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TAYLOR v. LENOX HILL HOSIPTAL

April 2, 2003

JASON TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LENOX HILL HOSPITAL, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jason Taylor ("plaintiff' or "Taylor") brings this suit against his former employer, Lenox Hill Hospital ("defendant" or "the Hospital"), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2000), the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), New York Executive Law § 290 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), Administrative Code of the City of New York, § 8-101 et seq. He asserts that the Hospital failed to accommodate his disability, discriminated against him on the basis of his sex and disability, and retaliated against him after he asserted his rights under the ADA. The Hospital now moves for summary judgment on all of the claims. The motion will be granted with respect to all federal claims.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a registered nurse who was employed as a Staff Nurse in defendant's Cardiac Care Unit ("CCU") from 1995 through 1998. (Compl. ¶ 7.) He was responsible for caring for critically ill cardiac patients, which among other duties involved turning the patients over in bed, helping them to walk, and lifting them. (Taylor Dep. at 33-36; Bodee-Isidore Aff. ¶ 5.) On January 18, 1998, Taylor was injured when a patient grabbed on to his left shoulder in the process of sitting up in bed. (Compl. ¶ 12.) He promptly visited Dr. Richard Rho, who diagnosed him with a cervical spine injury and provided the Hospital with a note indicating that he should not lift more than forty pounds. (Brown Aff. Ex. I.) On January 20, the Hospital placed plaintiff on a medical leave of absence, and in February, he submitted a Medical Certification Form for Medical and Family Leave ("FMLA form"), on which Dr. Rho indicated that he could lift no more than thirty pounds. (Id. Ex. J.) Because lifting and otherwise supporting ill patients is a large part of a Staff Nurse's daily activities (Kilfeather Dep. at 93-94), Dr. Rho was of the opinion that plaintiff could not work as a nurse. (Rho Dep. at 20.)

In early 1998, plaintiff filed a claim for, and received, workers' compensation benefits. (Brown Aff. Ex. M.) The Hospital's workers' compensation carrier, Lovell Safety Management, continued to pay plaintiff throughout the year, although it did reduce his payments around March 1998. (Bodee-Isidore Dep. at 52-53.) In October, Lovell requested that the Hospital approve surveillance of Taylor in order to determine whether he was truly entitled to the benefits he was receiving, and the Hospital approved video surveillance on October 6. (Nayberg Affirm. Ex. A-2.) Lovell apparently suspected that Taylor might be working elsewhere during his leave from the Hospital, because its physicians had determined that Taylor was only mildly disabled, and he had not complained when his benefits were reduced in March. (Id.) Nothing in the record indicates the results of the surveillance.

In May, Taylor submitted a second FMLA form, and the Hospital extended his medical leave through June. (Brown Aff. Ex. K.) At that time. Lourdes Blanco, the Hospital's Benefits Coordinator, wrote to Taylor to inform him that, upon his return to work on June 20, he would be expected to submit a Fitness For Duty form, in which his physician was to indicate the conditions under which Taylor would be able to work. Blanco enclosed the form in the letter. (Id. Ex. L.) The Hospital's procedure was to require an employee returning from a medical leave of absence to submit the Fitness For Duty form, listing any restrictions that she might have. (Bodee-Isidore Aff. ¶ 6.) Once the form was submitted, one of the Hospital's physicians would examine the employee to determine whether she would be able to perform her job with or without an accommodation. In the event that the Fitness For Duty form indicated that the employee's condition would require a transfer to a different job, the Hospital would use the form to determine what positions she might be able to fill. (Id. ¶¶ 7-10.) Taylor never submitted the Fitness For Duty form, however, allegedly because Mary Ann Bodee-Isidore, the Director of Employee and Labor Relations, had told him that he could not return to work so long as there were any restrictions on his ability to lift. (Taylor Dep. at 61; 178-79.) He did not return to work in June (Pl. Mem. at 2), although there is no record of his FMLA leave having been further extended. Nonetheless, the Hospital apparently considered Taylor to be on continued medical leave until his eventual resignation. (Nayberg Affirm. Ex. A-28.)

The next communications between Taylor and the Hospital took place in September and October, when Taylor had a series of conversations with Bodee-Isidore and Marge Kilfeather, the Assistant Director of Nursing for Labor Relations. In these conversations, Taylor repeatedly asked whether he could return to his nursing position even though he was unable to lift more than forty pounds. (Pl. Mem. at 19; Kilfeather Dep. at 43-47; Bodee-Isidore Dep. at 35-42.) Both women advised him that since lifting was an intrinsic part of a Staff Nurse's duties, he should talk to the Hospital's Human Resources Department about available non-nursing positions. (Kilfeather Dep. at 43-47.) Taylor never did so. (Taylor Dep. at 123-24.) He alleges that, during one of these conversations, Bodee-Isidore told him that he would not be allowed to return to work until he was "100% fit," and that being unable to lift rendered him incapable of performing CPR, a requirement for all nurses. (Taylor Aff. ¶ 4.)

In early October, plaintiff contacted the EEOC, and informed Blanco that he had been in touch" with the agency.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 5.) On November 14, he wrote to Bodee-Isidore, stating that the Hospital had not allowed him to return to work because an independent consulting physician, who had examined him for workers' compensation purposes, had deemed him "25% disabled." (Brown Aff. Ex. N.) Taylor asserted that, even with his lifting requirement, he was able to "perform the essential functions of [his] job . . . according to the responsibilities outlined in the job description . . . for a Registered Nurse" (Id.), since the Hospital's Staff Nurse job description did not specifically state that lifting of any sort was part of a nurse's duties (id. Ex. R). He requested that he be allowed to "return to work with a reasonable accommodation according to the guidelines of the Americans With Disabilities Act." (Id. Ex. N.) Specifically, he asked for "an administrative accommodation to be transferred to a Registered Nurse position . . . that does not involve lifting of more than 40 pounds." (Id.)

Bodee-Isidore did not reply until November 30. at which point she sent Taylor a letter indicating that the Staff Nurse job description on which he had relied had recently been revised. (Id. Ex. O.) Since the new job description required that all Staff Nurses be able to lift at least fifty pounds (id. Ex. S), Bodee-Isidore stated that "[i]t is an essential function of the RN position to be able to lift over 50 pounds. Employers are not required to provide an accommodation that would, in essence, relieve them of an essential function of the job)' (Id. Ex. O.) She also noted that Taylor's own physician, Dr. Rho, had not yet "cleared" him to return to work (presumably because Taylor had not submitted the Fitness For Duty form in which his doctor would have indicated whether or not he thought that Taylor was healthy enough to return to work), and that the "impartial consultant physician exams rendered you as mild, partial disability . . . [and] has not recommended a return to work date." (Id.)

The new job description to which Bodee-Isidore referred had become effective on November 11. Unlike the previous description, it lists several physical demands of the position, along with their relative frequency. stating that nurses must be able to lift "more than 50 lbs." at least once an hour. (Id. Ex. S.) According to the Hospital, the new description was the product of its two-year process of reevaluating all of its job descriptions, in light of the standards and recommendations of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations ("JCAHO"). (Kilfeather Dep. at 72-76.) The stated purpose of the modification was to implement objective benchmarks that would measure clinical competency, since the JCAIHO had recommended that job descriptions should contain more quantitative requirements. (Id. at 72-73.) Since the JCAHO was to examine the Hospital in December 1998, the Hospital completed its job descriptions in November so that the JCAHO could analyze them when it arrived. (Id. at 73.)

There does not appear to have been further discussion between Taylor and Bodee-Isidore regarding his request for an accommodation. In January 1999, the Hospital wrote to Taylor to request that he fill out another FMLA leave form. By a letter dated February 19, 1999, Taylor resigned from his position, citing "the continued refusal of Lenox Hill Hospital to provide, suggest, discuss, or even consider a reasonable work accommodation." (Brown Aff. Ex. Q.) This suit followed.

DISCUSSION

Taylor asserts twelve claims for relief, resting on five theories of discrimination. First, he alleges that the Hospital violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law, by failing to provide reasonable accommodation for his disability. Second, he alleges that the Hospital discriminated against him because it regarded him as disabled, in violation of all three statutes. Third, plaintiff asserts that the Hospital discriminated against him on the basis of his disability within the meaning of the ADA by employing a standard or test that tends to screen out people with disabilities. Fourth, he asserts that the Hospital retaliated against him after he contacted the EEOC, in violation of the ADA, NYSHRL, and NYCHRL. Finally, Taylor claims that the Hospital discriminated against him on the basis of his sex, in violation of the NYSHRL and NYCHRL, because it accommodated pregnant nurses' lifting restrictions.

Defendant moves for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims, asserting that Taylor is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, and that plaintiff's failure to follow the Hospital's procedures for returning from medical leave provides a legitimate reason for the Hospital's actions, and forecloses all of the remaining disability claims. Def. Mem. at 5.) The Hospital also argues that Taylor's sex discrimination claim must fail because he was not similarly situated to female nurses who were given lifting accommodations during their pregnancies. (Id. at 23-25.) Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing ...


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