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Walerstein v. Radioshack Corp.

March 30, 2007

TODD WALERSTEIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RADIOSHACK CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Johnson, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Todd Walerstein ("Plaintiff") brought this action against Defendant RadioShack ("Defendant") alleging disability discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. ("Title VII"); the New York State Human Rights Law, New York Executive Law § 290 et seq. ("Human Rights Law"); the New York City Administrative Code, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. ("Administrative Code"); and 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("Americans With Disabilities Act," or "ADA"), and claiming wrongful discharge. Plaintiff seeks backpay and punitive damages. Before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa ("RP"), a degenerative disease which affects the retina, and Usher's Syndrome, a disease that affects one's ability to hear (Pl. Aff. at ¶¶ 3, 5). As a result of these ailments, Plaintiff has severe loss of sight and hearing. Plaintiff has been unable to see out of his left eye since his early 20's, and has a narrowing field of vision out of his right eye (Pl. Aff. at ¶ 4).

Plaintiff began working at RadioShack in 1983 and, with the exception of two brief periods, worked there until his termination in December 2002 (Pl. Aff. at ¶ 6). Librada Garcia, Plaintiff's manager, was aware of Plaintiff's disabilities (Garcia Dep. at 47-48), as was Frank Rodriguez, the District Manager of the sector (Garcia Dep. at 25:18-25). Plaintiff worked as a part-time sales associate, and his duties were as varied as customer assistance, product assembly, stocking, and cleaning (Pl. Aff. at ¶ 7).

Plaintiff's disability limited his ability to perform vital work tasks somewhat, but, with some assistance, he was able to perform all the tasks required of a part-time sales associate (Pl. Aff. at ¶ 8; Pl. Dep. 121, 141, 156, 211-212, 215, 227; Romero Dec. Ex. C). Specifically, Plaintiff's co-workers had to keep the store organized in largely the same way because "if we used to place anything in a different location, it would be harder for him to move around the store" (Garcia Dep. at 24:20-22).

Plaintiff's disability also hindered his ability to record his own sales. When Plaintiff began working for RadioShack, sales were recorded manually on paper sales tickets (Pl. Dep. at 219). In or around 1988, RadioShack changed to a system which recorded sales on a computer terminal (Rodriguez Dep. at 64:15-20). Plaintiff had difficulty with the new system because his eyes struggled with the contrast of the computer screen (Pl. Dep. at 201-3, 395-6) and he was unable to adapt to the non-standard keyboard (Pl. Dep. at 134-5, 201-3, 395-6). Plaintiff wanted to continue recording his sales manually on paper, and requested that he be allowed to do so, but his request was denied (Pl. Dep. at 397:23-25, 399: 19-21). Plaintiff's supervisors, however, allowed him to have other sales associates record his sales in the computer system (Pl. Dep. at 196, 393, 399:4-9).

Despite Plaintiff's struggles, he was a model employee. According to Garcia, Plaintiff was knowledgeable about the merchandise (Garcia Dep. at 27), had a good rapport with customers (id.), had good merchandising skills (id.), was a "big help" (id. at 90), and was "pretty much on time" (id. at 82). Had it been Garcia's decision, she would not have fired Plaintiff (Id. at 120:15). However, the authority to hire and fire employees belonged to Rodriguez and not Garcia (Id. at 97:17).

Even though Garcia worked more extensively with Plaintiff*fn2 and did not have any reservations about Plaintiff's continued employment at RadioShack, Rodriguez was less certain. One month before Rodriguez decided to terminate Plaintiff (Garcia Dep. at 75:12-13; Rodriguez Dep. at 23:4-6), Rodriguez asked Garcia whether she believed that Plaintiff could perform his job given his disabilities (Garcia Dep. at 75:7-9). Rodriguez expressed doubts as to whether Plaintiff's disability "was causing him not to notice what was going on around him" such as "being able to see a customer and go help that particular customer and stuff like that" (Garcia Dep. at 75:16-19, 22-24).

Rodriguez's purported reason for terminating Plaintiff's employment was Plaintiff's tardiness and his poor sales records (Rodriguez Dep. at 37:2-5). Although Rodriguez claimed that Plaintiff was habitually late, that was not Garcia's recollection (Garcia Dep. at 82:5-6). And although Rodriguez claimed that Plaintiff's sales record was the worst in the store, individual employee's goals were determined by whether they were full-time or part-time employees, and Plaintiff was the only part-time employee in the store (Garcia Dep. at 51:22-5). Further, because other employees "rang [Plaintiff's sales] up under their name," Plaintiff was actually responsible for more sales than his sales record reflected (Garcia Dep. at 57:24-58:9). According to Garcia, Rodriguez was aware of this practice (Garcia Dep. at 58:10-18).

Rodriguez also stated that Plaintiff was let go because of a need to reduce employee hours at the store on Maiden Lane in Manhattan ("the Maiden Lane store") (Rodriguez Dep. at 24:21-3). However, in the six months after Plaintiff was terminated, Rodriguez added several non-disabled employees to the Maiden Lane store's staff either through new hiring or transfers from other stores (Romero Decl. Exs. N, O, P, Q, R, and S).

STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to material facts and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court should view the evidence and any inferences that may be drawn in the most favorable light to the non-movant. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970). If there is enough evidence such that a jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the basis for its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant must identify the portions of the pleadings and discovery that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. When the movant's opponent will bear the burden of proof at trial, as is the case here, the movant can prevail merely by demonstrating a lack of evidence to support the opponent's claim. Id. at 325. If the moving party meets its initial ...


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