Susie v. Apple Tree Preschool & Child Care Center

Citation866 F. Supp. 390
Decision Date17 October 1994
Docket NumberNo. C93-4081.,C93-4081.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia

Martha M. McMinn and Andrew T. Orr, Sioux City, IA, for plaintiff.

William K. Stoos and James C. Hanks, Sioux City, IA, for defendant.


BENNETT, District Judge.

This is an employment discrimination action by a discharged preschool teacher who either has epilepsy or was perceived to have epilepsy by her former employer, Apple Tree Preschool and Child Care Center, Inc. ("Apple Tree"). Plaintiff, Sharon Susie ("Susie") alleges that she was discharged from her employment in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"). She also asserts a parallel pendent claim for disability discrimination under Iowa law. Susie seeks summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on the issue of Apple Tree's liability for her discharge. Apple Tree contends Susie was terminated for writing a letter to her students' parents concerning employment options presented to her by her employer in an attempt to accommodate her disability. The letter was allegedly in violation of an Apple Tree company policy. In resisting Susie's Motion for Summary Judgment, Apple Tree strongly relies on the inference of non-discrimination originally adopted by some courts in age discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 ("ADEA"). This inference of non-discrimination has been used to rebuff a claim of age discrimination where the person hiring and firing the plaintiff is the same individual. This court questions the applicability of the inference of non-discrimination in the ADA context because of important differences between ADA and ADEA claims. Finally, the court concludes that Susie is not entitled to summary judgment because a material question of fact exists as to the employer's motivation in terminating her.


Susie alleges in her complaint that she was discharged from her employment with Apple Tree on December 9, 1992, because of a disability. Susie has brought this action under the ADA and a pendent claim under Iowa Code 216.6.1 Pending before the court is Susie's Motion for Summary Judgment filed on June 17, 1994. In her motion for summary judgment, Susie seeks judgment, on the issue of Apple Tree's liability. Apple Tree filed a timely resistance to Susie's Motion for Summary Judgment on October 11, 1994.2

A. Uncontested Facts

For the purposes of this summary judgment motion only, the court finds the following facts:

1. Susie was employed by Apple Tree commencing on November 23, 1987, as a teacher.

2. At all times pertinent to this litigation, Apple Tree's director was Diane Merchant. Merchant was the individual responsible for hiring Susie.

3. Apple Tree's owner is Mary Susann Meier.

4. At all times relevant to this litigation, Apple Tree was a business operating within the Northern District of Iowa.

5. Susie's employment with Apple Tree continued until December 9, 1992, when she was discharged as of that date.

6. Susie suffers from epilepsy.3

7. At the time Susie commenced employment with Apple Tree, her employer had been informed that Susie was an epileptic.4

8. Susie asked that any days missed due to her epilepsy be considered as leave without pay and not as either vacation or sick days.

9. Susie had absences from work during her employment with Apple Tree.5

10. Susie never had any seizures during her hours of employment at Apple Tree. Susie did have seizures at home and in the hospital during the period of her employment with Apple Tree.

11. On October 29, 1992, Dr. S.J. Purves stated the following in a letter:

This patient has been examined for her chronic medical disorder by myself and I am in the process of altering her medications over the next few months.
This should result in an improvement, but in the meantime she may have some fluctuation while we make these changes.

12. At some unknown date after October 29, 1992, Susie showed Dr. Purves' letter to Meier and Merchant, and requested that, until February of 1993, her absences from work be excused.

13. Meier did not attempt to speak directly with Dr. Purves or attempt to obtain from Susie permission to speak with Dr. Purves regarding his diagnosis of Susie.

14. In the last week of November 1992, in response to Susie's request, Meier and Merchant gave Susie three options: (1) to take a leave of absence; (2) to take a lesser position of teacher assistant; or (3) to have her employment terminated.

15. In regard to a leave of absence, Susie was given no guarantees that she would be reinstated.

16. At some point after Susie was given the three options, she circulated a letter to her students' parents. In the letter, Susie stated:

Dear Parents,
The owner and director of Apple Tree Preschool have requested that I take a lesser position or a leave of absence due to my controlled illness in the past few months and absences.
Due to their decision I have no option but to take the job as aid to the new teacher in the Panda Bear Class. Because of the 12 years of teaching experience I feel that each child is very special to me and that in some way I have shown the love, patience and understanding they deserve. All the children have a special place in my heart but they will have to adapt to Susann and Dianes sic wishes.
Thank you for giving me the chance to share my love of teaching and being a part of your childs sic life. If you have any questions please feel free to call or talk to me. Your questions and concerns are very important to me.

17. After its dissemination, the existence of Susie's letter was brought to the attention of Meier and Merchant.

18. Apple Tree has a rule that all news-letters going to parents must be screened and proofed by Merchant.

19. On December 9, 1992, after discussing the letter with Susie, Merchant informed Susie that her employment with Apple Tree was terminated but that she could finish the week out at Apple Tree. Merchant subsequently called Susie on the morning of Thursday, December 10, 1992, and informed her that she did not need to report back to work.

B. Contested Facts

1. Whether Apple Tree's termination of Susie was based in whole or in part on her disability, on a legitimate non-discriminatory reason, or some combination of both her disability and a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.

2. Was Susie's "misconduct" in sending a letter to her student's parents without prior approval the type of activity which would result in the discharge of a non-disabled individual?

A. Standards of Summary Judgment

The Eighth Circuit recognizes "that summary judgment is a drastic remedy and must be exercised with extreme care to prevent taking genuine issues of fact away from juries." Wabun-Inini v. Sessions, 900 F.2d 1234, 1238 (8th Cir.1990). On the other hand, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have authorized for nearly 60 years "motions for summary judgment upon proper showings of the lack of a genuine, triable issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2555, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Thus, "summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed `to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.'" Wabun-Inini, 900 F.2d at 1238 (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2555, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)); Hartnagel v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394, 396 (8th Cir.1992).

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states in pertinent part:

Rule 56. Summary Judgment
(b) For Defending Party. A party against whom a claim ... is asserted ... may, at any time, move for summary judgment in the party's favor as to all or any part thereof.
(c) Motions and Proceedings Thereon.... The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(b) & (c) (emphasis added); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Munz v. Michael, 28 F.3d 795, 798 (8th Cir. 1994); Roth v. U.S.S. Great Lakes Fleet, Inc., 25 F.3d 707, 708 (8th Cir.1994); Cole v. Bone, 993 F.2d 1328, 1331 (8th Cir.1993); Woodsmith Publishing Co. v. Meredith Corp., 904 F.2d 1244, 1247 (8th Cir.1990); Wabun-Inini, 900 F.2d at 1238 (citing Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c)).6 A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view all the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here Apple Tree, and give Apple Tree the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts. Matsushita v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)); Munz v. Michael, 28 F.3d 795, 796 (8th Cir.1994); Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994); Johnson v. Group Health Plan, Inc., 994 F.2d 543, 545 (8th Cir.1993); Burk v. Beene, 948 F.2d 489, 492 (8th Cir.1991); Coday v. City of Springfield, 939 F.2d 666, 667 (8th Cir.1991), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 112 S.Ct. 1170, 117 L.Ed.2d 416 (1992).

Procedurally, the moving party, Susie, bears "the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for their motion and identifying those portions of the record which show lack of a genuine issue." Hartnagel, 953 F.2d at 395 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at...

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