Martinez v. Cole Sewell Corp.

Decision Date06 December 2002
Docket NumberNo. C 01-3052-MWB.,C 01-3052-MWB.
Citation233 F.Supp.2d 1097
PartiesAraceli G. MARTINEZ, Plaintiff, v. COLE SEWELL CORPORATION, a/k/a New Cole Sewell Corporation, Tim Nichols,<SMALL><SUP>1</SUP></SMALL> and Brad Worrall, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

James T. Fitzsimmons, Fitzsimmons & Vervaecke law, Mason City, IA, Mark D. Sherinian, Sherinian & Walker Law Firm, West Des Moines, IA, for Araceli G. Martinez.

Deborah M. Tharnish, Jo Ellen Whitney, Davis Brown Koehn Shors & Roberts, Des Moines, IA, for Cole Sewell Corp.

Jo Ellen Whitney, Davis Brown Koehn Shors & Roberts, Des Moines, IA, for Tim Nichols, Lori Thomas, Brad Worrall.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BENNETT, Chief Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION ................................................................1104
                     A. Factual Background .......................................................1104
                     B. Procedural Background ....................................................1107
                 II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ..............................................................1108
                     A. Standards For Summary Judgment ...........................................1108
                        1. Requirements of Rule 56 ...............................................1109
                        2. The parties' burdens ..................................................1109
                        3. Summary judgment in employment discrimination cases ...................1110
                     B. Scope Of Martinez's Withdrawal Of Claims .................................1111
                        1. Scope of the express withdrawal .......................................1111
                        2. Was there an implicit withdrawal of some claims? ......................1113
                     C. Title VII Claims .........................................................1114
                        1. Retaliation ...........................................................1114
                           a. Arguments of the parties ...........................................1114
                           b. Applicable law .....................................................1116
                           c. The record in light of applicable law ..............................1118
                               i. Martinez's prima facie case of retaliation .....................1118
                              ii. The shifting of burdens ........................................1121
                        2. Constructive discharge ................................................1122
                           a. Arguments of the parties ...........................................1122
                           b. Applicable law .....................................................1122
                           c. The record in light of applicable law ..............................1124
                
                D.  Disability Claims ........................................................1124
                        1. Arguments of the parties ..............................................1124
                        2. Analysis in light of applicable law ...................................1126
                           a. "Disability" within the meaning of the ADA .........................1127
                               i.  What type of disability is at issue? ..........................1127
                              ii.  Actual disability .............................................1127
                              iii. Record of disability ..........................................1131
                           b. Failure to accommodate .............................................1132
                               i.  The legal duty to accommodate .................................1132
                              ii.  Evidence of assignments beyond plaintiff's restrictions .......1133
                              iii. Obligations in the "interactive process." .....................1134
                           c. Hostile environment ................................................1135
                           d. Constructive discharge .............................................1137
                     E. Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress .............................1137
                        1. Arguments of the parties ..............................................1137
                        2. Applicable law ........................................................1137
                        3. Application of the law ................................................1139
                III. CONCLUSION ..................................................................1140
                

Although, as Circuit Judge McMillian once observed, "[s]ummary judgment is not designed to weed out dubious claims, but to eliminate those claims with no basis in material fact,"2 in the process of litigating the defendants' all-encompassing summary judgment motion in this employment discrimination case, the parties have themselves weeded out certain claims and issues. Although the court is still left with a daunting list of issues on which it must decide whether a jury question is presented, the parties' reevaluation of their claims and contentions is laudatory, as it is likely to focus attention on matters genuinely in dispute and to save the court and parties time and energy.

Somewhat more specifically, the plaintiff has expressly withdrawn her sex discrimination claims, instead narrowing the focus of this litigation to her national origin and disability discrimination claims. Similarly, the defendants have expressly withdrawn their motion for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiff's claim of a hostile work environment based on national origin. However, the defendants also argue that the plaintiff has implicitly narrowed her national origin claims by failing to respond to the defendants' contentions that she cannot generate a genuine issue of material fact on her claims of disparate treatment and constructive discharge based on national origin. The court must not only decide what is still at issue in the case and on the defendants' motion for summary judgment, but decide whether a jury question is presented on challenged issues.

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Factual Background

Whether or not a party is entitled to summary judgment ordinarily turns on whether or not there are genuine issues for trial, Quick v. Donaldson Co., 90 F.3d 1372, 1376-77 (8th Cir.1996); Johnson v. Enron Corp., 906 F.2d 1234, 1237 (8th Cir.1990), and the court must view all the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538; Quick, 90 F.3d at 1377 (same). Nevertheless, the court will not attempt here a comprehensive review of the undisputed and disputed facts in the record, although some factual background is necessary to put in context the parties' arguments for and against summary judgment on the claims that remain at issue. Therefore, what is presented here is only a sketch of the essential factual background and factual disputes on the present record.

Plaintiff Araceli Martinez, who describes herself as Hispanic and of Mexican origin, began working for defendant Cole Sewell on August 18, 1999, as an assembler, parts processor, and core line operator on the "second shift" from 3:45 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. at Cole Sewell's plant in Clear Lake, Iowa, where the company manufactures doors. Unfortunately, shortly after she began working for Cole Sewell, she was injured on the job. She contends that, thereafter, she was repeatedly harassed by co-workers and supervisors because of her disability and national origin,3 that Cole Sewell failed to accommodate her disabilities, and that Cole Sewell retaliated against her for complaining about harassment and discrimination. Her last day of work at Cole Sewell was June 17, 2000, although her employment apparently did not officially terminate until sometime in August 2000.

The first of Martinez's two on-the-job injuries occurred on August 26, 1999, when she hyper-extended her right thumb when she attempted to catch an 8.5 pound piece of falling glass. Although initial treatment apparently consisted only of first aid, Martinez went to the doctor in September, and again in November, for treatment of thumb pain. On November 3, 1999, Dr. DeBartolo instructed her to use a thumb splint while working and to avoid forceful pinching. On November 30, 1999, Dr. DeBartolo released Martinez to work "light duty" with no use of her right hand. Unfortunately, on December 7, 1999, Ms. Martinez suffered a second injury at work, this time a strain to her left shoulder. However, she did not receive immediate medical treatment for that injury, either, but was eventually treated on January 7, 2000, at which time she was referred for two sessions of physical therapy and placed on a restriction of five pounds of force and no overhead activity with her left arm. Her previous restrictions on use of her right hand remained in place. Indeed, Ms. Martinez was placed on a "no work" restriction from December 14, until December 16, 1999, because of her prior thumb injury, and on December 16, 1999, Dr. DeBartolo extended that status through January 6, 2000. Martinez apparently remained on light duty work restrictions, with occasional periods on "no work" restrictions, for the remainder of her employment with Cole Sewell. Despite her continuing physical limitations, Martinez contends that her supervisors repeatedly assigned her work that was beyond her doctor-imposed restrictions and "coerced" doctors to change her restrictions beyond her actual capabilities. Cole Sewell admits that some of its supervisors believed that Martinez was exaggerating her discomfort while doing various jobs, because they believed that she was only assigned jobs within her restrictions.

During the course of her employment, Martinez contends that she was also subjected to harassment in the form of foul language, such as "fuck you," and "shit," and taunting, including comments that she was "lazy" and epithets like "spider," "mummy," "shitty Mexican" or...

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