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Alleva v. Crown Linen Service, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 8, 2016

ALLEVA, Plaintiff,


          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Richard Alleva, who suffers from scoliosis, worked as a manager for Crown Linen Service, Inc., a company that launders and delivers uniforms and similar items to businesses in the healthcare and hospitality industries. When Alleva told his employer that he could no longer run the full routes of delivery drivers who were sick or on vacation by making full-day delivery runs with heavy loads because of his back, the defendant fired him. Alleva sued his former employer for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., (“ADA”), and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-51 et seq., (“CFEPA”). The plaintiff also brought a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, but has withdrawn that claim. (ECF No. 24 at 1 n.1.) The defendant now moves for summary judgment and to strike certain medical evidence presented by the plaintiff.

         The Court DENIES the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) because there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the plaintiff is disabled, whether he could perform the essential functions of his job, whether the defendants had notice of his disability, and whether the defendant had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating the plaintiff's employment. The Court DENIES the defendant's Motion to Strike (ECF No. 26) because the Court has not found it necessary to consider the medical evidence presented by the plaintiff in making its ruling.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary Judgment is appropriate only when “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). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). If the moving party carries its burden, “the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact.” Brown v. Eli Lilly & Co., 654 F.3d 347, 358 (2d Cir. 2011).

         An issue of fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Konikoff v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 234 F.3d 92, 97 (2d Cir. 2000). “A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party . . . .” Williams v. Utica Coll. of Syracuse Univ., 453 F.3d 112, 116 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “When viewing the evidence, the court must assess the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor.” Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).

         The remaining counts of the plaintiff's complaint assert four claims: (1) disability discrimination under the ADA, (2) failure to accommodate under the ADA, (3) disability discrimination under the CFEPA, and (4) failure to accommodate under the CFEPA. The legal standards applicable to each claim are described below.

         B. Count One: Disability Discrimination Under the ADA

         “Claims alleging disability discrimination in violation of the ADA are subject to the burden-shifting analysis originally established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).” McMillan v. City of New York, 711 F.3d 120, 125 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting McBride v. BIC Consumer Prods. Mfg. Co., 583 F.3d 92, 96 (2d Cir. 2009)). Thus,

to establish a prima facie case under the ADA, a plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) his employer is subject to the ADA; (2) he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (3) he was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation; and (4) he suffered adverse employment action because of his disability.

Id. (quoting Sista v. CDC Ixix N. Am., Inc., 445 F.3d 161, 169 (2d Cir. 2006)). After the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, “the employer must offer through the introduction of admissible evidence a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the discharge; and the plaintiff must then produce evidence and carry the burden of persuasion that the proffered reason is a pretext.” McBride, 583 F.3d at 96.

         C. Count Two: Failure to Accommodate Under the ADA

         Failing to provide a reasonable accommodation may also violate the ADA. McMillan, 711 F.3d at 125. To make a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show that

(1) plaintiff is a person with a disability under the meaning of the ADA; (2) an employer covered by the statute had notice of his disability; (3) with reasonable accommodation, plaintiff could perform the essential functions of the job at issue; and (4) the employer has refused to make such accommodations.

Id. at 125-26 (quoting McBride, 583 F.3d at 97).

         D. Counts Three and Four: Connecticut Fair Employment Practice Act

         “Connecticut courts generally analyze ADA and CFEPA claims under the same standard.” Buck v. AT & T Servs., Inc., No. 3:08-CV-1619 (JCH), 2010 WL 2640045, at *9 n.1 (D. Conn. Jun. 28, 2010).

         III. Facts

         The following facts are undisputed and supported by the parties' citations to the record in the Local Rule 56(a) statements. Crown Linen Service, Inc. (“Crown”) rents and cleans linens and uniforms. (Aff. of Thomas Goodwin, ECF No. 20-2 at ¶ 1.) The plaintiff, Richard Alleva, worked for Crown as a “service manager.” (Id.) In the 1990s, Alleva told the defendant's manager, Harry Kutsukos, who later retired, about his back condition. (ECF No. 20-7 at 3-4, 31.)[1] In 2009, Thomas Goodwin supervised Alleva in Shelton, where Alleva was one of two service managers. (ECF No. 20-2 at ¶¶ 1, 3.) According to Goodwin, Alleva's responsibilities included supervising Crown's delivery drivers, known as “route service representatives, ” training the drivers, handling customer issues, making reports, and running the drivers' routes when a driver was not at work because the driver was on vacation, sick, or otherwise on leave, did not show up to work without explanation, or left employment before a replacement could be found. (Id. at ¶¶ 1-2.) Service managers also run routes to make up for lost delivery days, for example, if a truck breaks down or if weather prevents a delivery. (Id. at ¶ 2.)

         Alleva and Ben Barrett, the other service manager in Shelton, shared the supervision of three routes and three drivers. (Id. at ¶ 3; ECF No. 20-9 at ¶¶ 2, 4.) If one service manager was on vacation or on sick leave, the other service manager would be the only one at the facility to cover the drivers' routes if necessary. (Id. at ¶ 10.) When Alleva would cover for a driver, he would perform the driver's responsibilities including running routes, making deliveries, and picking up soiled product. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Depending on the customer, the soiled product can be heavy and difficult to move. (Id. at ¶ 5; Aff. of Richard Alleva, ECF No. 25-1 at ¶ 15-16.) When the service manager runs a driver's full route, he must be able to lift up to fifty pounds frequently, to push and pull linen hampers up to 200 pounds frequently, to stand for long periods, to walk, to bend, to stoop, and to reach. (Service Manager Job Description, ECF No. 20-3 at 3; Dep. of Richard Alleva, ECF No. 25-2 at 37.) Sometimes running a route requires lifting 100-pound bags. (Dep. of Richard Alleva, ECF No. 20-7 at 8.) Depending on the customer, and depending on where the customer stored their soiled linens, the driver or service manager might have to navigate narrow and difficult stairs. (Id. at 8-10.) Assistive technology such as lift gates attached to the truck could not help Alleva to carry heavy bags through hallways or up and down stairs, although the extent to which doing so was part of Alleva's job is unclear. (ECF No. 20-2 at ¶ 11.)

         Alleva gave Goodwin a doctor's note dated August 21, 2010, which stated that Alleva could lift up to fifty pounds. (ECF No. 20-4 at 2; ECF No. 20-10 at ¶ 18.) Goodwin proposed that Alleva break down heavier bags to a manageable weight, but that did not “work” because some bags contained broken glass and steak knives among the soiled product. (ECF No. 20-7 at 13-14.) There was discussion about having another individual cover Alleva's routes that contained heavy loads, although the record is unclear about what became of this. (ECF No. 20-7 at 14, 24.) In November 2012, after Alleva ran a driver's full route for several consecutive days, Alleva's doctor placed him on a thirty-pound weight restriction. (ECF No. 20-5 at 2; ECF No. 25-1 at ¶¶ 26-28.) On November 8, 2012, Alleva submitted a doctor's note stating that he could not lift more than 30 pounds because of neck and back pain (ECF No. 20-2 at ¶ 7.) On November 9, 2012, Alleva submitted a note to the manager of human resources, Russ Ursprung, which stated:

I am writing you this note to let you know that I physically can not run a full ...

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