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Reynolds v. Autozone Inc.

United States District Court, D. Utah

July 15, 2019

APRIL M. REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTOZONE, INC. a.k.a. AUTOZONERS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY

          Ted Stewart United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff April Reynolds was hired by Defendant AutoZone, Inc. on July 16, 2009, and was employed as a full-time sales associate. Plaintiff began having knee problems in 2010. Plaintiff's weight contributed to arthritis in her knees.

         On December 19, 2010, Plaintiff transferred to a different AutoZone store where she continued to work as a full-time sales associate. Plaintiff was then promoted to Parts Sales Manager and again to Commercial Sales Manager (“CSM”). The job description for the CSM position includes the following physical requirements:

• Frequently bending, twisting, and rotating trunk, arms and legs
• Standing 100% of the time; walking 99% of the time; climbing 10% of the time
• Working with arms extended and bent constantly
• Frequently moving parts and stock weighing up to 35 lbs., 10 to 50 feet
• Occasionally moving parts and stock weighing up to 50 lbs.; pushing and pulling occasionally
• Frequently moving merchandise weighing 10-25 lbs. from floor to counter
• Occasionally moving and stocking overhead shelves with parts weighing 5 - 15 lbs .
• Constant gross hand and finder dexterity; frequently grasping and manipulating
• Constant hand and eye coordination[1]

         On November 8, 2013, Plaintiff received gastric sleeve bariatric surgery. On November 18, 2013, one of Plaintiff's doctors, Richard L. Glines, M.D., stated in a letter that Plaintiff required the use of a cane through January 2014 for degenerative joint disease of the left knee. On November 23, 2013, Plaintiff was released to work with no restrictions in relation to her gastric sleeve surgery.

         After Plaintiff returned to work following her surgery, Victor Vickrey, AutoZone's Regional Human Resource Manager visited Plaintiff's store and noticed Plaintiff using a cane. Vickrey asked Plaintiff to provide another physician report listing her exact restrictions.

         On December 19, 2013, Derek Boam, M.D., released Plaintiff to work with certain restrictions. Those restrictions included not lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling anything over 20 pounds. Additionally, Plaintiff was limited in her ability to squat, crouch, climb stairs or ladders, kneel, crawl, do overhead work, stand, and walk. These restrictions were to remain in place until February 14, 2014.

         After this report was prepared, Vickrey met with Plaintiff on December 30, 2013. Plaintiff confirmed that she had difficulty performing the following job functions: standing, kneeling, walking, lifting, climbing, pulling, and stocking shelves. She additionally listed the following job-related limitations: squatting, climbing, lifting over 20 pounds, and pushing or pulling over 20 pounds.

         On a form completed that day, Plaintiff requested having an additional person at the store whenever she was scheduled to assist her.[2] Plaintiff contends that Vickrey instructed her to write this and what she was actually requesting was an informal accommodation where other workers already present would provide help when needed. After this request, Defendant decided to place Plaintiff on a leave of absence, effective until February 19, 2014.

         Plaintiff again saw Dr. Boam on February 18, 2014. Dr. Boam noted the same restrictions. He also stated that Plaintiff required a knee replacement and must use a cane when ambulatory. These restrictions were in place until May 19, 2014. Defendant then extended Plaintiff's leave.

         On June 2, 2014, Plaintiff had a partial knee replacement performed. On August 28, 2014, Dan Richards, D.O., released Plaintiff to return work on September 8, 2014, with the same restrictions previously imposed. Defendant again extended Plaintiff's leave. Plaintiff concedes that she was not able to work from June 2014 to September 2014.[3]

         Plaintiff met with Vickrey and District Manager Barry Funk on February 3, 2015. Plaintiff informed Vickrey and Funk that she was about to have surgery on her other knee and, therefore, remained on leave.

         On February 19, 2015, Dr. Richards performed surgery on Plaintiff's other knee, replacing the right knee cap.

         On May 18, 2015, Dr. Richards released Plaintiff to return to work, again with restrictions. On June 9, 2015, Plaintiff requested an accommodation that would allow someone else to climb ladders for her and help put away parts.

         Plaintiff returned to work on June 22, 2015. Plaintiff voluntarily terminated her employment on August 3, 2015.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.”[4] In considering whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court determines whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party in the face of all the evidence presented.[5] The Court is required to construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[6]

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts the following causes of action: failure to accommodate; disability discrimination; retaliation; and gender discrimination. Each claim will be discussed below.

         A. DISCRIMINATION UNDER THE ADA

         Discrimination under the ADA encompasses three types of discrimination: disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, and disparate impact.[7] Plaintiff brings claims for disparate treatment and failure to accommodate. “Where, as here, an ADA plaintiff seeks to proceed to trial exclusively on the basis of circumstantial evidence of discrimination, [the Tenth Circuit has] held that ‘the analytical framework first articulated in' McDonnell Douglas . . . controls our analysis.”[8] Under that framework, Plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination.[9] If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden then shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.[10] Once the defendant articulates a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's reasons are pretextual.[11]

         1.Failure to Accommodate

         The ADA provides that discrimination includes “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an . . . employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such covered entity.”[12] A reasonable accommodation “may include . . . job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of ...


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