Lucas v. W.W. Grainger Inc., 00-14323

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Citation257 F.3d 1249
Docket NumberNo. 00-14323,00-14323
Parties(11th Cir. 2001) WILLIAM L. LUCAS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. W. W. GRAINGER, INC., Defendant-Appellee
Decision Date17 July 2001

Page 1249

257 F.3d 1249 (11th Cir. 2001)
WILLIAM L. LUCAS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
W. W. GRAINGER, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
No. 00-14323
July 17, 2001

Page 1250

Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. D.C. Docket No. 97-03837-CV-CAP-1.

Before CARNES, COX and NOONAN*, Circuit Judges.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

William Lucas appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of W.W. Grainger, Inc. on his claims under the Americans with Disabilties Act. He contends the district court erred in concluding that he was not disabled within the meaning of the statute. He also contends the district court erred in concluding Grainger did not unlawfully retaliate against him for engaging in statutorily protected expression. On our way to affirming the district court's judgment, we address a number of issues about what constitutes reasonable accommodation and a few relating to retaliation.


Grainger is an industrial commercial supply company that distributes maintenance, repair, and operating products from warehouses that it operates throughout the United States. On May 22, 1993, Grainger hired the plaintiff, William Lucas, to work as a Material Handler at its Marietta Boulevard facility in Atlanta.

Though Lucas was hired as a Material Handler, he began training for the position of Will-Call Service Representative soon after he was hired. Like Material Handler, the Will-Call job consists primarily of performing physical labor in Grainger's warehouse. However, unlike Material Handler, the Will-Call job also involves a significant amount of interaction with Grainger's customers, and it is considered a promotion from Material Handler. Grainger describes the job duties of a Will-Call Service Representative as follows:

When a customer places an order with a Customer Service Representative, a purchase order is delivered to the Will-Call Service Representative, who picks [up] and delivers the product from the warehouse ... to the customer upon the customer's arrival at the branch. Will-Call Service Representatives ... are also required to work in the warehouse on a daily basis, which includes performing such functions as receiving freight, stocking products, pulling orders, loading outbound trailers, and performing maintenance activities in the warehouse. The essential functions ... include, among other things, bending, stooping, climbing, carrying, reaching, pushing, pulling, lifting up to seventy pounds on a regular basis, and operating power equipment. Lifting more than ten pounds is an essential function ....

Lucas trained for the Will-Call job for several months after he was hired, although his actual job title remained Material Handler. By April of 1994, though, Grainger needed someone to handle customer telephone calls at the Marietta Boulevard facility, and it decided to train Lucas for the job of Customer Service Representative instead. The Customer Service Representative position is essentially a desk job, and Lucas trained for it by performing duties such as taking orders from customers over the phone, and filling out paperwork. The job is considered

Page 1253

a promotion from both Material Handler and Will-Call Service Representative.

Lucas performed primarily Customer Service Representative duties for much of 1994. During that time, several customers complained about his phone demeanor. For example, one customer complained to Grainger that Lucas had spoken to him in a degrading fashion and that customer said he would not do business with Grainger as long as Lucas was answering the phone. Due to the complaints, Grainger decided Lucas was not cut out to be a Customer Service Representative, and moved him back to working in the warehouse, where he had less customer contact than he had during his training for the Customer Service Representative job.

On October 15, 1994, Grainger officially promoted Lucas to the position of Will-Call Service Representative, and he held that title during the remainder of his employment with Grainger.

In May of 1996 Lucas injured his back while unloading a trailer. After seeing a doctor about the injury, he told his boss, Paul Stewart, who worked as the Branch Manager at the Marietta Boulevard facility, that his doctor had placed him on complete bed rest. Lucas also told Stewart that he would be unable to return to work until June 3, 1996 and that, upon returning to work, he would have to abide by certain work restrictions, including lifting no more than ten pounds and refraining from repetitive bending or stooping for two weeks.

Stewart promptly placed Lucas on short-term medical leave, and informed him that when he returned to work Grainger would try to temporarily assign him to duties that did not interfere with his work restrictions. Stewart also told Lucas that he would eventually have to return to his Will-Call job, and reminded him that, due to previous customer complaints, Grainger would not assign him to a Customer Service Representative position on a regular basis.

On June 12, 1996, Lucas returned to work and presented a note from his doctor to Grainger. The note permitted Lucas to perform office work, i.e., work that did not entail manual labor, so long as he adhered to certain work restrictions. At the time, there were no openings at the Marietta Boulevard facility for office jobs, so Stewart temporarily displaced two employees from their jobs in order to allow Lucas to take over their office duties. The displaced employees performed the warehouse duties that Lucas would have performed as a Will-Call Service Representative, while Lucas performed office duties exclusively.

On June 20, 1996, Lucas informed Grainger that he had developed degenerative disk disease and lumbar disk syndrome in his back. The next day, while he was performing his temporary office duties, Lucas told a manager at Grainger that he could barely keep his eyes open and felt "knotted up inside." Lucas left work early that day, and he did not return for several days.

When he returned to work on June 26, 1996, Lucas made a request to Stewart for an accommodation in the form of a permanent job that entailed "desk work." This was the first time Lucas requested an accommodation for his back impairment from Grainger, although he subsequently made the same request on at least one other occasion. At that time there were no desk jobs available at the Marietta Boulevard facility, so Stewart inquired into job openings at Grainger's other Atlanta facilities. Eventually, Stewart was able to arrange three job interviews for Lucas. The three positions, which all existed outside of the Marietta Boulevard facility, were Quotations Specialist, Branch Support Specialist, and Support Specialist for Grainger's

Page 1254

Lockheed account. Lucas testified in his deposition that he applied for these three positions because he was under the impression that they did not require physical labor.

Lucas interviewed for each of the three positions, but he was not selected to fill any of them. According to Grainger, Lucas either was not qualified or was not the most qualified person who applied for each one. The individuals who interviewed and evaluated Lucas for the positions did not consider his work restrictions in deciding not to select him.

Around July 8, 1996, Lucas notified Stewart that his doctor had yet to release him from his work restrictions, and that the doctor had recommended he permanently perform "light duty" work in order to avoid further injuring his back. Lucas also informed Stewart that he would never work in the warehouse again, even if he became physically able to do so, because he was afraid it might further injure his back. Stewart responded by reminding Lucas that his office assignment was temporary and that no permanent office jobs were available at the Marietta Boulevard facility.

Four days later Lucas informed Stewart that his back impairment had not improved and said that he could not and would not perform warehouse work. Grainger then placed Lucas on workers' compensation leave effective July 15, 1996, and Lucas began receiving workers' compensation benefits. On January 8, 1997, Lucas filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Lucas remained on workers' compensation leave for nearly one year. Then, in June of 1997, Grainger offered him a job as a Bins Sorter at its Zone Distribution Center ("Distribution Center") in Atlanta. Grainger had created the Bins Sorter position by identifying certain duties from existing jobs at the Distribution Center, and combining those duties into a job that Grainger felt Lucas could perform given his work restrictions. The Bins Sorter job entailed sorting small bin items from a cart and placing them on racks, as well as using a scan gun to identify the items by bar code.

Lucas visited the Distribution Center in order to learn more about the Bins Sorter job first-hand. Thereafter, Grainger sent a typed form entitled "Job Description" to Lucas' physician, Dr. Christopher Clare. The form briefly described what it called the "Essential Job Functions" of the Bins Sorter position, listed the job's physical requirements, and indicated that modifications to those requirements were possible.

Dr. Clare made some changes to the Essential Job Functions part of the Job Description form. First, where the form indicated that a Bins Sorter was "occasionally" required to squat or kneel, Dr. Clare entered "Not at all." Second, where the form indicated that a Bins Sorter was "occasionally" required to lift or carry "up to 40-50 lbs.," and was "frequently" required to lift or carry "up to 10-25 lbs.," he again entered "Not at all." Dr. Clare then checked a blank space marked "Approved" at the bottom of the form, signed...

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