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Rider v. General Motors Corp.

May 25, 2006

MAUREEN RIDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff commenced this employment discrimination case on September 17, 2003 alleging causes of action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290, et seq. ("NYSHRL"). Plaintiff alleges that she was the victim of intentional discrimination and harassment based on her gender and disability. Item 1.

Plaintiff, formerly an assembly line worker at defendant's Tonawanda, New York engine plant, alleges that she is disabled by urinary incontinence. She requested that she be allowed to take restroom breaks as needed, but defendant denied this requested accommodation because it asserted that such an accommodation could result in shutting down the assembly line if a relief worker was not immediately available. Plaintiff was temporarily placed in a transitional position, without the opportunity for overtime, and then on sick leave, at a percentage of her full pay. Plaintiff also claims that she was the victim of a hostile work environment based both on her gender and disability. Plaintiff now works in a non-assembly line position as a statistical processing analyst for defendant.

On March 18, 2005, defendant filed this motion for summary judgment. Item 21. It contends that plaintiff is not disabled under either the ADA or the NYSHRL; that her only requested accommodation was unreasonable; that defendant reasonably accommodated plaintiff; that plaintiff cannot establish gender discrimination; that she failed to exhaust administrative remedies with regard to her claims of hostile work environment based on gender and disability; that her hostile work environment claims are untimely; and that plaintiff's hostile work environment claims, based either on gender or disability, must be dismissed on the merits. Plaintiff filed her response to the motion on July 20, 2005. Items 30-32. Defendant filed a reply on August 22, 2005. Item 34. Oral argument was heard on December 5, 2005. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff states that most of the facts in this case are not in dispute. Plaintiff began her employment with defendant in 1973, and primarily worked assembly line jobs at the Tonawanda plant. Item 22, Exh. B., Deposition of Maureen Rider ("Rider Dep."), p. 51. In 2000, plaintiff obtained a permanent position on the timing chain assembly line. Id., p. 86. Assembly line workers receive three scheduled breaks per shift, including two 23-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch period. Breaks are either provided by shutting down the assembly line and giving all employees a break at the same time, a system known as "mass relief," or providing relief for individual employees known as "tag relief." For an unscheduled break, an employee is expected to stay at his or her job until a relief worker arrives, which may involve a wait of five to ten minutes. Item 23, Exh. D., Deposition of Joel Williams ("Williams Dep."), pp. 13, 15. Plaintiff stated that she requires approximately two unscheduled bathroom breaks each day. Rider Dep., p. 23.

Plaintiff began to experience urinary incontinence in the late 1980s. Rider Dep., p. 25. Plaintiff's medical conditions, stress incontinence and urge incontinence, decrease her ability to wait before having to go to the restroom. Id., pp. 22-24. Additionally, the lifting of heavy objects can cause a bladder release. Id., p. 26. In 2001, plaintiff suffered two incidents of involuntary bladder release. The first occurred in May 2001 when a relief worker was not immediately available to relieve her. Plaintiff stopped the assembly line, but was unable to make it to the bathroom. Id., pp. 95-96. The second incident, in August 2001, occurred when plaintiff attempted to lift a heavy box of stock. The box slipped from her hands, and she tried to catch it. Id., p. 98. As a result of the second incident, plaintiff suffered a groin pull and went on a medical leave. Id., pp. 103, 105. On October 4, 2001, plaintiff's physician, Dr. Richard Gilbert, stated that plaintiff could return to light duty work, with no pushing, pulling, or lifting, and must be able to use the restroom as needed. Item 30, Exh. 12. When plaintiff returned to work in October 2001, she was advised that she would be unable to work on the assembly line. Id., pp. 112-13. She was reassigned to the Transitional Work Center ("TWC") on a temporary basis, where she could use the restroom as needed, did not have to lift heavy objects, and earned the same pay and benefits, although she was not eligible for overtime. Id., pp. 120-21.

After approximately four months in the TWC, plaintiff expected to return to her assembly line position. Rider Dep., p. 121. In January 2002, plaintiff was informed that she would be unable to return to the timing chain position and was told to look for another position at the plant. Id., pp. 122, 124. Dr. Quick, the plant physician, suggested that plaintiff wear an adult absorbent undergarment, but plaintiff refused, although she wears a sanitary pad for the same purpose. Id., pp. 137, 139.

Plaintiff's supervisor, Joel Williams, determined that plaintiff could not work on the assembly line. He understood her medical restrictions to mean that she should be able to regularly leave the assembly line without notice to use the bathroom as needed. Item 23, Exh. E, ¶ 4. Williams was unable to have a relief worker on call for plaintiff. Williams Dep., pp. 81-82, 85. In an affidavit, Williams stated that assembly line shut-downs could result in the loss of 30 to 40 engines per day. Item 23, Exh. E, ¶ 5.

In March 2002, plaintiff's assignment in the TWC expired, and she was put on sick/disability leave until an appropriate position became available. She stayed on sick leave from March 11, 2002 until October 20, 2003. Plaintiff then worked at the TWC until February 2004, when she was assigned a position as a statistical processing consultant. She is able to take bathroom breaks as needed and is able to earn overtime pay in her current position. Rider Dep., pp. 150, 152.

In her deposition, plaintiff stated that she was harassed because of her disability, but not because of her gender. Rider Dep., p. 168. She stated that she was harassed by two co-workers, Al Urbino and Peter Koehne. Id. She denied being directly harassed by her supervisor, Joel Williams, but stated that Williams knew about the harassment by her co-workers. Id. Specifically, plaintiff complained that Urbino and Koehne made comments about her condition, and refused to relieve her from the assembly line when she requested. Plaintiff stated that the last incident of harassment occurred in approximately July 2001. Id., p. 171.

In an affidavit in response to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff stated that she has been discriminated against on the basis of her gender because male employees with similar problems have been accommodated by defendant. Item 30, Exh. 1, ¶ 31. Specifically, plaintiff states that David Haddad and Doug Adams have "similar" problems, but arrangements have been made to relieve the men so that they could keep their jobs. Id. Plaintiff also states that co-workers made comments about her frequent need to use the bathroom, and complained about having to "baby-sit" her bladder. Id., ¶ 34. Plaintiff stated that co-workers laughed at her, and ignored her requests for relief. She complained to her foreman, Joel Williams, about the harassment, and filed grievances against him for his failure to rectify the situation. Id. Plaintiff states that Urbino and Koehne "intentionally" harassed her and "had the desire to hurt [her] personally." Id., ¶ 35.

DISCUSSION

Defendant argues that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of either the ADA or the NYSHRL, that she is unable to show that she was denied a reasonable accommodation, and that she is unable to establish gender discrimination. Defendant also contends that plaintiff's hostile work environment claims must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, on statute of limitations grounds, and on the merits.

Plaintiff argues that she is disabled, or was regarded as disabled, for purposes of the ADA in that her incontinence substantially limits the major life activities of waste elimination, pushing/pulling/lifting, and working. She also contends that she is disabled for purposes of the NYSHRL, as that statute defines disability in broader terms than the ADA. Plaintiff argues that defendant denied her the reasonable accommodation of restroom breaks as needed, that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her gender and her disability, and that she was discriminated against based on her gender.

1. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard of review on a motion for summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment will be granted if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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 (1986). The burden of establishing the absence of a genuine factual dispute rests on the party seeking summary judgment. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 36 (2d Cir. 1994). The movant may discharge this burden by demonstrating that ...


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