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Owen v. Computer Sciences Corp.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


February 2, 1999

MARY D. OWEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMPUTER SCIENCES CORP., DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, District Court

HONORABLE JOSEPH E. IRENAS

OPINION

Presently before this Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment of plaintiff Mary D. Owen's claim that the termination of her employment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). *fn1 For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I.

A.

Pro se plaintiff, Mary D. Owen ("Owen") was employed by Computer Sciences Corporation ("CSC"), on a sporadic basis from March 3, 1986, until January 19, 1996. On March 3, 1986, Owen was hired by CSC's Defense Systems Design Division as a Principal Engineer to work at CSC's Middletown, Rhode Island facility. Effective April 30, 1986, Owen was laid off as a result of the loss of the defense contract. On March 28, 1988, Owen was rehired by CSC's Defense Systems Division as a Principal Engineer and relocated to work in the Moorestown, New Jersey facility. On August 30, 1993, Owen was laid off because the project was nearing completion and all staff were slated for lay off. She was assigned to a temporary position on October 4, 1993, which was intended to last until December 31, 1993. On November 5, 1993, Owen was placed in a regular, full-time position as a Principal Engineer in the Joint Computer Aided Logistics Support System ("JCALS") of CSC. Owen performed various functions within different groups of JCALS from November 5, 1993, through January 19, 1995. *fn2

On or about January 15, 1995, Owen was notified by her doctor, Dr. Ben Oteyza ("Oteyza") that she had severe anemia. Owen provided CSC with the necessary documentation to substantiate her medical condition and four days later, Owen commenced a medical leave of absence At the time that plaintiff's leave commenced, CSC's policy provided employees with up to one year of medical leave absence, after which employment was terminated. See Coffman cert., ¶ 4; Owen Dep. 76:16 - 77:1. Plaintiff received short-term disability benefits from the state from January 19, 1995, through February 18, 1995 due to her anemia. She subsequently received long-term disability benefits with CSC's long-term disability benefits carrier, the CNA Insurance Company ("CNA"), from February 18, 1995, through June 26, 1995. CNA discontinued Owen's long-term disability benefits on June 26, 1995, after finding that Owen's blood count had returned to normal and she no longer suffered from anemia.

Plaintiff appealed the discontinuation of her long-term disability benefits, alleging that although she no longer suffered from anemia, she now suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity or chemical magnetic sensitivity (hereinafter "MCS"). Such appeal was denied on the basis that CMS is a speculative condition that is not supported by acceptable medical documentation. See Coffman Cert., ¶ 5, Exh. A. On October 19, 1996, plaintiff also applied for worker's compensation benefits with CSC's worker's compensation carrier. Such application was denied because of the lack of medical or scientific evidence to support Owen's claim that her condition was related to her employment. See Owen Dep., 125:23-126:8; 126:14-127:22. Plaintiff remained on medical leave through CSC's company policy for the duration of the year permitted, through January of 1996. Plaintiff regularly contacted CSC's Human Resources Department about her status throughout her medical leave. See Pl.'s Dep. 88:18-21.

By telephone on January 10, 1996, Owen notified CSC that she intended to return to work on January 15, 1996. Owen indicated that she would be willing to relocate if necessary, as long as relocation assistance was provided. CSC advised plaintiff that she could not return to work without a doctor's authorization. On January 17, 1996, Owen provided CSC with a note from Dr. Harold Buttram ("Buttram"), releasing Owen to return to work as of January 19, 1996. Buttram's note stated that Owen had been under his care for MCS and Sensitivity to Electromagnetic Radiation. By telephone and facsimile dated January 19, 1996, CSC notified Owen that her employment was terminated.

CSC states that Owen was terminated due to a downsizing of JCALS staff that incurred during plaintiff's medical leave. The JCALS engineering staff was reduced from approximately 125 to 75 employees because of the completion of various stages of the project and a reduction in the engineering budget. See Cert. of James Scarpello ("Scarpello"), Senior Manager for JCALS, at ¶ 7. Owen's position in the Infrastructure Requirements Group was one of the jobs that was eliminated during such downsizing. Chi Coffman ("Coffman"), the technical recruiter assigned to the JCALS project, under the direction of Human Resources Director Kathy Woytowich ("Woytowich"), searched for, but was unable to find, another suitable position for plaintiff by January 19, 1996. *fn3 Accordingly, Owen was terminated pursuant to company policy.

B.

On January 26, 1996, Owen filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging a violation of the ADA. In support of her ADA charge, plaintiff highlighted CSC's participation in a local job fair through an advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 14, 1996. CSC's Moorestown, New Jersey Integrated Systems Division ("ISD") *fn4 did not hire any staff as a result of its participation in the job fair. New Jersey's ISD office did not hire any Principal Engineers between January 19, 1996, and the Fall of 1996. See Coffman Cert., ¶ 17, 18. On September 29, 1997, the EEOC issued a dismissal of Owen's charge and right to sue notice, stating that it was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes." See EEOC letter dated September 29, 1997. Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on December 29, 1997, requesting relief pursuant to 1) the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"); 2) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), and 3) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). *fn5 On December 14, 1998, CSC filed the instant motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff's ADA, ADEA, and Title VII claims.

II.

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), a court may grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." The non-moving party may not simply rest on its pleadings to oppose a summary judgment motion but must affirmatively come forward with admissible evidence establishing a genuine issue of fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

The substantive law governing the dispute will determine which facts are material, and only disputes over those facts "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248. Where the moving party has carried its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Idus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine issue for trial does not exist "unless the party opposing the motion can adduce evidence which, when considered in light of that party's burden of proof at trial, could be the basis for a jury finding in that party's favor." J.E. Mamiye & Sons, Inc. v. Fidelity Bank, 813 F.2d 610, 618 (3d Cir. 1987) (Becker, J., concurring).

III.

Defendant argues that plaintiff has no basis for a claim under the ADA, ADEA or Title VII. Defendant's ADA argument has two bases. First, defendant argues that plaintiff cannot establish the elements of a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA. Specifically, defendant contends that Owen's alleged disability, MCS, does not constitute a disability within the ADA. Alternatively, CSC contends that even if plaintiff is disabled within the ADA, plaintiff cannot show that defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for her termination, namely a reduction in force, was a pretext for disability discrimination. *fn6 Defendant argues that Owen's ADEA and Title VII claims should be dismissed because they are barred by her failure to satisfy the statutory prerequisites to suit.

Plaintiff denies the defendant's assertions and argues that MCS is a legitimate disability and that her termination upon completion of her medical leave violated the ADA. Plaintiff also alleges, with virtually no explanation, that her termination violated the ADEA and Title VII. This Court finds that CSC's termination of plaintiff did not violate the ADA, ADEA or Title VII. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and plaintiff's case is dismissed.

A.

Plaintiff argues that CSC discriminated against her on the basis of her alleged disability, MSC, by terminating her employment upon completion of her leave of absence. Plaintiff contends that such discrimination violated the ADA. Defendant contends that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, and that even if she was, that her termination was caused by a reduction in the workforce. Plaintiff seems to suggest that CSC's basis for firing her -- because of a reduction in workforce -- was really a pretext for discrimination. *fn7 Because this Court finds that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, we do not reach the question of pretext.

The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate: 1) that she is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; 2) that she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and 3) she has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of the discrimination. See Gaul v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Shiring v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 827 (3d Cir. 1996). Defendant argues that plaintiff failed to establish the first and third elements of a prima facie case of disability discrimination.

At the time Owen commenced her leave of absence, CSC's

company policy provided its employees with up to a one year leave of absence for medical leave, after which employment was terminated. Owen commenced her medical leave on January 19, 1995, and was out of the office due to severe anemia through June 26, 1995, at which time her blood counts had returned to normal. Owen remained on leave under the company policy from June 26, 1995, through January of 1996, due to her alleged MCS.

Defendants do not dispute that plaintiff was disabled up to and including June 26, 1995. Instead, CSC argues that because MCS is not a legitimate disability, plaintiff can not show that she was disabled from June 26, 1995, through January 19, 1996, the time that the alleged discriminatory firing took place. In support of its argument that MSC is not a legitimate medical condition, defendant highlights numerous cases that exclude expert testimony about MSC due to the lack of existing scientific evidence about such diagnosis. *fn8 The case at bar, however, does not involve the admissibility of expert testimony regarding MSC.

This Court need not and does not reach the merits of whether MSC is a legitimate medical condition. Even assuming that Owen's condition is among the conditions identified as a physical or mental impairment under the ADA, this Court's inquiry would not be completed. *fn9 The ADA mandates a case-by-case determination of whether a plaintiff-employee's condition is so severe that it substantially limits one or more of plaintiff's major life activities. See Mondzelewski v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., 162 F.3d 778, 785 (3d Cir. 1998) (holding that District Court committed legal error by failing to conduct necessary individualized assessment of the extent to which [plaintiff's] back condition coupled with his personal characteristics substantially limits his ability to work); See generally Dutcher v. Ingalls Shipbuilding, 53 F.3d 723 (5th Cir. 1995); Whillock v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 926 F. Supp. 1555, 1562-63 (N.D. Ga. 1995) (finding that plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to create a triable issue regarding whether she has a disability due to her MCS under the ADA). The determination of whether an individual has a disability is not necessarily based on the name or diagnosis of the person's impairment, but rather on the effect of that impairment on the life of the individual. See 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. § 16630.2(j).

The appropriate question before this Court is not whether MSC constitutes a per se disability under the ADA, as defendant's argue, but whether Owen's condition is so severe that it substantially impairs a major life condition. An examination of the statute and the EEOC regulations provide guidance in this determination. See 42 U.S.C. § 12116 (empowering the EEOC to promulgate regulations implementing the ADA). The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12101. The ADA defines disability:

The term "disability" means, with respect to an individual -

(1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

(2) a record of such an impairment; or

(3) being regarded as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2).

The Code of Federal Regulations are instructive as to the meaning of "major life activities" and "substantially limits" with respect to working. "Major Life Activities means functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). "With respect to the major life activity of working - The term substantially limits means significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities. The inability to perform a single, particular job does not constitute a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(i).

The regulations further provide that, in assessing whether there has been a substantial limitation on a major life activity, the courts may consider:

i) [t]he nature and severity of the impairment;

ii) [t]he duration or expected duration of the impairment; and

iii) [t]he permanent or long term impact, or the expected permanent or long term impact of or resulting from the impairment. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(2)(i)-(iii).

With regard to the major life activity of working, the regulations provide that the following factors may also be considered:

(A) [t]he geographical area to which the individual has reasonable access;

(B) [t]he job from which the individual has been disqualified because of an impairment, and the number and types of jobs utilizing similar training, knowledge, skills or abilities, within that geographical area, from which the individual is also qualified because of the impairment (class of jobs); and/or

(c) [t]he job from which the individual has been disqualified because of an impairment, and the number and types of jobs not utilizing similar training, knowledge, skills or abilities, within that geographical area, from which the individual is also disqualified because of the impairment (broad range of jobs in various classes). 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(k)(3)(ii); see also Deane v. Pocono Medical Ctr., 142 F.3d 138, 144 n. 7 (3d Cir. 1998) (en banc).

Under the EEOC interpretative guidelines, determining whether an individual is substantially limited in one or more of the major life activities requires a two-step analysis. First, the court determines whether the individual is substantially limited in any major life activity other than working, such as walking, seeing, or hearing. See Mondzelewski v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., 162 F.3d at 783; 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. 1630.2(j). This determination is made by comparing the effect of the impairment on that individual with the "average person in the general population." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1); 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. § 1630.2(j). If the court finds that the individual is so limited, the inquiry ends there. If the court finds that the individual at issue is not so limited, the next step is to determine whether the individual is substantially limited in the major life activity of working. See id. The proper inquiry in making this determination is whether the individual is "significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes as compared to the average person having comparable training, skills and abilities." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(i).

This latter approach requires a court to evaluate "whether the particular impairment constitutes for the particular person a significant barrier to employment." Mondzelewski v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., 162 F.3d at 784 (quoting Webb w. Garelick Mfg. Co., 94 F.3d 484, 488 (8th Cir. 1996)(citing Forrisi v. Bowen, 794 F.2d 931, 933 (4th Cir. 1986)). The Third Circuit recently stated that it is necessary to conduct an individualized assessment of the extent to which a plaintiff's alleged condition coupled with her personal characteristics substantially limit her ability to work:

Because a `person's expertise, background, and job expectations are relevant factors in defining the class of jobs used to determine whether an individual is disabled,' Webb, 94 F.3d at 487, the court must consider the effect of the impairment on the employment prospects of that individual with all of his or her relevant personal characteristics. Forrisi, 795 F.2d at 933. Thus, a substantially limiting impairment for one individual may not be substantially limiting for another individual with different characteristics. Mondzelewski v. Pathmark Stores, Inc., 784 F.3d at 784 (citing 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630, App. § 1630.2(j); McKay v. Toyota Mfg. U.S.A., Inc., 110 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1997) (finding plaintiff with carpal tunnel syndrome not disabled because, among other things, she had a college education); Smith v. Kitterman, Inc., 897 F. Supp. 423, 427 (W.D. Mo. 1995) (finding plaintiff with carpal tunnel syndrome had raised material issue of fact because of her limited education, training, and employment background); Heilweil v. Mount Sinai Hospital, 32 F.3d 718, 724 (2d Cir. 1994) (finding plaintiff not hindered in her ability to work because of her advanced educational degrees), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1147 (1995)).

Applying these guidelines to the instant plaintiff reveals that she is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA. The record is devoid of evidence that Owen is substantially impaired in a major life activity other than working. Therefore, this Court directs its attention to whether Owen is substantially impaired in the major life activity of working. Working does not mean working at the particular job of the plaintiff's choice. See Maulding v. Sullivan, 961 F.2d 694, 698 (8th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, Maulding v. Shalala, 507 U.S. 910 (1993). Moreover, "[a]n impairment that disqualifies a person from only a narrow range of jobs is not considered a substantially limiting one." Wooten v. Farmland Foods, 58 F.3d 382, 386 (8th Cir. 1995) (quoting Heilweil v. Mount Sinai Hosp., 32 F.3d 718, 723 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1147 (1995)). The determinative question before this Court is whether Owen's ability to work is sufficiently limited in light of the training, skills, and abilities that she does possess.

Plaintiff has offered no evidence that she cannot perform a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes. To the contrary, Dr. Buttram's note indicated that Owen could work with only minor limitations. Specifically, Buttram suggested: "In order for her to cope with these health problems [MCS and sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation] when she return to work I would like to make these suggestions: I suggest that she start at thirty-two hours per week and gradually work up to the regular forty hour work." Buttram's letter, dated January 17, 1996. Buttram suggested that, if possible, Owen should work in a ventilated area with natural sunlight and stated that, as much as feasible, her work area should be free of perfumes, tobacco smoke, fresh paints, pesticides, new carpets, direct exposure to flourescent lights, faxes, and xerox machines. See id. Owen herself appeared willing and able to work, evidenced by her desire to return to work on January 15, 1996. Owen offers no medical proof or evidence otherwise that substantiates her claim that her condition restricts her ability to work in a broad range of jobs. In addition, Owen developed her alleged medical condition, MCS, subsequent to her leave from CSC, and offers no proof that her condition was caused or exacerbated by the work environment at CSC. The record indicates that Owen was able to ride a bicycle ten miles to mail her appeal of the denial of her long-term disability benefits, is able to attend church and grocery shop on a regular basis. See Owen Dep., 116:16-117:5; 118:22-3.

Plaintiff has neither identified the jobs that she is allegedly unable to perform nor specified the duration or impact of her impairment. This Court finds that, at most, Owen's impairment only disqualified her from a narrow range of jobs. Nothing suggests that plaintiff's education and previous job experience would hinder her ability to find a suitable position in the class of jobs at issue, in the general field of engineering. Owen is a college graduate, has attended numerous computer courses, and has published numerous articles, brochures, and/or reports in her field. While this Court is mindful of its obligation to treat pro se submissions liberally, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (per curiam); Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1990), plaintiff has not submitted competent evidence to contest defendant's summary judgment motion. Viewing the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to plaintiff, this Court finds that Owen's impairment does not significantly restrict her ability to perform a broad range of jobs in various classes. This decision is supported by the ADA, the EEOC regulations that define the scope and reach of the statute, and the case law. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment of plaintiff's ADA claims is granted.

B.

Defendant also moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims pursuant to the ADEA and Title VII on the ground that such claims are barred by the statutory prerequisites to suit. Although Owen's complaint lists the ADEA and Title VII, in addition to the ADA, as bases for relief, the complaint is devoid of any allegations of age or gender discrimination on the part of CSC. Furthermore, plaintiff expressly disavowed any gender discrimination on the part of CSC at her deposition. See Owen's Dep., 184:25-185:7 (stating that only other basis of discrimination [besides disability] in this lawsuit was age and salary). In addition, Owen did not include age or gender discrimination claims of in her EEOC charge. See EEOC charge, dated May 2, 1996 (reflecting that box indicating discrimination under ADA is checked and boxes indicating discrimination under Title VII and ADEA are not checked).

While the substantive law under the ADEA is different from that under Title VII, the enforcement procedures are the same. A discrimination plaintiff is required to file a timely charge with the EEOC prior to bringing an action in federal court. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393 (1982). Specifically, Section 706(e) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e), requires that a charge of discrimination be filed with the EEOC within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred, with certain exceptions where charges are filed with state or local agencies. The ADEA also requires a plaintiff to file a charge with the EEOC prior to filing an action for age discrimination. See 29 U.S.C. § 626(d).

A district court may only hear Title VII claims that are either included in an EEOC charge or are based on conduct subsequent to the EEOC which is "reasonably related" to that alleged in the EEOC charge. See Butts v. City of New York Department of Housing, 990 F.2d 1397, 1401 (2d Cir. 1993)(quoting Stewart v. United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, 762 F.2d 193, 198 (2d Cir. 1985)). A plaintiff may not assert matters in a suit in federal court outside the scope of an EEOC charge. See Thomas v. Ethicon, Inc., 1994 WL 171345, *6 (E.D. Pa. 1994) (citing Ostapowicz v. Johnson Bronze Co., 541 F.2d 394, 399-400 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1041 (1977)).

The instant plaintiff's ADEA and Title VII discrimination claims were not included in her EEOC charge. Although plaintiff alleges no facts to support an inference of age or gender discrimination, presumably the alleged age and gender discrimination are not based on conduct subsequent to the EEOC charge, but took place prior to or at the same time as the alleged disability discrimination. Because Owen failed to file ADEA and Title VII discrimination claims with the EEOC, she is statutorily barred from now bringing such claims in federal court.

In addition, although Owen's Complaint makes reference to Title VII and the ADEA, no gender or age discrimination claims are clearly articulated in the Complaint or subsequent submissions. The plaintiff fails to provide any explanation of the nature of the alleged violations. The alleged Title VII and ADEA claims, therefore, also fail to meet the minimal requirements of the simplified pleading rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

Moreover, nothing in plaintiff's summary judgment papers supports an inference of gender or age discrimination. Owen's Complaint and subsequent submissions fail to make a prima facie case of age or gender discrimination, let alone rebut any good faith explanation on the part of CSC.

IV.

For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to Owen's ADA, ADEA and Title VII claims are granted and plaintiff's case is dismissed. An appropriate order in conformance with this opinion will be entered on even date herewith.

Date: February 2, 1999

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, U.S.D.C.


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