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Sturgill v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

March 6, 2019

MATTHEW STURGILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA BEACH SMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 7, and accompanying Brief in Support, ECF No. 8, filed on December 3, 2018. The Plaintiff filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition ("Opposition") on December 12, 2018. ECF No. 10. The Defendant filed a Reply on December 18, 2018. ECF No. 12. The Motion to Dismiss has been fully briefed and is now ripe for review.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sturgill filed his Complaint in this court on October 24, 2018, ECF No. 1, and filed an Amended Complaint on November 15, 2018, ECF No. 6. The facts set forth herein are taken from Plaintiff Matthew Sturgill's ("Sturgill") Amended Complaint and are accepted as true for the purpose of deciding Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.[1] See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         On April 16, 2018, Sturgill applied for a conductor position with Defendant Norfolk Southern Railway Co. ("Norfolk Southern"). Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Norfolk Southern offered Sturgill the position on May 30, 2018. Id. ¶ 7. Following a pre-employment physical, Norfolk Southern withdrew the offer. Id. ¶ 8. In the letter notifying Sturgill of the withdrawal, Norfolk Southern cited Sturgill's body mass index ("BMI") as the sole reason for the withdrawal. Id. In that letter, Norfolk Southern further stated that "during [his] examination, [Sturgill] indicated that [he] did not have an underlying physiological condition that could cause obesity." Id. ¶ 10 (alterations in original). Sturgill alleges he "made no such claim.'7 Id.

         Sturgill has "primary male hypogonadism, which is an underlying physiological [sic] condition that not only causes his obesity but also substantially limits his ability to enjoy and live a fulfilled life, if left untreated." IcL ¶ 11. "Primary male hypogonadism does not, however, prevent Sturgill from performing any of the essential functions of a conductor." Id. ¶ 12. Therefore, Sturgill alleges that when Norfolk Southern withdrew the job offer because of Sturgill's BMI, Norfolk Southern Opp'n at 7; Reply at 14 n.2, the court will not consider those facts at this stage. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) ("If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56."). discriminated against Sturgill on the basis of his disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1210 et seq., as amended. IcL ¶¶ 1, 8, 11-13.

         Sturgill claims that "Norfolk Southern's policy arises from a concern that employees with a high body mass index will develop sleep apena, diabetes, and/or heart disease and become incapacitated."[2] Id. ¶ 14. Thus, Sturgill alleges that Norfolk Southern also discriminated against him on the basis of a perceived disability in violation of the ADA. Id. ¶ 15. Sturgill further alleges that "Norfolk Southern has engaged in a pattern and practice of violating the ADA." Id. ¶ 16 (citing EEOC v. Norfolk Southern Corp., No. 2:17-cv-1251 (W.D. Penn.)).[3] Sturgill also alleges violations of the ADA for the withdrawal of the job offer, and he requests that the court find Norfolk Southern acted in direct violation of the ADA. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-26. As remedies for these violations, Sturgill requests that he be reinstated and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Id. ¶ 27.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b) (6), a complaint must be dismissed when a plaintiff's allegations "fail[] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) . "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility means that a "plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It is, therefore, not enough for a plaintiff to allege facts demonstrating a "sheer possibility" or "mere[] consist[ency]" with unlawful conduct. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) .

         The Supreme Court, in Twombly and Iqbal, offered guidance to courts evaluating a motion to dismiss:

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679. That is, the court accepts facts alleged in the complaint as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005). After doing so, the court should grant the defendant's motion if the plaintiff's "well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct," because "the complaint has alleged- but it has not 'show[n]' - 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), "No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring ... or discharge of employees, . . . and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." Id. To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must prove (1) he has a "disability," (2) he is a "qualified individual," and (3) his employer took an adverse employment action against him because of his disability. Martinson v. Kinney Shoe Corp., 104 F.3d 683, 686 (4th Cir. 1997).

         A. Disability

         The ADA defines "disability" in three ways. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). First, an individual has a disability if he or she has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual." Id. § 12102(1) (A). Second, an individual has a disability if he or she has "a record of such an impairment." Id. § 12102(1) (B). Third, an individual has a disability if he or she is "regarded as having such an impairment." Id. § 12102(1) (C) .

         Here, Sturgill claims he has a disability under the ADA'S first and third definitions of "disability." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 11, 14-15, 18-19. Specifically, Sturgill alleges his condition, primary male hypogonadism, is a physical impairment that "substantially limits his ability to enjoy and live a fulfilled life, if left untreated." Id. ¶ 11. Sturgill also alleges that Norfolk Southern regarded him as being disabled because Norfolk Southern is "concern[ed] that employees with a high body mass index will develop sleep apena, diabetes, and/or heart disease and become incapacitated." Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         1. Primary Male ...


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