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Whindleton v. Coach, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

January 30, 2015

STEPHANIE L. WHINDLETON, Plaintiff,
v.
COACH, INC. AND COACH LEATHERWARE OF VIRGINIA, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Stephanie Whindleton filed this complaint against Defendant Coach, Inc. ("Coach"), [1] alleging that Coach violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The case is presently before the court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Coach. For the following reasons, that motion will be granted.

Factual and Procedural History

Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts from the summary judgment record are either undisputed or are presented in the light most favorable to Whindleton. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

Whindleton has pretibial myxedema, a condition associated with Graves Disease, which limits her ability to stand and walk for long periods of time due to swelling and pain in her legs. In early 2012, the Social Security Administration determined that Whindleton cannot "work eight hour days on a regular, sustained basis and that she is disabled from substantial work activity." SSA Decision at 5; Pl.'s Br. in Opp. Ex. B, ECF No. 23-2. Whindleton receives disability benefits.

Whindleton was a "fairly frequent" customer at Coach's Charlottesville retail store during the time period relevant to this case. Whindleton Aff. ¶ 1, Pl.'s Br. in Opp. Ex. A, ECF No. 23-1. She became acquainted with Amanda Strukl, the store's manager, and Donna Entezam, the store's assistant manager, during her visits as a customer. At some point, Whindleton disclosed to Strukl and Entezam that she had a disability that prevented her from standing for long periods of time; however, Whindleton did not disclose the precise nature of her condition or how it affected her ability to work.

In April 2013, Coach was looking for a part-time employee to work between eight and fifteen hours per week. Both Strukl and Entezam encouraged Whindleton to apply for the position. Entezam told Whindleton that she was a particularly viable candidate, because her schedule would permit her to open the store at 10:00 a.m. Based on this encouragement, Whindleton submitted an application for employment on April 5, 2013. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 7, ECF No. 17-8. On her application, Whindleton specifically noted that she was available to work three mornings each week. Id. Although Whindleton has prior retail sales experience, she did not include this information on her application. Id. Whindleton believed that she would be able a manger her disability in this part-time position, particularly if "she could retreat tot he back of the [s]tore to elevate her legs" during slow periods. Pl.'s Br. in Opp. at 3.

Crotia Garner, Coach's District Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Region, interviewed Whindleton for twenty minutes on April 23, 2013. See Garner Dep. 8-9, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 3. According to Garner, she reviewed Whindleton's application prior to the interview and determined that Whindleton was not qualified for the part-time position because she had no prior sales experience and was not available during the store's peak hours. Id. at 13-14. Garner stated that she nonetheless decided to interview Whindleton to determine whether she would be a candidate for future employment opportunities, including a seasonal position. Id. at 27-28. During the interview, Garner asked Whindleton why, given her affinity for Coach products, she had waited so long to apply to work for the company. See Whindleton Dep. At 48-49, 75; Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4. Whindleton replied that she "suffered from a disability, " and had previously been concerned about how the disability would after her ability to do the job. Id. Garner did not ask, and Whindleton did not disclose, any additional information about her disability at that time. Id. At the close of the interview, Garner asked Whindleton to complete a background check from and told Whindleton that Coach would contact her about her application.

On or aground May 1, 2013, Strukl contacted Whindleton by phone. Id. at 107-108. Strukl stated that the interview with Garner had gone well, but that Coach needed to know more about Whindleton's disability to proceed with her candidacy. Id. at 85. At that time, Whindleton disclosed the nature of her disability and extent of her symptoms. Id. Strukl, who also has Graves Disease, was skeptical that Whindleton could manager her symptoms effectively which working at Coach. Id. at 93-94. Strukl also asked Whindleton whether she took any mediations related to her disability. Id. Strukl ended to conversation by telling Whindleton that issues in the Charlottesville store might prevent them from hiring anyone at that time. Id. at 105. Whindleton was not contacted again about the position, and she later learned that Coach had hired another applicant. Id.

After learning that she was not offered the position with Coach, Whindleton filed an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). After receiving a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC on September 27, 2013, Whindleton initiated this lawsuit on December 23, 2013. On January 27, 2015, Coach moved for summary judgment as to Whindleton's claims. The court held a hearing on that motion on January 27, 2015. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

Standard of Review

An award of summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). For a party's evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact to avoid summary judgment, it must be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Id. at 255; see also Terry's Floor Fashions, Inc. v. Burlington Indus., Inc., 763 F.2d 604, 610 (4th Cir. 1985).

Discussion

Coach's motion sets forth several arguments in support of its contention that summary judgment should be granted on Whindleton's "failure to hire" claim. Whindleton argues, however, that "[c]ontrary to Coach's argument, Ms. Whindleton seeks relief on two separate grounds, neither of which asserts a failure to hire claim under the [ADA]." Pl.'s Br. in Opp. at 8. At oral argument, Whindleton's counsel against asserted that Whindleton does not seek to recover for Coach's failure to hire her for the part-time position. Instead, Whindleton asserts two specific claims for relief: First, that Coach failed to adhere to the ADA's limitations on pre-employment medical inquiries; and second, that ...


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