Lehenky v. Toshiba Am. Energy Sys. Corp., 20-4573

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Writing for the CourtC. Darnell Jones, II J.
Docket Number20-4573
Decision Date22 February 2022



No. 20-4573

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 22, 2022


C. Darnell Jones, II J.


Plaintiff brings the instant matter against her former employer for terminating her employment after a random drug test showed the presence of marijuana metabolites (specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as “THC”) in Plaintiff's system. Plaintiff is suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. §§ 951, et seq. Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss all Counts of Plaintiff's Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion shall be granted.


Plaintiff's Complaint alleges in pertinent part that in 2018, she was diagnosed with Panniculitis-an inflammatory autoimmune connective tissue disease. (Compl. ¶ 15.) On or about January 5, 2019, Defendant, Plaintiff's employer for approximately eighteen (18) years, informed Plaintiff she had been randomly selected to undergo workplace drug testing in


accordance with the company's Drug Free Workplace Policy. (Compl. ¶ 33, Ex. B.) On February 7, 2018, Plaintiff underwent said testing, at which time she was informed that an over-the-counter CBD product she was taking for her condition would cause a positive result. (Compl. ¶ 35.) After taking the test that day, Plaintiff emailed Defendant to find out what “documentation” she needed to provide regarding her use of the product. (Compl. ¶ 35, Ex. C.) Defendant did not respond. (Compl. ¶ 39.) On February 8, 2019, Plaintiff's drug test came back positive for THC and Plaintiff's employment was immediately terminated by Defendant on the basis of illegal drug use. (Compl. ¶ 38.)

Plaintiff's Complaint further alleges that she began taking the CBD product “after hearing reports of good results about the effectiveness” and “sought the advice of a licensed health care physician to investigate whether this might help control her pain and improve her overall functioning.” (Compl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff avers “[s]hortly thereafter, [she] began using a CBD product and finally found some relief for her symptoms.” (Compl. ¶ 20.) In support of this averment, Plaintiff attaches a letter dated February 8, 2019 from Paul F. Barone, D.O., which simply states “The above named patient was seen in this office on 1-09-19 and will be able to return to work on 1-9-19. Patient was treated with CBD that may have a low level of THC.” (Compl. Ex. A) (emphasis added). This letter was faxed to an unidentified recipient on February 15, 2019. (Compl. Ex. A.)


When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, district courts must first separate legal conclusions from factual allegations. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Legal conclusions should be


discarded, and well-pled facts given the deference of truth. Id. at 210-211. Courts must then determine whether the well-pleaded facts state a “plausible claim for relief.” Id. at 211. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, [will] not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). “In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to ‘show' such an entitlement with its facts.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (citing Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231).


The first four Counts of Plaintiff's Complaint include claims for Disparate Treatment Under the ADA (Count I); Disparate Treatment Under the PHRA (Count II); Disparate Impact in Violation of the ADA (Count III); Disparate Impact in Violation of the PHRA (Count IIV). As a preliminary matter, this Court notes that its “analysis of an ADA claim applies equally to a PHRA claim[.]” Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999). Therefore, the analyses contained within the following discussion shall focus upon the ADA for purposes of both the ADA and PHRA claims presented by Plaintiff.

A. Counts I and II: Claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act for Disparate Treatment

This Court recognizes that “[a]lthough Plaintiff need not establish a prima facie case of discrimination at this stage, ‘the elements of a prima facie claim of disability discrimination remain the Court's “analytical guideline[s] in assessing the plausibility” of [Plaintiff's]


discrimination claims.'” Crawford, Civil Action No. 20-871, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110533, at *8 (E.D. Pa. June 24, 2020) (citing Dreibelbis v. Cty. of Berks, 438 F.Supp.3d 304, 314 (E.D. Pa. 2020) (first alteration in original) (quoting Fabian v. St. Mary's Med. Ctr., Civil Action No. 16-4741, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147634, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 30, 2018)). With that said, “[i]n order to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment under the ADA, a plaintiff must show ‘(1) [s]he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) [s]he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) [s]he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination.'” Shaner v. Synthes (USA), 204 F.3d 494, 500 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Gaul v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998)).

In accordance with applicable statutory law,

[T]o be considered “disabled” under the ADA, a plaintiff must show that (1) [s/he] has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities, (2) [s/he] has a record of such an impairment, or (3) [s/he] is regarded as having such an impairment. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). Major life activities consist of tasks such as “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing speaking, breathing, learning and working.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i) .

Law v. Garden State Tanning, 159 F.Supp.2d 787, 791 (E.D. Pa 2001); see also Niculcea v. Stone Ridge Towne Ctr., Civil Action No. 1:17-CV-2096, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3274, at *8 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 8, 2020) (“An individual is considered ‘disabled' under the ADA if she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual. The determination of whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity must be made on a case by case basis.'”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).


To that end,

A covered entity will be liable under the ADA only if it knew of the disability at issue. See Rinehimer v. Cemcolift, Inc., 292 F.3d 375, 380 (3d Cir. 2002); Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 406 (3d Cir. 2000) (“It is, of course, an axiom of any ADA claim that the plaintiff be disabled and that the employer be aware of the disability.”). Here, [Plaintiff] never alleged that [Defendant] was aware of any purported disability when it made its decision not to grant him the certifications he sought, which is sufficient on its own to dispose of [Plaintiff]'s claim under the ADA.

Alja-Iz v. United States V.I. Bd. of Educ., 625 Fed.Appx. 591, 593 (3d Cir. 2015) (emphasis added).

Further, the ADA defines a “qualified individual” as “an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). Fabian, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147634, at *20.

Lastly, for purposes of what constitutes an “adverse action” as it pertains to an ADA discrimination claim, “termination is an adverse action.” Tielle v. Nutrition Grp., 810 Fed.Appx. 160, 163 (3d Cir. 2020).

Drawing all reasonable inferences as it must from Plaintiff's Complaint and exhibits thereto, this Court infers Plaintiff suffered from a disability. Specifically, Plaintiff speaks of enduring “a long period of physical discomfort and pain that significantly limited her ability to walk” and “[b]y the time of her diagnosis in 2018, Ms. Lehenky could only walk with the assistance of a cane due to the accumulation of fluid and tissue damage in her legs.” (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 17.)[1] Inasmuch as walking is a major life activity, Plaintiff shall be afforded the inference


that she suffered from a disability. See, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A) (“[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.”) (emphasis added).

Notwithstanding the existence of any disability, Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege that she was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job-with or without reasonable accommodations by Defendant-or that she suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. First, Plaintiff simply concludes she “was qualified” and “faithfully performed her duties in accordance with the Defendant's expectations.” (Compl. ¶ 14; see also Compl. ¶ 45. (“In spite of her disabilities, Ms. Lehenky, was and continues to be qualified to perform the essential function of her job either with or without a reasonable accommodation.”) For purposes of an ADA assessment, conclusory averments such as these are not sufficient. Moreover, the Act provides “a qualified individual with a disability shall not include any employee or applicant who is currently...

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