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Uhl v. Home Depot U.S.A.

August 13, 2010


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


This is a disability discrimination case brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law. Defendant Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. has moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is GRANTED.


In 1993, Plaintiff Douglas Uhl began working as a full-time Sales Associate at Home Depot, first in Farmingdale, New York, and later in Copiague, New York. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 1-2).*fn1 His duties required him to walk continuously throughout the day, climb ladders, lift and move items up to 95 pounds, and further required him to bend, stoop, reach, twist, push and pull. (Id. ¶ 3).

In October 2003, Mr. Uhl injured his knee while working for the Postal Service. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6). On his doctor's recommendation, Mr. Uhl took a leave of absence from both jobs. (Id.). In December 2003, Mr. Uhl received medical clearance to resume work at both jobs, if he adhered to limitations regarding how long he could walk, climb, kneel or bend. (Id. ¶ 7). Home Depot agreed to accommodate Mr. Uhl by placing him on "light duty" status. (Pl. Opp. Br. at 3).

In June 2005, Mr. Uhl underwent knee surgery and took a three month leave of absence from both jobs. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8) On September 19, 2005, Mr. Uhl's physician, Dr. Jan Koenig, issued him a Duty Status Report that permitted him to return to work, but subject to numerous medical restrictions. (Pl. Ex. 11). Among other things, Dr. Koenig limited Mr. Uhl to standing two hours a day and walking two hours a day, and entirely prohibited Mr. Uhl from climbing, kneeling, bending, stooping, or twisting. (Id.). Dr. Koenig drafted these restrictions with Mr. Uhl's Postal Service job in mind. (Koenig Tr. at 22, 27). Dr. Koenig had no "records" of Mr. Uhl's part-time Home Depot job. (Id. at 28). At deposition, Dr. Koenig testified that the walking restrictions specifically concerned his letter carrier job, because it involved "uneven surfaces, there's cracks and all that twisting and micro motion was affecting his knee." (Id. at 27). So walking during his "other job might be different than the walking of a letter carrier." (Id. at 29). But Dr. Koenig testified that his instruction that Mr. Uhl not stand for no more than two hours a day applied no matter where he stood. (Id. at 72).

Following Dr. Koenig's September 19th Duty Status Report, Mr. Uhl sought to resume his Home Depot job. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10). Home Depot refused Mr. Uhl's request, insisting that he be 100% better before he returned to work. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10). Dr. Koenig's September 19 Report did, however, enable Mr. Uhl to resume his full-time letter carrier job, subject to the aforementioned medical restrictions. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 26).

On October 10, 2005, Carolyn Otero, a Home Depot Human Resources Manager, wrote Mr. Uhl. (Uhl Dep. Ex. Y). Ms. Otero informed him that, although his medical leave had expired, he had neither returned to work nor sought to extend his leave. (Id.).

Mr. Uhl responded to Ms. Otero's letter by providing Home Depot with a copy of the October 11, 2005 Duty Status Report that Dr. Koenig had prepared. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 12; Def. Ex. A at p. "Uhl 11"). The October 11 and September 19 Duty Status Reports imposed identical medical restrictions, which resembled the restrictions Dr. Koenig imposed in 2003, when Home Depot permitted Mr. Uhl to work light duty. (Koenig Dep. Exs. W; Pl. Ex. 11; Pl. 56.1 Stmt. § 12). Likewise, both the September 19 and the October 11 Duty Status Reports concerned Mr. Uhl's letter carrier employment, not his part-time Home Depot job. Nevertheless, in light of the October 11 Report, Home Depot extended Mr. Uhl's medical leave until December 26, 2005. (Def. Ex. A at p. "Uhl 12").

On December 22, 2005, Dr. Koenig prepared another Duty Status Report, and Mr. Uhl provided Home Depot with a copy later that day. (Koenig Dep. Ex. V; Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 14). This Duty Status Report maintained the same medical restrictions, and again solely concerned Mr. Uhl's Postal Service job. (Koenig Dep. Ex. V).

On March 26, 2006, Dr. Koenig prepared still another Duty Status Report, which Mr. Uhl then provided to Home Depot. (Koenig Dep. Ex. U; Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 16). This Duty Status Report imposed even more severe restrictions than the previous Reports, as it precluded Mr. Uhl from walking in addition to climbing, kneeling, bending, stooping, and twisting. (Koenig Dep. Ex. U). Once again, it solely concerned Mr. Uhl's Postal Service job. (Id.).

On April 25, 2006, Home Depot wrote Mr. Uhl to inform him that, if he did not return to work by June 21, 2006, his employment would end. (Uhl Tr. 143; Def. Ex. A at "Uhl 34"). Around this time, Home Depot also gave Mr. Uhl a Physical Capabilities Evaluation Form for his doctor to complete. In response, Mr. Uhl provided medical documentation that "was good from October of '03 to June of '05." (Uhl Tr. 144). But Mr. Uhl waited two months before bringing the Physical Capabilities Evaluation Form to Dr. Koenig's office. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 41, 42). And, once he did, he asked Dr. Koenig's assistant, not Dr. Koenig, to fill it out. The completed form purported to relax or remove Mr. Uhl's restrictions on climbing, bending, and twisting. (Uhl Dep. Ex. A). But it still set forth that Mr. Uhl could only walk for two hours a work day. (Id.).

At no time did Mr. Uhl ever provide Home Depot with documentation attesting that he could physically perform both his full-time letter carrier job, and his part-time Home Depot position. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 43). In fact, Dr. Koenig did not even know about Mr. Uhl's Home Depot job. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 44). So he never had the opportunity to ...

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