E.E.O.C. v. PICTURE PEOPLE, INC. No. 11-1306.
684 F.3d 981 (2012)
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The PICTURE PEOPLE, INC., Defendant-Appellee. University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Civil Rights of Persons with Disabilities Clinic; National Association of the Deaf, Amici Curiae.
United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.
July 10, 2012.
Marc Charmatz, Adjunct Professor of Civil Rights of Persons with Disabilities Clinic, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Baltimore, MD; Marc Charmatz and Debra Patkin of National Association of the Deaf, Silver Spring, MD, on the brief, for Amici Curiae.
Before BRISCOE, Chief Judge, HOLLOWAY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
PAUL KELLY, JR., Circuit Judge.
Plaintiff-Appellant, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), on behalf of Jessica Chrysler ("Employee"), appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee, The Picture People ("Employer"). See Order Granting Summary Judgment, EEOC v. Picture People, Inc., No. 09-cv-02315-PAB-CBS, 2011 WL 1754522 (D.Colo. May 9, 2011) (hereinafter "Order"). The district court granted summary judgment on the basis that Employee could not establish an essential element of her case, that she was qualified — with or without accommodation — to perform an essential function of her job as a "performer" in Employer's store. Id. at *3-*5. It also concluded that Employee's retaliation claim failed because she could not perform an essential function of the job, and that she offered no evidence that Employer's legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons were pretextual. Id. at *7-*8. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and affirm.
Employee is a congenitally and profoundly deaf individual who communicates with hearing individuals by writing notes, gesturing, pointing, and miming. She can also type, text message, and use body language. According to the EEOC, "[s]he
Employee requested an ASL interpreter for her three days of orientation training. Order at *1. Employer was unable to supply an interpreter, and Employee's start date was delayed by three weeks. Id.; Aplt. Br. 5. Eventually, Employee secured an interpreter through the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation ("DVR"), which had been assisting with her job search. Order at *1.
Employee had the opportunity to shoot photographs on 15-20 occasions with a hearing performer; she attempted to conduct a shoot by herself on a couple of occasions. Aplt.App. 247a. Employee communicated with subjects by writing notes, gesturing, and miming. Id. at 240a-47a. This was often difficult as photo subjects are usually young children. In order to sell photo packages, Employee had to write notes, gesture, or "get somebody else that could do it more efficiently...." Id. at 236a.
In November 2007, Employer dispatched Master Photographer Libby Johnston to the Littleton store to improve photography quality and sales in anticipation of the holidays. Order at *2. Ms. Johnston provided a training session. The EEOC maintains that Employee requested an ASL interpreter, but none was provided. Aplt. Br. 7. At any rate, Ms. Johnston "found [Employee's] written communications awkward, cumbersome, and impractical...." Aplee. Br. 17; Aplt.App. 164a. She telephoned the District Manager, Candi Bryan; they conferred and recommended that Employee be reassigned exclusively to the photo lab. Order at *2. Thereafter, Employee was assigned almost exclusively to the lab. Id.
After the 2007 holiday season, Employer instructed the local acting studio manager to cut the hours of or terminate seasonal performers. Id. Employee complained about her hours, and management explained in writing that all performers' hours had been cut. Aplt.App. 336a-39a. On December 29, 2007, management notified Ms. Bryan that Employee's performance in the lab was deteriorating — Employee was coloring with pencils instead of working, refusing to take legally required rest breaks, and demanding hours with
After the 2007 holiday season, Employee remained on the schedule as an employee, but was not scheduled to work. Order at *2. Employer officially terminated Employee in October 2008. Aplt. Br. 15.
In September 2009, the EEOC filed this action alleging that Employer violated the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101. Aplt.App. 7a-18a. After discovery, Employer moved for summary judgment on all claims, and the EEOC moved for partial summary judgment on four of Employer's affirmative defenses. On May 9, 2011, the district court granted Employer's motion to withdraw its affirmative defenses, ruled the EEOC's motion moot, and granted Employer's motion for summary judgment. See Order. This appeal followed.
We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Fowler v. United States,
The parties agree that Employee was disabled within the meaning of the ADA. See Order at *1. Therefore, we start with the second part of the test.
I. Was Employee Qualified for the Performer Position?
Under the ADA, it is unlawful for an employer to use qualification standards, employment tests, or other selection criteria that "screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or a class of individuals with disabilities unless the standard, test or other selection criteria, as used by the covered entity, is shown to be job-related for the position in question and is consistent with business necessity...." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(6); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.15(b)(1). An employer must make "reasonable accommodations" for an otherwise qualified individual unless the employer "can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business...." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.15(d).
A. Are Verbal Communication Skills an Essential Function of the Performer Position?
Employer maintains that strong verbal communication skills are an essential function of the performer position. Whether such skills are an essential function depends in part upon whether Employer "actually requires all employees in the particular position to satisfy the alleged job-related requirement." Hennagir v. Utah Dep't of Corr.,
Id.; 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(3). The essential function analysis "is not intended to second guess the employer or to require [it] to lower company standards.... Provided that any necessary job specification is job-related, uniformly enforced, and consistent with business necessity, the employer has a right to establish what a job is and what is required to perform it." Hennagir, 587 F.3d at 1262 (internal quotations omitted); cf. Davidson v. Am. Online, Inc.,
Using the criteria listed above, verbal communication skills are an essential function of the performer position. Employer explains that a performer must be able to verbally communicate with customers (many of whom are children), Aplt. App. 53a, and it lists "[s]trong verbal communication skills" and "[s]trong customer service skills" as job qualifications for the performer position. Aplt.App. 98a-99a, 155a-56a. According to Employer, "substituting written notes, gestures, and pointing for fast, efficient verbal cuing in the Camera Room is simply impractical in light of (a) the short attention span of most Picture People subjects ...; (b) the interruption to the flow of the photo shoot; (c) the inability to establish rapport with the parent and child and finally, (d) the quick 20-minute duration of each Camera Room sitting[.]" Aplee. Br. 16.
Employee is unable to fully perform three of the four duties of a performer. Although she can fully perform the lab function, her ability to (a) efficiently register and recruit customers, (b) instruct young children while taking their photos, and (c) sell photo packages by addressing customer critiques and concerns, is problematic, particularly given Employer's business model. Employer allows only 20 minutes for each Camera Room sitting — a relatively short period of time, especially when photographing young children. Aplt.App. 53a, 172a.
The only evidence of a verbally impaired employee in the performer position is not really comparable. Ms. Wendy Duke — a former employee — is also hearing impaired, but Ms. Duke is able to speak and can effectively read lips. Id. at 169a. Though the EEOC claims that a jury could find that the differences between Ms. Duke and Employee were not as significant as urged, the EEOC does not dispute that Ms. Duke could read lips and speak and that Employee does very little of either. Order at *5. Furthermore, when 2-2 staffing is employed during most of the year, Employee is unable to fully perform three of the four main duties of a performer, while Ms. Duke was able to converse with customers while selling photos, id. at 172a, and while taking pictures, id. at 173a ("Every time I go into the camera shoot I use my voice."). Though the EEOC maintains that Employee could communicate non-verbally, nothing suggests that gestures,
B. Were Reasonable Accommodations Available?
If an employee is unable to perform an essential function, the next inquiry is whether the employee could perform this job with reasonable accommodations. See Davidson, 337 F.3d at 1192. Reasonable accommodations are defined as "[m]odifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable an individual with a disability who is qualified to perform the essential functions of that position" or "[m]odifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity's employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1)(ii)-(iii).
The EEOC first argues that Employer was required to modify how Employee worked as a performer "to allow her to communicate with customers using non-verbal means of communication." Aplt. Br. 32-33. It is axiomatic, however, that an employer is not required to relieve an employee of an essential job function. See Mason v. Avaya Commc'ns, Inc.,
Next, the EEOC argues that Employer was required to provide ASL interpreters at staff meetings and training sessions. Aplt. Br. 34-35; Aplt. Rep. Br. 21-27; 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B). The EEOC relies upon cases in which a court held that an employer was required to provide an ASL interpreter for staff meetings. Those cases are readily distinguishable. In EEOC v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, the Ninth Circuit reversed summary judgment, finding a genuine issue of fact as to whether written agendas and outlines were a sufficient accommodation at staff meetings and training sessions, or whether an ASL interpreter was required.
This case is different. Employee's position as a performer required her to communicate extensively with customers and to conduct photo sessions with dispatch. Providing Employee with an ASL interpreter at staff meetings would not ameliorate her inability to interact verbally with customers — an essential function of the performer job. This difficulty would preclude Employer from scheduling her during non-peak periods with 2-2 staffing. No reasonable accommodation has been suggested that would allow Employee to perform her job given these constraints.
II. Whether Picture People Discriminated Against Chrysler and Terminated Her in Violation of the ADA
The district court correctly granted summary judgment on the unlawful termination claim because Employee failed to present facts showing that she was qualified for the performer job. In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a showing that the employee was qualified is necessary before proceeding to the third inquiry. See Mauerhan v. Wagner Corp.,
III. Whether Picture People Retaliated Against Chrysler in Violation of the ADA
A prima facie case of retaliation under the ADA requires: "(1) that [an employee] engaged in protected opposition to discrimination, (2) that a reasonable employee would have found the challenged action materially adverse, and (3) that a causal connection existed between the protected activity and the materially adverse action." Hennagir, 587 F.3d at 1265; 42 U.S.C. § 12203. If a plaintiff establishes these factors, the employer has the burden of showing it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action. Hennagir, 587 F.3d at 1265. If the employer can do so, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove pretext, id., which requires a showing that the proffered non-discriminatory reason is "unworthy of belief," Johnson v. Weld Cnty., Colo.,
We assume, as did the district court, that disciplining Employee and eliminating her from the work schedule were materially adverse actions. Order at *7. We further assume that the adverse actions were related to the protected activity; the January 2008 Performance Track Counseling statement indicated that Employee announced her intention to bring a grievance against Employer if her hours were not increased. Aplt.App. 341a-42a. Still, Employer presented evidence supporting nondiscriminatory reasons for the adverse actions. Order at *7. Employer states that "the reduction of work hours following the holiday [p]eak occurs as a normal byproduct of [its] normal retail business cycle, and affected all Performers." Aplee. Br. 39. It further claims that Employee's inability to perform all four essential job functions precluded her from being scheduled after the holidays due to 2-2 staffing, id., and this is documented in handwritten notes between Employee and Ms. Doyle, the acting studio manager. Aplt. App. 337a-38a. Employer also presented evidence that Employee was counseled because she was coloring with crayons in the lab, letting other Performers handle their own lab work, and refusing to take breaks according to company policy. See Aplt.App. 341a-42a. Employee conceded the alleged infractions. Id. at 343a ("I do the drawings when I'm
Given evidence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the adverse actions, the burden shifts to the EEOC to establish pretext. To raise a fact issue of pretext, a plaintiff must present evidence of temporal proximity plus circumstantial evidence of retaliatory motive. This court has stated, "a plaintiff can demonstrate pretext by showing weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's reasons for its action, which a reasonable fact finder could rationally find unworthy of credence." Chavez v. Thomas & Betts Corp.,
IV. The Dissent
The dissent contends that both this court and the district court misapply the summary judgment standard by failing to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, and by ignoring direct evidence of retaliatory motive. These contentions are without merit.
The dissent argues that much of the evidence favoring Employer as the moving party must be disregarded because the jury is not required to believe it. In Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,
Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151, 120 S.Ct. 2097 (internal quotations omitted). The dissent contends that this passage supports disregarding much of the evidence based upon its unsupported perception that Employer's witnesses were biased — they had pre-determined ideas about the limits of the deaf. In employment discrimination cases, the employer's agents frequently will supply the testimony, yet they cannot be deemed interested parties any more than the dissent can impute bias to them. See Traylor v. Brown,
There are other important summary judgment principles over which the dissent rides roughshod: the movant is not required to disprove the non-movant's case, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
First, the dissent argues that Employer's judgment about what is an essential job function is controverted because none of the job descriptions include oral communication as a job duty, but rather use the term "verbal communication skills" as a job qualification. This is a very thin reed, understandably not grasped by the parties. Strong verbal communication skills are listed as "Job Qualifications" on descriptions for both the Seasonal Associate and Performer positions. 1 Aplt.App. 99a, 101a. Listing strong verbal communication as a requirement for a customer-service oriented job was certainly reasonable on the part of Employer. In determining whether a function is essential we simply have no license, absent evidence, to disregard a natural reading of a written job description.
The dissent's major point is that Employee could communicate effectively. The dissent relies on the photo shoot with the Krols, and "several other shoots" that Employee allegedly participated in. But any review of the evidence in the light most favorable to Employee does not reveal a genuine issue of material fact that would require submission to a jury. When Employee was asked how many times she took photographs in the camera room, she said "15, 20, maybe less. I don't know." Id. at 246a-47a. When asked how many of those times she was by herself, she answered, "[a] couple." Id. at 247a. On most of these occasions, therefore, Employee was accompanied in the camera room by a performer who could hear and communicate orally with customers. At best, except for on very limited occasions, Employer did not find Employee qualified to work in the camera room on her own.
While the dissent points to a blanket statement given by Employee's vocational
The dissent also contends that this case is controlled by Davidson v. America Online, Inc.,
The dissent also claims that the court overlooks direct evidence of retaliation and that any time there is direct evidence it is sufficient evidence of pretext requiring submission of a retaliation claim to the jury. We disagree. To be sure, in an indirect case, a plaintiff may survive summary judgment with a prima facie case and a showing of pretext or direct evidence of discrimination in response to an employer's legitimate reasons for its actions. See Conner v. Schnuck Markets, Inc.,
We need not decide that issue. This circuit has a very high bar for what constitutes direct evidence of retaliation: it does not require any inference or presumption. Twigg v. Hawker Beechcraft Corp.,
2 Aplt.App. 341a. The letter requires us to infer retaliatory motive from a chain of events — that the disciplinary notice was given to Employee because she asserted her ADA rights, and not because of the several other problems noted on the performance evaluation. This differs from the termination letter in the case referenced by the dissent, Medlock v. Ortho Biotech, Inc.,
Summary judgment on the retaliation claim is proper. Employee claims that she was treated differently from other employees who engaged in the same behavior, but does not allege any specific facts or incidents to back it up. Though the dissent views that as sufficient, on summary judgment more is required. See Jones v. Denver Post Corp.,
The performance evaluation does contain numerous non-retaliatory reasons. These include: refusing to take a break, spending time on the clock to color, and demanding hours after initially refusing to shoot photo sessions in December. 2 Aplt. App. 341a. It mentions that Employer was only able to schedule Employee during busy times because of her inability to perform all required tasks. Id. Employee has failed to identify sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact as to pretext.
HOLLOWAY, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Ms. Jessica Chrysler was hired as a photographer or "performer" at the Littleton, Colorado studio of Defendant-Appellee The Picture People, Inc. (the Employer). The manager who hired her had full knowledge of her deafness and the means by which she can communicate, and he also had the experience to fully understand the requirements of the job.
When Ms. Chrysler was given an opportunity to conduct a photo session, her performance was given high praise by the customers. She conducted a number of other sessions as well, and there is no evidence that these sessions were less than successful in any way. Nevertheless, acting on what a jury could well determine was nothing more than a stereotyped view of the limitations of the deaf, the Employer first relegated Ms. Chrysler to work only in the lab, then eliminated all of her hours, and finally, after months of hollow promises that she would be given some opportunities, it fired her. Not only that, but the Employer explicitly chastised Ms.
The EEOC brought this case against the Employer alleging (1) that the Employer had discriminated against Ms. Chrysler because of her deafness
The opinion affirms these illogical holdings. Like the district court, the opinion fails to apply the proper standard in evaluating the evidence. When the evidence is taken in the proper light, I am convinced that the judgment must be reversed. I therefore respectfully dissent.
"We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court." McKnight v. Kimberly Clark Corp.,
McKnight, 149 F.3d at 1128 (brackets and quotations omitted). Furthermore, in our review of the record we "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc.,
Because the majority opinion fails even to acknowledge — much less to view in the favorable light as it should — much of the evidence that the EEOC submitted to the district court, it is necessary to survey that evidence in some detail. In keeping with our standard of review, the following recitation of the evidence will be focused on the EEOC's evidence and should be understood as representing what a properly instructed, rational jury could find, based on that evidence. Testimony favorable to the Employer in this case comes mostly from its own employees, and the jury of course would not be required to accept their testimony. Therefore, that evidence should not be considered at this stage. Id. (noting
Ms. Chrysler is congenitally deaf. She communicates in American Sign Language (ASL), and with written notes, gestures, and facial expressions. She also can use a computer. III Aplt.App. 593a. These methods work when she communicates with one person or a small group, but she needs a sign language interpreter for group settings such as the staff meetings held by the Employer during her brief tenure.
The Employer's business is photography, and it specializes in portraits of children of age five and younger. Ms. Chrysler was hired on October 23, 2007, to work at the portrait studio in Littleton, Colorado, one of a number of the Employer's branches. Ms. Chrysler was hired by Mr. Aguilar, who was then the manager of that studio. She was hired as a photographer, a position that the Employer calls "associate" or "performer."
Performers had four general areas of responsibility: customer intake, sales, portrait photography, and laboratory duties. Mr. Aguilar intended to use Ms. Chrysler primarily in the "camera room" taking pictures. Mr. Aguilar had previously worked for the Employer in another location where he had worked with a deaf woman photographer, Ms. Duke, and Mr. Aguilar thought that Ms. Duke was very capable.
Ms. Chrysler was scheduled for an initial orientation and training program that the Employer requires for all new hires. One of the goals of the training is to transmit the Employer's philosophy, which emphasizes not just the quality of the portraits it produces but also the quality of the customer's experience. On being hired, Ms. Chrysler requested that an ASL interpreter be provided for the training session. Mr. Aguilar agreed that one was needed but had no idea how to arrange it. He contacted his district manager, Candi Bryan, about it. Ms. Bryan told Mr. Aguilar that the Employer did not provide such services. Aguilar and Chrysler each contacted Employer's human resources department. A human resources official suggested that Mr. Aguilar check local churches for volunteer interpreters. A "Sr. Human Resources Mgr." sent an e-mail to the studio manager saying that hiring an interpreter "to be around the studio while this employee is working ... seems like an expense we would like to do without." II Aplt.App. 395a. Employer provided no other assistance to Aguilar as he attempted to make arrangements for an interpreter.
The Employer's failure to provide an interpreter (as noted, the Employer did not attempt to provide an interpreter) caused Ms. Chrysler's start date to be delayed by three weeks. Eventually, Ms. Chrysler learned that the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which had been helping her in her job search, could provide interpreters for their clients' initial training, and at Ms. Chrysler's request this was done for her three days of initial training in mid-November 2007. Ms. Chrysler completed the training and was assigned to begin working in the camera room.
The day after completing the training, Ms. Chrysler had a photo session with the
Just three days after the Krols' session with Chrysler, two managers visited the Littleton studio to conduct advanced training for the staff. Ms. Chrysler attended. She requested an interpreter, but none was provided. Consequently, she could not benefit from the training session. One of the managers providing the training contacted district manager Bryan to express concern about Chrysler. (Apparently the concern was not that Ms. Chrysler had not been provided an interpreter, but concern that she had been hired as a photographer.) The next day Ms. Bryan directed Mr. Aguilar to assign Ms. Chrysler to the lab. Mr. Aguilar demoted himself from studio manager to performer that same day (a decision which, Aguilar later testified, was not related to the direction regarding Ms. Chrysler). Management of the Littleton studio was assigned, temporarily, to assistant manager Kim Doyle, with Deidre Sandoval to be her assistant. The Employer directed them to assign Ms. Chrysler only to the lab.
Ms. Chrysler testified in her deposition that she had conducted as many as 15 to 20 photo shoots for the Employer, most with other employees present and "a couple" by herself. She said that district manager Bryan was with her during one session. Most significantly, she testified that no one ever expressed concern to her about how those sessions had been conducted. On appeal, the Employer has not identified any evidence that there was any deficiency in Ms. Chrysler's performance during the times that she conducted photo sessions, and my search of the record has produced no such evidence.
The studio occasionally held mandatory staff meetings. During the six weeks that Ms. Chrysler worked there, she requested an interpreter for the meetings, but none was ever provided. Instead, the Employer merely gave her a written outline or agenda. As a result, she was not able to benefit as intended from the discussions in the meetings.
The Employer's business is seasonal. Ms. Chrysler had been hired as part of a pre-holiday expansion of the work force because Christmas is one of the busiest seasons. Immediately after Christmas, business slowed down dramatically at least until Valentine's Day, with the result that most employees got substantially reduced hours. But Ms. Chrysler was never given another shift after Christmas Eve.
When Ms. Chrysler noticed that she was not listed on the first schedule to come out after Christmas, she complained to acting manager Doyle. Ms. Doyle told Ms. Chrysler she would love to have her on full-time but there simply was not enough work for anyone to get full-time assignments in January. In an exchange of written notes, Ms. Doyle told Ms. Chrysler she would try to find some shifts for her. Ms. Doyle then sent a message to district manager Bryan saying that Ms. Chrysler was "demanding hours" and "threatening discrimination."
District manager Bryan forwarded Ms. Doyle's message to a representative of human resources. That person later testified that she thought the matter had been referred to her for discipline because she understood (or assumed), incorrectly, that management at the Littleton studio had communicated with Ms. Chrysler and that Chrysler had refused to change her behavior. That same day, district manager Bryan drafted a disciplinary notice for Ms. Chrysler. Although this was the first notice to Ms. Chrysler of any problem, the document was labeled a "final warning." It reprimanded Ms. Chrysler first for refusing to take breaks and second for becoming angry and threatening to "bring a grievance" against the employer. II Aplt. App. 341a. Ms. Chrysler was also reprimanded for coloring in the lab.
In the disciplinary notice as later delivered to Ms. Chrysler was a message to Ms. Chrysler about her hours: "Due to the limited tasks that you are qualified to perform, we can only schedule you on very busy times with other groups of employees. There are not very many busy times in January.... If you want more hours, wait `till the next peak period, perhaps Valentine's Day." After that, Ms. Chrysler called the studio weekly to see if she had been scheduled for any shifts. Despite the suggestion in the notice that Ms. Chrysler might get more hours in the period before
On March 6, 2008, Ms. Chrysler filed a discrimination charge against the Employer with the EEOC. In its response to the charge, the Employer said that Ms. Chrysler had not been terminated and told the EEOC that it would contact Chrysler when business increased "so that she may be able to continue her employment," and said that this might occur in the weeks before Father's Day (which had previously proved to be a busy time for the studio). In May 2008, Ms. Chrysler visited the new manager of the Littleton studio about getting some shifts.
The Employer never contacted Ms. Chrysler, never gave her any more work, and formally terminated her in October 2008. These are the basic facts on the discrimination charge and the retaliation charge on which the district court ruled.
The ADA coverage
In enacting the ADA, Congress stated, inter alia, that its purpose was "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities...." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). Congress found that individuals with disabilities experienced "restrictions and limitations ... resulting from stereotypic assumptions not truly indicative of the individual ability of such individuals to participate in, and contribute to, society...." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(7).
Coverage under the ADA extends to one who is a "qualified person with a disability" and that in turn is defined as one who "with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions" of the position in question. Therefore, a necessary first step is to identify the "essential functions" of the position. "Essential functions" are the fundamental duties, not the "marginal functions of the position." Davidson v. America Online, Inc.,
But the employer's judgment is not conclusive evidence. As this court has said, "an employer may not turn every condition of employment which it elects to adopt into a job function, let alone an essential job function, merely by including it in a job description." Davidson, 337 F.3d at 1191. More specifically, we deal here with a purported "essential function" that the Employer now seeks to define in such a way as to eliminate an entire class of disabled persons — those who do not communicate well orally.
The majority correctly notes the legal principles that establish when an employer may adopt such qualification standards. By statute, such a qualification standard may only be used when "consistent with business necessity." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(6), quoted in maj. op. at 985. The majority also correctly notes that an employer must make "reasonable accommodations" for an otherwise qualified person unless the employer can show that the
The Employer's primary contention is that the ability to communicate orally is an essential function of the position. The EEOC's primary contention is that ability to communicate orally is a method by which most employees perform the essential function of communicating with the customers.
The Employer offered two job descriptions in its materials supporting its motion for summary judgment, one for the position of "performer" and one for the position of "seasonal associate." Both listed as job duties making customers feel welcome and comfortable and providing customers with a variety of distinct portraits. The Employer's witnesses gave similar descriptions of the job duties, such as: greet customers as they arrive and check them in at the front desk (intake); ascertain the kind of pictures the customer wants and take pictures that satisfy the customer, which includes communicating with the customer on desired poses (photography); develop pictures in the lab; and sell the customer a package of pictures (sales). Notably, none of these descriptions includes as a job duty a requirement of oral communication.
The majority says that Ms. Chrysler "is unable to fully perform three of the four main duties of a performer." Maj. op. at 986. Rejecting the EEOC's evidence that Ms. Chrysler can communicate effectively using her alternative means, the majority further says that "nothing suggests that gestures, pantomime, and written communication are similarly effective and efficient for these tasks." Id. at 986-87. I strongly disagree. Considerable evidence was produced from which a jury could determine that Ms. Chrysler could communicate effectively.
Most notably, there was evidence that Ms. Chrysler not only could but did communicate effectively and efficiently. First, there is the evidence of the photo session with the Krol family, discussed supra. Only by ignoring this clear example of Ms. Chrysler's ability to perform the essential functions of photo shooting and sales can the majority find that "nothing suggests" that she could do that which she had in fact already done. Moreover, Ms. Chrysler conducted several other shoots, some by herself and some with another employee present. No evidence has been cited to us suggesting that there were any communication problems in conducting these sessions. Mr. Aguilar testified that he never received a complaint from a customer for whom Ms. Chrysler had taken photos. III Aplt.App. at 613a.
It appears that none of the employees who worked with Ms. Chrysler in photo
As for the efficiency of the communication, again there is no evidence that any of Ms. Chrysler's sessions were out of the ordinary in duration. Of course the Employer's ultimate interest is sales. The only evidence in the record regarding Ms. Chrysler's performance in this area comes from her manager, Mr. Aguilar, who testified that Ms. Chrysler made a "huge sale" to the Krol family, successfully selling the Krols more photos than they had originally planned to purchase. I Aplt.App. 96a; see also n. 4, supra, and accompanying text.
It is surely relevant also that Ms. Chrysler was, after all, hired by the branch's manager, Mr. Aguilar, with full awareness of both the job requirements and Ms. Chrysler's deafness. Mr. Aguilar had been with the Employer for some years and believed that Ms. Chrysler could perform the job. As noted, he had worked with a deaf performer in the past. A jury could find these facts highly relevant in determining whether the ability to communicate orally is indeed a business necessity.
The EEOC produced additional evidence of Ms. Chrysler's abilities. Her vocational rehabilitation counselor, Ms. Barbara Bryant, testified, based on her experience in working with the disabled, that deaf persons can perform a job calling for strong customer service skills and oral communication skills by using gestures, notes and so forth. The counselor also testified that, based on her experience working with her, Ms. Chrysler could communicate with customers in the Employer's setting and ensure that they had a pleasant experience. The EEOC's vocational expert, Mr. Newman, also testified that Ms. Chrysler could perform the essential functions of the performer position with reasonable accommodation.
In sum, substantial evidence was presented from which a jury could determine that oral communication is not an essential function of the job but a method for performing the essential function of communication, and that Ms. Chrysler could perform the essential function of communication with or without reasonable accommodation. Thus the summary judgment against the EEOC on the discrimination claims was clearly unjustified.
The Davidson precedent
In Davidson v. America Online, Inc.,
In Davidson, as in this case, the decisive issue was whether the plaintiff was "otherwise qualified" for the position, i.e., whether he could, with or without reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the position. As here, that key issue depended on whether the employer's requirement related to an "essential function" of the job. And that is a fact question for the jury: "Determining whether a particular function is essential is a factual inquiry." Id. at 1191 (emphasis added); see also Kellogg v. Energy Safety Services, Inc.,
I am convinced that Davidson is directly on point and mandates reversal of the summary judgment in favor of the Employer. A jury must decide whether oral communication skills are an essential function of the job or only the manner in which most hearing employees perform the job. Indeed, I find it astonishing that on this record the district court and the majority rule as a matter of law that Ms. Chrysler could not perform the essential functions of the position when in fact the evidence that she could do so was considerably stronger than the minimum necessary to submit these factual questions to the jury.
A jury could determine that the Employer's decisions were based on exactly the kind of stereotypes that the ADA was enacted to combat. Congress has codified its views on this point: "[P]hysical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person's right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination." 42 U.S.C. § 12101. Moreover, lawsuits like Ms. Chrysler's are precisely the mechanism Congress envisioned for correcting such injustice: "It is the purpose of [the ADA] ... to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." Id. (emphasis added). It is distressing that this court should affirm the ruling below, refusing to submit the issues to a jury and for it to do so without careful adherence to our duty to view the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. I would reverse the judgment of the district court and hold that the claims of wrongful termination and failure to accommodate must be submitted to a jury.
The retaliation claim
Ms. Chrysler's claim of retaliation is even stronger than her claim of discrimination. The record shows that disciplinary action was initiated against Ms. Chrysler when she threatened to bring a grievance complaining of the Employer's alleged discrimination on the basis of Chrysler's deafness.
In criticizing Ms. Chrysler's actions, the Employer directly impugned her for the fact that she "became angry and threatened to bring a grievance." II Aplt.App. 341a. It is hard to imagine more direct proof of mistreatment for relying on her statutory rights. Direct evidence of retaliatory motive is evidence of pretext sufficient to require submission of the issue to the jury. See Crowe v. ADT Security Services, Inc.,
To overcome summary judgment on the issue of pretext, the majority correctly notes, "a plaintiff must present evidence of temporal proximity plus circumstantial evidence of retaliatory motive." Maj. op. at 989. Both of these requirements are satisfied in this case. Yet the majority chooses to scrutinize additional evidence of retaliatory motive while ignoring the direct evidence of that motive, i.e., the fact that the Employer reprimanded Ms. Chrysler specifically for saying that she might pursue a remedy for the discriminatory treatment she had received. The fact that discipline was initiated because of protected activity, even if only partly because of that activity, is sufficient evidence for a jury to find retaliatory motive. See Conner, 121 F.3d at 1396 & n. 5. Moreover, the majority's efforts to dismiss the additional, indirect evidence of pretext is unconvincing.
Ms. Chrysler was disciplined for conduct that others engaged in without repercussion. The district court discounted this evidence on the basis that the EEOC "provided no details about the other employees and their infractions that would allow a jury to conclude these employees were similarly situated to Chrysler." III Aplt. App. 867. Ms. Chrysler testified that the other employees worked with her in the lab and engaged in the same conduct for which she was disciplined. At the summary judgment stage, I would hold that this is sufficient to raise an issue as to whether those other employees were situated similarly to Ms. Chrysler.
Moreover, there is considerable additional evidence that the Employer's stated reasons were pretextual. The majority correctly notes that all (or at least most) employees had their hours reduced after the holiday season.
The EEOC identified even more evidence of pretext in its briefs, such as the discrepancies between testimony of district manager Bryan and other witnesses. But with direct evidence of discriminatory motive and the evidence I have already noted, further discussion here is not necessary. If temporal proximity plus circumstantial evidence of retaliatory motive is sufficient — and the majority correctly says that it is — then how can temporal proximity plus direct evidence of retaliatory motive be insufficient? Our precedents say that it is sufficient. I strongly disagree with the majority's holding that the retaliation claim may be rejected by a summary judgment.
The majority opinion fails to take the facts in the light most favorable to the EEOC as we are bound to do in the posture of this case, leading to the surreal conclusion that Ms. Chrysler is unable, as a matter of law, to perform the tasks that she had completed successfully. On the retaliation claim, the majority ignores direct evidence of retaliatory motive and incorrectly finds the remaining evidence insufficient.
In sum, I would reverse the district court and remand for a properly instructed jury to resolve the genuine issues of material fact that are presented here. Accordingly, I must respectfully but emphatically dissent.
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