemption but went to the DOT exam anyway. (Docs. 38-3 at 65-66; 38-6 at 52). The DOT exam took place at Advance Medical Center. (Doc. 38-3 at 13, 67). Advance Medical could not medically clear Samson for the mechanic position because he failed the DOT exam due to his diabetes and a recent hypoglycemic episode.[3] (Docs. 38-3 at 13; 38-4 at 3-4; 38-6 at 38; 38-10 at 2). When Advanced Medical told the City Samson was not cleared, the City rescinded the job offer. (Doc. 38-3 at 13, 65-67; 38-4 at 3-4).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Courts must grant summary judgment “if 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). Disputes are genuine if the evidence could allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). And material facts are those “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. The moving party bears the burden to show that absence of a material fact and entitlement to judgment. St. Paul Mercury Ins. v. F.D.I.C., 774 F.3d 702, 706 (11th Cir. 2014). At this stage, courts view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Rojas v. Florida, 285 F.3d 1339, 1341-42 (11th Cir. 2002).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Samson's Motion to Strike

         To define the contours of the facts, the Court addresses the Motion to Strike (Doc. 46) at the start. Samson moves to strike a declaration by the City's risk manager, Lori McCullers. (Doc. 46 at 1-2). Samson argues first that the declaration should be struck because McCullers' statements are conclusory and not based on personal knowledge of the mechanic position's essential functions. (Doc. 46 at 4).

         Affidavits and declarations offered to support summary judgment “must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Non-compliant declarations are vulnerable to motions to strike. See, e.g., Pashoian v. GTE Directories, 208 F.Supp.2d 1293, 1297 (M.D. Fla. 2002).

         McCullers has personal knowledge from her role with the City: “As Risk Manager, I am familiar with the job description and functions of the mechanic position.” (Doc. 38-4 at 2). The Court can conclude she knows that the job requires mechanics to drive. See, e.g., Reyes v. AT&T Mobility Servs. LLC, 759 F.Supp.2d 1328, 1334 (S.D. Fla. 2010) (It was “reasonable to assume” that employees knew what coworkers “did during the normal course of their employment.”). And McCullers stated that she dealt with the City's policy on the DOT exam, that policy directed action for DOT test failures, and that this action was taken for safety sensitive positions. See (Doc. 46-1 at 3, 5, 7). From this, the Court can reasonably conclude that McCullers had sufficient personal knowledge to declare the DOT test policy was for “safely meet[ing] the job's essential driving requirements.” (Doc. 38-4 at 3); see also Walters v. Cent. Fla. Invs. Inc., No. 6:01CV1390-ORL-JGG, 2006 WL 821858, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 28, 2006) (“As an employee of [d]efendants, [witness] may possess personal knowledge regarding [d]efendants' work policies and, to that extent, he may testify regarding those policies.”). Thus, the Court finds that McCullers' declaration is based on personal knowledge.

         Samson also argues the declaration contains inadmissible hearsay. (Doc. 46 at 5). Hearsay is an out of court assertion offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Fed.R.Evid. 801(c). Samson does not identify which part of the declaration is inadmissible hearsay. Assuming that the purported hearsay is in the specifically challenged paragraphs, Samson's argument fails. Each assertion concerns facts about McCullers' own knowledge, not her testimony about others' statements. See (Doc. 38-4 at 2-3). Therefore, by definition, they are not hearsay. See Fed. R. Evid. 801(c)(1). To the extent other paragraphs of the declaration contain assertions from other declarants, they are not hearsay either.

         Thus, the Court denies Samson's Motion to Strike.

         B. The City's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Under the ADA and FCRA, the Amended Complaint asserts two failure to hire claims. Because the analysis for each claim runs parallel, the Court addresses them together. E.g., Frazier-White v. Gee, 818 F.3d 1249, 1255 (11th Cir. 2016).

         Title VII's employment discrimination burden-shifting framework applies to ADA claims. Earl v. Mervyns, Inc., 207 F.3d 1361, 1365 (11th Cir. 2000). And Samson must prove three elements for his prima facie case of disability discrimination: “(1) he is disabled; (2) he is a qualified individual; and (3) he was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his disability.” Holly v. Clairson Indus., L.L.C., 492 F.3d 1247, 1255-56 (11th Cir. 2007); see also42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The parties agree that Samson is disabled under the ADA. (Docs. 38 at 7; 40 at 7).

         The City moves for summary judgment on two grounds: (1) Samson failed to make a prima facie showing that he is a qualified individual (Doc. 38 at 7-14); and (2) even if he did, there was a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for refusing to hire Samson, and he failed to show that reason was pretext (Doc. 38 at 14-16). In part, Samson parries that he was qualified and there is enough pretext evidence to submit the question to a jury. (Doc. 47 at 9-19).

         Preliminarily, although the City states Samson “failed to show that he is a qualified individual who was discriminated against because of his disability” (Doc. 38 at 7), the motion only addresses the qualified individual element (Doc. 38 at 7-14). Then, the City contends it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to rescind the offer. (Doc. 38 at 14-16). As the City notes, legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons become an issue after a plaintiff makes a prima facie case. (Doc. 38 at 14); Cleveland v. Home Shopping ...


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