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Gray v. BMW Manufacturing Co. LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Spartanburg Division

August 17, 2017

Cordarius O. Gray, Plaintiff,
v.
BMW Manufacturing Co. LLC, Management Analysis & Utilization Inc. d/b/a MAU Workforce Solutions Inc. d/b/a Tier One Solutions, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          S/BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action arises out of Plaintiff Cordarious O. Gray's (“Plaintiff” or “Gray”) termination with Defendants Management Analysis & Utilization Inc. (“MAU”) and BMW Manufacturing Co. LLC (“BMW”) (collectively “Defendants”). On October 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin for consideration. On December 15, 2016, BMW and MAU each filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 34 & 35). Plaintiff responded on December 29, 2016 (ECF No. 36), and BMW and MAU each filed a reply on January 5, 2017 (ECF Nos. 38 & 39). The Magistrate Judge prepared a thorough Report and Recommendation (“Report”), which recommends that BMW's motion for summary judgment be granted and that MAU's motion for summary judgment be granted with respect to Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims and denied with respect to Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim. (ECF No. 42.) MAU filed timely objections (ECF No. 43), to which Plaintiff replied (ECF No. 47). Plaintiff filed timely objections (ECF No. 44), to which BMW and MAU replied (ECF Nos. 45 & 48). After careful consideration of the record, the briefing, and the relevant law, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court adopts the Report, grants summary judgment as to BMW, grants summary judgment as to MAU with respect to the discrimination and retaliation claims, and denies summary judgment as to MAU with respect to the failure to accommodate claim.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law and the Court incorporates them and summarizes below only in relevant part. In his complaint Gray alleges causes of action for (1) termination of his employment because of a disability (discrimination claim), (2) denial of reasonable accommodation for said disability (failure to accommodate claim), and (3) retaliation for engaging in protected activity (retaliation claim) under the ADA. Gray was an employee of MAU assigned to work as a production associate at the BMW manufacturing plant in Greer, South Carolina.[1] BMW concedes that it is Gray's “employer” for purposes of the ADA, pursuant to a joint employment relationship between MAU and BMW.

         MAU maintains an employee handbook that applies to associates assigned to work at BMW. Gray received a copy of this handbook when he began working for MAU. The handbook contains MAU's alcohol and substance abuse policy. The policy states that any employee will be drug tested “after any accident.” The policy further provides: “If an associate tests positive in the initial on-site test, he/she will immediately be suspended until verification of the test results by an off-site laboratory. If the Medical Review Officer confirms a positive test by the off-site laboratory, then the associate's employment will be terminated.” (ECF No. 35-8 at 13.)

         As part of the new-hire process in November 2012, Gray submitted to a pre-employment drug screen, and completed a consent form on which he indicated he was taking 20 mg of Adderall. The results of the pre-employment drug screen, however, were negative. Gray never made further disclosure of his Adderall use than this pre-employment consent form. Throughout his employment with MAU at the BMW plant, Gray took Adderall every day that he worked.

         On January 22, 2013, Gray was using a forklift to stack a container on top of another container. While performing this task, Gray hit and damaged a wall mounted control panel with a container, and was required to submit to a drug test in accordance with the policy. The initial onsite drug screen was negative. Gray reported as directed for a laboratory drug screen on January 24, 2013, and again indicated 20 mg of Adderall on the consent form. On January 29, 2013, Gray's hair sample drug screen came back negative. On February 3, 2013, Gray's urine drug screen came back positive for amphetamines.

         MAU contracted with Spartanburg Regional Occupational Health (“SROH”) to perform its drug testing confirmation processes. A representative of SROH, LaShaunna Brannon (“Brannon”), was supposed to follow up with Gray to request proof of a valid prescription for Adderall. Brannon states that she called Gray at the phone number listed on the consent form on four consecutive days and, receiving no answer, left messages each time requesting Gray to call back. Gray states that he never received any calls from Brannon, and that voicemail service was not even set up on the phone number in question. Gray never provided a prescription for Adderall to SROH.

         Next, Brannon forwarded Gray's positive test result to Dr. Michael Alday (“Alday”), the Medical Review Officer (“MRO”), for review and certification. Brannon informed Alday that she had contacted Gray on four consecutive days and left messages, but had received no response. On February 8, 2013, Alday signed the results of Gray's urinalysis screen, certifying a positive result for amphetamines.

         SROH forwarded the certified positive drug screen to MAU on February 8, 2013. On February 11, 2013, MAU supervisors, including Jody Devore (“Devore”), Ronnie Rice (“Rice”), and Dwayne Oakley (“Oakley”), discussed the positive result in an email chain. (Ex. 3, Rice Dep., ECF No. 36-4 at 9-10.) Devore forwarded the email to Kim Hoffman (“Hoffman”), a nurse with an occupational health background, and asked the following question:

Kim,
Do we need to have the Doctor take a second look at this. [sic]
The individual stated that they are on Aderal [sic] which may possibly show up as Amphetamines.
Coradrius may just need to bring in his script for the medication.
Please advise.

(Id. at 9.) Oakley, who was copied on the forward to Hoffman, responded: “The MRO actually makes contact with any employees [sic] that has a positive screening to discuss medications that they are taken [sic] before signing off on the screening.” (Id.)

         Rice, who was Gray's direct supervisor at MAU, made the decision to terminate Gray on February 13, 2013. Devore approved the termination decision on February 14, 2013. On February 15, 2013, after Gray had worked almost a full day, Rice met with Gray and another unidentified MAU supervisor, and informed Gray that his position with MAU was terminated based on the positive drug test result (“termination meeting”). During the meeting, Gray offered to provide proof of a prescription for Adderall, and stated that he was taking the medication due to a diagnosis of ADD. Rice told Gray that because he had failed to respond to calls from the testing site or to provide a valid prescription, the test results had been certified as positive.

         After the termination meeting, Gray contacted MAU about submitting proof of a prescription for Adderall. He spoke with an unidentified employee at MAU, who instructed him to call the drug testing center. However, when Gray called the testing center, he was told that MAU would have to give the testing center permission to accept his submission of a prescription.

         On June 13, 2013, Gray filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that MAU and BMW had discriminated against and retaliated against him on the basis of a disability. The EEOC issued a notice of right to sue on July 8, 2015, and this lawsuit was filed on October 6, 2015.

         BMW and MAU seek summary judgment on all causes of action. In general, they argue that Gray's termination was the routine result of a certified positive drug test, conducted in accordance with MAU's alcohol and substance abuse policy. According to Defendants, Gray was provided with multiple opportunities to substantiate his lawful Adderall use by providing a valid prescription and never did so. Thus, Defendants argue, MAU was justified in terminating Gray, and the Court should not second guess its business judgment. Gray opposes summary judgment, arguing generally that Defendants knew he was taking Adderall, and knew that he had a prescription, but decided to fire him anyway. Gray asserts that his ADD was the real reason for his termination, and that Defendants failed to make reasonable accommodation for this disability when he asked to produce a valid prescription during the termination meeting so that he could keep taking Adderall while working for Defendants. In addition, Gray argues that his termination was ultimately in retaliation for him making this accommodation request.

         The Court has thoroughly reviewed the objections to the Report and the relevant case law. Additionally, the parties appeared before the Court for oral argument on their objections on July 26, 2017. (ECF No. 51.) After due consideration, the Court finds that the law entirely supports the Magistrate Judge's conclusions and recommendations; thus, the Court will overrule the parties' objections and enter judgment accordingly.[2]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility for making a final determination remains with this Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portions of the Report and Recommendation to which a specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or may recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th ...


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