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Ryder v. Beaumont Health, Inc.

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

October 9, 2019

JAMES RYDER, Plaintiff,
v.
BEAUMONT HEALTH INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBERT H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff James Ryder sues his former employer of 25 years, Defendant Beaumont Health Inc. (“Beaumont”) for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (“PWDCRA”). Pending before the court is Beaumont's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 48.) Ryder initially sought relief under the ADA on behalf of himself and members of a putative class. The court granted Beaumont's motion to strike the class allegations. (ECF No. 32.) The claims at issue in this motion, therefore, pertain to those alleged by Ryder in his individual capacity. The summary judgment motion has been fully briefed, and the court held argument on September 11, 2019. For the reasons explained below, as to Ryder's disability discrimination and retaliation claims, factual disputes remain which preclude summary judgment. However, the court will grant summary judgment for Beaumont on Ryder's FMLA claim.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Ryder began working for Beaumont on November 30, 1992. He held various jobs during his tenure with the company. Relevant for purposes of this case, Ryder began working as a Customer Service Coordinator (“CSC”) in Beaumont's Home Medical Equipment division around October 2005. (ECF No. 53-6, PageID.1826.)

         A. Beaumont's Organizational Structure and Ryder's Employment

         Beaumont's Home Medical Equipment division is comprised of two different departments-retail and intake. Employees in the retail department work out of Beaumont hospitals and several free-standing stores. The primary responsibilities of retail department CSCs include filling orders for durable medical equipment, such as CPAP machines, nebulizers, crutches, and braces, fitting patients for that equipment, and demonstrating proper use. Additionally, retail department CSCs stationed in hospital stores visit patients in their rooms before discharge to assist with delivery and home set-up of medical equipment. Direct patient contact is an essential function of retail department CSCs working in hospitals and in the free-standing stores. During the time relevant to this litigation, Carrol Owens managed the retail department.

         CSCs in the intake department work in a centralized call center. Unlike retail department CSCs, intake CSCs do not have direct patient contact in a hospital setting. Intake CSCs are responsible for filling orders for home medical equipment over the phone, ensuring proper documentation for insurance authorization, and scheduling appointments for patients. Melissa Avery managed the intake department.

         Ryder worked primarily as a retail department CSC at Beaumont's Woodward store, which is not attached to a hospital. In 2015, he was temporarily reassigned to the intake department. Many of the facts regarding this reassignment are in dispute. The parties dispute the exact length of time of Ryder's reassignment, the reasons for his reassignment, and the quality of Ryder's performance in this position. (Compare ECF No. 48, PageID.887-888, with ECF No. 53, PageID.1468-1470.) According to Ryder, he was transferred in retaliation for raising concerns about the retail department management. And according to Beaumont, Ryder was temporarily reassigned to assist with a backlog of CPAP orders. With respect to Ryder's performance during his reassignment, intake department supervisor Melissa Avery testified that Ryder struggled to take calls and process orders as efficiently as his coworkers. (ECF No. 48-4, PageID.1117-1119.) Ryder asserts that Avery's criticisms are disingenuous. He points to his consistently positive performance reviews and highlights the fact that there were no defined metrics to measure “efficiency” within the intake department. He also notes Avery's failure to document his supposedly poor performance or discuss her performance concerns with him. (ECF No. 53, PageID.1469.) Ultimately, Ryder was transferred back to the retail department. Avery testified that Ryder was transferred back because he would be “more successful” at the retail store where he already had a “fan base” of regular customers. (ECF No. 53-9, PageID.2112, 2133-2134.)

         B. Ryder's Medical Leave and Subsequent Termination

         Ryder took FMLA-protected leave several times during his employment. He took leave in 2004 and again in 2010, and he returned to work without incident after both periods of absence. Relevant here, Ryder also took leave from February 24, 2016, to March 14, 2016. Later that year, he took additional leave from October 25, 2016, to November 28, 2016, for chest pain and anxiety. The parties agree that Ryder's 12 weeks of FMLA-protected leave for the rolling year expired on December 19, 2016. (ECF No. 48, PageID.892.)

         Before returning to work, Ryder requested two extensions of his leave. In his first request, made on November 23, 2016, he asked to extend his leave until January 15, 2017. (ECF No. 48-21.) He then requested an additional extension until January 17, 2017. (ECF No. 48-22.) On December 16, 2016-three days before the expiration of his 12 weeks of FMLA-protected leave-Owens sent Ryder a letter informing him that she needed to fill his position upon the expiration of his 12 weeks of leave.[1]

         The parties dispute whether Beaumont actually filled Ryder's position. (ECF No. 48, PageID.893; ECF No. 53, PageID.1475.) Beaumont contends that Ryder's vacant position at the Woodward store was transferred to the Troy hospital store in order to assist with increased patient volume at the Troy location and that Ali Sobh was hired as Ryder's replacement. Ryder asserts that there was no need for increased staffing at the Troy hospital store. He also argues that Ali Sobh did not actually replace him because the majority of his responsibilities involved CPAP-related work, and Sobh had no CPAP experience. It is undisputed that Ryder never asked to be placed in his former position upon his return from FMLA leave.

         C. Ryder's Lay-off Status and Job Search

         Ryder was finally cleared to return to work without restrictions on January 26, 2017, having taken approximately 17 weeks of medical leave in the rolling 12-month period. Upon his return from leave, he was placed on a 60-day-layoff status pursuant to Beaumont Policy 230. The policy states in relevant part:

If an employee returns from a Family and/or Medical leave and has exceeded their twelve (12) weeks of job protection within a twelve (12) month period or the employee is returning from a leave other than a Family and/or Medical leave and the employee's position is no longer available, he/she will be placed on an unpaid 60-day lay-off and must be referred to HR.
. . .
If a position is not secured within sixty (60) days, or a “good faith job offer” is refused, the department manager should terminate the employee through Oracle Manager Self Service indicating “discharged lay-off.”

(ECF No. 48-18, PageID.1238.)

         Beaumont maintains that this 60-day-layoff status helps employees compete for new positions as internal candidates and that it is used not only for employees returning from FMLA leave but also for employees who lose required job credentials or mutually decide with management to leave their current positions based on poor fit. Beaumont's internal applicant hiring system marks which applicants are on layoff status, but the system does not specify the reason for an employee's placement on layoff status.

         When Ryder was placed on layoff status, he met with Human Resources Director Dianne Beloungea who explained that he would be terminated if he failed to accept a position at Beaumont within 60 days. During this meeting, Beaumont alleges that Beloungea offered Ryder a contingent position as a CSC in the retail division in lieu of going on layoff status. Ryder denies that this offer was made but insists that he would have declined it regardless because working as a contingent employee would strip him of the seniority and benefits he accumulated during his 25-year tenure with Beaumont.

         Ryder applied for 18 open jobs while on layoff status. He interviewed for four positions and received one job offer. The parties dispute whether Ryder declined his sole offer or if he requested an accommodation for the position. The positions for which Ryder applied are discussed below.

         1. Royal Oak Hospital CSC Position and Notification of Disability

          On February 27, 2017, Ryder was offered a CSC position in the retail department at Beaumont's Royal Oak hospital. Ryder learned of this job offer while en route to the hospital for medical treatment. He was hospitalized for several days. During this time, he learned that he suffered from a rare genetic disorder, Common Variable Immune Deficiency, which compromised his immune system. His doctor advised him that he could not work in a hospital or clinic environment which required daily patient contact.

         On March 2, 2017, Ryder's spouse faxed a letter from Ryder's treating physician to Beaumont's human resources department. The letter explained Ryder's diagnosis and restrictions. The letter also stated that:

[E]mployment in a hospital or clinic environment with its high rate of exposure to infections by daily patient contract would jeopardize the health of my patient, James Barclay Ryder. Employment in this type of environment needs to be avoided at all costs. As his doctor, I cannot recommend nor would I support that Mr. Ryder take such a position of employment.

(ECF No. 48-31, PageID.1303.)

         On March 7, 2017, Ryder's spouse-at Ryder's request and on his behalf- emailed Beaumont's employment representative for the Royal Oak CSC position and explained that Ryder could not accept the position because he could not work in a hospital. The email stated:

Per Dr. Talbert's letter, which I faxed to you last Thursday night, employment in one of Beaumont Health's hospitals or clinics “with its high rate of exposure to infections by daily patient contact would jeopardize the health” of Jim. Under these circumstances, the proposed offer is not possible.
As I mentioned to you last Thursday when we spoke, Jim is able and willing to accept other Beaumont Health positions for which he has applied or is eligible with the accommodation that it is not a position within a hospital ...

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