United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
matter comes before the Court without a hearing on the Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48) filed by the Defendant, Acting
Secretary, United States Department of Homeland Security
(henceforth, “DHS”), the response in opposition
(Doc. 59) filed by the Plaintiff, Eugene Smith
(“Smith”), and the reply (Doc. 68) filed by DHS.
following facts are undisputed. Smith, an African American
male, began working for the Transportation and Safety
Administration (“TSA”), which is part of DHS, in
2007. In 2011, while working as a Behavior Detection Officer
(“BDO”), Smith presented medical documentation to
DHS establishing that he had injured his back. Smith's
doctor determined that the back injury, which was not
suffered at work, prevented him from lifting more than 40
pounds. Because BDOs are sometimes required to move baggage,
the ability to lift at least 70 pounds is an essential
function of the BDO position.
accommodate Smith's medical restriction, DHS gave him a
“light duty” assignment, a temporary assignment
for workers who have suffered an off-duty injury. (Doc. 48-7
at 2). According to the agency handbook, DHS employees are
allowed to remain on light duty for a maximum of 180 days
absent “unusual circumstances”. (Doc. 48-7 at
6). DHS also offers “limited duty” assignments to
employees who have suffered on-the-job injuries that prevent
them from performing one or more essential job functions.
(Doc. 48-7 at 2). In both instances, the new assignment is
structured to accommodate whatever medical restrictions the
employee might have - such as, in Smith's case, an
inability to lift more than 40 pounds. Limited duty
assignments are not subject to any durational time limit.
was originally assigned to light duty for 45 days.
Subsequently, his light duty assignment was extended to 180
days. On April 12, 2012, Smith was notified that he had been
assigned to light duty for 140 days and that the assignment
could not be extended beyond 180 days. On April 30, 2012,
Smith was seen again by his doctor, who determined that Smith
was still restricted from lifting more than 40 pounds. Smith
continued in his light duty assignment until May 22, 2012,
when DHS put him on leave without pay (“LWOP”)
status. He was approved for disability retirement,
discharged, and began receiving disability retirement
compensation on May 24, 2012.
November 22, 2017, Smith filed the instant suit, asserting a
claim of disparate treatment based on race in violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.§
2000e et seq.In essence, he contends that he was
fired after 180 days of light duty,  while similarly
situated white employees were allowed to exceed 180 days of
light duty without being fired.
is entitled to summary judgment when the party can show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Which facts are material depends on the
substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505,
2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The moving party bears the
burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact
exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323,
106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In determining
whether the moving party has satisfied its burden, the court
considers all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in a
light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and
resolves all reasonable doubts against the moving party.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513. The
Court is not, however, required to accept all of the
non-movant's factual characterizations and legal
arguments. Beal v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 20 F.3d
454, 458-59 (11th Cir 1994).
party moving for summary judgment points out an absence of
evidence on a dispositive issue for which the non-moving
party bears the burden of proof at trial, the nonmoving party
must “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own
affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553.
Thereafter, summary judgment is mandated against the
nonmoving party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish a genuine issue of fact for trial. Id. The
party opposing a motion for summary judgment must rely on
more than conclusory statements or allegations unsupported by
facts. Evers v. Gen. Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 986
(11th Cir. 1985) (“conclusory allegations without
specific supporting facts have no probative value”).
VII prohibits employers from discriminating “against
any individual with respect to his compensation, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such
individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national
origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Where, as
here, there is no direct evidence of discrimination, a
plaintiff may prove discrimination through circumstantial
evidence, using the burden-shifting framework established in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93
S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). To establish a prima facie
case for disparate treatment, Smith must show that “(1)
he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was subjected to
adverse employment action; (3) his employer treated similarly
situated [non-black] employees more favorably; and (4) he was
qualified to do the job.” EEOC v. Joe's Stone
Crab, Inc., 220 F.3d 1263, 1286 (11th Cir. 2000). If
Smith satisfies these elements, the Defendant must provide a
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action.
Burke-Fowler v. Orange County, Fla., 447 F.3d 1319,
1323 (11th Cir. 2006). If this burden is met, Smith must then
prove that the Defendant's reasons are a pretext for
unlawful discrimination. Id.
first two elements of Smith's prima facie case are not at
issue. It is undisputed that, (1) as an African American, he
is a member of a protected class and (2) he was subjected to
adverse employment action when he was discharged after 180
days on light duty. DHS does challenge the third and fourth
elements, arguing that Smith has not shown that any similarly
situated white employees were allowed to stay on light duty
for more than 180 days, and that Smith's back injury