United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Jonathan Gautier, Plaintiff: Melvin E. Williams, Micah
Douglas Wright, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Mel Williams PLC, Roanoke,
Celanese also known as Celanese Acetate, LLC, also known as
Celanese Corporation, Joseph J. Fox, Defendant: Brian Garth
Muse, LEAD ATTORNEY, LeClair Ryan-Williamsburg, Williamsburg,
VA; Clinton Stephen Morse, LEAD ATTORNEY, LeClair Ryan, A
Professional Corporation, Roanoke, VA; James Fielding
Douthat, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, LeClair Ryan, Richmond, VA.
F. Urbanski, United States District Judge.
case is an employment dispute involving an employee's
use. Plaintiff Jonathan Gautier (" Gautier" )
claims that his employer, Celanese, violated the Americans
with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) when it suspended
him from work until he reduced his use of prescription pain
medicine and self-enrolled in an Employee Assistance Program
(" EAP" ) for drug dependency. The dispute over
Gautier's suspension was previously submitted to
arbitration pursuant to the collective-bargaining agreement
(" CBA" ) between Celanese and the Celanese Acetate
& Workers United, Local 1995 (the " Union" ). The
preclusive effect of that arbitration is the sole issue
raised by the parties.
the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment
filed pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, ECF No. 18, and Gautier's motion to deny in
part the motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(d)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, ECF No. 20. The
matter has been fully briefed, and the court heard oral
argument on September 30, 2015. For the reasons set forth
below, the court will not give preclusive effect to the
arbitration decision and will thus DENY the
defendants' motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 18. The
court also DENIES as moot Gautier's
motion to deny in part the motion for summary judgment, ECF
2002, Gautier suffered a serious injury at the Celanese plant
while he was working in a mechanical lift that
overturned. Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 10. He
returned to work six months later, and was employed at
Celanese during all times relevant to this case until the
company placed him on medical leave on May 23, 2013.
Id. at ¶ ¶ 6, 8, 16. Gautier still suffers
pain associated with his prior injury, and has been
prescribed various pain medications since 2002. Id.
In 2011, Celanese administered a drug test that discovered
hydrocodone and Percocet in Gautier's blood. Arbitration
Decision, ECF No. 19-7, at 9. The company took no action
because Gautier had prescriptions for both drugs and there
was no indication that the drugs affected his performance.
about April 8, 2013, however, Celanese supervisors noticed
that Gautier appeared impaired during shifts. Id.
One supervisor observed Gautier crushing and snorting pills
at work. Id. Gautier also appeared tired, would bump
into walls, and failed to maintain alertness. Id. at
10-12. When the behavior continued, the company restricted
Gautier from work and sent him to get a medical evaluation.
Id. at 12. The Union requested that Gautier not be
drug tested, Celanese agreed, and the company instead put
Gautier on medical leave, effective May 24, 2013.
Id. at 12-13. The Union and Celanese also agreed
that Gautier would benefit from an EAP drug rehabilitation
course. Id. Gautier disputes that anyone told him to
attend EAP. After being on medical leave for several weeks,
Gautier received permission from his private doctors to
return to work. Id. at 14-16. One of these
doctors--Dr. Robert Devereaux--believed that Gautier's
drowsiness was caused by a combination of allergy pills and
Gautier's normal regimen of prescription pain medication.
Id. at 14-15. Celanese claims that Dr.
Devereaux's opinion is flawed because Gautier was not
forthright about the extent of his drug use.
returned to Celanese on July 15, 2013 with a work release
effective July 20, 2013. Id. at 16. Gautier admitted
he was taking Percocet, hydrocodone, and several
other medications, but claimed they were prescribed by his
doctor. Id. Celanese administered a drug test, which
showed Percocet and several other drugs in Gautier's
blood, but no hydrocodone. Id. at 16-17. Gautier
provided a current prescription for hydrocodone and the other
drugs, but could provide no prescription for Percocet.
Id. Gautier later presented an expired Percocet
prescription dated June 14, 2012, over a year prior to his
positive drug test. Id. at 17. Dr. Kevin Soden, the
medical director at Celanese, refused to clear Gautier to
return to work. Id. at 18-19. Based on the
combination of drugs Gautier was taking and his failure to
provide a current prescription for Percocet, Dr. Soden
believed Gautier had a drug problem. Id. The company
refused to lift Gautier's suspension until he reduced his
use of narcotics and attended a rehabilitation program.
filed a grievance through the Union, seeking clearance to
return to work. At the same time, he filed the current
complaint in federal court on November 12, 2014. The
grievance was submitted to arbitration in December 2014 and
January 2015, resulting in an arbitration decision favoring
Celanese. The arbitrator found, among other things, that: (1)
Gautier was suffering a serious work impairment in July 2013;
(2) Gautier failed to inform his doctors about the full
extent of his drug use; (3) Dr. Soden had a reasonable
concern about Gautier's ability to work safely; and (4)
Gautier must attend a rehabilitation program before returning
to work. Id. at 21-28.
has two claims before this court: (1) a failure to
accommodate claim against Celanese under the ADA and (2) a
state-law defamation claim against Celanese and Joseph Fox
(" Fox" ). The basis for the defamation claim is a
letter sent by Fox, an employee of Celanese, to Gautier's
counsel that described Gautier as a " drug abuser,"
stated he made other Celanese employees feel unsafe, and
claimed that he failed to complete drug counseling.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the court must
" grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986);
Glynn v. EDO Corp., 710 F.3d 209, 213 (4th Cir.
2013). When making this determination, the court should
consider " the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with . . .
[any] affidavits" filed by the parties.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Whether a fact is material
depends on the relevant substantive law. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505,
91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). " Only disputes over facts that
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law
will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual
disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be
counted." Id. (citation omitted). The moving
party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence
of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477
U.S. at 323. If that burden has been met, the non-moving
party must then come forward and establish the specific
material facts in dispute to survive summary judgment.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists,
the court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Glynn, 710 F.3d at
213 (citing Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 380 (4th
Cir. 2011)). Indeed, " [i]t is an 'axiom that in
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the
nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in [her] favor.'" McAirlaids,
Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 756 F.3d 307, 2014 WL
2871492, at *1 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal alteration omitted)
(citing Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863, 188
L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (per curiam)). Moreover, "
[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence,
and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are
jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ."
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, the non-moving
party " must set forth specific facts that go beyond the
'mere existence of a scintilla of evidence.'"
Glynn, 710 F.3d at 213 (quoting Anderson,
477 U.S. at 252). Instead, the non-moving party must show
that " there is sufficient evidence favoring the
non[-]moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that
party." Res. Bankshares Corp. v. St. Paul Mercury
Ins. Co., 407 F.3d 631, 635 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). " In other words,
to grant summary judgment the Court must determine that no
reasonable jury could find for the non[-]moving party on the
evidence before it." Moss v. Parks Corp., 985
F.2d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing Perini Corp. v.
Perini Const., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990)).
defendants claim they are entitled to summary judgment on two
grounds. First, they argue that Gautier's ADA and
defamation claims fail because the arbitration decision
already decided the relevant factual issues in their favor,
and thus issue preclusion applies. Next, even if issue
preclusion does not apply, the defendants argue that the
arbitrator's findings on contractual matters should
eliminate Gautier's claims under the ADA.
outset, both parties agree that this court can consider the
arbitration decision when it analyzes Gautier's ADA
claim. Likewise, neither party challenges the general rule
that courts have discretion to decide what weight, if any, to
give an arbitrator's factual findings when those findings
are submitted in a subsequent federal lawsuit. See
Hawkins v. Leggett, 955 F.Supp.2d 474, 502 (D. Md.
2013), aff'd sub nom. In re Canarte, 558
Fed.Appx. 327 (4th Cir. 2014). The only issue raised in the
defendants' motion is whether an unreviewed arbitration
decision can create issue preclusion in a subsequent federal
suit under the ADA. The circuits have split on the issue: the
Fifth Circuit allows courts to give preclusive effect to
arbitration decisions in later federal discrimination claims,
see Grimes v. BNSF Ry. Co., 746 F.3d 184, 188 (5th
Cir. 2014), while the Sixth and Seventh Circuits restrict use
of issue preclusion in such cases. Coleman v.
Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 854 (7th Cir. 2012); Nance v.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 527 F.3d 539, 547-49 (6th
Cir. 2008). The Fourth Circuit has not yet addressed the
issue. For the reasons stated below, the court will adopt the
and will not apply issue preclusion in Gautier's ADA
series of Supreme Court cases address the preclusive effect
of arbitration decisions. The traditional rule forbids courts
from giving preclusive effect to arbitration decisions in
later claims brought pursuant to federal civil rights
statutes and regulatory legislation, including 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, Title VII, the ADA, the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (" ADEA" ), the Fair Labor Standards
Act (" FLSA" ), and the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act (" ERISA" ). See 18B Charles Alan
Wright et al., Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 4475.1 (2d ed.).
This rule was established by a trio of Supreme Court
decisions: Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S.
36, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 39 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974); Barrentine v.