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SHERMAN v. PETERS

August 7, 2000

WILLIAM SHERMAN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
S. WHITTEN PETERS, ACTING SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Curtin, United States District Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff William Sherman ("Sherman") commenced this action under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq., and initially named as defendants the Secretary of the Department of Defense, William S. Cohen; and Acting Secretary of the Air Force, S. Whitten Peters. Item 1. By a second amended complaint, Sherman withdrew his claims against Secretary Cohen. Item 13. Sherman now alleges that his employer, the Niagara Falls Air Force Reserve Base, has illegally discriminated against him on the basis of his disability by refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability.*fn1 Item 13, ¶¶ 24-25. In September 1999, the Government moved alternatively for dismissal and summary judgment. Items 19-22. Sherman has submitted various opposing papers to this motion. Items 25-28. The Government has had an opportunity to reply to Sherman's opposition. Items 30-31. On January 25, 2000, the court heard oral argument on the Government's motion.

BACKGROUND

Sherman served on active duty with the United States Air Force ("the USAF") from 1980 to 1985.*fn2 Item 13, ¶ 9. Sherman is a "30% compensably disabled veteran" of the USAF. Item 22, ¶ 3. Sherman became disabled in 1981 when doctors removed his right eye due to a cancerous melanoma. Id. ¶ 2 and Item 25, ¶ 2. In 1987, the USAF hired Sherman as a civilian Security Guard at the Niagara Falls Air Force Reserve Base ("the Base"). Item 22, ¶¶ 1, 5.

Sherman first requested an accommodation of his monocular vision in February 1996. Item 26, Exh. 4, pp. 33-34. In response to this initial request, the Civilian Personnel Office ("CPO") offered Sherman a job as a Recreation Assistant in April 1996. Id. at 30-31. Sherman declined this offer for several reasons. See infra. Also in April 1996, Sherman and his supervisor rearranged Sherman's security duties so that he no longer had to perform duties that took him outside of the office. Item 26, Exh. 4, pp. 23-24, 27-30. Sherman and his supervisor reached this agreement as an alternative to Sherman's taking the job as a Recreation Assistant. Id. at 29-30.

In July 1996, there was an opening on the Base for a Realty Specialist. Id. at 86-87 (describing duties). In September 1996, the CPO informed Sherman that he had been "non-selected" for the position. Id. at 89. In October 1996, Sherman renewed his request for a disability accommodation by a letter from his attorney, John J. Phelan. Item 21, Exh. C.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only where the record shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 36 (2d Cir. 1994). In order for there to be a genuine issue of material fact, the court must find that the record, taken as a whole, could lead a reasonable trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Finally, in resolving a summary judgment motion, the court must look at all ambiguities in a light most favorable to the non-movant, see, Coach Leatherware Co. v. AnnTaylor, Inc., 933 F.2d 162, 167 (2d Cir. 1997), and must draw all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the non-movant. See id.

II. Disability Discrimination Claim

The Rehabilitation Act ("the Act") provides that: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability . . ., shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity . . ., conducted by any Executive agency. . . ." 29 U.S.C.A. § 794(a) (West 1999).*fn3 Essentially, Sherman claims that the Base should have reasonably accommodated his disability by offering him a transfer to the position of Realty Specialist. In order to prevail on this theory, a plaintiff must establish:

(1) that he was an individual who had a disability within the meaning of the statute; (2) that the [Government employer] had notice of his disability; (3) that with reasonable accommodation he could perform the essential functions of the position sought; and (4) that the [employer] refused to make such accommodations.

Mitchell v. Washingtonville Cent. School Dist., 190 F.3d 1, 5 ...


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