Soileau v. Guilford of Maine, Inc., Civil No. 95-162-B.

Decision Date10 June 1996
Docket NumberCivil No. 95-162-B.
PartiesRandall J. SOILEAU, Plaintiff, v. GUILFORD OF MAINE, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine





Martha S. Temple, Foote & Temple, Bangor, Maine, for plaintiff.

Richard G. Moon, Moon, Moss, McGill & Bachelder, P.A., Portland, Maine, for defendant.


BRODY, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Randall J. Soileau sues Guilford of Maine, Inc. ("Guilford"), his former employer, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12001-12213, and the Maine Human Rights Act ("MHRA"), 5 M.R.S.A. §§ 4571-4660-A.1 Soileau claims that he was harassed and discriminated against because of an actual and/or perceived disability. He also claims that he was later retaliated against due to his request for a reasonable accommodation. Defendant disputes these allegations and moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's Motion.

I. Background

Guilford is incorporated in, and maintains its principal place of business in the State of Maine. Plaintiff Randall J. Soileau, a resident of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, worked at Guilford in various capacities over the course of fifteen years. Soileau began as a laborer in the blending department, in 1979. Beginning in 1986, Soileau worked in the industrial engineering department, where his duties included various special projects, such as production time studies and process activity analyses ("PAA").2 According to Soileau, he served Guilford effectively and without incident for over eleven years, receiving evaluations ranging from good to excellent. Indeed, as late as December of 1990, Soileau received an "excellent" evaluation. Soileau's tenure after 1992, however, was more troubled, due in part, he contends, to the hiring of Matt Earnest as his supervisor.

Guilford fired Soileau in April of 1994. The rationale behind Soileau's discharge lies at the heart of this suit. Soileau contends that Guilford fired him due to his mental impairment — an inability to "substantially interact with people around him." (Compl. ¶ 14.) Guilford disagrees, citing Soileau's repeated poor performance as the basis for his termination.

Soileau suffers from a psychological disorder. He experienced his first "depressive episode" in 1987. Later in 1989, Soileau experienced stress and symptoms of depression, for which he sought treatment from Dannel H. Starbird, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. Dr. Starbird diagnosed Soileau as having dysthmia, "a mild to moderate often fairly chronic depressive condition." (Pl. Stat.Mat.Facts ¶ 25.) Due to this condition, Dr. Starbird "took Soileau out of work on a disability leave" in 1990. (Starbird Aff. ¶ 5.)

Starbird treated Soileau again in 1994 for similar problems, a condition that Starbird indicates will plague Soileau for the remainder of his life. Starbird describes Soileau's condition as an inability to interact with other people, either in groups or one-on-one for long periods of time. As a consequence of his ailment Soileau has experienced sleep loss, difficulty in concentrating, tearfulness, and difficulty in memory function. Soileau is also prone to depressive episodes.

Soileau's psychological difficulties, present in 1993, and symptomatic again in 1994, affect all areas of his life, including his job performance.3 Furthermore his increased employment problems aggravated his psychological problems. Soileau claims that Guilford employees harassed him, and later discriminated against him due to his psychological disorder. Specifically, Soileau contends that his direct supervisor, Matt Earnest, chastised and humiliated him. Soileau claims that Earnest harassed him in more subtle ways as well. Soileau alleges, for example, that Earnest often assigned him tasks which were both inefficient and violative of company policy.

Earnest suspended Soileau for two days beginning on March 23, 1994, citing poor performance as a justification. Soileau contends that when questioned Earnest refused to detail the particular circumstances justifying the suspension, and when pressed, Earnest could not articulate, beyond generalities, any specific manner in which Soileau could improve his employment performance.4 Earnest also allegedly acknowledged that accommodating Soileau's mental problems would create additional work.

In conjunction with his suspension, Guilford issued Soileau a final written warning, listing conditions, which if not met, would result in Soileau's termination. One such condition required Soileau to formulate and submit a written plan articulating how he would specifically improve his performance. It is undisputed that Soileau never completed the requested written improvement plan. Nevertheless Soileau contends that he did present a plan to Earnest. He claims, for example, that he "told Earnest that he was going to seek help for his mental health problems." (Resp., 9). Additionally, Soileau allegedly asked Earnest to relieve him from the duty of facilitating the PAA meetings.

Soileau claims there was no progression of discipline for his alleged poor performance. It is uncontested that Guilford terminated Soileau not long after suspending him. The events leading up to Soileau's termination included a series of meetings and correspondence between Soileau, Dr. Starbird, and Guilford management. Concerned about his suspension, and his deteriorating psychological state, Soileau informed Earnest of his condition in late March and again in early April, 1994. At a March 28th meeting between the two, convened at Earnest's request, Soileau apprised Earnest of his prior psychological problems, present difficulties, and current medication. At this meeting Soileau appealed to Earnest for help. On March 30th, Soileau again expressed concern about his condition, and asked Earnest to inform him of any signs manifesting his symptoms. Later in April, Soileau informed Earnest both that he had sought help from Dr. Starbird, and of his continuing inability to interact with other people.

In April Soileau specifically requested a modification of his employment duties to accommodate his psychological condition. On April 12, 1994, Soileau hand-delivered to Harold Way, the Guilford Human Resources Manager, a letter from Dr. Starbird. In that letter, Dr. Starbird requested that Guilford adopt a temporary modification of Soileau's working conditions. Specifically, Dr. Starbird asked that Guilford limit Soileau's duties, for a period of four months, to assignments that would not require him to substantially interact with other people. Dr. Starbird also suggested that Soileau not be subject to ridicule from Guilford employees. Dr. Starbird, however, did not suggest that Soileau take a leave of absence. To the contrary, Starbird suggested that given the necessary accommodations, Soileau could continue to work.

Way, in response, deferred the decision as to Starbird's request to Earnest, who at the time, and until April 21st, was not available at the Guilford plant in Maine. On April 21, 1994 Soileau finally met with Earnest to discuss the possibility of an accommodation. A day later, April 22, 1994, Earnest fired Soileau, and allegedly reassigned Soileau's duties to nondisabled employees.

Soileau claims his dismissal from Guilford violated of the ADA and MHRA. Soileau sought redress from both the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Both agencies issued right-to-sue letters: the MHRC on April 26, 1995 and the EEOC on May 1, 1995.

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate in the absence of a genuine issue of any material fact, when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c). Thus it is axiomatic that summary judgment must be denied when disputes remain as to consequential facts — facts upon which the outcome may rely. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Menard v. First Sec. Servs. Corp., 848 F.2d 281, 285 (1st Cir.1988). Facts may be drawn from "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is genuine, for summary judgment purposes, if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. A material fact is one which has "the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law." Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir.1993). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. McCarthy v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 56 F.3d 313, 315 (1st Cir.1995).


Both the ADA, and its state law analog, the MHRA, seek to root out discrimination against disabled individuals. 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b) ("It is the purpose of this chapter of the ADA — (1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities."); Galloway v. Superior Court of District of Columbia, 816 F.Supp. 12, 20 (D.D.C.1993) (The purpose of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA is "to prevent old-fashioned and unfounded prejudices against disabled persons from interfering with those individuals' rights to enjoy the same privileges and duties afforded to all United States citizens."); 5 M.R.S.A. § 4552 (The MHRA prohibits "discrimination in employment, housing or access to public accommodations on account of race, color, sex, physical or mental handicap ..."); Winston v. Maine Technical College Sys., 631 A.2d 70, 74 (Me.1993) (The MHRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a mental disability, and "the provisions of the MHRA regarding mental disability are very similar to those contained in the ...

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