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Olson v. General Elec. Astrospace

December 5, 1996


Before: Becker and McKEE, Circuit Judges, and Pollak, District Judge *fn1

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McKEE, Circuit Judge.


Argued: March 22, 1996


John Olson, a former employee of General Electric Astrospace ("GE")*fn2, appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of GE on claims Olson filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1210 et seq., ("ADA"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. The district court ruled that Olson failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under either the ADA or the LAD. We agree that Olson did not demonstrate that he was disabled or had a record of impairment under the ADA. However, we disagree that Olson did not demonstrate the existence of a material fact as to a perception of an impairment. Accordingly, we will affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


John Olson began his employment with GE as a Senior Member, Technical Staff, in the Parts Engineering Department, on April 3, 1988. His job responsibilities generally included evaluating Non- Standard Part Approval Requests ("NSPARS") and writing Source Control Drawings ("SCDS") for microcircuits. Throughout most of this period, Olson reported to Dale Sansoni, Manager of Parts Engineering. Olson liked Sansoni and considered him a good supervisor.

On August 23, 1991, Sansoni prepared the only written performance appraisal of Olson's job performance at GE. It covered the period from December 1988 to August 1991. Sansoni gave Olson a rating of "2" on a scale of "1" to "5", with "5" being the highest score. Sansoni's appraisal noted that Olson "needed improvement." Olson apparently agreed with Sansoni's assessment.

In February of 1991, Olson was hospitalized for four months for depression. He returned to work in late May or early June of 1991 although Sansoni gave Olson as much time off from work as he needed. On September 11, 1991, GE told Olson that he was being laid-off along with hundreds of others as part of a general reduction in force necessitated by adverse business conditions. A month later, on October 11, 1991, Olson was formally laid-off.

In August of 1992, a former co-worker told Olson that the position of Quality Assurance Specialist was opening at GE's East Windsor, New Jersey facility. The person hired as QA Specialist would report to Sansoni who was still the Manager of Parts Engineering. Olson was interested and telephoned Sansoni, who encouraged Olson to apply. On September 9, 1992, Olson submitted his application to the GE Transition Center in Princeton, New Jersey. The application was forwarded to Amy Levinson-Close, Human Relations Manager.

Initially, Olson was one of four applicants. Sansoni interviewed Olson for the position on September 21, 1992. GE contends that because Sansoni already knew Olson and was familiar with his work, the interview focused on Olson's experiences since being laid-off. Olson contends that during that interview, Sansoni asked him if he had any further medical developments, and that Sansoni was referring to Olson's 1991 hospitalization for depression. Olson alleges that approximately one-third of the interview concerned Olson's health and marital status.

According to Olson, Sansoni discussed the medication Olson was taking, and a one month hospitalization that Olson had admitted himself to for testing. Olson did not, however, tell Sansoni that he had also been tested for Multiple Personality Disorder.*fn3 Olson contends that he and Sansoni also discussed an overnight hospitalization that Olson had undergone in order to diagnose a possible sleep disorder. Olson maintains that he told Sansoni that all of the tests had been negative, and that the doctors had informed him that the most likely diagnosis was simply a sleep disorder. According to Olson, Sansoni told him that he would recommend that Olson be hired for the position and that he would not be interviewing the other applicants.

A few days after Sansoni interviewed Olson, a co-worker gave Sansoni the resume of Jeffrey Venditte. Venditte and the co-worker who gave Sansoni the resume had previously worked together at Hughes Aircraft Company and the co-worker highly recommended Venditte to Sansoni. About one week after Sansoni interviewed Olson, Sansoni interviewed Venditte. Sansoni considered both Olson and Venditte qualified for the job, but recommended Venditte to Christina Eggert who was Sansoni's superior. GE maintains that Sansoni believed that Venditte had better experience than Olson with respect to parts overstressing and failure analysis which were two principal job requirements.*fn4

Sansoni also believed that Venditte's work at Hughes and ITT would be valuable to GE. At ITT, Venditte had been on a team that was responsible for a database management system used by four major subcontractors of GE. At Hughes, Venditte had been involved in resolving spacecraft part failures, and that experience was related to the job he would perform at GE.

Sansoni and Eggert discussed Olson's and Venditte's qualifications, but Ms. Eggert made the final decision. Eggert agreed with Sansoni's recommendation and hired Venditte. GE claims that Eggert and Sansoni discussed neither Olson's previous hospitalization nor his health in arriving at a decision to hire Venditte. On October 21, 1992, Sansoni telephoned Olson and told him that another candidate had been hired.

On November 4, 1992, Olson filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging that he was not hired because of his "disability" in violation of the ADA. The EEOC conducted an investigation and on December 13, 1993, issued a no-cause determination.

On March 11, 1994, Olson filed a complaint against GE alleging that GE did not hire him because of his disability or perceived disability in violation of the ADA and the LAD. Olson alleges that his disability is "depression, sleep disorder and multiple personality disorder." Complaint 16.

After the pleadings were closed, GE filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court entered an Order granting summary judgment to GE and dismissing Olson's complaint with prejudice. In a Memorandum Opinion accompanying the Order, the district court held that Olson had not established a prima facie case under the ADA or the LAD because he failed to establish that he is disabled, that he has a history of impairment or that GE perceives him to be disabled.

This appeal followed.


Summary judgment is proper only where there is no genuine issue of material fact for the factfinder to decide. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In order to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, the non-movant must supply sufficient evidence (not mere allegations) for a reasonable jury to find for the non-movant. Coolspring Stone Supply, Inc. v. American States Life Ins. Co., 10 F.3d 144, 148 (3d Cir. 1993). Our standard of review on an appeal from a grant of summary judgment is plenary. Id. at 146. We apply the same test the district court should have used initially, Public Interest Research Group of New Jersey v. Powell Duffryn Terminals, Inc., 913 F.2d 64, 76 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1109 (1991), and review the facts in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was entered. Coolspring Stone Supply, Inc. v. American States Life Ins. Co., 10 F.3d at 146.


A. The ADA ...

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