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Taylor v. University of Michigan

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

February 23, 2018

ROBERT C. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,

          Nancy G. Edmunds United States District Judge


          Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff brought this action pro se under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. (Dkt. 1). District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds referred pretrial matters in this case to the undersigned on June 28, 2017. (Dkt. 10). On June 28, 2017, defendant University of Michigan filed its motion to dismiss. (Dkt. 9). Plaintiff responded, (Dkt. 13), and defendant replied. (Dkt. 14). On December 1, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. (Dkt. 15). Defendant responded. (Dkt. 16).


         A. Plaintiff's Complaint

         Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on June 6, 2016, alleging that his employer, defendant University, discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). (Dkt. 1, Complaint, at ¶ 7). On February 7, 2017, the EEOC closed the file indicating that it could not conclude there was a statutory violation, but it did not certify that defendant had complied with the statutes. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9). Plaintiff alleges that he is an individual with a disability within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12101 and 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2 that limits his ability to bend, lift, stoop, and repeat movements. (Id. at ¶ 10).

         In August 2013, plaintiff sustained an injury while performing his job duties as an employee at the University of Michigan in the Custodian II position; specifically, he injured himself while running a buffer machine. (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiff immediately sought medical attention on behalf of defendant. (Id. at ¶ 15). Due to his injuries, plaintiff had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. (Id. at ¶ 16). After this surgery, he was advised that he could perform some work with restrictions on lifting and overhead reaching. (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff requested this accommodation but alleges that defendant did not offer any reasonable accommodation within his current role or any other role for which plaintiff was qualified. Instead, defendant recommended that plaintiff stay home on medical leave under the Worker's Compensation provisions. (Id.). On July 11, 2014, plaintiff returned to work after his shoulder surgery, but injured his neck a week later while working. (Id. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff requested accommodation based on the recommendation of his treating physician, which included no use of the right arm or hand, but defendant refused to accommodate plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 21). In early 2015, plaintiff's doctor advised that he should have surgery to repair his neck injury. (Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff made multiple requests for accommodation within his restrictions, by notifying his direct supervisor, who he believes directed these requests to her Area Manager, who refused to accommodate plaintiff in his current role or another role for which he was qualified. (Id. at ¶ 24). An independent medical examiner hired by defendant provided a summary that contradicted the recommendation of several of plaintiff's treating physicians. (Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff was told to return to work in June 2015 and was advised that he would lose his job if he failed to do so. (Id. at ¶ 27). Defendant was aware that plaintiff was scheduled for neck surgery in August 2015. (Id. at ¶ 28).

         Plaintiff returned to work on June 24, 2015 in the role of “Light Duty Specialist.” (Id. at ¶ 29). This job is within the OS1 cleaning model adopted by defendant's Department of Building Services. Part of the job description includes removing trash, which involves lifting and moving bags up to 50 pounds, and vacuuming floors and stairwells using a backpack vacuum cleaner. (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff again requested an accommodation based on work restrictions advised by his treating doctors, but defendant provided no accommodation. (Id. at ¶ 30). After removing trash bags plaintiff told his supervisor he was experiencing severe pain. His supervisor instructed him to see a doctor. The doctor suggested that the lifting aggravated his existing injuries and advised that he remain off work on medical leave for several days. (Id. at ¶ 31). Plaintiff's supervisor and Area Manager called him and told him he must return to work or he would lose his job. (Id. at ¶ 32). On July 1, 2015, plaintiff returned to work and again requested and was denied an accommodation to limit strain and impact on his neck. (Id. at ¶ 34). While using the vacuum equipment, plaintiff's foot got caught in the cord and he fell, hitting his head on a cement wall and falling down a portion of a flight of stairs. Plaintiff exacerbated his existing injuries and sustained an additional injury to his lower back. (Id. at ¶ 35). Plaintiff went to the emergency room and was advised to stay home from work and see a specialist. (Id. at ¶ 36). On August 31, 2015, plaintiff underwent surgery on his neck. Defendant was advised of this surgery. However, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment prior to the surgery on the grounds that plaintiff failed to provide sufficient information regarding his injuries. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-39). Plaintiff alleges he was not given timely notice of his termination, and was instead notified by representatives from the AFSME trade union. (Id. at ¶ 40).

         Count I of plaintiff's complaint is a claim under Title I of the ADA. It alleges that defendant failed to provide plaintiff a reasonable accommodation for his physical restrictions which constitutes discrimination on the basis of disability. As a result of defendant's conduct, plaintiff claims he suffered and continues to suffer damages. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-56). Count II, also brought under Title I of the ADA, alleges that defendant has a pattern or practice of placing employees back to work as Light Duty Specialist, which does not meet the definition of “reasonable accommodation.” Defendant's representation that Light Duty Specialist is an accommodation constitutes an ongoing pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of disability, and plaintiff states that unless this Court restrains further action, defendant will continue this practice of discrimination. Plaintiff also points out that on July 22, 2015, defendant entered a Consent Decree with the United States related to this pattern or practice of discriminatory activity. (Id. at ¶¶ 57-62).

         B. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

          Defendant seeks dismissal of plaintiff's complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Defendant argues that it is immune from plaintiff's Title I ADA claims under the doctrine of sovereign immunity granted by the Eleventh Amendment. (Dkt. 9, at p. 1). Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, a state entity may not be forced to stand suit in federal court in law or equity unless Congress abrogates that immunity via federal law or unless the state consents to suit. (Id. at p. 2).

         Defendant argues that the University is a state entity protected by sovereign immunity. The Regents of the University of Michigan is a constitutional body corporate established and existing pursuant to the Michigan Constitution of 1963, Article VIII, § 5. (Id.). The Michigan Supreme Court has expressly stated that “[t]he Legislature has included ‘public university[ies] in its definition of ‘State' for purposes of immunity.” (Id.) (citing Vargo v. Saucer, 457 Mich. 49 (1998). Courts in the Sixth Circuit have also held that the Regents of the University of Michigan is an arm of the state protected by sovereign immunity. (Id. at p. 3) (citing Ewing v. Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, 552 F.Supp. 881 (E.D. Mich. 1982); Estate of Ritter by Ritter v. University of Michigan, 851 F.2d 846, 850-51 (6th Cir. 1988).

         According to defendant, the Eleventh Amendment bars claims under Title I of the ADA for monetary or injunctive relief. (Id. at 3). Defendant also argues that the Eleventh Amendment bars all claims against the University for money damages and injunctive relief under Pennhurst St. School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01 (1984). (Id. at p. 4). Finally, defendant states that the University has not waived its sovereign immunity and that it does not consent to this suit. (Id.).

         In response, plaintiff argues that Title II of the ADA extends the obligations of Title I to the States. (Dkt. 13, at p. 8). Specifically, § 35.178 states that a State is not immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment for a violation of this Act. (Id.). Even if such abrogation of immunity is not to be extended in this matter, the immunity would not limit injunctive relief. (Id.). Plaintiff asserts that even if this Court dismissed his complaint for lack of jurisdiction, the Department of Justice would not be barred from bringing an action against defendant related to the factual matters alleged in plaintiff's complaint. (Id.). Plaintiff also asserts that a dismissal here would not limit a state cause of action related to the facts underlying this matter. (Id.).

         In reply, defendant argues that plaintiff has not alleged a claim under Title II of the ADA, but only under Title I. (Dkt. 14, at p. 1-2). Further, the Sixth Circuit has held that an employment discrimination claim may only be filed under Title I of the ADA. (Id. at p. 2) (citing Parker v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 121 F.3d 1006 (6th Cir. 1997). Defendant is immune from suit under Title I. (Id. at p. 1).

         C. Plaintiff's Motion ...

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