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Hoeft v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 31, 2017

STEPHEN HOEFT, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#12]

          Denise Page Hood Chief, Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 15, 2014, Plaintiff Stephen Hoeft (“Hoeft”) filed a Complaint against Defendant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) alleging Violations of the American With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (“PWDCRA”) (Count I), and Retaliation in Violation of Michigan's Worker's Disability Compensation Act (“WDCA”) (Count II). (Doc # 1) Ford filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 22, 2015. (Doc # 12) The Motion was fully briefed. (Docs # 14-21) The Court held a hearing on November 18, 2015. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Ford's Motion.

         Hoeft began working for Ford as an assembler, hi-lo driver, and repairman at the Saline plant in 1994. In 2002, Hoeft sustained a back injury requiring two surgeries in 2002 and 2004. Each time he had a surgery he filed for worker's compensation. In 2008, Hoeft was transferred to the Dearborn truck plant to work as a floor associate. On November 5, 2008, Hoeft sustained another back injury while on the job, requiring him to go on medical leave from November 2008 through May 2010. On May 24, 2010, Hoeft returned to work with the following restrictions: “no prolonged bending and twisting, no lifting over 25 pounds, and a sit and stand option.” (Doc # 14)

         Due to his restrictions, Hoeft was unable to perform his job as a floor associate, and he was given a plant greeter position. The greeter position accommodated Hoeft's restrictions, and he continued to receive his regular hourly rate of pay and maintained his “floor associate” classification. In early 2011, Hoeft took approximately nine months of medical leave for various reasons. The greeter position was eliminated in 2011. Hoeft was then assigned a job in the Human Resources (“HR”) department as a clerk doing data entry, filing, making copies, and assisting with mail delivery and supplies. The clerical position accommodated Hoeft's restrictions, and he continued to receive his regular hourly rate of pay and maintained his “floor associate” classification. Ford claims that this position was created specifically to accommodate Hoeft.

         According to a Declaration of Steve Wilcox (“Wilcox”), Labor Relations Manager at the Dearborn plant, and the deposition testimony of Jenny Torony (“Torony”), HR Manager at the Dearborn plant, in 2013, Ford's finance department instructed the Dearborn plant to remove 167 positions, two of which had to be removed from the HR department, as part of a budgetary rebalancing task. (Doc # 12-3, Pg ID 250; Doc # 17, Pg ID 347-48) Wilcox and Torony assert that they decided to eliminate two light-duty clerical positions that had been created to allow employees who could not perform their regular duties to work and earn a full paycheck because these positions were not necessary to the functioning of the HR department. (Doc # 12-3, Pg ID 251)

         Wilcox and Torony decided to eliminate Hoeft's position and T.G.'s position. T.G. was an hourly employee with restrictions that were not due to a work-related injury. Id. There was another light-duty position that was not eliminated, which was occupied by P.R.. Id. P.R. was an hourly employee who had been injured in a fall at work and also had work restrictions. Id. P.R. had been working in this position since 2010, and Ford maintains that the duties that P.R. was performing provided more value to Ford than the duties that Hoeft and T.G. were performing. Id. at 251-52. Ford claims that Wilcox and Torony made the decision to eliminate these two positions in the first quarter or early in the second quarter of 2013, and that they set an approximate date of April 15, 2013 for Hoeft's position to be eliminated. Id. at 252.

         Torony became Hoeft's supervisor in mid-January 2013. Hoeft filed for medical leave due to depression in April 2013. Ford contested whether his depression was work-related. As a result of the dispute, Hoeft hired an attorney and filed a worker's compensation claim in June 2013. From April 2013 to August 2013, Hoeft was on leave. In August 2013, Hoeft attempted to return to work, at which time Torony informed him that there was no work available for him in the HR department. Hoeft claims that Torony told him on August 6, 2013 that she had no work for him because he made a false worker's compensation claim against her that he got hurt in HR. (Doc # 16, Pg ID 329)

         Hoeft was placed back on leave on August 7, 2013, which is what his doctor had ordered prior to him attempting to return to work. Hoeft is currently on medical leave, has continued to receive worker's compensation benefits, and is eligible to return to work at Ford if there is a job available that meets his restrictions.

         Hoeft claims that Ford violated the ADA and PWDCRA when it eliminated his clerical position despite the fact that he had been cleared to work after Ford ordered him to undergo an independent medical evaluation in August 2013. Hoeft further claims that Ford retaliated against him in violation of the WDCA for hiring an attorney and filing a worker's compensation claim in June 2013.

         Ford argues that it did not violate the ADA or PWDCRA because it created Hoeft's clerical position to temporarily accommodate Hoeft's restrictions, something not required under the ADA or PWDCRA. Ford further argues that it did not violate the WDCA because the decision to eliminate Hoeft's position was made at least a month before Hoeft hired an attorney to help him with his worker's compensation claim. Ford maintains that it has reasonably accommodated Hoeft since 2008, that it had a legitimate reason for eliminating his clerical position, and that there is no evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory animus against Hoeft.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court will grant summary judgment if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986). A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the case based on the governing substantive law. Id. at 248. A dispute about a material fact is genuine if on review of the evidence, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party. Id.

         The moving party bears the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings and . . . designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the nonmoving party who has the burden of proof at trial fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element that is essential to that party's case. See Muncie Power Prods., Inc. v. United Tech. Auto., Inc., 328 F.3d 870, 873 (6th Cir. 2003). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “Conclusory allegations do not create a genuine issue of material fact which precludes summary judgment.” Johari v. Big Easy Restaurants, Inc., 78 Fed.App'x 546, 548 (6th Cir. 2003).

         When reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Kochins v. Linden-Alimak, Inc., 799 F.2d 1128, 1133 (6th Cir. 1986). The Court “need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Court's function at the summary judgment stage “is not to weigh the evidence and ...


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