446 F.3d 637 (6th Cir. 2006), 05-5271, Reeves v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc.

Docket Nº:05-5271.
Citation:446 F.3d 637
Party Name:Amanda REEVES, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SWIFT TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, Inc., also known as Swift Transportation Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:May 16, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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446 F.3d 637 (6th Cir. 2006)

Amanda REEVES, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

SWIFT TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, Inc., also known as Swift Transportation Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 05-5271.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 16, 2006

Argued: March 14, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 03-02731—Bernice B. Donald, District Judge.

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COUNSEL

ARGUED:

Michael D. Cooke, Iuka, Mississippi, for Appellant,

Jeff Weintraub, WEINTRAUB, STOCK & GRISHAM, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Michael D. Cooke, Iuka, Mississippi, for Appellant,

Jeff Weintraub, J. Gregory Grisham, WEINTRAUB, STOCK & GRISHAM, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: NORRIS, SUHRHEINRICH, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

ROGERS, Circuit Judge.

This is an action for pregnancy discrimination, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), on a theory of disparate treatment. The plaintiff, Amanda Reeves, formerly worked for the defendant-employer as an over-the-road truck driver. She claims that her former employer, Swift Transportation Company, Inc., unlawfully terminated her when she became pregnant. Swift terminated Reeves pursuant to a pregnancy-blind policy denying light-duty work to employees who could not perform heavy lifting and also were not injured on the job. The district court granted Swift's motion for summary judgment. We affirm the judgment because the terms of Swift's light-duty policy do not support an inference of pregnancy discrimination, and because Reeves has not supplied any Rule 56 evidence tending to prove pretext or discriminatory intent.

Reeves started working for Swift as a truck driver around August 9,2002. Previously, when Reeves applied for her job around July 29, 2002, Swift informed Reeves that working as a truck driver required occasional bending, twisting, climbing, squatting, crouching, and balancing. Reeves understood that her job could require her to use a dolly to push or pull freight weighing up to 200 pounds, and occasionally to push freight weighing up to 100 pounds with brute force. During the j ob application process, Reeves signed a form that represented to Swift that she could bear this level of physical strain. Reeves further represented that she could lift 75 pounds and carry it 56 feet, as well as lift 60 pounds over her head. Swift acknowledges that Reeves was qualified to be a truck driver at the time she was hired. Swift also says that its truck drivers do in fact unload their trucks perhaps once or twice a month, although Reeves herself never unloaded her truck in the three months she worked for Swift. Sally Redwine, a Swift employee, said in her deposition that she does not know of any specific drivers who have had to push or pull 200 pounds.

About three months after Reeves started working for Swift, on November 2, 2002, Reeves learned that she was pregnant. Reeves saw her physician, Dr. Paul Odom, who restricted her to light work pending her first appointment with an obstetrician. Dr. Odom wrote this restriction in a letter that Reeves showed to Swift when she returned to work. Swift told Reeves that it had no light work for her to do and sent her home. According to the complaint, Reeves' obstetrician, Dr. Jerry Martin, told her that "everything was normal and that she could continue to

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work," if she performed light work only. Dr. Martin told her not to lift more than 20 pounds. He gave Reeves a letter setting forth these restrictions.

Thereafter, Reeves informed Sally Redwine that she could not perform regular truck driver duties. She continued to request special light work assignments. Swift continued to insist that it had no light work for her to do. Reeves called Swift on the phone "on a daily basis" to see if she could get a light work assignment. On November 14, 2003, she made her last such call to Swift. Swift informed Reeves of her termination because it had no work for her to do. Swift terminated Reeves effective November 20,2002. Reeves was not entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act because she had worked for Swift for less than a year. See 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(A).

At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Swift maintained a policy of providing light-duty work only to employees on workers' compensation leave, i.e., employees who had sustained on-the-job injuries. Such injured employees receive light-duty assignments that accommodate their injuries and Swift's work needs. Light-duty assignments include "basic office work such as answering phones for recruiting, entering orders, filing, handing out towels and the like."

Reeves stated in her deposition that she never sustained a job-related injury. She also stated that, to her knowledge, no Swift employee had been given a light work assignment who was not on workers' compensation leave. As of the time of Sally Redwine's deposition in 2004, all employees injured on the job who could not perform heavy lifting received light work if they sought it. Swift maintains that if Reeves had been injured on the job, she would have received light work through the workers' compensation system, her pregnant condition notwithstanding. Swift has made no exceptions to its light-duty policy.

On January 7, 2003, Reeves filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge alleging that Swift had engaged in pregnancy discrimination against her. More than seven months later, on July 29, 2003, the EEOC issued her a right to sue notice. This action, alleging violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), followed. The district court held that Swift was entitled to summary judgment at the pretext phase of the McDonnell Douglas test. See generally McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). The district court held that Reeves had established a prima facie case for pregnancy discrimination. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of Swift because Reeves had produced no Rule 56 evidence tending to prove that Swift's light-duty policy was a pretext for pregnancy discrimination. The policy is not a pretext, the district court reasoned, because it does not take account of pregnancy and Swift did not make exceptions for nonpregnant employees while enforcing the policy against pregnant employees.

The district court noted that "to hold otherwise [i.e., to hold for Reeves] would result in the Court affording pregnant women more benefits and better treatment than other employees, instead of equal benefits and the same treatment as intended by the" Act. "For instance," the district court continued, "if the Court determined that Plaintiff was entitled to light-duty work... the effect would be to provide greater protection and benefits to pregnant women than to other employees who suffered from a non-work related injury or illness, such as a heart-attack or cancer."

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This court reviews the grant of summary judgment de novo. Williams v. Mehra, 186 F.3d 685, 689 (6th Cir. 1999). "The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if 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). A fact is "material" if its proof or disproof might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute over a material fact is "genuine" if the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The evidentiary standard of proof in a motion for summary judgment is the same one that "would apply at the trial on the merits." Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

When reviewing a district court's grant of summary judgment, the court may not determine the credibility of witnesses or weigh evidence. Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505...

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