Evarts v. Quinnipiac Univ., Civil Action No. No. 3:15-cv-1509 (CSH)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
PartiesELLSWORTH EVARTS, Plaintiff, v. QUINNIPIAC UNIVERSITY, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. No. 3:15-cv-1509 (CSH)
Decision Date04 October 2018

RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Doc. 33]

HAIGHT, Senior District Judge:

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Ellsworth Evarts, a Public Safety Officer, brings this civil action against his employer, defendant Quinnipiac University ("Quinnipiac") alleging that it violated his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq., and the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., when it discriminated against him based upon a physical disability.1 In his Complaint, he alleges that from January 24, 2014, to June 28, 2014, Quinnipiac failed to "afford [him] reasonable accomodation [sic]" for his disability. Doc. 1, ¶¶ 7, 9.

In particular, Plaintiff alleges that Quinnipiac "sent [him] home" rather than accommodating him; and after back surgery "refused to [allow him] to return to work even after [his] surgeonreleased [him] for duty."2 Id., ¶ 7. See also Doc. 16, at 2 (III.A.). According to Plaintiff, Quinnipiac also "insisted [his] FMLA [benefits] had expired in an attempt to vacate [him]" or place him on vacation. Doc. 1, ¶ 7.

Plaintiff subsequently filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and received a "Notice of Right to Sue" letter on or about July 21, 2015. Id., ¶¶ 10-11; id., at 7 ("Dismissal and Notice of Rights," dated 7/17/2015). Plaintiff alleges that he has the necessary documentation to show that the alleged discrimination occurred. Id., ¶ 12. In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff seeks "backpay" and "[m]onetary damages," which he describes as "lost wages" and "retirement benefits." Id., at 4-5. He also demands a trial by jury. Id., at 5.

Extensive discovery in the case has been completed. Quinnipiac has now filed a "Motion for Summary Judgment" pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), asserting that, with respect to both claims, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and Quinnipiac is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff, resisting that motion, contends that the record demonstrates the existence of factual issues which preclude summary disposition. This Ruling resolves the motion.

II. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The Second Circuit has repeatedly declared that, pursuant to Rule 56(a), Fed. R. Civ. P., "[s]ummary judgment is appropriate only if, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., 811 F.3d 528, 533 (2d Cir.2016).3 "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

In deciding whether to award summary judgment, the court "constru[es] the evidence in the light most favorable to the [nonmoving party]' and 'draw[s] all reasonable inferences and resolv[es] all ambiguities in [its] favor.'" Jaffer v. Hirji, 887 F.3d 111, 114 (2d Cir. 2018) (quoting Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d 17, 22 (2d Cir. 2017)). "[A] fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law,' and a dispute is genuine if 'the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Baldwin v. EMI Feist Catalog, Inc., 805 F.3d 18, 25 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248).

Under Rule 56(a), the moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986); CILP Assocs., L.P. v. PriceWaterhouse Coopers LLP, 735 F.3d 114, 123 (2d Cir. 2013). Then, if the movant succeeds in carrying its burden, "the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact." Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011).

"[A] party may not rely on mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Hicks v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 166 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). See also Process Am., Inc. v. Cynergy Holdings, LLC, 839 F.3d 125, 141 (2d Cir. 2016). Instead, a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed "must support the assertion" by citing to the record or showing that "the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute." Torres v. City of New York, No. 09 CIV. 9357 (LGS), 2017 WL 2191601, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 17, 2017) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B)). "'[C]onclusory allegations or denials' in legal memoranda or oral argument are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a genuine issue of material fact where none would otherwise exist." Golino v. City of New Haven, 761 F. Supp. 962, 965 (D. Conn.1991) (quoting Quinn v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood Corp., 613 F.2d 438, 445 (2d Cir.1980)).

"If, as to the issue on which summary judgment is sought, there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is improper." Victory v. Pataki, 814 F.3d 47, 59 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Rodriguez v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1051, 1061 (2d Cir.1995)). Conversely, if the non-moving party fails to submit proof concerning an essential element of its case, summary judgment is warranted. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.4

In sum, the ultimate test "is whether the evidence can reasonably support a verdict in plaintiff's favor." James v. N.Y. Racing Ass'n, 233 F.3d 149, 157 (2d Cir. 2000). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is nogenuine issue for trial." Baez v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 793 F.3d 269, 274 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)).

With respect to employment discrimination claims, "[t]he Second Circuit has cautioned district courts that they must be 'particularly cautious about granting summary judgment to an employer in a discrimination case when the employer's intent is in question. Because direct evidence of an employer's discriminatory intent will rarely be found, 'affidavits and depositions must be carefully scrutinized for circumstantial proof which, if believed, would show discrimination.'" Miller v. Edward Jones & Co., 355 F. Supp. 2d 629, 636 (D. Conn. 2005) (quoting Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir.1997)). However, "[s]ummary judgment is appropriate even in discrimination cases," Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), because "a plaintiff must provide more than conclusory allegations of discrimination to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Schwapp, 118 F.3d at 110.

III. FACTS

From the Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statements of the Parties [Doc. 33-5 and Doc.40-18], the Court discerns the following undisputed facts.5

In January of 2006, Quinnipiac hired Plaintiff as a full-time security officer and assigned him to the night shift with responsibility for covering entry points, typically Gate 1, the booth at the New Road entrance to Quinnipiac's campus in Hamden, Connecticut. Doc. 33-5 & 40-18, ¶ 1. In that position, Plaintiff was responsible for directing traffic, stopping vehicles as they entered campus, checking individuals' IDs coming onto campus, confirming that visitors had passes, directing drivers to the correct parking lot, and dealing with issues on student transport buses. Id., ¶ 2. After Plaintiff worked for almost eight years at night at Gate 1, Quinnipiac reassigned him to Gate 3, located at the Mount Carmel Avenue entrance to campus, where he performed essentially the same duties he had performed at Gate 1. Id., ¶ 3. A few months after his switch to Gate 3, Plaintiff successfully applied to fill an opening on the day shift for Gate 3. Id.

In August 2013, Quinnipiac began assigning Plaintiff to cover a security desk at the soon-to-open medical school on the North Haven campus. Id., ¶ 4. At that location, he was responsible for checking IDs, issuing key cards, monitoring the coming and goings of construction workers on site, and responding to emergencies. Id.

In June of 2013, a couple of months before Plaintiff began working primarily at the North Haven campus, he tripped over a floor mat while walking to punch out at the conclusion of his shift, fell, and suffered a cervical injury. Doc. 33-5 & 40-18, ¶ 5; see also Doc. 33-1, at 6 (citing Evarts Dep., at 93-94, 96-97, 99-100).6 When Plaintiff returned to work after a brief absence, he worked on "regular duty" per a medical note issued by Yale-New Haven Hospital Occupational Health Plus. Doc. 33-5 & 40-18, ¶ 5; see also Doc. 33-4 (Affidavit of Nicole Lambusta ("Lambusta Aff.")), ¶ 3,Ex. 1. He pursued a workers' compensation claim and brought a civil suit against MagnaKleen, the company responsible for installing and servicing the rug; that suit settled for $275, 000.00. Doc. 33-5 & 40-18, ¶ 6; Evarts Dep. at 97-99, Doc. 33-2, at 49-53 (Evarts Dep., Ex. H).

Plaintiff worked at Gate 1 on January 10, 11, 16, 17, 20, and 21, 2014. Doc. 33-5 & 40-18, ¶ 7. Then, on January 23, 2014, several months after his June 2013 injury, Plaintiff sent an email to Sam Cotto, then Assistant Chief of the Department of Public Safety, reporting a series of back, neck, knee, and shoulder issues he was experiencing. He also stated that although he was scheduled to work at Gate 1 for the next two days, he was unable to direct traffic. Id., ¶ 8. The text of that email stated:

Chief,
I'm on Gate One for the next two day shifts. As I said in the past I have no problem with working the Gate but I can not direct traffic due to my injuries.
...

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