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EDWARDS v. BROOKHAVEN SCIENCE ASSOCIATES

September 10, 2005.

CHARLES J. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
BROOKHAVEN SCIENCE ASSOCIATES, LLC, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SPATT, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

This is a case brought by Charles J. Edwards ("Edwards" or the "Plaintiff") against his former employer the Brookhaven Science Associates, LLC ("BSA" or the "Defendant") under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") alleging claims of hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge. Presently before the Court are motions by the Defendant for summary judgment and to strike the Plaintiff's demand for compensatory damages and a jury trial.

I. BACKGROUND

  The Brookhaven National Laboratory ("BNL") is a research facility operated by BSA pursuant to a contract between the BSA and the United States Department of Energy ("DOE"). Edwards was employed by BSA as a Security Police Officer II ("SPO") at BNL. SPOs are responsible for protecting the facility and the interests of the DOE. In that capacity, the SPOs are trained and required to carry a .38 caliber revolver and a MP5 machine gun as part of their official duties. The weapons are kept at the BNL armory and issued to the SPO each day when they start their shift. In order to carry these weapons, the DOE requires that all SPOs obtain and maintain a DOE-issued Firearm Authority Card ("FAC").

  Edwards commenced employment as a SPO on March 26, 1990, and remained in that position until the termination of his employment on November 8, 2002. On July 11, 2001, Edwards was participating in a routine training procedure at the BNL firing range called a "stress course," which requires officers to run with their equipment, stop, and then load and fire their weapon. During this training exercise, Edwards' left hand slipped off the stock of the MP5 and onto the hot vent and barrel of the weapon. As a result, Edwards burned his left index finger. Edwards was taken to a local hospital via ambulance and treated for his injuries. The firing range was subsequently closed after this incident for an unknown period of time and BSA conducted an investigation.

  Edwards was medically cleared to return to work approximately one week after the injury and BSA permitted Edwards to perform clerical work in the security building. As a result of the investigation that followed, Edwards was not disciplined for the incident, but it was recommended that he undergo re-training on the MP5 and .38 caliber revolver. Edwards participated in and completed a retraining course for every procedure on both weapons and he was also re-certified in connection with his annual qualifications for maintaining his FAC.

  During the period of his retraining, Edwards claims that he was continually harassed by Training Specialist in Safeguards and Security Kathleen Walker ("Walker") and by Training Captain Michael Delph ("Captain Delph"). The harassment consisted of threats of retaliation for having caused the range to be closed; repeatedly asking the Plaintiff to see his finger; changes in his work schedule; publicly displayed BSA safety bulletins referring to the July 11, 2001 incident; and at least one incident where Captain Delph placed a rubber finger in a petri dish on a table in the cafeteria while a number of employees were present. Captain Delph allegedly made comments such as, "Let me see your finger. You closed my range. You are going to get more training." As a result of these incidents, on November 20, 2001, Edwards filed a charge of disability discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  On October 16, 2002, Edwards was involved in an accidental discharge of his MP5 while he was being issued his weapon at the BNL armory. When SPOs obtain their weapons from the armory, they are required to point the unloaded gun into a clearing barrel, rack it, remove the safety, pull the trigger, and place the magazine in the gun. A clearing barrel is a 55-gallon drum filled with sand that is intended to function as a repository in the event of an accidental discharge. Edwards acknowledged that he had made a human error in loading his weapon, which caused the accidental discharge.

  After the incident, Edwards continued to work for BSA but was not permitted to carry a weapon. The BSA's Firearm Safety Committee ("FSC") met to investigate the accidental discharge. The investigation into the accidental discharge was the first investigation that the FSC had conducted regarding an accidental discharge since 1988. After the investigation, the FSC concluded that the accidental discharge was due to human error and recommended that Edwards' authority to carry a firearm at BNL be rescinded. That recommendation was forwarded to BSA management, who concurred. The recommendation was eventually forwarded to the DOE, the entity charged with issuing the weapons permit, for consideration. On November 4, 2002, the DOE issued an order revoking Edwards' FAC. Once revoked, Edwards could not carry a firearm as required to perform his duties as a SPO. At the time, there were only two positions in the BSA police organization that did not require a FAC and both of the positions were filled. On November 8, 2002, Edwards' employment was terminated. BSA advised Edwards that his employment was terminated because he had two incidents with his MP5 in a sixteen month period and the DOE had revoked his FAC.

  In this lawsuit Edwards contends that his termination was in retaliation for the previous filing of a complaint of disability discrimination. In his complaint in this action, he seeks compensatory damages and pleads two federal claims under the ADA: (1) a disability-based hostile work environment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); and (2) a retaliatory discharge claim under 42 U.S.C. § 12203. The Defendant moves pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed.R.Civ.P.") for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and, in the alternative, to strike the Plaintiff's demand for compensatory damages and a jury trial relating to the retaliatory discharge claim.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. The Summary Judgment Standard

  Summary judgment is appropriate if 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2550 (1986); Wilkinson v. Russell, 182 F.3d 89 (2d Cir. 1999); Turner v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 180 F.3d 451 (2d Cir. 1999); In Re Blackwood Associates, L.P., 153 F.3d 61, 67 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the district court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the opposing party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 155, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2513-14 (1986); Amato v. City of Saratoga Springs, 170 F.3d 311, 322 (2d Cir. 1999) (citing Skubel v. Fuoroli, 113 F. 3d 330, 334 (2d Cir. 1997)); Castle Rock Entm't, Inc. v. Carol Pub. Group, Inc., 150 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Garza v. Marine Transp. Lines, Inc., 861 F.2d 23, 26 (2d Cir. 1988)). Disputed facts that are not material to the issue at hand will not defeat summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S. Ct. at 2610. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of judgment." Id. A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

  Notably, "the trial court's task at the summary judgment motion state of litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to decide them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding, it does not extend to issue resolution." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994); see Donohue v. Windsor Locks Board of Fire Commissioners, 834 F.2d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 1987) (holding that on ...


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