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Urmey v. AT&T Corp.

July 10, 2006

JOHN URMEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AT&T CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, John Urmey, sued his former employer AT&T Corp. ("AT&T") for alleged unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3; and under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 et seq. In his Amended Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that: 1) AT&T refused to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability by allowing him to work from home; 2) AT&T created and maintained a hostile work environment, 3) AT&T retaliated against him because of his complaints of discrimination; and 4) AT&T unlawfully terminated him because of his disability.*fn1

AT&T now moves for partial summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case for discriminatory termination because the plaintiff represented to the Social Security Administration that he was "unable to work" at the time of his August 2002 termination, and thus is judicially estopped from arguing he was a "qualified individual with a disability" for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) at the time of his termination.*fn2 AT&T also argues that it had a legitimate business reason for terminating Urmey, that many of Urmey's allegations of harassment are barred by statutes of limitations, and that Urmey is not entitled to back pay or front pay.*fn3

I.

The following facts, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed. John Urmey was employed by AT&T from 1987 until August 2002. (Proposed Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 ("AT&T's 56.1 Statement") ¶¶ 1, 18; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 ("Urmey's 56.1 Statement") ¶ 1.) Urmey's duties involved performing systems engineering services and acting as a project manager. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 2-4; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 2-4.)

In or about February 1998, Urmey developed erythromelalgia, a rare and acute form of arthritis that caused his hands, wrist, and feet to swell when the temperature rises above a certain point, and made those limbs brittle when the temperature drops below a certain point. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶ 5; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶ 5; Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 8.) Urmey was also diagnosed with some form of Attention Deficit Disorder. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶ 6; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶ 6.) Urmey's condition required him to work in a temperature controlled room, and he was frequently bedridden. Urmey alleges that when he is able to work lying on his back in bed, he could fully perform his work duties. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.) In or about January 1999, Urmey requested and was granted an accommodation to work from home almost exclusively, which he did until about March 2002. (Compl. ¶ 13; AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶ 8; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶ 8.).

In March 1999, Shri Jain became Urmey's supervisor. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶ 7; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶ 7.) Urmey alleges, and for purposes of this motion AT&T does not dispute, that Shri Jain harassed Urmey because of his disability and refused to accommodate Urmey's requests regarding his disability. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-49.)*fn4 On or about March 27, 2002, Urmey complained about Shri Jain's discrimination to Gina Riley of AT&T's EO/AA office. (Compl. ¶ 50.) In April 2002, Shri Jain told Urmey that he would be assigned to work on the Network Performance Monitor on Edge project, that he would need to prepare two Acceptance Test Plans for the project, and that he would be required to work in the Middletown office of AT&T at least two days a week. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 9-11, 13; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 9-11, 13.)

After Urmey complained about lack of accommodation for his disability, he was permitted to continue working from home, but was given a one-month test in July 2002 to determine whether he could perform his work assignments from home. Urmey did not complete the two Acceptance Test Plans by the August 2, 2002 deadline. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 12, 14-17; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 12, 14-17.) Urmey alleges that he was told that he would not be terminated if he failed to complete the test plans, and that he was systematically precluded from completing the plans and harassed by Shri Jain. (Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 16-17; Compl. ¶¶ 71-76.) Urmey was then terminated on either August 5 or 7, 2002. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶ 18; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶ 18; Compl. ¶ 78.)

On November 12, 2002, Urmey filed an application for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") that stated, "I became unable to work because of my disabling condition on August 1, 2002." (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶ 19; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶ 19.) The SSA found that Urmey was disabled as of August 1, 2002 and entitled to monthly disability benefits. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 29-30; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 29-30.) Urmey does not dispute that he was fully and permanently disabled by August 2002, but argues that he became fully disabled due to AT&T's failure to accommodate his otherwise manageable disability and due to Shri Jain's harassment. (Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Pl. Mem.") 12-13.) Specifically, Urmey alleges that the stress from the harassment worsened his condition, and that he was forced to seek psychiatric help and take Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic medication, and Buspar, an anti-anxiety medication. (Affidavit in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Urmey Aff.") ¶¶ 81, 104-06.)

AT&T alleges that the business group that Urmey worked in was outsourced to IBM, and that virtually all employees in that division were either transferred to IBM or were terminated, with only three employees finding other employment at AT&T. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 31-32; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 31-32.)

On January 14, 2003, Urmey filed charges of discrimination with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and filed this action in federal district court on February 5, 2004. (AT&T's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 33-34; Urmey's 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 33-34.)

II.

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying the matter that it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts that are material, and "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers v. T.R.M. Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its initial burden of showing a lack of a material issue of fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on ...


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