Brown v. Lucky Stores

Decision Date17 April 2001
Docket Number99-15509,Nos. 99-15385,s. 99-15385
Citation246 F.3d 1182
Parties(9th Cir. 2001) KAREN L. BROWN, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee, v. LUCKY STORES, INC.; JOHN HUNT, Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Daniel L. Mitchell, Oakland, California, for the plaintiff-appellant-cross appellee.

George J. Barron, Catherine M. Lee, Donahue, Gallagher, Woods & Wood, Oakland, California, for the defendants-appellees-cross appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern district of California; Charles R. Breyer, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-98-00122-CRB.

Before: Ruggero J. Aldisert, * Susan P. Graber and Raymond C. Fisher, Circuit Judges.

FISHER, Circuit Judge:

Karen L. Brown appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lucky Stores and John Hunt on her claims that she was terminated because of her alcoholism in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). Lucky Stores cross-appeals the district court's dismissal of Brown's state law contract and tort claims without prejudice to file in state court and its failure to award costs to Lucky Stores.

This appeal requires us to address the scope of the ADA's so-called "safe harbor" provision, 42 U.S.C. 12114(b)(2), which extends the Act's protections to an individual" participating in a supervised rehabilitation program, and . . . no longer engaging in" the illegal use of drugs. We hold that the "safe harbor" provision applies only to employees who have refrained from using drugs for a significant period of time. We also address the standard to be used in denying costs to a prevailing defendant under the ADA, and hold that such an award is appropriate only if the claim was frivolous, unreasonable or lacking foundation. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Brown was employed as a checker at Lucky Stores when, early on the morning of November 10, 1996, she was arrested for drunk driving, possession of methamphetamine and being under the influence of an illegal controlled substance. Unable to post bail, Brown remained incarcerated from November 10 to November 15, 1996.

On November 15, Brown appeared in court and was convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants and possession of methamphetamine. The court conditioned suspension of her sentence on her participation in a round-the-clock 90-day drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, Sunrise House. Brown attended the program from November 15, 1996 to February 12, 1997.

On the day of her arrest, Brown contacted Rebecca Caldeira, her sister-in-law, and asked her to inform John Hunt, Brown's manager at Lucky Stores, that she was in jail and could not make it to work that day. Caldeira called Hunt on November 10 to inform him of Brown's incarceration and asked if Brown would be fired. Hunt replied he did not know.

Because she was incarcerated on November 10 and 11 and was required to attend round-the-clock rehabilitation at Sunrise House on November 16, Brown did not report to work for her assigned shifts on those days. Lucky Stores discharged Brown for abandoning her job. It relied on a provision of the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") governing Brown's terms of employment, which authorizes discharge of an employee for "improper conduct," and a company policy providing that an employee who misses three consecutive shifts for an unauthorized reason will be terminated from employment.

Without first filing a grievance under the CBA, Brown filed suit in state court against Lucky Stores and Hunt alleging claims for discrimination based on her alcoholism under the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, FEHA and California Labor Code 1025; wrongful termination in violation of public policy; defamation; emotional distress; breach of implied contract; and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Lucky Stores and Hunt removed the case to federal district court.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Lucky Stores and Hunt on the ADA, Rehabilitation Act and FEHA claims, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's remaining contract and tort claims. The court concluded there was no genuine issue that Hunt or Lucky Stores violated the ADA or FEHA because, under 42 U.S.C. 12114(c)(4) and this court's decision in Collings v. Longview Fibre Co., 63 F.3d 828 (9th Cir. 1995), an employer is permitted to terminate an alcoholic employee for violating a rational rule of conduct even if the misconduct was related to the employee's alcoholism. The court further concluded Lucky Stores did not have a duty to accommodate Brown because she never requested an accommodation. The court rejected Brown's Rehabilitation Act claim because Brown failed to establish that Lucky Stores received federal financial assistance and because the standards under the ADA apply to Rehabilitation Act claims. The court dismissed the remaining claims because it concluded they arose under state law, and its dismissal of the federal claims rendered jurisdiction over the state claims discretionary. Shortly thereafter, the court held without elaboration that each party would bear its own costs. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Balint v. Carson City, 180 F.3d 1047, 1050 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, we must determine whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law and whether there are any genuine issues of material fact. Id.; Berry v. Valence Tech., Inc., 175 F.3d 699, 703 (9th Cir. 1999). We review for abuse of discretion a district court's decision pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1367(c)(3) not to retain supplemental jurisdiction over state claims once it has dismissed all of the plaintiff's federal claims. Binder v. Gillespie, 184 F.3d 1059, 1066 (9th Cir. 1999). We review a district court's denial of costs for abuse of discretion. Ass'n of Mexican-Am. Educators v. California ("AMAE"), 231 F.3d 572, 592 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

DISCUSSION
A. ADA, Rehabilitation Act and FEHA Claims
1. ADA and FEHA

Although alcoholism is a protected disability under the ADA, see Collings, 63 F.3d at 832 n.4, Brown has not presented any evidence that she was terminated because of her status as an alcoholic, as is required to prove her ADA claim. 1 Wellington v. Lyon County Sch. Dist., 187 F.3d 1150, 1154 (9th Cir. 1999). Rather, the evidence shows that Lucky Stores terminated her pursuant to its general policy under which three consecutive unexcused absences from work warrant termination. 2 The ADA clearly states that an employer:

may hold an employee who engages in the illegal use of drugs or who is an alcoholic to the samequalification standards for employment or jobperformance and behavior that such entity holds otheremployees, even if any unsatisfactory performance orbehavior is related to the drug use or alcoholism ofsuch employee.

42 U.S.C. 12114(c)(4); see also Collings, 63 F.3d at 832. Thus, Lucky Stores' termination of Brown did not violate the ADA.

Brown argues that her absence from work on November 16 was protected by 42 U.S.C. 12114(b)(2). Section 12114(a) of the statute specifies that an employee or applicant "currently engaging in the use of illegal drugs "is not covered by the ADA, while section 12114(b) clarifies that section (a) does not apply to an individual who "has successfully completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program and is no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs, or has otherwise been rehabilitated successfully and is no longer engaging in such use," 42 U.S.C. 12114(b)(1), nor to one who "is participating in a supervised rehabilitation program and is no longer engaging in such use," id. 12114(b)(2). Mere participation in a rehabilitation program is not enough to trigger the protections of 12114(b); "refraining from illegal use of drugs also is essential. Employers are entitled to seek reasonable assurances that no illegal use of drugs is occurring or has occurred recently enough so that continuing use is a real and ongoing problem." H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 101-596, at 64 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 565, 573; see also Zenor v. El Paso Healthcare Sys., Ltd., 176 F.3d 847, 857-58 (5th Cir. 1999); Shafer v. Preston Mem'l Hosp. Corp., 107 F.3d 274, 280 (4th Cir. 1997). Brown's continuing use of drugs and alcohol was clearly an ongoing problem at least until November 10, as demonstrated by her incarceration for driving while intoxicated and possession of methamphetamine. Because she had not refrained from the use of drugs and alcohol for a sufficient length of time, she was not entitled to the protections of the ADA's safe-harbor provision.

Brown also claims that Lucky Stores had a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation for her disability by excusing her absence from her November 16 shift in order to attend the rehabilitation program. See 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. at 371 ("An employer . . . may, in appropriate circumstances, have to consider the provision of leave to an employee with a disability as a reasonable accommodation unless the provision of leave would impose an undue hardship."). Neither Brown nor her sister-in-law asked for an accommodation, however. Brown testified that she never believed she needed rehabilitation while working for Lucky Stores. That, coupled with the absence of evidence that she ever requested an accommodation, leads us to conclude Lucky Stores was under no affirmative obligation to provide an accommodation for her.

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