Powdertech, Inc. v. Joganic

Decision Date29 October 2002
Docket NumberNo. 64A03-0202-CV-39.,64A03-0202-CV-39.
Citation776 N.E.2d 1251
PartiesPOWDERTECH, INC., Appellant-Defendant, v. Kevin JOGANIC, Appellee-Plaintiff.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Robert L. Clark, Lauren K. Kroeger, Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans, Valparaiso, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

Susan Kozlowski, Crown Point, IN, Attorney for Appellee.

OPINION

SHARPNACK, Judge.

Powdertech, Inc., appeals the trial court's denial of its motion for summary judgment in favor of Kevin Joganic.1 Powdertech raises three issues, which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court erred by denying Powdertech's motion for summary judgment because Joganic failed to present a cognizable claim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA");

II. Whether the trial court erred by denying Powdertech's motion for summary judgment on Joganic's claim of a retaliatory discharge; and

III. Whether the trial court erred by denying Powdertech's motion for summary judgment on Joganic's claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

We reverse and remand.

The facts most favorable to Joganic follow. Powdertech owns and operates a light industrial facility in Valparaiso, Indiana, that makes industrial powders. Joganic worked at Powdertech from September of 1993 to August of 1998. During the time that Joganic was employed by Powdertech, Powdertech had a disciplinary policy in effect regarding its employees. The disciplinary policy enabled Powdertech to discipline, including discharge, its employees for engaging in any conduct violation such as fighting or attempting bodily harm. On May 26, 1994, Joganic "received [a copy of] and under[stood]" Powdertech's disciplinary policy. Appellant's Appendix at 65. On January 12, 1996, while Joganic was working as a powder processor at Powdertech, he was involved in a serious work-related accident that resulted in extensive burns to his body, injury to his nose, sinus, and pulmonary system, and post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result of the injuries he sustained during the accident, Joganic could not: (1) sweat, which made him dizzy; (2) perform physical work; or (3) move anything heavy. Moreover, after the accident, Joganic "wore down and wore out a lot faster" than he did prior to the accident. Appellant's Appendix at 215.

Following the accident, Joganic could not return to work for approximately six months, during which time he received weekly worker's compensation benefits. In the summer of 1996, Joganic returned to his job at Powdertech, but worked as a utility operator rather than as a powder processor. Initially, Joganic was unable to perform all of the tasks associated with his new position, such as loading barrels onto skids. Powdertech accommodated Joganic by allowing him to take extra breaks during his workday. In addition, upon his return to Powdertech, Joganic worked the day shift; however, in May or June of 1997, Joganic requested and received placement on the night shift as a utility operator, pursuant to his doctor's recommendations. In the summer of 1998, as part of a reduction in its workforce, Powdertech eliminated various positions, including that of the night shift utility operator. Because of Joganic's seniority, Powdertech offered Joganic the opportunity to return to day shift as a utility operator, which Joganic accepted. Joganic held this position until his termination in August of 1998.

On August 20, 1998, Joganic got into a nonwork-related argument with co-worker Patrick Dilts on Powdertech's premises. Subsequently, Dilts made an obscene gesture toward Joganic. Appellant's Appendix at 242. When Joganic asked Dilts why he had made the obscene gesture, Dilts started "cussing [Joganic] out." Id. at 243. Joganic pushed Dilts; Dilts stumbled and fell down. Id. at 243-244. Dilts then drove himself to the emergency room for treatment.

After conducting an investigation of the incident, wherein the plant superintendent interviewed witnesses and took hand-written notes, Powdertech discharged Joganic the day after the altercation. Powdertech gave Dilts a verbal reprimand.

On June 3, 1999, Joganic filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that Powdertech discharged him because of a disability. After an investigation, the EEOC dismissed Joganic's charge concluding that Joganic had failed to establish a violation of the ADA. On March 16, 2000, Joganic filed suit against Powdertech alleging that he was terminated because of a disability in violation of the ADA. Joganic also alleged that Powdertech fired him in retaliation for his worker's compensation benefits claim and that, through its discriminatory and retaliatory practices, Powdertech inflicted emotional distress upon Joganic. In response, Powdertech filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied.

The purpose of summary judgment is to end litigation where no factual dispute exists that may be determined as a matter of law. Choung v. Iemma, 708 N.E.2d 7, 11 (Ind.Ct.App.1999),reh'g denied. When reviewing the denial of a motion for summary judgment, we apply the same standard as the trial court. Trotter v. Nelson, 684 N.E.2d 1150, 1152 (Ind.1997). Therefore, summary judgment should only be granted when the designated evidentiary material demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of making a prima facie showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Choung, 708 N.E.2d at 11,see also Hamilton v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 136 F.3d 1047, 1049 (5th Cir. 1998). Once the moving party meets these two requirements, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show the existence of a genuine issue by setting forth specifically designated facts. Choung, 708 N.E.2d at 11. Any doubts as to any facts or inferences to be drawn therefrom will be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. The party appealing the denial of a motion for summary judgment has the burden of persuading this court on appeal that the trial court's ruling was improper. Jordan v. Deery, 609 N.E.2d 1104, 1107 (Ind.1993).

I.

The first issue is whether the trial court erred by denying Powdertech's motion for summary judgment because Joganic failed to present a cognizable claim of discrimination under the ADA. Powdertech argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Joganic's claim of discrimination under the ADA because Joganic failed to present evidence on two dispositive issues: (1) whether he has a "disability" under the ADA; and (2) whether Powdertech's proffered, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Joganic was a "pretext." Appellant's Brief at 16-17. In the absence of such evidence, Powdertech contends, Joganic cannot make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA and, consequently, that portion of Joganic's complaint alleging discrimination fails as a matter of law.

In his complaint, Joganic alleged that Powdertech discharged him because of his "qualified disability" in contravention of the ADA. Appellant's Appendix at 12. To prevail in federal employment discrimination actions that allege discriminatory treatment, employees are required to satisfy the standards and burdens of proof enunciated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). First, the employee must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. If the employee succeeds in proving a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action at issue. Id. If the employer is able to articulate a nondiscriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to the employee to prove that the articulated reason for the employment action was not the employer's true reason, but rather, was a pretext for discrimination. Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1095, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). At all times, however, the employee retains the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the employer intentionally discriminated against the employee. Miranda v. Wis. Power & Light Co., 91 F.3d 1011, 1015 (7th Cir.1996).

In the present case, to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA and survive summary judgment, Joganic is required to prove that: (1) he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) his work performance met Powdertech's legitimate expectations; (3) he was discharged; and (4) the circumstances surrounding the discharge indicate it is more likely than not that his disability was the reason for the discharge. Lawson v. CSX Transp., Inc., 245 F.3d 916, 922 (7th Cir. 2001). Because Powdertech's motion for summary judgment focuses on whether Joganic has produced evidence sufficient to show, first, that he is disabled under the ADA and, second, that Powdertech's proffered reason for terminating his employment was a pretext, we will limit our inquiry to the first and fourth elements of Joganic's prima facie case. We first address whether Joganic presented sufficient evidence that he is disabled under the ADA. Second, and assuming that the evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact that Joganic is disabled under the ADA, we address whether Joganic produced sufficient evidence to show that Powdertech's proffered reason for the discharge was a pretext for discrimination.

A.

As previously mentioned, to prevail on a claim of employment discrimination, an ADA plaintiff "must meet the threshold burden of establishing that he is `disabled' within the meaning of the statute." Roth v. Lutheran Gen. Hosp., 57 F.3d 1446, 1453-1454 (7th Cir.1995). Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination against "a qualified individual with a...

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