Beasley v. O'Reilly Auto Parts

Decision Date10 September 2021
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 1:20-00092-N
Citation559 F.Supp.3d 1226
Parties Teddy BEASLEY, Plaintiff, v. O'REILLY AUTO PARTS, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama

Andrew Rozynski, Pro Hac Vice, William Juhn, Pro Hac Vice, Eisenberg & Baum LLP, New York, NY, Edward I. Zwilling, Law Office of Edward I. Zwilling, LLC, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiff.

H. William Wasden, Emily C. Killion, Airbus Americas, Inc., Michael David Strasavich, Burr & Forman LLP, Mobile, AL, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KATHERINE P. NELSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

By order dated and entered August 12, 2021 (Doc. 71), the Court denied Plaintiff Teddy Beasley's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 50), granted the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 71) of Defendant O'Reilly Auto Parts ("O'Reilly") as to all of Beasley's claims, denied as moot Beasley's motion to strike the declaration of Heather Bolanos (Doc. 59), and dismissed Beasley's causes and claims in this civil action with prejudice. The Court now issues this memorandum opinion setting out the Court's reasoning behind those rulings.

The Court incorporates herein the reasoning set out in the Court's order dated and entered July 29, 2021 (Doc. 64), and provides the following additional reasoning addressing the parties’ supplemental briefing filed in response to the July 29 order (Docs. 68, 69):

I. Eleventh Circuit Precedent Requires a Showing of an Adverse Employment Action for ADA Failure-to-Accommodate Claims

The undersigned acknowledges that Beasley has cited ample non-binding authority from other circuits holding otherwise, but maintains that he is required to present evidence of an "adverse employment action" to sustain his failure-to-accommodate claim brought under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), under the binding reasoning of Holly v. Clairson Industries, L.L.C. , 492 F.3d 1247 (11th Cir. 2007), including footnote 17.1 The undersigned disagrees with Beasley's arguments that Holly ’s footnote 17 is non-binding dicta, or that it is inconsistent with Eleventh Circuit precedent predating the Holly decision.2

The panel in Holly , which squarely addressed an ADA failure-to-accommodate claim (along with a similar claim under Florida law that is analyzed using the same framework), began its analysis by reiterating the longstanding "controlling law in this Circuit[ that] [t]he burden-shifting analysis of Title VII employment discrimination claims is applicable to ADA claims.’ " 492 F.3d at 1255 (quoting Earl v. Mervyns, Inc. , 207 F.3d 1361, 1365 (11th Cir. 2000) (per curiam)). Accord Hilburn v. Murata Elecs. N. Am., Inc. , 181 F.3d 1220, 1226 (11th Cir. 1999) ; Todd v. Fayette Cty. Sch. Dist. , 998 F.3d 1203, 1215 (11th Cir. 2021). The panel further reiterated circuit precedent that, under this burden-shifting analysis, "[t]o establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show: (1) he is disabled; (2) he is a qualified individual; and (3) he was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his disability." Holly , 492 F.3d at 1255-56 (citing Earl , 207 F.3d at 1365 ). The second and third prongs were at issue in Holly . Id. at 1256.

In addressing the "subjected to unlawful discrimination" prong, the Holly panel rejected the district court's determination that the plaintiff was required to identify a comparator employee, or otherwise present evidence showing that he was treated differently from non-disabled employees, to satisfy that prong—i.e., that he "was required to prove disparate treatment ..." Id. at 1261-62. Noting that such a requirement "reflects ... a misunderstanding of the fundamental nature of a reasonable accommodation claim under the ADA[,]" the panel explained that "an employer's failure to reasonably accommodate a disabled individual itself constitutes discrimination under the ADA, so long as that individual is ‘otherwise qualified,’ and unless the employer can show undue hardship." Id. at 1262. This holding, the panel explained, modified the traditional Title VII burden-shifting analysis by obviating any additional burden on a plaintiff to show that he was treated differently than a non-disabled employee, as well as any subsequent burden on the employer to show a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the unequal treatment, or on the plaintiff to show pretext. Id. In other words, the panel explained, an employer "is not insulated from liability under the ADA by treating its non-disabled employees exactly the same as its disabled employees." Id.

However, in footnote 17, the Holly panel, aptly noting that this holding could be interpreted as rendering the "subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his disability" prong of an ADA prima facie case "void of content" in failure-to-accommodate cases, explained why it did not. Id. at 1263 n.17. Longstanding Eleventh Circuit precedent held that a plaintiff generally "must show that he has suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability (i.e., that he has suffered employment discrimination)" in order to establish the third prong of a prima facie case of ADA employment discrimination, Doe v. Dekalb Cty. Sch. Dist. , 145 F.3d 1441, 1445 (11th Cir. 1998) ; see also McNely v. Ocala Star-Banner Corp. , 99 F.3d 1068, 1077 (11th Cir. 1996) ("[T]he ADA protects against more than termination. It prohibits discrimination ‘in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.’ 42 U.S.C.A. § 12112(a) (West 1995); see also id. § 12203 (anti-retaliation provision) (prohibiting employers to ‘discriminate’). In other words, the ADA prohibits a broad variety of adverse employment actions, whenever those actions are taken for a prohibited reason."), and the panel explained that its holding did not alter that burden in failure-to-accommodate cases, stating: "In addition to requiring the plaintiff to show that he was ‘unlawfully discriminated against’—that is, that his employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability, leading to an adverse employment decision—the plaintiff must show that this discrimination occurred ‘because of his disability’— that is, that the adverse employment decision was caused by his disability." Holly , 492 F.3d at 1263 n.17. Thus, far from being unnecessary to the case, Holly ’s footnote 17 was necessary to further contextualize how that opinion's analysis of failure-to accommodate claims fit in with the Eleventh Circuit's traditional three-prong prima facie case for ADA discrimination.

The undersigned acknowledges that there seems to be no Eleventh Circuit case, either published or unpublished, that has expressly cited Holly ’s footnote 17 for the proposition that an ADA plaintiff must still show an adverse employment action for a failure-to-accommodate claim—indeed, there appears to be no published Eleventh Circuit decision to have considered footnote 17 at all.3 However, Holly is in the books as a published panel decision, and simply because precedent has been overlooked in the past does not give a court license to disregard it once it has been squarely presented. Cf. Cohen v. Off. Depot, Inc. , 204 F.3d 1069, 1072 (11th Cir. 2000) ("where two prior panel decisions conflict we are bound to follow the oldest one").

Beasley correctly points out that Eleventh Circuit decisions both pre-dating and post-dating Holly have omitted specific mention of an adverse employment action as an element of an ADA failure-to-accommodate claim. However, the undersigned does not read those cases’ silence on the issue as irreconcilably in tension with Holly , as none of the cases Beasley cites purported to provide an exhaustive list of the elements of a failure-to-accommodate claim, and all were decided based on consideration of other elements.4

Moreover, contrary to Beasley's contention, requiring a showing of an adverse employment action for a failure-to-accommodate claim is consistent with the plain language of the ADA. The ADA's general antidiscrimination provision states that "[n]o covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Section 12112 goes on to provide various examples of what it means to "discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability" for purposes of § 12112(a), including the failure to provide reasonable accommodations. Id. § 12112(b)(5)(A). However, as § 12112(a) makes clear, "discriminat[ion] against a qualified individual on the basis of disability," regardless of what form it takes, must be "in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. " Id. § 12112(a) (emphasis added). "By its plain terms, § 12112(b) speaks directly to satisfaction of the discrimination clause but is silent as to the twenty-five words Congress included in the in-regard-to clause. [Therefore], the in-regard-to clause must be satisfied by something more than an employer's failure to accommodate." Exby-Stolley v. Bd. of Cty. Commissioners , 979 F.3d 784, 823 (10th Cir. 2020) (en banc) (McHugh, J., dissenting), cert. denied sub nom. Bd. of Cty. Commissioners v. Exby-Stolley , No. 20-1357, ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S.Ct. 2858, --- L.Ed.2d –––– (U.S. June 28, 2021).

II. Beasley Has Not Shown That He Suffered an Adverse Employment Action Because of His Disability

Beasley also argues that, regardless of whether circuit precedent requires him to do so, he can present evidence that he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability to support his failure-to-accommodate...

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