Goodpaster v. Schwan's Home Serv., Inc., No. 13–0010.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCADY
PartiesJohn GOODPASTER, Appellant, v. SCHWAN'S HOME SERVICE, INC. and Todd Swanson, Individually and in His Corporate Capacity, Appellees.
Decision Date27 June 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13–0010.

849 N.W.2d 1

John GOODPASTER, Appellant,
v.
SCHWAN'S HOME SERVICE, INC. and Todd Swanson, Individually and in His Corporate Capacity, Appellees.

No. 13–0010.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

June 27, 2014.


[849 N.W.2d 4]


Jill M. Zwagerman and Alyssa I. Snyder of Newkirk Zwagerman Law Firm P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

Alan L. Rupe of Kutak Rock LLP, Wichita, Kansas, and Kathryn E. Jones of Kutak Rock LLP, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellees.


Mark D. Sherinian and Melissa C. Hasso of Sherinian & Hasso Law Firm, West Des Moines, and Thomas J. Duff of Duff Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for amicus curiae Iowa Association for Justice.

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal involving a lawsuit for wrongful termination of employment, we must determine whether multiple sclerosis is a disability contemplated by the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 (ICRA), Iowa Code chapter 216 (2011). If so, we must also determine whether the employee was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of his employment as a product delivery driver who must hold a commercial driver's license. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer. On our review, we conclude multiple sclerosis is a disability under the ICRA and that a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether the employee was qualified to perform the essential functions of the position. Accordingly, we reverse the district court and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Prior Proceedings.

John Goodpaster was employed by Schwan's Home Service, Inc. as a customer service manager. Schwan's is the largest home delivery frozen foods company in the nation and operates sales companies from various locations around the country, including Des Moines. The Des Moines location was managed by Todd Swanson. Goodpaster began working for Schwan's as a manager trainee and was promoted to customer service manager in August 2007. His main duty was to sell and deliver company products to customers at their homes or place of business. A basic requirement of the job was to operate a commercial vehicle and meet all requirements

[849 N.W.2d 5]

of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), including maintaining a driver's license and medical certification to drive.

Goodpaster sought medical attention in late 2008 after suffering chest pains and loss of eyesight. He was seen by several doctors and underwent multiple medical examinations and tests, including an examination at the Mayo Clinic. A neurologist at the Mayo Clinic suspected Goodpaster had “quiescent subclinical” multiple sclerosis. A neurologist in Des Moines diagnosed Goodpaster with multiple sclerosis, although another doctor was unable to identify any symptoms of multiple sclerosis in Goodpaster. Goodpaster had other medical ailments, including fibromyalgia and hypertension.

Goodpaster continued to work despite his medical problems. Over the next one and one-half years, he would occasionally experience what he called “flare-ups” while working. During these flare-ups, which occurred between five and ten times, he would experience vision impairment and loss of control and strength in his arms and legs. Medical providers advised him to stop working and to relax until the symptoms subsided. Goodpaster had no form of medical restrictions on his work.

At times, Goodpaster asked Schwan's to rearrange his route due to his health condition. He was accommodated on each occasion. However, on another occasion, Goodpaster asked Swanson if someone could transport him from a location on his delivery route to the company office because he felt it was unsafe for him to drive. In response, he was asked to “gut it out.” On another occasion, Goodpaster requested that Swanson make arrangements for another employee to ride with him on his route as a backup driver in the event he suffered a flare-up. This request was also denied. Goodpaster also sought a transfer to a warehouse position. He was never interviewed for an opening in the warehouse because he did not meet the requirement of having prior warehouse experience.

Goodpaster's sales began to decrease. Over time, he became the lowest performing customer service manager at the Des Moines location. Swanson, however, had removed Goodpaster from some of his most profitable routes and assigned him to less profitable routes. Sales expectations and quotas were part of the job, and Goodpaster was failing to meet the company's expectations.

Goodpaster was given several written warnings about his failure to meet company sales expectations. After no improvement was made, Goodpaster was terminated.

Goodpaster subsequently filed a lawsuit in district court under the ICRA for disability discrimination and retaliation. He claimed he was terminated from his employment because he had multiple sclerosis. He also claimed Schwan's failed to provide him with reasonable accommodations. Goodpaster sued both Schwan's and Swanson.

Schwan's and Swanson moved for summary judgment. They claimed Goodpaster could not establish a case for discrimination or retaliation as a matter of law. Among other specific grounds, Schwan's claimed Goodpaster did not have a qualifying disability, was not qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, and had no direct or indirect evidence of discrimination. Schwan's and Swanson also argued there was no causal connection between Goodpaster's request for accommodations and termination of his employment to support the retaliation claim. Finally, Schwan's and Swanson claimed Schwan's

[849 N.W.2d 6]

had a legitimate, common nondiscriminatory reason to terminate Goodpaster.

Goodpaster moved to compel discovery prior to submission of the summary judgment motion so he could fully resist the proceeding. The district court denied the request.

The district court granted summary judgment on all claims. Goodpaster appealed. On appeal, he claims multiple sclerosis is a disability protected under the ICRA, and his claim was sufficient to withstand summary adjudication.

II. Scope of Review.

We review a decision by the district court to grant summary judgment for correction of errors at law. See Phillips v. Covenant Clinic, 625 N.W.2d 714, 717 (Iowa 2001); see alsoIowa R.App. P. 6.907. Summary judgment is proper when the movant establishes there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3); Swartzendruber v. Schimmel, 613 N.W.2d 646, 649 (Iowa 2000). “The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Sallee v. Stewart, 827 N.W.2d 128, 133 (Iowa 2013). As we determine whether the moving party has met this burden, we view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Wright v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 599 N.W.2d 668, 670 (Iowa 1999). “Even if facts are undisputed, summary judgment is not proper if reasonable minds could draw from them different inferences and reach different conclusions.” Walker Shoe Store, Inc. v. Howard's Hobby Shop, 327 N.W.2d 725, 728 (Iowa 1982).

III. Discussion.

The ICRA makes it “an unfair or discriminatory practice” to discharge an employee or otherwise discriminate against an employee “because of the ... disability of such ... employee.” Iowa Code § 216.6(1)( a ). To prevail on a disability discrimination claim under the ICRA, Goodpaster must initially prove a prima facie case by showing: (1) he has a disability, (2) he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the customer service manager position, and (3) the circumstances of his termination raise an inference of illegal discrimination. See Schlitzer v. Univ. of Iowa Hosp. & Clinics, 641 N.W.2d 525, 530 (Iowa 2002). We begin by considering the first element of the claim.

A. Whether Goodpaster's Multiple Sclerosis Constitutes a Disability Under the ICRA. The Act defines a “disability” as “the physical or mental condition of a person which constitutes a substantial disability.” Id. § 216.2(5). The definition also includes the condition of a person with a positive diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and related diagnoses, but no further legislative explanation is provided. See id.

Regulations promulgated by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, however, do elaborate on the meaning of a disability. SeeIowa Admin. Code r. 161—8.26 (providing definitions for various terms related to disability discrimination in employment). They provide that “[t]he term ‘substantially handicapped person’ shall mean any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.” Id. r. 161—8.26(1).1 Goodpaster seizes on

[849 N.W.2d 7]

this definition to argue that he is a disabled person under all three prongs of the definition. Because we conclude a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding the issue of actual disability, we can confine our analysis to the first prong of the definition involving the presence of an actual disability that impairs a major life activity.

The term “physical or mental impairment” means:

a. Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or

b. Any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

Id. r. 161—8.26(2). Additionally, “[t]he term ‘major life activities' means functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.” Id. r. 161—8.26(3).

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29 practice notes
  • Haskenhoff v. Homeland Energy Solutions, LLC, No. 15-0574
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 23 Junio 2017
    ...ICRA be "broadly interpreted to effectuate its purposes." Iowa Code § 216.18(1) ; see also ≠ Goodpaster v. Schwan's Home Servs., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 9–10 (Iowa 2014).And these are only the cases that Congress managed to override. Whenever a highly divided United States Supreme Court choose......
  • Slaughter v. Des Moines Univ. Coll. of Osteopathic Med., No. 17-1732
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 5 Abril 2019
    ...genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. (quoting Goodpaster v. Schwan’s Home Serv., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2014) ). "We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id.III. Analysis.We first address whether the dis......
  • Simon Seeding & Sod, Inc. v. Dubuque Human Rights Comm'n, No. 16-1014
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 19 Mayo 2017
    ...and in many places the Iowa statute utilizes different statutory language than federal law. See Goodpaster v. Schwan's Home Serv., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 9–10 (Iowa 2014) ; accord DeBoom v. Raining Rose, Inc. , 772 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa 2009) ("[W]e must be mindful not to substitute ‘the language......
  • Deeds v. City of Marion, No. 16-1666
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 22 Junio 2018
    ...Standard of Review. We review summary judgment rulings for correction of errors at law. Goodpaster v. Schwan’s Home Serv., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2014). "Summary judgment is proper when the movant establishes there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Haskenhoff v. Homeland Energy Solutions, LLC, No. 15-0574
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 23 Junio 2017
    ...ICRA be "broadly interpreted to effectuate its purposes." Iowa Code § 216.18(1) ; see also ≠ Goodpaster v. Schwan's Home Servs., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 9–10 (Iowa 2014).And these are only the cases that Congress managed to override. Whenever a highly divided United States Supreme Court choose......
  • Slaughter v. Des Moines Univ. Coll. of Osteopathic Med., No. 17-1732
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 5 Abril 2019
    ...genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. (quoting Goodpaster v. Schwan’s Home Serv., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2014) ). "We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id.III. Analysis.We first address whether the dis......
  • Simon Seeding & Sod, Inc. v. Dubuque Human Rights Comm'n, No. 16-1014
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 19 Mayo 2017
    ...and in many places the Iowa statute utilizes different statutory language than federal law. See Goodpaster v. Schwan's Home Serv., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 9–10 (Iowa 2014) ; accord DeBoom v. Raining Rose, Inc. , 772 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa 2009) ("[W]e must be mindful not to substitute ‘the language......
  • Deeds v. City of Marion, No. 16-1666
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 22 Junio 2018
    ...Standard of Review. We review summary judgment rulings for correction of errors at law. Goodpaster v. Schwan’s Home Serv., Inc. , 849 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2014). "Summary judgment is proper when the movant establishes there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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