Honauer v. N. Jersey Truck Ctr., CIVIL 19-cv-8947 (KSH) (CLW)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Decision Date25 May 2023
Docket NumberCIVIL 19-cv-8947 (KSH) (CLW)


IAN M. HONAUER, Plaintiff,


CIVIL No. 19-cv-8947 (KSH) (CLW)

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 25, 2023



Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

I. Introduction

In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff Ian M. Honauer, a former used truck sales manager for defendant North Jersey Truck Center (“NJTC”), claims that he was fired after requesting an accommodation for his broken leg. Honauer sued NJTC and its president, John Muchmore (“Muchmore,” with NJTC, “defendants”) for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., and for failure to advise him of his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. Defendants denied Honauer's allegations and asserted a breach of contract counterclaim against him, alleging that Honauer was fired because he failed to perform under the terms of his employment contract-not because of his broken leg.

Defendants now move (D.E. 59) for summary judgment and seek judgment in their favor on each of Honauer's claims. Honauer opposes and moves (D.E. 57) for summary judgment on defendants' breach of contract counterclaim, arguing that neither an express nor an implied


contract governed his employment with NJTC. Both motions are fully briefed, and the Court decides them without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b) and L. Civ. R. 78.1.

II. Factual Background

The facts are gleaned from the pleadings, attorney certifications, and supporting exhibits, as well as the parties' joint final pre-trial order.

Honauer began working for NJTC as a used truck sales manager on September 6, 2016. (D.E. 57-3, Matias Mov. Cert. Ex. D.) He worked in that role until his involuntary termination on March 26, 2018. (D.E. 56, FPTO Stip. ¶ 26.) Although the circumstances surrounding Honauer's termination are sharply disputed by the parties, the following facts are undisputed except as specifically noted.

A. Honauer's Injury and Medical Treatment

In early March 2018, Honauer went on vacation to Nepal, India. (Id. ¶ 8.) He was scheduled to return to work on Monday, March 19. (Id. ¶ 9.) The Friday before, Honauer emailed Muchmore and Gary Streifer, NJTC's chief financial officer and general manager, telling them that he would be unable to return to work as scheduled because he broke his leg:

So while white water rafting in Nepal I broke my fibula and tibia. Basically my whole right leg. I'm leaving tomorrow and land Sunday morning where I'm going straight to the hospital. I'm hoping they can handle surgery same day. If not then Monday. I should be in a cast after that. I won't be in on Monday but I'm going to see what they say. If all goes well I'm going to see if Ted or Jason can car pool me into work while I recover since I'm on their way in
I'll keep you posted as I know more

(D.E. 66-3, Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. B.) Muchmore responded: “That's terrible, get yourself health issues addressed and we'll go from there.” (Id.)

Honauer landed in the United States on Sunday, March 18 and underwent surgery that night. (FPTO Stip. ¶ 11.) He stayed overnight at the hospital and was prescribed Oxycotin for


pain, and blood thinners to treat blood clots that had formed during his flight home. (Id. ¶¶ 1112.)

B. Honauer's Requests for Workplace Accommodations

The next morning, Monday, March 19, at 6:53 a.m., Honauer emailed Muchmore and Streifer:

So I got back and went directly to the hospital, they were able to do surgery yesterday because it was so bad. I got a rod and screws in my leg. They're going to send a physical therapist in today to talk to me and then release me. They asked if I had a desk job or on the move, so I'm assuming if I can stay at my desk I'll be able to come back to work somewhat quickly, but it will be a 10-12 week recovery time. Once I get some exact answers I'll let you know this afternoon.
All things considering I'm feeling ok this morning and with crutches I can get around so let's keep our fingers crossed.

(Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. C.) Muchmore responded less than an hour later: “Ok, glad it seems you have a handle on things. Call me when you can.” (D.E. 36, FAC Ex. B.)

Honauer received occupational therapy and was cleared to walk with crutches. (FPTO Stip. ¶ 15.) He was released from the hospital later that day. (Id.)

The next day, Tuesday, March 20, Honauer gave NJTC a note from his treating orthopedic physician approving Honauer to return to work on Monday, March 26 with a “sedentary work only” restriction.[1](Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. D.) As will become apparent, the parties dispute whether Honauer could perform the essential functions of his job from his desk.

The following morning at 9:01 a.m., Honauer emailed Muchmore to tell him that a coworker, presumably one of Honauer's subordinates, had called in sick. (Id. Ex. F.) Again, Honauer provided an update on his health and inquired about returning to work:

Also, I'm back home from the hospital, I have a hematology appointment tomorrow due to blood clots they found from the flight, but I want to try to get there either Friday or Monday. I just can't be weight bearing and have to keep my leg elevated, which Robyn said she has some milk crates readily available.
I have a follow up with the [doctor] ¶ 2 weeks which I'm hoping they put a boot or something that I can put minimal weight on.
Let me know if you're ok with that or what you'd like me to do.

(Id.) It is unclear from the record whether Muchmore responded to this email.

C. Muchmore's Initial Inquiry into Honauer's Performance

At some point during Honauer's absence, Muchmore started to question Honauer's work performance. Muchmore claims that he assumed Honauer's duties as used truck sales manager during his extended absence and, in the process, stumbled upon “very substantial problems” with Honauer's work product. (D.E. 59-5, Muchmore Cert. ¶¶ 17-18; Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. Z, Muchmore Tr. 37:11-14, 39:8-40:3.) Honauer, on the other hand, claims that Muchmore initiated a baseless investigation to justify his unlawful termination decision, as Honauer had never been reprimanded or otherwise disciplined prior to his injury. (Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. X, Streifer Tr. 40:15-22.)

The record evidence shows that on Friday, March 23, Muchmore emailed Honauer at 11:37 a.m. He told Honauer he had been “reviewing some files due to your absence and [had] some questions.” (Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. H.) In this email, Muchmore raised eight specific issues with three of Honauer's orders and posed each issue as a question for Honauer to answer. (See id.) Honauer answered Muchmore's email at 12:44 p.m. and responded point by point. (See id. Ex. I.) In the body of the email, Honauer wrote as follows:

Replies are below in red. There are some additional things I need to get back to you on but I need the paperwork in my hands to help j og my memory. Let me know if you have more concerns. Obviously some new processes to be put in place and
I will get with Liz on ensuring she gives me all sales orders and reviewing the documents fully.


Although it is unclear from the record whether Muchmore responded to Honauer's email, he claims in his certification that Honauer's response was “entirely unsatisfactory” and demonstrated a lack of understanding of NJTC's business and his role, as well as a “lack of effort.” (Muchmore Cert. ¶ 20.)

D. Muchmore Instructs Honauer to Obtain Disability Leave

On Sunday, March 25, at 11:32 a.m., Honauer emailed Muchmore. He said he had “heard about not being cleared to return to work on Monday,” and asked for “confirmation” as to whether he would “be forced to go on disability or what the next step is.” (Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. G.) Less than an hour later, Muchmore responded and instructed Honauer to go on disability leave:

Due to your injury your ability to perform your job would be greatly restricted. I don't want you to risk further injury so you need to describe your duties which are far more than sitting behind a desk to your doctor and have him tell you how long you should be out and that would determine the length of time you should be on disability. Any further questions Gary [Strieifer] is more familiar with the process.

(Id.) Honauer forwarded Muchmore's email to Streifer eight minutes later, asking for information about going on disability leave. (Id.)

With NJTC's assistance, Honauer received paid, short-term disability leave. (FPTO Stip. ¶ 27.) However, neither Streifer nor his human resources liaison, Bea Coda, advised Honauer of his right to unpaid leave under the FMLA or provided him with FMLA paperwork. (See Streifer Tr. 69:2-20; see also Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. V, Coda Tr. 21:3-7, 15-19.)

E. Muchmore Discovers Additional Deficiencies in Honauer's Work Product and Terminates Honauer's Employment

Later in the evening on Sunday, March 25, NJTC's then-vice president of operations, Josh Mironov, emailed Muchmore to report several issues with one of Honauer's used truck


advertisements. (Matias Opp. Cert. Ex. K; see id. Ex. Y, Mironov Tr. 38:9-12.) According to Mironov, he came across the advertisement while he was signing off on “used truck bills,” a role he took on during Honauer's extended absence to “help keep things moving.” (Mironov Tr. 102:22-103:12, 105:21-106:19.) Mironov explained that when he saw the advertisement attached to one of Honauer's bills, he was “just blown away at what [he] saw, . . . [m]eaning all the errors,” and wanted to bring them to Muchmore's attention. (Id. 103:20-104:23, 105:15-20, 106:20-23.)

Approximately one hour later, Mironov...

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