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Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 21, 2018

Andrea J. Mosby-Meachem, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: January 25, 2018

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 2:14-cv-02156-John Thomas Fowlkes, Jr., District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Michael D. Tauer, GLANKLER BROWN, PLLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Adam W. Hansen, APOLLO LAW LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Michael D. Tauer, Saul C. Belz, Miska L. Shaw, GLANKLER BROWN, PLLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Adam W. Hansen, APOLLO LAW LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, William B. Ryan, Janelle Osowski, DONATI LAW FIRM LLP, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: GIBBONS, GUY, and COOK, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Andrea Mosby-Meachem, an in-house attorney for Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, was denied a request to work from home for ten weeks while she was on bedrest due to complications from pregnancy. Following trial, a jury found in favor of Mosby-Meachem on her claim for disability discrimination and awarded her compensatory damages. The district court also granted Mosby-Meachem's motion for equitable relief and awarded her backpay for the period in which MLG&W did not permit her to telework. MLG&W moved for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial, asserting that the evidence produced at trial and binding Sixth Circuit precedent precluded any reasonable jury from determining that Mosby-Meachem was a qualified individual while on bedrest because in-person attendance was an essential function of her job. The district court denied the motion and MLG&W appealed both the denial of its motion and the award of equitable relief. Because Mosby-Meachem produced sufficient evidence at trial for a reasonable jury to conclude that in-person attendance was not an essential function of her job for the 10-week period in which she requested to telework and the Sixth Circuit precedent relied upon by MLG&W is materially distinguishable from the facts of this case, we affirm the orders of the district court.

         I.

         Andrea Mosby-Meachem has worked as an in-house attorney for Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division ("MLG&W") since 2005. Her position title at MLG&W was Attorney 3.[1] As an Attorney 3, Mosby-Meachem's work focused primarily on the areas of labor, employment, and workers' compensation. Mosby-Meachem, however, never participated in a trial during her eight years with MLG&W prior to the initiation of this litigation.

         In 2008, Cheryl Patterson was hired as the vice president and general counsel for MLG&W, becoming Mosby-Meachem's supervisor. On March 14, 2011, Patterson sent an email to all lawyers in the legal department outlining her policy regarding the hours the attorneys spent in the office. In this email, she stated:

Please be reminded that office hours for the Legal Department are 8:30 a.m. -5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. All employees, including the lawyers, are expected to be at work and devoting their time and attention to Division business during those hours. As professionals, you are expected to set a good example for the support staff by being in the office on time and staying at work until the end of the day. If you anticipate arriving after 8:30 a.m., please contact the office to inform me of the situation. Likewise, if you have a meeting or hearing in the downtown area that ends before 5:00, you are expected to return to the office to complete the day's work.

DE 44-14, Attendance Policy Email, Page ID 433. However, MLG&W did not maintain a formal written telecommuting policy at that time, and in practice, employees often telecommuted. Indeed, on one occasion in 2012, Mosby-Meachem herself was permitted to work from home for two weeks while she was recovering from neck surgery, during which time she appears to have adequately performed her duties to the satisfaction of MLG&W.

         On January 2, 2013, during her 23rd week of pregnancy, Mosby-Meachem's doctors discovered a problem requiring her hospitalization. Prior to this occasion, Mosby-Meachem had already experienced problematic pregnancies and had suffered three miscarriages. The next day, on January 3, Mosby-Meachem contacted MLG&W's medical service coordinator, Cynthia White, and informed White of her condition before undergoing surgery later that day. Following surgery, Mosby-Meachem's doctors placed her on "modified bed rest" for approximately ten weeks, during which time she was restricted from engaging in prolonged standing or sitting and from lifting heavy objects. Upon receiving these instructions from her doctors, Mosby-Meachem called Patterson and informed Patterson of her diagnosis.

         On January 7, 2013, Mosby-Meachem made an official accommodation request that she be permitted to work from a bed either within the hospital or within her home for ten weeks. Two days later, on January 9, she submitted documentation supporting her request, including a letter from Dr. Shannon Malone stating "[i]t will be okay for [Mosby-Meachem] to work from the hospital or home." CA6 R. 38, Malone Letter, at 61. On January 15, 2013, MLG&W assembled an ADA Committee consisting of Eric Conway, Steve Day, and Rutha Griffin, who along with Vernica Davis and Patterson, [2] conducted a telephonic process meeting with Mosby-Meachem. During the process meeting, Mosby-Meachem was asked whether she could perform each of the essential functions of her job remotely, which she answered in the affirmative. Despite Mosby-Meachem's assurances, the ADA Committee denied Mosby-Meachem's accommodation request on January 18, and, in a letter dated January 30, 2013, explained that the denial was based on the determination that physical presence was an essential function of Mosby-Meachem's job, and teleworking created concerns about maintaining confidentiality. From the time of her request on January 7 until she received the denial letter on January 30, Mosby-Meachem continued to perform her work remotely, and no one from MLG&W ever told her to stop working during this time.

         Mosby-Meachem first appealed the denial on February 2, 2013 via email. When that appeal was denied on February 19, she again appealed on February 21, which appears to have again been denied. Following her ten weeks of restriction, Mosby-Meachem returned to work on April 1, 2013, and she continued to work up until her baby was born on April 14, 2013. During the time between January 3 and her return to work on April 1, Mosby-Meachem initially received sick leave under the FMLA for four weeks and then subsequently received short-term disability for the remainder of the period.

         From February 26, 2013, until the end of the accommodation period, Mosby-Meachem's license to practice law was suspended for failure to pay the annual registration fee. Mosby-Meachem, however, claims that she was unaware of the suspension until receiving a June 28, 2013 letter from Patterson about the issue, and she paid the fee the next day. Despite the suspension, Mosby-Meachem was fully compensated upon her return to work in April 2013.

         Mosby-Meachem filed suit in state court on December 30, 2013, and MLG&W removed the action to federal court on March 5, 2014. In Mosby-Meachem's amended complaint, she brought claims for pregnancy discrimination in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act and failure to accommodate and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. MLG&W moved for summary judgment following discovery, but the district court denied the motion and the case proceeded to trial. MLG&W moved for judgment as a matter of law at the close of Mosby-Meachem's proof, and the district court took the matter under advisement. The jury returned a verdict for Mosby-Meachem on her claim of disability ...


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