Coleman v. Pa. State Police, Civil Action No. 11-1457

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCynthia Reed Eddy
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 11-1457
Decision Date17 July 2013


Civil Action No. 11-1457


Dated: July 17, 2013

United States Magistrate Judge
Cynthia Reed Eddy


I. Introduction

Emmett Coleman brought suit against his former employer, the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP"), pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) (Count I); Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12133 (Count II); and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (Count III).1 Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 22), at ¶¶ 31-46. Plaintiff claims PSP terminated him because he developed post-traumatic epilepsy or seizure disorder2 during his eighteen month probationary training period, and failed to make reasonable accommodations for his disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA. Plaintiff also claims he was terminated because he is African-American, in violation of Title VII, and that white troopers with similar disorders received more favorable treatment, i.e., long term or indefinite limited duty as an accommodation.

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On February 2, 2012, this Court entered a Memorandum Order (ECF No. 19) denying as premature Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count II on the grounds that an employment discrimination claim by an individual is not cognizable under Title II of the ADA, finding it "inappropriate to decide this legal issue in a vacuum, in the absence of discovery that will likely 'flesh out' the various claims and inform the Court's determination of this legal issue in a more meaningful manner. . . . in a motion for summary judgment at the appropriate time." Id. at 2-3. Following discovery, PSP filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33) renewing its legal argument against application of Title II of the ADA in Count II to employment discrimination claims by individuals, and seeking to dismiss Counts I and III on the basis that there are no genuine issues of material facts as to essential elements of the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII claims.

After careful consideration of the motion for summary judgment and response, the excellent briefs in support and in opposition, the respective concise statements and counter statements of material facts, and the comprehensive documentary and testimonial record supplied by the parties in their appendices, the Court finds no genuine dispute of material fact regarding (1) whether Plaintiff was "otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions" of a PSP full status trooper (he was not); (2) whether PSP could have made reasonable accommodations that would have allowed him to become "otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions" (it could not have); and (3) whether PSP treated similarly situated white persons with seizure disorders more favorably (it did not). The Court also finds that Title II of the ADA does not

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provide Plaintiff a private right of action in the employment context. Summary judgment must therefore be granted in Defendant's favor on all claims.3

II. Statement of the Facts

Given the comprehensive concise statements and counter-statements of facts and the substantial documentary and testimonial evidence set forth in the appendices, there is surprisingly little dispute over historical facts, although the parties vigorously debate the significance of those facts to Plaintiff's ability to perform the essential functions of a PSP trooper.

The underlying dispute is over conflicting medical opinions offered by the parties to support their respective positions as to whether Plaintiff's post-traumatic seizure disorder rendered him unqualified to perform the essential functions of a PSP trooper, and over which doctor's medical opinion should be credited by this Court. More broadly, the dispute is over PSP's employment policies related to epilepsy/seizure disorders and the risks associated with performance of the full range of trooper duties, including many "critical duties," by an individual diagnosed with such disorder, particularly as applied to Mr. Coleman's termination pursuant to PSP's Seizure Protocol and the manner in which it made its assessment of Plaintiff's condition

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and the safety risks his condition posed to him, fellow troopers and the public in the event he experienced another seizure while performing critical duties.

A. State Police Academy and Probationary Field Training - Qualification Standards

In order to become an active, full-fledged PSP trooper, candidates must successfully complete an eighteen month probation period as an express condition of graduation, which consists of six months training and academic instruction as a cadet at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, and twelve months field training in the full range of state trooper duties, including all critical duties. During this mandatory twelve month field training period, each probationary trooper is assigned a full status state trooper as "coach" in a normal field setting, and must undergo extensive and varied training, with frequent assessments and evaluations, to determine whether he or she can meet the rigorous physical and mental challenges of all duties regularly encountered by a PSP trooper.

Upon completion of the eighteen month probation period, the candidate's evaluations are reviewed by a probationary review panel, which makes a recommendation to retain or to seek further review at a higher level of authority. Ultimately it is the PSP Commissioner who makes the final determination to retain any probationary trooper for activation to full duty status, or to dismiss the candidate from further service.

PSP has never waived nor made an exception to the twelve month field training prerequisite to becoming a full-fledged state trooper for any probationary trooper, although it has offered temporary limited duty work to injured probationary troopers while extending their probationary periods. However, time performing such temporary limited duty does not count toward completion of the mandatory twelve month field training period, and PSP has never extended probation on a long term or indefinite basis.

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Emmett Coleman graduated from the Academy in December 2008, and became a probationary state trooper assigned to the Troop J, Avondale barracks under the supervision of Troop J's commanding officer, Captain Brenda Bernot. According to Captain Bernot, and apparently everyone who worked with Mr. Coleman and everyone in the command structure who knew anything about him, he was an outstanding, competent and highly professional candidate who likely would have met the qualifications standards to become an excellent PSP trooper, were it not for his post-traumatic epilepsy/seizure disorder. Unfortunately, almost nine months into his probationary field training period, on July 26, 2009, Plaintiff was involved in an off-duty car accident and suffered serious head trauma.

B. The Injuries and Impact on Plaintiff's Probationary Field Training

As a result of his accident, Mr. Coleman suffered a traumatic brain injury and multiple facial fractures. Mr. Coleman took a medical leave of absence from July 26, 2009 through October 28, 2009, and then returned to work in a limited duty capacity at the Avondale barracks. PSP agreed to extend his probationary period. Consistent with PSP's customary practice, the temporary limited duty was not credited toward the twelve month field training prerequisite for graduation to full-fledged trooper status.

On December 31, 2009, Plaintiff returned to work in a full duty capacity, without restrictions. On February 1, 2010, Mr. Coleman suffered a "generalized tonic-clonic seizure" also known as a grand mal seizure or a convulsion, with loss of consciousness, stiffening and shaking of both sides. Defendant's Appendix in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defendant's Appendix"), Exhibit 15, Dr. Sperling Deposition Transcript and Report (ECF No. 36-15), at 13 of 44. Plaintiff's treating neurologist, Dr. Heidar K. Jahromi, M.D., prescribed the anti-seizure medication Keppra, at 750 milligrams, twice daily. Plaintiff's Appendix to Response

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in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiff's Appendix"), Exhibit 23, Dr. Jahromi Letter of June 21, 2010 (ECF No. 42-4), at 23 of 61.

Mr. Coleman suffered another life threatening series (five or six) of grand mal, tonic-clonic seizures on April 5, 2010, while visiting family in Pittsburgh, and was hospitalized at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Presbyterian Hospital for three days. Plaintiff's Appendix, Exhibit 16, Coleman Deposition Transcript (ECF No. 42-3), at 58-59 of 63. Dr. Jahromi added Dilantin to Plaintiff's medication, and doubled his dosage of Keppra to 1500 milligrams twice daily, the maximum dosage. Defendant's Appendix, Exhibit 16, Dr. Jahromi Letter of April 29, 2010 (ECF No. 36-16), at 2 of 5.

Dr. Jahromi again released Plaintiff for limited duty work, and PSP permitted him to return to limited duty work with another extension of his probationary period that was not credited toward his twelve month field training. The probationary period was extended a total of seventeen months, according to PSP; thirteen and one-half months, according to Plaintiff. In any event, the parties agree that Plaintiff completed eight months and three weeks of...

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