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Limon v. Marathon Petroleum Co., LP

United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division

May 15, 2015




Plaintiff, Roberto Limon, has sued his former employer, Marathon Petroleum Company, LP (MPC), alleging that it discriminated and retaliated against him based on his disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.[1] MPC has moved for summary judgment on both claims. The Court heard oral argument on the motion on April 29, 2015 and has reviewed the parties briefs and exhibits.

For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant MPC’s motion and dismiss Limon’s ADA claims with prejudice.

I. Background

Limon was employed as an Operator at MPC’s terminal in Niles, Michigan between September 2000 and January 2013. (Dkt. # 17 at Page ID#60.) Limon worked on the light products side of the terminal. (Dkt. # 28-2 at Page ID#164.) Limon reported to the Terminal Manager. Joe Williams served as the Terminal Manager from May 2012 through the date of Limon’s termination. (Id. at Page ID#166.) Limon’s duties as an Operator included operating the valves inside the terminal to accept product from the pipeline or to dispense it to tankers, tracking inventories, gauging tanks, performing general maintenance, repairing the load rack, training new drivers, and preparing terminal reports. (Dkt. # 28-3 at Page ID#225.)

In 2010, MPC learned that Limon had been falling asleep at work. MPC placed Limon on paid medical leave until Limon could follow up with his doctor and obtain a release to work. (Dkt. # 28-5 at Page ID#260.) Limon’s doctor subsequently informed MPC that Limon had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Limon remained on paid medical leave until February 13, 2011, and then returned to work with restrictions. MPC accommodated Limon’s restrictions, but eventually placed Limon back on paid medical leave pending the results from a CPAP machine study by Limon’s doctor. (Dkt. # 28-2 at Page ID#184.) In July 2011, Limon returned to work without any restrictions, and after that time, did not report any further problems to MPC regarding staying awake on the job.

During Limon’s employment with MPC, MPC maintained progressive disciplinary procedures that were “approved and distributed as guidelines and recommendations only.” (Dkt. # 28-17 at Page ID##301–02, 304, 307.) Those procedures included: (1) written warning I (active for 18 months); (2) written warning II (active for 24 months); (3) 1-day suspension/final warning (active for 24 months); and (4) termination. (Dkt. # 28-17 at Page ID#304.) Limon received a written warning I on March 2, 2012, and he received a written warning II on June 23, 2012. (Dkt. # 28-26 at Page ID#349, ¶ 6; Dkt. # 28-29; Dkt. # 28-30 at Page ID#373.)

On January 8, 2013, Limon went to Williams’s office to talk about the medications he was taking to help him stay awake. Williams told Limon that Limon should not be discussing his medical condition with Williams, but Limon continued talking. Limon said that his medicine costs him $1, 700 per month and that, without it, he could not work and fully function without falling asleep. Limon sought Williams’s advice on the situation and inquired whether MPC could pay for the medication. Williams told Limon that he would contact Ian Sparkman, a representative from MPC’s Human Resources Department, and request that he meet with Limon in Niles in the near future to discuss Limon’s situation. (Dkt. # 31-5 at Page ID#464.)

On January 11, 2013, Williams and Sparkman met with Limon to ask him about incidents that occurred on January 8 and January 10, 2013. On January 8, 2013, Limon received a report via MAPLINE[2] from an MPC driver regarding an ethanol spill at the terminal. Limon failed to contact Williams about the MAPLINE call, as Williams had previously instructed Limon to do whenever he received a MAPLINE call, or to go to the terminal to personally investigate the spill. (Dkt. # 28-2 at Page ID##203–04.) On January 10, 2013, Limon climbed on top of a truck that had broken down under the loading rack, without either using a portable truck ladder or first completing transport hazard checklist before climbing the ladder on the truck, as required by MPC policy. (Id. at Page ID##205–06.) After checking the truck’s tank level, Limon left the truck under the loading rack, even though there was no Operator present to write a work permit so that the truck could be safely repaired and removed. (Id. at Page ID#207.) The following day, Williams caught Limon attempting to complete a transport hazard checklist after the fact, which MPC considered a falsification of records. (Dkt. # 28-32.) At the end of the January 11 meeting, Williams and Sparkman told Limon to go home and they would call him after completing their investigation. (Id. at Page ID#208.)

On January 17, 2013, Williams and Sparkman met with Limon and notified him that he would receive a final warning for the January 8 incident and that his employment would be terminated for the January 10 incident. (Id. at Page ID#208.)

II. Analysis[3]

A. Limon Failed to Exhaust his Retaliation Claim

In his amended complaint, Limon alleged that MPC retaliated against him “for his complaints of disability discrimination in his employment.” (Dkt. # 17 at Page ID#62, ¶ 20.) This claim was based on prior charges that Limon filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on June 1, 2011, October 13, 2011, and February 2, 2011. Limon has abandoned this theory of retaliation and now alleges that MPC retaliated against him because he requested an accommodation in his January 3, 2013 conversation with Williams. Limon cannot proceed with such a claim because he failed to exhaust it with the EEOC.

Before filing a lawsuit, an ADA plaintiff must exhaust his remedies by filing a charge with the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a); see also Pary v. Mohawk Motors of Mich., Inc., 236 F.3d 299, 309 (6th Cir. 2000). Exhaustion is a condition precedent to filing suit rather than a limitation on a federal court’s jurisdiction over ADA claims. Id. at 309. In order to properly exhaust a claim with the EEOC, the claimant must explicitly set forth the claim in the EEOC charge or the claim must “reasonably be expected to grow out of the EEOC charge.” Jones v. Sumser Retirement Vill., 209 F.3d 851, 853 (6th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Jenkins v. Foot Locker Inc., 598 F. App’x 346, 349 (6th Cir. 2015). The complainant is not required to use precise legal terms or attach the correct legal conclusion to his allegations, but he must still file a charge on the claim before suing in federal court. Id. Thus, “[t]he claim must grow out of the investigation or the facts alleged in the charge must be sufficiently related to the claim such that those facts would prompt an investigation of the claim.” Id.; see also Davis v. Sodexho, Cumberland Coll. Cafeteria, 157 F.3d 460, 463 (6th Cir. 1998) (stating that ‘where facts related with respect to the charged claim would prompt the EEOC to ...

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