United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
DELCIE T. FARMER, Plaintiff,
HCA HEALTH SERVICES OF VIRGINIA, INC., d/b/a HENRICO DOCTORS' HOSPITAL, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION (DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
E. HUDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
action arises from HCA Health Services of Virginia, Inc.,
d/b/a Henrico Doctors' Hospital's ("HDH")
alleged failure to hire, failure to accommodate, and wrongful
discharge of Delcie T. Farmer ("Farmer"). Farmer,
an individual suffering from a latex allergy, alleges that
HDH's actions violated the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990 ("ADA"), as amended, which prohibits
discrimination on the basis of an individual's
disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. This case
is presently before the Court on HDH's Motion for Summary
Judgment. Both parties have filed memoranda and exhibits
supporting their respective positions. The Court heard oral
argument on November 20, 2017. For the reasons that follow,
the Court finds that there are material issues in dispute
precluding an award of summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P.
gravamen of Farmer's Complaint is her assertion that HDH,
based on alleged hospital practice or policy, denied her
employment in their Pre-Admission Testing ("PAT")
Department because of her prior history of latex allergy,
without any bona fide individual assessment to determine if
her condition could be reasonably accommodated. Farmer
further maintains that HDH took no steps to quantify the
presence of airborne latex particles in the PAT Department or
determine if such particles could be controlled by reasonable
counters that Farmer's allergy, which was purportedly in
remission, did not constitute a disability under the ADA.
Furthermore, the hospital emphasizes that the record evidence
revealed no reasonable accommodation for Farmer's latex
allergy in a hospital where latex gloves were used in some
departments at the time she applied for the position. Relying
on the testimony of Farmer's own allergist and prior
medical history, HDH contends that employing Farmer in a
non-latex free hospital could seriously endanger her health.
judgment is appropriate if the record shows that "there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The evidentiary basis on which such
motions are resolved may include depositions, answers to
interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As the United States Supreme Court held
in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., the relevant
inquiry in a summary judgment analysis is "whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law." 477 U.S. 242,
251-52 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment,
the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party-here, Farmer. Id. at 255.
motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported,
the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine
dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). "[T]he
mere existence of some alleged factual dispute
between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly
supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is
that there be no genuine issue of material
fact." Anderson, 477U.S. at 247-48. A material
fact is one that might affect the outcome of a party's
case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; JKC Holding Co.
LLC v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465
(4th Cir. 2001). A genuine issue concerning a material fact
only arises when the evidence, viewed in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, is sufficient to warrant a
reasonable jury to return a verdict in that party's
favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment, the nonmoving party must rely on more than
conclusory allegations, "mere speculation or the
building of one inference upon another[, ]" or the
"mere existence of a scintilla of evidence"
concerning a material fact. Stone v. Liberty, 105
F.3d 188, 191 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted).
In meeting this burden, the nonmoving party must "go
beyond the pleadings" and present affidavits or
designate specific facts in depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file to establish a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). That being said, the
non-moving party cannot create a genuine issue of material
fact by presenting a self-serving affidavit that contradicts
their own prior deposition testimony. Rohrbough v. Wyeth
Labs., Inc., 916 F.2d 970, 975-76 (4th Cir. 1990).
HDH challenges Farmer's entitlement to prosecute her
claims under the ADA, the Court must turn first to whether
she is disabled as contemplated under that statute. Perhaps
the most persuasive evidence is the testimony of Farmer's
treating allergist, Jeffrey L. Schul, M.D. ("Dr.
Schul"), who unequivocally testified in his deposition
that Farmer's allergy, which in his opinion is incurable,
if rekindled could endanger her health. According to Dr.
Schul, as well as HDH's own expert, Dr. Bob Geng
("Dr. Geng"), latex exposure could adversely affect
Farmer's breathing and immune system function, both of
which qualify as major life activities or bodily functions
under the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12102. HDH acknowledges that
Farmer "has a severe latex allergy and when exposed to
latex, she has reactions that can be life-threatening."
(Def.'s Mem. Support Mot. Summ. J. 28, ECF No. 25.)
the clear potential for reoccurrence if Farmer is subjected
to airborne latex particles, the fact that her condition was
diagnosed by Dr. Schul as being in remission has little
bearing on the disability analysis, at least at this stage of
the proceedings. See Class v. Towson Univ., 806 F.3d
236, 244 (4th Cir. 2015).
highlighted during oral argument, there are a number of
marginal, non-case dispositive facts at issue. The
Court's task at this juncture is to focus on material
facts- those essential to critical elements of Farmer's
case and on which she will "bear the burden of proof at
trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. The
Court's role at this stage is not to weigh the evidence,
but simply to determine whether a genuine dispute exists,
making it appropriate for the case to proceed to trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
a registered nurse, had been previously employed by HCA
Health Services ("HCA") at other affiliated
hospitals beginning around 2005. Early in her employment with
HCA, Farmer experienced severe allergic reactions to airborne
latex particles, limiting her access to certain areas of her
assigned hospital and periodically requiring her to work from
home. Furthermore, as an added safeguard measure against
latex exposure, HCA converted a closet within the hospital
into a small office equipped with an air filtration system.
In 2007, Farmer's treating physician, Dr. Schul, wrote a
letter indicating that she was still suffering from a latex
allergy and should avoid exposure. (Def.'s Mem. Support
Mot. Summ. J., Exh. 15.)
2009, while Farmer was employed by HCA, she experienced a
respiratory reaction to poinsettias, which apparently have
leaves containing a substance akin in composition to latex.
Similarly, in early 2010, Farmer was treated for a rash
attributed to wearing rubber shoes containing latex material.
(Pl. Dep. 73-79, ECF No. 25-1.)
April 2010, Farmer transferred to Spotsylvania Regional
Medical Center, also a part of the HCA system. The
Spotsylvania hospital had been designated as a latex safe
facility. Farmer apparently experienced no serious allergic
reactions while working in that environment. In August 2015,
Farmer applied for, and was offered, a position in the PAT
Department at HDH. The employment offer was subject to a
pre-employment background investigation and a health
assessment. During her interview, Farmer did not disclose her
latex allergy. In the context of HDH's hiring process,
her allergy was first revealed during her health assessment
on September 3, 2015.This assessment included a latex-specific
RAST test which confirmed that Farmer's allergy was still
to Farmer's proffered evidence, when HDH's Director
of Employee Health and Safety, Judith Justison
("Justison"), saw Farmer's name on a health
screening form on September 3, 2015, a decision was made to
rescind the offer of employment without further
investigation. This decision, Farmer contends, was based
solely on the fact that she had an open workers'
compensation claim with HDH, entered June 21, 2007, finding
that her latex allergy was an ...