Knox v. Snider, Case No. 1:11-cv-00949-TWP-TAB

Decision Date27 November 2012
Docket NumberCase No. 1:11-cv-00949-TWP-TAB
PartiesJAY D. KNOX, Plaintiff, v. MICHAEL L. SNIDER, and THE SNIDER GROUP, INC., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Michael L. Snider's ("Mr. Snider") and The Snider Group, Inc.'s ("Snider Group") (collectively, "the Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt 27). In his second Amended Complaint (Dkt. 23), Plaintiff Jay D. Knox ("Mr. Knox") has filed three counts against the Defendants, alleging they intentionally discriminated against him based on his alcoholism disability, retaliated against him for complaining about the discrimination, and defamed him by providing false information to a prospective new employer, TMC Transportation. The Defendants argue that many of the alleged discriminatory and retaliatory acts identified by Mr. Knox are time-barred and that they did not discriminate against him, but fired him for missing several days of work. The matter was originally filed by Mr. Knox in Marion Superior Court and subsequently removed by the Defendants as some of the claims arise under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 27) is GRANTED.

A. Mr. Knox's History Regarding Alcohol Consumption

The following undisputed facts are presented in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Mr. Knox. Mr. Knox began to consume alcohol at the early age of eighteen. In 1991, he was arrested for driving under the influence ("DUI") of alcohol. Then, after being sober for approximately eight months, Mr. Knox received a second DUI arrest in 1992 after he wrecked his Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck. He pled not guilty on both occasions but was convicted of each offense following bench trials. After his second DUI, Mr. Knox underwent treatment for alcohol abuse at St. Vincent Hospital; thereafter, he remained sober for approximately seven years. Then, from 1999 until 2004, Mr. Knox regularly consumed alcohol followed by a four or five year period of sobriety.

In 2007, Mr. Knox and his wife went through a "pretty nasty divorce" and he resumed drinking alcohol. The marriage was dissolved and pursuant to the Dissolution Decree, he was required to purchase an alcohol breath sensor so that his wife would be able to administer breath tests prior to Mr. Knox receiving visitation with his two children. In addition, the Decree prohibited Mr. Knox from driving any vehicle in which his children were passengers. Mr. Knox admits that he began drinking again around this time period. Following an incident at a Snider Group jobsite on June 26, 2008, he agreed to undergo treatment for alcohol abuse. On July 2, 2008 he was seen as an outpatient at St. Vincent Hospital and reported that he had drank two and a half gallons of whiskey in the previous three week period. At his May 18, 2010 deposition, Mr. Knox testified that he was drinking in August 2009.

B. Mr. Knox's History with the Snider Group

Mr. Knox began his employment with the Snider Group on or about May 3, 1986 as a heavy equipment operator. He continued to work for the Snider Group for twenty-three years, until August 2009. Throughout his employment, Mr. Snider and the Snider Group supported Mr. Knox when he received the two DUI convictions and during the marriage dissolution proceedings. Specifically, in requesting a lenient sentence for Mr. Knox after his second DUI, J.S. Snider, the President of the Snider Group, wrote the following:

Jay Knox is one of our success stories...and we are seeing some great strides in his level of responsibility and his ability to assume some role in leadership. I know he has made a serious mistake and truly think this will be a growth experience for him. I believe him when he says it will never happen again. [Plaintiff] never misses a day of work and claims to have learned his lesson so I respectfully suggest leniency in his sentence and save the harsher dealings for people who aren't trying to make something of themselves.

Dkt. 28-1 at 25. Additionally, while Mr. Knox's dissolution of marriage was pending, he was arrested for allegations of child molestation involving one of his two daughters. The charges were subsequently dismissed. During this troubling period in Mr. Knox's life, Mr. Snider, the Vice President of the Snider Group, wrote a supportive letter on his behalf stating that:

Jay Knox has been an employee of The Snider Group, Inc. for nearly 20 years. Over the years I've gotten to know Jay very well and find him to be a reliable and trustworthy employee. He is a caring and compassionate person and we are very glad to have him as an employee. Jay has made great improvements over the past few years both in his professional duties and his personal life from what we see. His love of his children is evident in his comments and stories and while his situation is unfortunate I see him as a good person and loving father. I hope that what we see every day for many hours is taken into consideration as to the quality of person and father Jay Knox strives to be.

Additionally, Mr. Snider testified that while he was Mr. Knox's supervisor at the Snider Group, he had no reason to believe that he was consuming alcohol while working as a heavyequipment operator. However, sometime between 2003 and 2005 Mr. Snider received a report that Mr. Knox might have an alcohol problem.

C. Mr. Knox's Drinking Habits while working at the Snider Group

Specifically, during the course of a project referred to as the Lost Run Farms Project, Mr. Snider recalls having a discussion with Mr. Knox sometime between 2003 and 2005. Mr. Knox's supervisor, August Koch ("Mr. Koch"), informed Mr. Snider that he suspected Mr. Knox was under the influence of alcohol at the Lost Run Farms Project jobsite. Mr. Snider discussed the allegations with Mr. Knox and Mr. Knox admitted to drinking heavily and, as such, was in no condition to perform his job duties for that day. Mr. Snider suggested that Mr. Knox receive some "help" and informed him he would not be allowed to return to work until he had done so. Mr. Knox was allowed to return to work after showing Mr. Snider his prescription for Antabuse. Mr. Knox, however, claims to have no recollection of these incidents.

Mr. Knox says that in 2004 and again in 2008, he was harassed by a foreman who spread false statements related to his alcohol rehabilitation. In both 2004 and 2008, Mr. Knox complained to the company regarding the alleged harassment and Mr. Snider told him he would transfer him from that particular foreman. In his complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), Mr. Knox says in about March 2009, he was reassigned to work under the foreman who had previously harassed him, the foreman continued to harass him, he complained and when the company failed to take prompt corrective action, he was forced to look for other employment. (Dkt. 28-5 at 3.)

On June 26, 2008, Mr. Snider received another call from Mr. Koch, indicating that Mr. Knox was acting abnormally while on the jobsite of a project known as the Town to Ditch project. Mr. Snider went to the Town to Ditch jobsite, approached Mr. Knox, and demanded thathe remove his sunglasses. According to Mr. Snider, Mr. Knox's eyes appeared to be bloodshot, he appeared to slur his speech and Mr. Knox admitted to drinking alcohol the night before. Mr. Knox's recollection is inapposite. Mr. Knox recalls that he was upset that morning because his supervisor, Mr. Koch, had been harassing him and called him "dumbass". After confronting Mr. Knox while at the jobsite, Mr. Snider ordered him to leave the jobsite. Before leaving, Mr. Knox gave Mr. Snider his company ID but not his keys. Following this encounter, Mr. Snider placed a memo in Mr. Knox's personnel file dated June 26, 2008, which described the incident as follows:

Jay Knox quit this morning at 9:00 a.m. after being suspected of having alcohol on his breath. Jay was asked to submit to a drug test at which time he opted to quit rather than take the test. Per Mike Snider, Jay is not employed as of 9:00 a.m. this morning. However, Mike advised Jay that he had until Monday June 30th, 2008 to determine if he still wanted to be employed. Jay would need to be actively participating in an alcohol rehab program and provide proof that he has stayed clean.

On June 30, 2008, Mr. Snider and Dan Shotts, another vice president, met with Mr. Knox and offered help concerning his issue with alcohol. On July 2, 2008, Mr. Knox began receiving outpatient care from St. Vincent Hospital. Mr. Knox presented a doctor's note to the Snider Group on July 14, 2008, acknowledging that he was still receiving medical treatment, but was able to return to work. Mr. Knox admits to drinking whiskey the night before June 26, 2008 but denies being drunk on the job on June 26, 2008. Additionally, he states that he went to St. Vincent Hospital for treatment regarding his alcohol use on his own.

D. Mr. Knox Does Not Appear for Work at the Snider Group

Between August 10 and August 15, 2009, Mr. Knox did not show up for work at the Snider Group. On August 12, 2009, Mr. Knox called the Snider Group and left a voice mail message stating that he "quit". Then, on August 19, 2009, Mr. Knox received a letter from theSnider Group which informed him that he was terminated from the Snider Group effective August 10, 2009 for abandoning his job.

Mr. Knox testified that he stopped working at the Snider Group because he received a tentative employment offer to work for TMC Transportation as an over-the-road truck driver and he was taking care of matters related to his prospective new employment. Mr. Knox did not get the job at TMC Transportation and he believes his employment with TMC Transportation was terminated due to Snider Group's response to an employment verification...

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