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Donaldson v. Trae-Fuels, LLC

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

May 21, 2019

MICHAEL DONALDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
TRAE-FUELS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Michael Donaldson filed this action under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, against Trae-Fuels, LLC ("Trae-Fuels") and EnviroTech Services, Inc. ("EnviroTech"). The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the court will deny the defendants' motion.

         Background

         The following factual allegations, taken from the plaintiffs complaint, are accepted as true for purposes of the pending motion. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 924 (2007) ("[When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.").

         On October 17, 2013, Donaldson began working as the financial controller of Trae-Fuels, a limited liability company in Bumpass, Virginia that manufacturers heating pellets. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 15, Dkt. No. 1. Donaldson reported directly to John Frink, the general manager of Trae-Fuels, and Kevin Whyrick, the chief financial officer of EnviroTech, Trae-Fuel's managing member. Id. ¶¶ 17, 30-31. Chris LaRocco, EnviroTech's corporate strategist, and Beth Aleman, its director of human resources, also supervised the performance of certain duties assigned to Donaldson. Id. ¶¶ 35-36.

         In May of 2014, Donaldson was diagnosed with "inoperable Adenocarcinoma pancreatic cancer (Stage IV)." Id. ¶ 37. Of the two primary types of pancreatic cancer, Adenocarcinoma is "the deadlier and more common." Id. ¶ 38. "In 2014, 75% of individuals with Adenocarcinoma pancreatic cancer died within one year of diagnosis, with only 6% having a 5-year life expectancy survival rate." Id. ¶ 39.

         Upon learning of the diagnosis, Donaldson's supervisors expressed concern about his ability to work. For instance, LaRocco told Donaldson that his aunt had died from pancreatic cancer, and he inquired as to whether Donaldson would want to work part-time as a result of the diagnosis. Id. ¶¶ 51-52. On another occasion, Whyrick asked Donaldson if his particular type of cancer was "slow or aggressive." Id. ¶ 55.

         On May 19, 2014, Donaldson met with an oncologist. Id. ¶ 42. During the appointment, Donaldson's temperature was elevated. Id. ¶ 43. Consequently, Donaldson was hospitalized for a few days. Id. On the day that he was discharged from the hospital, Whyrick informed Donaldson by telephone that the defendants had "hired a temporary accountant to assist [him] while he was sick, since [Donaldson] was the only accountant in the Trae-Fuels office." Id. ¶ 44.

         Immediately thereafter, Donaldson left on a pre-planned trip to Utah to adopt a newborn child. Id. ¶ 45. Upon returning to work on May 27, 2014, Donaldson began to train the temporary accountant at Whyrick's direction. Id. ¶ 46. However, because the plaintiff was "functioning well," the defendants decided to release the temporary accountant shortly thereafter. Id. ¶ 47. Aleman acknowledged that the hiring of the temporary accountant was "premature," since Donaldson "had continued to perform his duties well despite his health issues." Id. ¶ 49.

         Prior to his cancer diagnosis, Donaldson never received any negative feedback or reviews regarding his job performance. Id. ¶ 59. However, within a few weeks of being informed of the diagnosis, Aleman and LaRocco met with Donaldson and critically questioned his decision to leave his company cell phone at the office while he was in Utah. Id.¶¶ 60-63. At the beginning of the meeting, Aleman indicated that she was '"documenting"' their conversation. Id. ¶ 62. Donaldson advised Aleman and LaRocco that the phone was not working properly and that he had left it with the office administrator to be repaired while he was gone. Id. ¶¶ 64-65. Donaldson "also explained that his supervisors and colleagues knew he was available on his personal phone and that his home, company cell, and personal cell phone numbers were listed on the company contact list available to all employees." Id. ¶ 66. "In fact, Plaintiffs supervisors had called him on his personal cell phone many times before this incident." Id. ¶ 67.

         In late June or early July 2014, Donaldson advised the defendants that he would be undergoing chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. Id. ¶ 76. Donaldson provided a copy of his chemotherapy schedule to Frink, Whyrick, and Trae-Fuel's office manager. Id. ¶ 78. The schedule consisted of chemotherapy on "two out of every three Fridays." Id. ¶ 77. Donaldson advised Frink that he intended to maintain a full, forty-hour workweek while undergoing treatment. Id. ¶ 79. Frink subsequently informed Donaldson that the defendants had "agreed to this plan." Id. ¶ 80.

         Donaldson started chemotherapy on July 3, 2014. Id. ¶ 76. He handled the treatment "extremely well" and "experienced no negative symptoms." Id. ¶ 82. As a result, he "was able to maintain a forty to forty-five-hour work week, even on weeks that he underwent chemotherapy." Id.

         Nonetheless, on August 20, 2014, less than two months after he began chemotherapy, Frink and Aleman informed Donaldson that he was being terminated and should not return to work. Id. ¶ 83. "Aleman provided no explanation for the firing, but began the conversation by saying 'We are not letting you go because you are sick.'" Id. 84. When Donaldson inquired as to the reason for his termination, "Aleman said only 'I think you know what it is'" and did not respond any further. Id. 86. Prior to his termination, none of Donaldson's supervisors voiced any concerns regarding his job performance. Id. ¶¶ 88-90.

         Procedural ...


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