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Leblanc v. United Parcel Service

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 11, 2014

RICHARD LeBLANC, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge.

Richard LeBlanc was terminated from his employment at United Parcel Service ("UPS") in April 2011 after two incidents in which he admitted to conduct that was violative of UPS company policies. LeBlanc then brought this lawsuit against UPS, claiming that the proffered reasons for his termination were pretextual; that he was disabled during the relevant time period; and that he had suffered discrimination, retaliation, and an unlawful failure to provide reasonable accommodation for his disability, all in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code §§ 8-101 to 8-131 (the "NYCHRL"). UPS has moved for summary judgment on all claims. That motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

A. Factual Background

1. Plaintiff's Employment at UPS from 1991 to 2007

Plaintiff Richard LeBlanc was hired by Defendant UPS as a Helper in or about April 1991. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was promoted to a full-time Package Car Driver, a position he held for approximately 10 years. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 2).

In February 2001, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of On-Road Supervisor, a position that required him to obtain and maintain a card from the Department of Transportation (the "DOT") that indicated that Plaintiff was medically fit to drive a commercial motor vehicle. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 3; LeBlanc Tr. 23:24-25:7). In his role as On-Road Supervisor, Plaintiff worked approximately 13 to 14 hours a day, beginning at around 6:00 a.m. each day, and spent about 90 percent of his time on the road. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 4; LeBlanc Tr. 16:22-25, 23:21-23). In this capacity, Plaintiff was posted to the UPS facility in Elmsford, New York, and later was transferred to the facility located on Brush Avenue in the Bronx, New York. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; LeBlanc Tr. 17:6-15). The Brush Avenue facility was approximately one hour and ten minutes from Plaintiff's home in Newtown, Connecticut, which resulted in an approximately two-hour daily commute. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; LeBlanc Tr. 19:16-22, 120:5-7).

2. Plaintiff's Employment at UPS from 2007 through Early 2008

In May 2007, Plaintiff suffered a sudden heart attack and, as a result, took a two-month leave of absence from his employment with Defendant. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 6; LeBlanc Tr. 32:22-33:21). In August 2007, following his leave of absence, Plaintiff returned to his position as On-Road Supervisor at the Brush Avenue facility. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 7; LeBlanc Tr. 37:8-20). Plaintiff continued his role as On-Road Supervisor at the Brush Avenue facility until approximately May 2008, at which time Plaintiff was transferred to the position of Preload and Dispatch Supervisor ("PDS"). (Def. 56.1 ¶ 11; Pl. 56.1 Response ¶ 11; LeBlanc Tr. 37:21-24, 38:4-21). Plaintiff's position as a PDS did not require him to be on the road, but instead required him to unload packages and dispatch other UPS drivers. (LeBlanc Tr. 41:17-23, 47:23-48:3). This position required that Plaintiff work from approximately 1:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., or approximately 12 hours a day. ( Id. at 38:4-17, 46:18-23, 49:3-5).

a. Plaintiff's Requests for Accommodation

As detailed in this section, Plaintiff claims that on numerous occasions between 2008 and 2011, he asked Defendant to transfer him to a facility closer to his home, so that, in light of his heart attack, he would have more time to exercise, and would not be subjected to a stressful, two-hour commute. Defendant has no record of Plaintiff having made such requests. (Rowan Decl. ¶ 5).

i. The 2008 Request to Yvonne Quinones

On February 12, 2008, Plaintiff received a letter from his treating physician, Dr. Harvey Kramer, that stated in relevant part:

To whom it may concern:
This 44-year-old gentleman had a myocardial infarction (heart attack) in May 2007. He is having some chest pain at this point. His cholesterol is not adequately controlled and his weight remains a problem. Because of his long commute to work in the Bronx, he does not have time to exercise.
I have strongly recommended that he be transferred to a job with your company closer to his home here in Newtown, Connecticut. This would help him better maintain his health and be a long-term better employee for UPS with fewer days of absenteeism due to health problems. He would be able to exercise if he saved some time on his commute to work.
I hope you will consider this recommendation.

(Brochin Aff., Ex. E).

Shortly after receiving this letter, in the spring of 2008, Plaintiff provided it to a UPS Human Resources Manager, Yvonne Quinones. Plaintiff initially testified that he did so after he was transferred to PDS, because the transfer to the night shift impacted his sleep patterns and caused him stress. (LeBlanc Tr. 115:17-116:25, 119:8). When it was pointed out to him that his transfer to PDS occurred in May 2008, several months after the date of the letter, Plaintiff reversed himself and stated that he provided the letter to Quinones while he was still an On-Road Supervisor and that he experienced stress because of that job. ( Id. at 125:18-126:6). Plaintiff testified that he told Quinones that he wished to transfer to UPS's Connecticut facilities in Danbury or Watertown, in either a pre-load or a sort position. ( Id. at 130:2-14).

Quinones informed Plaintiff after receiving the doctor's letter that she would give the letter to the relevant division manager. (LeBlanc Tr. 128:6-15). Quinones did not instruct Plaintiff to file a transfer request or any other documentation formally requesting a transfer to another facility, and Plaintiff did not do so. ( Id. at 129:3-10). Plaintiff followed up with Quinones regarding the status of his transfer request approximately one week after the initial request and again approximately four weeks later. ( Id. at 130:15-18). After "nothing happened, " Plaintiff again followed up with Quinones, and she informed Plaintiff that there were no vacant positions available due to a company-wide hiring freeze. ( Id. at 130:2-14, 131:17-132:7).

ii. The 2009 Requests to Rita Turcios

According to Plaintiff, in March 2009, with no progress evident on the transfer request he had made approximately one year earlier, Plaintiff approached Rita Turcios, another Human Resources Manager at UPS, about his desire to transfer, and provided her with a copy of the doctor's letter. (LeBlanc Tr. 132:15-133:10). Dennis Quinn, Plaintiff's supervisor at the time, was aware of this request. (Quinn Aff. ¶¶ 5-6). Plaintiff overheard Quinn tell Turcios to "[s]ee what you can do. Get him a little closer." (LeBlanc Tr. 134:23-135:6). Plaintiff testified that he spoke with Turcios three or four times about his desire to transfer to a UPS facility closer to his home in Connecticut. ( Id. at 135:7-9; see also id. at 138:5-17 (acknowledging the absence of any written documentation of his interactions with Turcios)). Turcios did not explain how to apply for a transfer, and did not follow up with Plaintiff regarding his request. ( Id. at 136:12-137:5).

iii. The 2010 Requests to Mike Feroni and Roberta Ellis

In or about February 2010, approximately one year after his conversations with Turcios and two years after his conversations with Quinones, Plaintiff spoke with a UPS Division Manager, Mike Feroni. (LeBlanc Tr. 142:17-143:5).[2] Plaintiff asked Feroni if he knew anyone in the Danbury facility who could help Plaintiff transfer to that location; Plaintiff conveyed that the reason he wished to transfer was to be closer to home because of his heart condition. ( Id. at 144:12-21, 145:5-12; see also Quinn Aff. ¶¶ 7-8).[3] At or around this same time, Plaintiff spoke with Roberta Ellis, a UPS Human Resources supervisor, about his request to transfer to a facility closer to his home. (LeBlanc Tr. 167:2-168:12). Again, nothing happened with respect to Plaintiff's request.

iv. The 2011 Requests to Pat Sheppard and a UPS Regional Representative

At some point in 2011, Plaintiff asked Pat Sheppard, a Division Manager, for his help to transfer to a facility closer to his home. (LeBlanc Tr. 147:12-148:3). Plaintiff asked Sheppard if he could help him move closer to home because of his heart condition. ( Id. at 147:25-148:6). Plaintiff also sought assistance from an unnamed UPS regional representative who worked in the Danbury area and was visiting the Brush Avenue facility for an inspection. When the representative returned to the facility a week or two later, he indicated to Plaintiff that he was "still looking, " ostensibly for a new position for Plaintiff. ( Id. at 151:20-153:10). Yet again, nothing happened with respect to Plaintiff's request.

Plaintiff testified that all of these individuals were aware that his request to transfer closer to his home stemmed from his heart condition. (LeBlanc Tr. 150:13-21). Defendant has no record of receiving any paperwork from Plaintiff relating to his requests for medical accommodation, and Plaintiff conceded that no written requests attended these oral transfer requests. (Rowan Decl. ¶ 5; LeBlanc Tr. 146:14-16, 168:8-10). Plaintiff contends, however, that it was UPS's obligation to "direct[ him] to take any further action other than to wait for a response." (LeBlanc Aff. ¶ 16; see also id. at ¶ 29 ("[A]t no point did anyone even imply that I was required to take additional steps to request a transfer.")). Indeed, at his deposition, Plaintiff testified that each of the individuals to whom he made an unsuccessful transfer request - including Yvonne Quinones, Rita Turcios, Dennis Quinn, Mike Michalak, and Roberta Ellis - had discriminated against him by "not lead[ing him] to the right process for the information [he] needed." (LeBlanc Tr. 275:20-21; see generally id. at 268:4-277:2 (amplifying claim)).

b. Plaintiff's Transfer to PDS

While the Court is appropriately reluctant to wade into factual disputes in the context of a summary judgment motion, it is compelled to do so with respect to several issues as to which Plaintiff has presented markedly contradictory evidence, including the issue of Plaintiff's transfer to PDS. In his affidavit, Plaintiff contends that: (i) he was "demoted to night shifts at PDS"; (ii) the alleged demotion was a "retaliatory action [that] was taken because of my medical condition and my legitimate and good faith requests for accommodation"; (iii) the transfer to PDS was not "in response to any request for accommodation, " nor did it "accommodate[] any request." (LeBlanc Aff. ¶¶ 19, 21). These are very serious allegations, and the Court takes them very seriously. Precisely for this reason, the Court is troubled that Plaintiff testified to nothing of the sort at his deposition.

When first asked about the move to PDS, Plaintiff testified simply, "That's where they put me." (LeBlanc Tr. 38:21). Plaintiff recalled the decision being made by Division Manager Mike Feroni; while Plaintiff recalled no explanation being given, he acknowledged that it was "typical for UPS supervisors to be moved around." ( Id. at 45:7-8; see also id. at 18:22-23 (testifying that UPS "just move[d] supervisors wherever they need them")). Plaintiff also acknowledged that the PDS position was a "full-time operations supervisor job, " as had been his prior position of On-Road Supervisor, and that his compensation remained the same. ( Id. at 45:17-22, 48:14-15). Moreover, Plaintiff acknowledged that he never sought a transfer back to On-Road Supervisor at the Brush Avenue facility, because he enjoyed working at PDS. ( Id. at 49:11-50:6).

Later on in his deposition, however, Plaintiff suggested that his transfer to PDS was in fact a recognition of lingering medical issues Plaintiff had upon his return to UPS, inasmuch as it was the product of discussions with Mike Feroni concerning the stress of Plaintiff's job as an On-Road Supervisor:

A. Quite a few times. Me and Mike [Feroni]... talked a lot.
Q. When you had these conversations, were you suggesting that it would be better for you and you would be happier if you moved closer to home?
A. And it would help my health.
Q. So you specifically talked about your health?
A. Yes.

* * *

Q. During [the approximately four-week period when Plaintiff returned from medical leave and was supervised by Feroni], did you have any conversations with [Feroni] about a transfer?
A. Yes.
Q. You did?
A. Yes.
Q. Tell me your conversations.
A. It was just that, you know, it was very stressful. That working so many hours, 5 hours a day on car. And that's when he ...

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