120 F.3d 513 (5th Cir. 1997), 96-11247, Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp.

Docket Nº:96-11247.
Citation:120 F.3d 513
Party Name:Carolyn C. CLEVELAND, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. POLICY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS CORPORATION; General Information Services, a Division of Policy Management Systems Corporation; Cybertek Corporation, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 14, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 513

120 F.3d 513 (5th Cir. 1997)

Carolyn C. CLEVELAND, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

POLICY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS CORPORATION; General Information

Services, a Division of Policy Management Systems

Corporation; Cybertek Corporation,

Defendants-Appellees.

No. 96-11247.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 14, 1997

Page 514

John Edward Wall, Jr., Dallas, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David Norman Kitner, Kimberly Summer Moore, Strasburger & Price, Dallas, TX, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before WIENER and PARKER, Circuit Judges, and LITTLE, [*] District Judge.

WIENER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant Carolyn C. Cleveland appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment for her former employer, Defendant-Appellee Policy Management Systems Corporation (PMSC), on her claim of wrongful termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 1 We affirm, concluding that Cleveland has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact which, if proved, would rebut the presumption that her sworn declarations of disability submitted to the Social Security Administration (SSA) judicially estop her from asserting that under the ADA she is a "qualified individual with a disability."

I.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

PMSC hired Cleveland in August 1993. The following January, Cleveland suffered a stroke while on the job and took a leave of absence. She was unable to return to work immediately, however, as the stroke caused aphasia, a condition that affects concentration, memory, and language functions such as speaking, reading, and spelling.

With her daughter's assistance, Cleveland filed an application for social security disability benefits. In support of her sworn application, Cleveland certified that she had become "unable to work because of [her] disabling condition on January 7, 1994" and that she was "still disabled." She acknowledged also that it is a crime to make a false statement in an application for social security disability benefits.

In April 1994, Cleveland's doctor released her to return to work and anticipated an eventual recovery for her of nearly 100%. Cleveland alleges that when she returned to work at PMSC she contacted the SSA and informed them that she had returned and that she no longer needed disability benefits.

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PMSC concedes that she informed the SSA of her return but denies that she ever withdrew her application for disability benefits or otherwise indicated that she was anything other than totally disabled.

Following her return, Cleveland did not perform well at PMSC. She requested several accommodations, including computer training, permission to take work home in the evenings, a transfer of position, and permission for the Texas Rehabilitation Commission to provide a counselor--free of charge--to assist her. PMSC denied each of her requests. In July 1994, PMSC terminated Cleveland for poor job performance.

Cleveland claims that as a consequence of her firing she became depressed and that her aphasia worsened. In September 1994, she renewed her application for social security disability benefits by filing a "Request for Reconsideration" in which she stated, "I continue to be disabled," and a "Work Activity Report" in which she stated that she was terminated "because I could no longer do the job because of my condition." In January 1995, Cleveland filed another "Request for Reconsideration" and that May requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), in both instances representing that she was "unable to work due to my disability."

In September 1995, the ALJ concluded that Cleveland had become disabled on January 7, 1994 and was disabled continuously through the date of the ALJ's decision. Consequently, the ALJ granted her social security disability benefits, effective retroactively to January 7, 1994.

One week before the ALJ's decision, Cleveland had filed suit against PMSC for wrongful termination in violation of the ADA and the Texas Labor Code. PMSC moved for partial summary judgment, asserting that Cleveland could not establish a prima facie case under the ADA, as her representations in her application for, and her receipt of, social security disability benefits estopped her from claiming that she is a "qualified individual with a disability." The district court granted PMSC's motion on the ADA claim and dismissed the state law claim without prejudice.

Cleveland timely appealed, insisting that she is not estopped from establishing as a matter of law that she is a "qualified individual with a disability." Specifically, she maintains that her position in pursuit of social security disability benefits and her instant position under the ADA are not inconsistent, as (1) she was disabled for purposes of social security disability benefits when she filed the initial application; (2) when she returned to work, she notified the SSA and withdrew her claim for benefits; and (3) she became disabled again for purposes of social security disability benefits only after and as a result of her termination. Cleveland contends that, from the time she returned to work until she was terminated, she could have performed the essential functions of her job with a reasonable accommodation, i.e., during that period she was a "qualified individual with a disability."

II.

ANALYSIS

  1. STANDARD OF REVIEW

    We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. 2 Summary judgment is proper when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 3

  2. APPLICABLE LAW

    The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against "a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability." 4 To assert an ADA violation successfully, in

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    the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff must first make a prima facie showing that, inter alia, he is a "qualified individual with a disability." 5 A...

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