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Lawrence v. Halocarbon Products Corp.

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

July 3, 2019



          Thomas E. Rogers, III, United States Magistrate Judge


         This action arises from Plaintiff's employment and termination of employment with Defendant. Plaintiff asserts claims of interference and retaliation in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. and discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.[1] Presently before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33). All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), DSC. This report and recommendation is entered for review by the district judge.

         II. FACTS

         Plaintiff was hired by Defendant Halocarbon Products Corporation on September 17, 1990, at the company's North Augusta Plant. Pl. Dep. 11. Plaintiff was ultimately promoted to Assistant Shift Supervisor and was responsible for supervising production operators. Pl. Dep. 12, 14. As an Assistant Shift Supervisor, Plaintiff's duties included insuring that production operators followed standard operating procedures and properly documented batch production records in the manufacturing of oils, chemicals, and anesthetics. Pl. Dep. 15. Plaintiff requested FMLA leave in February of 2015, in conjunction with his hospitalization for an abdominal aortic dissection. Pl. Dep. 37, 98-99; FMLA Letter (Ex. 3 to Pl. Dep.). Plaintiff was granted six weeks of FMLA leave and then intermittent FMLA leave in association with this health condition. Pl. Dep. 99; Pl. Aff. ¶ 24 (Ex. to Pl. Resp.). His FMLA leave expired on February 3, 2016, and Plaintiff was told via email to see Melissa Young, Human Resources Specialist, for new FMLA paperwork if he needed it. FMLA Email (Ex. C to Pl. Aff.).

         During the course of his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff has participated in Defendant's drug testing program approximately eight to ten times. Pl. Dep. 16; Substance Abuse Policy (Ex. 22 to Hyman Dep.). Until October 28, 2016, Plaintiff had never failed a drug test or had any other issues. Pl. Dep. 17. On October 27, 2016, Defendant began drug testing employees at its North Augusta Plant. Pl. Dep. 18. On October 28, 2016, Plaintiff called in sick to work around 3:30 a.m., before his shift started, stating that he did not feel well and would not be in to work that day. Pl. Dep. 25-27.[2] Ken McDowell, Defendants Director of Environmental Health and Safety, and Kevin Hyman, Human Resources Director, called Plaintiff while he was at home sick and informed him of the random drug test and that he would need to go to Urgent M.D.[3], a local medical provider, to get tested. Pl. Dep. 19. As instructed, Plaintiff went to Urgent M.D. and took the drug test. Pl. Dep. 21.

         On November 1, 2016, McDowell called Plaintiff to tell him there was a problem with his specimen from October 28, 2016, and he would need to provide another specimen. Pl. Dep. 44. Urgent M.D. contracts with LabCorp to process the specimens and report the results. Hyman Dep. 11. Plaintiff's first test came back as an “invalid” test result, reflecting problems with the specific gravity and creatinine levels. Oct. 28 Specimen Test Results (Ex. 9 to Pl. Dep.). McDowell and Hyman both interpreted the result to mean that the specimen Plaintiff was provided was “dilute.” McDowell Dep. 33-34; Hyman Dep. 77-78. As a result, Urgent M.D. stated they needed a second specimen from Plaintiff, which he provided on November 2, 2016. McDowell Dep. 34; Hyman Dep. 79; Pl. Dep. 43-44, 47. The lab report result for the second specimen indicated that it was “dilute.” Nov. 2 Specimen Test Results (Ex. 10 to Pl. Dep.). McDowell considered a second problematic specimen to warrant discharge under the substance abuse policy. McDowell Dep. 52. McDowell contacted Hyman and Eric Schoellkopf, Plant Manager, to discuss the matter. McDowell Dep. 49. They concluded that, pursuant to the policy[4], a diluted specimen should result in discharge. McDowell Dep. 51-52; Hyman Dep. 89. Hyman believed that Plaintiff did something to interfere with the test results. Hyman Dep. 89. He testified that he reached that conclusion because medical professionals opined that the two samples collected from Plaintiff were not compliant and based on information supplied by Plaintiff's physician that drinking four bottles of water a day is not excessive and would not over-hydrate him. Hyman Dep. 89. Hyman testified that he and other employees also drank that much water and their results were not anything similar to Plaintiff's. Hyman Dep. 89. Hyman also testified that he knew through his training that there were many ways an employee could manipulate a drug test. Hyman Dep. 91. In addition, when asked “would it be fair to say that this is a decision that you make but you run it by the CEO to ensure there's no problem with it, ” McDowell testified “I would say it's a decision that's dictated by our policy.” McDowell Dep. 51.

         Plaintiff challenged his discharge through the appeals process contained in the drug testing policy. Pl. Dep. 51. During the appeals process, Plaintiff asserted he drank water with his medications throughout the day and this may have diluted his urine specimens. Pl. Dep. 64-65. He testified he sometimes consumed up to 48 ounces of water a day, depending on his activity level. Pl. Dep. 145. Like Hyman, the appeals committee also concluded that others drank water at work and had no difficulty with the test. Pl. Dep. 63; Hyman Dep. 89. The committee rejected Plaintiff's argument and affirmed the termination.

         Following his termination, Plaintiff applied for Social Security disability benefits. Pl. Dep. 122-23. He filed for benefits on September 20, 2017, and represented to the Social Security Administration an onset date of November 2, 2016, the date of his discharge from employment. Pl. Application for Disability Insurance Benefits (Ex. B to Def. Motion). Plaintiff was found to be disabled as of November 2, 2016, and eligible for benefits beginning May of 2017. Notice of Award (Ex. C to Def. Motion).


         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, the moving party bears the burden of showing that summary judgment is proper. Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment is proper if the non-moving party fails to establish an essential element of any cause of action upon which the non-moving party has the burden of proof. Id. Once the moving party has brought into question whether there is a genuine dispute for trial on a material element of the non-moving party's claims, the non-moving party bears the burden of coming forward with specific facts which show a genuine dispute for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The non-moving party must come forward with enough evidence, beyond a mere scintilla, upon which the fact finder could reasonably find for it. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1011 (4th Cir. 1991). However, the non-moving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, or conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Barber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). The evidence relied on must meet “the substantive evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at a trial on the merits.” Mitchell v. Data General Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4thCir. 1993).

         To show that a genuine dispute of material fact exists, a party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Rather, the party must present evidence supporting his or her position by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); see also Cray Communications, Inc. v. Novatel Computer Systems, Inc., 33 F.3d 390 (4th Cir. 1994); Orsi v. Kickwood, 999 F.2d 86 (4th Cir. 1993); Local Rules 7.04, 7.05, D.S.C.


         A. FMLA

         The FMLA provides that “an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period ... [b]ecause of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). The FMLA also prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee for asserting rights under the Act. 29 U.S.C. § 2165(a)(2). “The FMLA creates two types of claims: (1) interference claims, in which an employee asserts that his employer denied or otherwise interfered with his substantive rights under the Act; and (2) retaliation claims, in which an employee asserts that his employer discriminated against him because he engaged in activity protected by the Act.” Gleaton v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 719 F.Supp.2d 623, 633 n. 3 (D.S.C. 2010) (internal citation omitted). Plaintiff asserts both interference and retaliation claims in this action.

         1. Interference

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant “denied or otherwise interfered with Plaintiff's substantive rights under the FMLA.” Compl. ¶ 40. To establish a claim that an employer interfered with an employees rights under FMLA, an employee must demonstrate that: “(1) he is entitled to an FMLA benefit; (2) his employer interfered with the provision of that benefit; and (3) that interference caused harm.” Adams v. Anne Arundel ...

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