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Martin v. Yokohama Tire Corp.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 12, 2013

HARVEY L. MARTIN, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
YOKOHAMA TIRE CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Hon. James C. Turk, Senior United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Harvey L. Martin, Jr. (“Plaintiff” or “Martin”), filed two separate actions against his former employer, Yokohama Tire Corporation (“Yokohama”), and those actions have been consolidated into Civil Action No. 7:11-cv-244. In his two (now consolidated) complaints, Martin raises three district claims. First, he claims he is a non-exempt employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219 (“FLSA”), and that Yokohama violated the FLSA when it failed to pay him overtime for hours he regularly worked above forty hours per week. See ECF No. 8.[1] His second and third claims assert violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213. Specifically, he alleges that he suffers from the disability of diabetes and asserts that (1) Yokohama failed to accommodate his disability; and (2) Yokohama constructively discharged him in violation of the ADA. See generally, ECF No. 1; see also ECF No. 34 at 20-41 (Plaintiff’s opposition to summary judgment).

Pending before the Court is Yokohama’s motion for summary judgment as to all three claims. ECF No. 32. Yokohama first contends that Martin is an exempt employee under the FLSA and thus is not entitled to overtime pay. As to his ADA claims, Yokohama denies that it failed to accommodate Martin’s disability and further denies that he was constructively discharged in violation of the ADA. Martin filed a response in opposition to the motion, ECF No. 34, and Yokohama filed a reply. ECF No. 35. The Court heard oral argument on September 26, 2013, and the matter is now ripe for disposition.[2] For the following reasons, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 32, is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. It is GRANTED as to all of Martin’s claims except his claim that Yokohama failed to accommodate his disability, and is DENIED as to that claim.

I. Factual Background

Yokohama Tire Corporation is the North American manufacturing and marketing arm of a Japanese corporation and it employs approximately 1000 employees at its tire manufacturing facility in Salem, Virginia. ECF No. 33-6, Holladay Decl. ¶¶ 2-3. The hourly production and maintenance employees at Yokohama are represented by the United Steelworkers, Local Union No. 1023 (“the Union”) and a collective bargaining agreement between the Union and Yokohama has existed for the entire time Martin has been employed there. Id. ¶ 3.

Martin was hired by Yokohama in 1999 as a Tire Press Operator and worked in a number of different hourly positions with Yokohama until 2003, most of them in Division 100. ECF No. 33-1, Martin Dep. at 30-32.[3] On August 7, 2003, he was promoted to the position of Personnel Supervisor in Division 100, which was the position he held until the time he reDated: October 19, 2009. Yokohama treated its Personnel Supervisors as salaried employees, and consistent with this, Martin was paid on a salary basis while he held this position.

A. Martin’s Job Duties

The nature of Martin’s position and his duties are relevant to his FLSA claim and so are discussed in the context of analyzing that claim, see infra at Section II.B, but the Court also describes his general duties here. Martin’s overall responsibility was to direct the work of all hourly employees in Division 100 on his shift—which would typically be seven to ten employees—and that to be accountable for production and quality in Division 100 on his shift. He explained that his main job was “to keep the machine[s] running and report any problems to upper management.” Martin Dep. at 37-41. That is, he was responsible for making sure all the equipment was operating properly, and dealing with any operational problems that arose. For example, he had to ensure the proper inventory levels of materials for the shift, determine how much material he needed and how many batches to run, make sure that the employees in his division were on the equipment they were supposed to be on, and reassign employees to cover for absent employees. He provided reports every two hours to his supervisors regarding production numbers, and at the end of each shift, he provided a final report on production and would attend a production meeting with the other supervisors. Id. at 37-41; 52-56.

Additionally, he was tasked with ensuring that new employees were trained or instructing them on how to operate machines. Id. at 57-58. He also ran monthly safety drills for his employees and discussed safety issues with them. Id. at 51-52.

B. Events Martin Alleges Were Discrimination in Violation of His Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Martin was diagnosed with diabetes in November 2008, and Yokohama does not argue that Martin’s diabetes did not constitute a disability under the ADA. See ECF No. 33, at 23-33. It is likewise undisputed that at least some of Martin’s supervisors knew of his diabetes. As noted, he claims that Yokohama discriminated against him because of his disability, making his working environment so hostile that he was constructively discharged. He also claims that Yokohama failed to accommodate his disability. He relies on a number of different incidents in support of his claim, as discussed below.

1.Martin Applies For and Is Not Selected for a Different Supervisory Position

On July 21, 2009, Yokohama posted a vacancy for a Division 400 Technical Supervisor position. ECF No. 33-6, Holladay Decl. ¶ 12. Martin applied for the position, but he did not receive it. Instead, Yokohama selected another Personnel Supervisor who was more familiar with Division 400 and had spent the majority of his career in that Division, and thus was deemed more qualified that Martin. Id.; see also ECF No. 33-10 ¶¶ 2, 4, 6 (declaration of Joseph Gallagher, who made the decision to hire the other individual). Martin contends that Yokohama’s failure to promote him to the position constituted a failure to accommodate his disability. Specifically, he claims that the Division 400 position would have allowed him more regular meal times and breaks to eat, which he says would have allowed him to more easily control his diabetes. ECF No. 34 at 26.

Yokohama points to several undisputed facts that undermine Martin’s claim that its failure to promote him was somehow a failure to accommodate. First, Martin admitted in his deposition that he was not more qualified than the person that was selected. Martin Dep. at 234-35. Second, it is undisputed that the person who made the promotion decision did not know Martin had diabetes. ECF No. 33-10, Gallagher Decl. ¶ 5. Third, there is no testimony that Martin ever informed anyone during the course of seeking that promotion that he needed the position as an accommodation, or that it would help him to better manage his diabetes. Cf. id. (Martin testifying Martin “never informed me that he was requesting the position in Division 400 as an accommodation” and “never raised any issue related to his health diabetes, or any accommodation he might need, either during the application or interview process”); ECF No. 33-6, Holladay Decl. ¶ 13 (stating that Martin never informed Holladay—Yokohama’s Human Resources Manager—that he was requesting the position in Division 400 as an accommodation for his diabetes).

2.Comments Made To Him By Supervisors Regarding His Illness

Martin also claims that his supervisors made derogatory comments to him reflecting animus against him because of his disability. First, in July 2009, Martin was in a production meeting with Richard Switzer, who was the Production Manager, and informed Switzer that he was having difficulty seeing the board and experiencing blurred vision due to his diabetes. Switzer “ridiculed” him in front of the other employees, making comments such as, “You must get glasses if you want to keep your job.” Later, Switzer said, “About your production numbers, did you eat your lunch today?” Martin interpreted the latter comment as implying that Martin’s production numbers dipped in relation to his diabetic condition. When Martin informed Switzer he had to eat frequently because of his diabetes, Switzer replied, “I don’t give a fuck whether you eat or not.” Martin Decl. ¶ 9; Martin Dep. at 214.

In addition to these incidents, Martin also points to a comment made by Kirk Wohlford, [4]after Martin had used sick leave in September 2009. According to Martin, Wohlford told Martin that he could not miss any more time from work for any reason and then said, “We all get sick and we come to work. The only excuse for missing work again is if you are in the hospital.” Martin Decl. ¶ 17.

In addition to these incidents, Martin also testified that, on September 14, 2009, he went to human resources to request FMLA leave, and spoke with Kathy Gabel, who is a secretary to Holladay in the HR department. According to Martin’s deposition testimony, Gabel informed him that salaried personnel were not entitled to FMLA leave. Martin insisted that he needed to see his doctors, and Gabel gave him the forms, but told him that “it would do no good.” Martin Dep. at 204-25. Martin avers that he repeated to Silva what had occurred with Gabel. Martin Decl. ¶ 18. Martin has not asserted a claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act, however.

3.Martin’s Requests for Time Off for Illness and Doctor Appointments in August and September 2009

On August 26, 27, and 28, 2009, Martin could not attend his regularly scheduled shifts because he was ill due to his diabetes. After a doctor’s appointment on August 26, 2009, he told his supervisor, Rick Silva, that he would have to be out the remainder of the week. Silva informed him to obtain a doctor’s excuse and provide it to Wohlford. On August 27, 2009, Martin received a telephone call from Wohlford inquiring as to when he planned on returning to work. Martin told him he had already reported the information to Silva, but gave Wohlford the same information. Martin told Wohlford that he would bring in the doctor’s excuse on Monday of the following week. Martin alleges that Wohlford told him he would have to use his vacation time to cover his absences and that Wohlford spoke to him in a rude manner during the call. Martin Decl. ¶¶ 11-12.

Earlier that same week, Martin had scheduled and worked an extra shift to receive overtime pay. He received his normal salary for the week, but he did not receive pay for every hour worked on his overtime shift. Martin Dep. at 154-56.

From September 7 through September 11, 2009, Martin worked the entire week despite feeling very ill and having difficulty walking straight. Martin Dep. at 209-214; Martin Decl. ¶ 13. Although Martin believed he was too ill to be at work, he avers that Wohlford’s prior rudeness toward him made Martin fearful to take time off from work. Martin Decl. ¶ 13. On Thursday, September 10, 2009, Silva told Martin that he should make a doctor’s appointment because of his illness and advised him to discuss this with Wohlford. Martin followed this instruction but Wohlford would not allow Martin to leave his shift on September 10, 2009, instead directing Martin to work through the shift despite his illness. Martin Decl. ¶¶ 13-14.

Martin called his physician that day and was informed that he should call the following morning and that the doctor’s office would attempt to work him into the schedule for Friday. When Martin informed Wohlford of this, Wohlford told Martin to come to work the next morning, September 11, 2009 and to work until the time of his doctor’s appointment. Id. Although Martin arrived at work around 7:00 a.m., and was able to make a doctor’s appointment for 10:30 a.m., Silva had other supervisors work overtime to cover Martin’s shift, which Martin says showed Silva recognized that Martin truly was sick. While on the way to the doctor’s office, Silva then called him and informed him that Wohlford insisted he have a doctor’s excuse when he returned to work and that Wohlford was angry with Silva for releasing Martin from work. Martin Dep. at 209-214; Martin Decl. ¶¶ 15. Although Martin obtained a doctor’s excuse for Friday, September 11, 2009, he did not ask his doctor to release him from any additional days at that time because he did not regularly work on the weekends. Id. At the time he went to the doctor, his glucose levels were irregular, he was experiencing daily pain and his medications required adjustment. Martin Dep. at 143, 145.

On Saturday, September 12, 2009, Wohlford called Martin early in the morning and directed him to report to work by noon that day. Martin Decl. ¶ 16. Wohlford directed Martin to work a 12-hour shift that day and also told him to return on Sunday, September 13, 2009 to work from noon until 6:00 p.m. Id. On both of these days, Martin was directed to watch a machine to make sure it ran smoothly—a task that is typically performed by a production employee, not a supervisor. Id. Martin believed that Wohlford assigned him this task to retaliate against Martin for taking time off from work to seek medical attention. Id.; Martin Dep. at 209-214.

On Monday, September 14, 2009, after Martin reported to work, he was directed to attend a meeting with Silva and Wohlford. It was at this meeting that Wohlford purportedly said, “We all get sick and we come to work. The only excuse for missing work again is if you are in the hospital.” Martin Decl. ¶ 17. Wohlford also told Martin that he was going to take away Martin’s overtime pay for the weekend to make up for time missed on Friday. Wohlford also informed Martin that he had to make his medical appointments in the evening after work and not on company time. When Martin reminded Wohlford that he was diabetic and needed to see his regular doctor during working hours, he was told he’d be required to work on weekends to make up time he missed. Id.

Martin further alleges that he was retaliated against for using leave to attend medical appointments on September 15, 2009 when he was transferred, without discussion, to a less desirable shift. Specifically, Wohlford held a meeting with Silva and Martin and told Martin that he would be moved to the night shift. According to Martin, he informed Silva that working this shift was going to disturb his diabetic condition further because of an inability to balance his sleeping and eating schedule. Martin Declaration; cf. Martin Dep. at 175 (Martin explaining that the change to the night shift had a detrimental effect on his diabetic condition due to his inability to regulate his sleep, diet, and medication). Silva testified that there wasn’t really any discussion about the switch in Martin’s shift, but that it was done to accommodate Martin’s doctor’s appointments. ECF No. 34-9, Silva Dep. at 36-37.

4. Martin’s Access to Food and Food Breaks While Working

Martin also alleges that Yokohama denied him accommodations by denying him adequate breaks to eat. The undisputed facts show that Martin, as a supervisor, had an office with a desk, computer, file cabinets, fridge, and microwave. During his shifts, he was required to email production data from his office to upper management every two hours and so was in his office at least every two hours and could eat at that time. Additionally, Martin testified that he was a smoker and visited the smokers’ break room “a few times” per shift and was free to eat at that time. Martin Dep. at 165-66, 171, 257. The smokers’ break room had both vending and drink machines. ECF No. 34-6, Johnson Dep. at 18-19; ECF No. 33-6, Holladay Decl. ¶ 24. Martin ...


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