United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 24) AND MOTION FOR SANCTIONS PURSUANT TO
RULE 11 (DOC. NO. 29)
C. HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Pauline Valenti ("Valenti"), brought this action
against defendant, SleepMed, Inc. ("SleepMed").
Compl. (Doc. No. 1). Valenti alleges that SleepMed failed to
accommodate her disability, discriminated against her, and
retaliated against her by terminating her employment in
violation of the American with Disabilities Act Amendments
Act of 2008 ("ADA"). Id. at 5-9; see 42
U.S.C. §12101 et seq. Valenti also alleged that that
SleepMed interfered with her rights under the Family and
Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") of 1993, but in her
Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiffs Objection to
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, she withdraws
Counts Four and Five related to the FMLA, which the court so
orders. Mem. of Law in Support of Pl.'s Objection to
Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s MFSJ
Obj.") (Doc. No. 39-3) at 1. SleepMed answered
Valenti's Complaint, denied the allegations, and
presented various affirmative defenses. Answer (Doc. No. 9).
pending before the court are SleepMed's Motion for
Summary Judgment and Motion for Sanction pursuant to Rule 11.
See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("MFSJ")
(Doc. No. 24); Def.'s Mot. for Sanctions Pursuant to R.
11 ("Mot. for Sanctions") (Doc. No. 29). Valenti
objected to both Motions. See Pl.'s Obj. to Def.'s
Mot. for Summ. J.; Pl.'s Obj. to Def.'s R. 11 Mot.
for Sanctions ("Pl.'s Sanctions Obj.") (Doc.
No. 34). SleepMed timely replied. See Def.'s Br. in Reply
to Pl.'s Obj. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
("Def.'s MFSJ Reply") (Doc No. 47); Def.'s
Reply to Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Support of Pl.'s Obj.
to Def.'s R. 11 Mot. for Sanctions ("Def.'s
Sanctions Reply") (Doc. No. 38).
careful review of the submissions of the parties, and for the
reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 24) is DENIED, and the Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to
Rule 11 (Doc. No. 29) is DENIED.
suffers from difficulties with her knees which stem from an
injury she sustained in March of 2007. See Local
Rule 56(a)1 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts
("L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt.") (Doc. No. 24-7) at
¶¶ 1-2. Four years later, in March of 2011, she
completed an application for employment as a polysomnographer
with SleepMed, in which she acknowledged that she would be
able to perform, without any accommodation, the duties,
tasks, and functions of the position for which she was
applying. See L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 6. She was
offered the position of Sleep Technologist II ("Sleep
Tech") in April 2011, with a start date of April 26,
2011. See Id. at ¶ 7. On April 9, 2011, she
signed a job description for Sleep Tech indicating that she
had read, understood, and agreed to comply with the Sleep
Tech job description. See Id. at ¶ 8. This form
included a physical requirements section that stated that the
Sleep Tech "[m]ust be able to lift/move up to 50 pounds
and be able to walk, push, pull, grasp, bend, stoop, squat
and reach as necessary." See Pl.'s Local
Rule 56(a)(2) Statement ("Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2)
Stmt.") (Doc. No. 39-1) at ¶ 15; LR. 56(a)1 Stmt.
at ¶15. One of the "essential duties"
described in the Sleep Tech job description which Valenti
signed was the duty to "[g]reet patient[s] upon arrival
and escort him/her to sleep room." See
Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 12; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt,
at Â¶ 12.
primarily worked at the Wallingford Courtyard Marriott sleep
lab, but would work at the Farmington lab on occasion.
See L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 9. When she was
scheduled to work her shift at the Wallingford location, she
would be the only SleepMed employee present. See Pl.'s
L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 11. At the Wallingford sleep
lab, SleepMed expected the Sleep Tech on duty to greet
patients in the hotel lobby and escort the patients up to the
sleep lab via an elevator, as well as escort the patients
from the sleep lab back to the lobby in the morning.
See Id., at ¶ 13; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at
¶ 13. In 2012, Valenti made a request to her direct
clinical supervisor, Ainsley Palmisano
("Palmisano"), that Valenti be excused from
escorting patients to and from the hotel lobby, which was the
only accommodation she ever requested. See Pl.'s
L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 16; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶
16. SleepMed ultimately permitted Valenti to forgo escorting
patients from the hotel lobby, though there is a dispute as
to whether this was intended to be a temporary accommodation
or a permanent one. See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2)
Stmt, at ¶ 19 (generally denying the facts stated in
L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 19, but substantively only
disputing the description of the accommodation as temporary);
L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 19. She continued not escorting
patients to and from the hotel lobby at least until August
2014. See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 21; L.R.
56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶21.
around August 2014, SleepMed received complaints about
Valenti from patients. See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at
¶ 20; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 20. On August 11,
2014, Lynn Hallinan ("Hallinan"), the Clinical
District Operations Manager, contacted Valenti via email
requesting a doctor's note describing her limitations.
See L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 18, 24.
Specifically, she stated that she was under the impression
that Valenti had only requested to be relieved from greeting
patients in the lobby on a temporary basis, and that greeting
patients in the lobby was part of her job, so if Valenti
could not do it, Hallinan would need a physician's note
describing Valenti's limitations. See
id. at ¶ 24. On August 16, 2014, Valenti
provided Hallinan and Nancy Foote, SleepMed's Compliance
Officer, with a doctor's note from Dr. Russell
Chiappetta, Valenti's orthopedic doctor, which stated
that Valenti was restricted from "excessive standing or
walking." See id, at ¶ 26. SleepMed
responded by requesting additional information regarding her
limitations from Valenti. See Pl.'s L.R.
56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 28; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 28.
Valenti responded that she was not required to provide any
further information. See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at Â¶
29; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at Â¶29.
August 27, 2014 Joseph Rose ("Rose"),
SleepMed's Vice President of Finance and Administration
reached out to Valenti to inform her that, at the hotel-based
sleep labs in Connecticut, "it is important for all our
overnight sleep techs to meet the sleep patients at the front
desk and escort them to and from the front desk."
See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 30; L.R.
56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 30. He reiterated that Hallinan
believed Valenti's condition was temporary and had been
unaware that Valenti was still using the accommodation. See
Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 31; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt,
at ¶ 31. Rose's email also contained the job
description for a Sleep Tech and SleepMed's ADA medical
questionnaire ("ADA Form"), and he asked Valenti to
provide both to her doctor, who should complete and return
the ADA form directly to Diane Rule ("Rule"),
SleepMed's Benefit and Payroll Manager, by September 4,
2014. See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 32; L.R.
56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 32.
in or around the beginning to the middle of September 2014,
Valenti was out of work on medical leave for issues unrelated
to her alleged disability. See L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at
¶ 34. On September 9, 2014, Rose emailed Valenti again,
informing her that SleepMed had not received the completed
ADA Form and explained that, if Valenti would like to remain
on the work schedule, SleepMed needed the completed ADA Form.
See id. at ¶ 33. Rose sent another
follow up to Valenti on October 3, 2014, explaining that the
ADA Form was necessary to properly assess Valenti's
medical conditions and determine what accommodations she
might need. See id, at ¶ 36. Valenti responded
with her opinion that she had already provided SleepMed with
the information they needed, and stated her belief that she
was being treated unfairly. See Pl.'s L.R.
56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 37; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 37.
Meanwhile, on October 1, 2014, Valenti signed an Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") Charge
of Discrimination against SleepMed based on disability
discrimination. See L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 35.
time, Valenti gave the ADA Form to her doctor. See
Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at ¶ 38; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt,
at ¶ 38. The parties disagree about how much of the form
was filled out, and how it was sent to SleepMed, but by
November 28, 2014, SleepMed received a version of the ADA
Form with pages one, two, and four filled out, and page three
with a strike through. See Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at
¶ 39-45; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 39-45. It was
Valenti's position that, because question five on page
three of the ADA Form was answered "no" and the ADA
Form stated that, if the answer to question five was
"no" the remainder of the ADA Form did not need to
be completed, her doctor did not need to complete page three
of the ADA Form. See L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at ¶ 46.
It was also clear that, despite question five being marked
no, Valenti's doctor had clearly continued to answer
question six on the bottom of page two. See id.
December 1, 2014, SleepMed terminated Valenti. See Pl.'s
L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt, at Â¶48; L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt, at Â¶48.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
party moving for summary judgment "bears the burden of
establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material
fact." Zalaski v. City of Bridgeport Police
Dep't, 613 F.3d 336, 340 (2d Cir. 2010). Once the
moving party has satisfied that burden, to defeat the motion
"the party opposing summary judgment. . . must set forth
'specific facts' demonstrating that there is 'a
genuine issue for trial.'" Wright v. Goord,
554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(e)). "For summary judgment purposes, a 'genuine
issue' exists where the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could decide in the non-moving party's
favor." Cambridge Realty Co., LLC v. St. Paul Fire
& Marine Ins. Co.. 421 F.App'x 52, 53 (2d
Cir.2011); see also Roias v. Roman Catholic Diocese of
Rochester, 660 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252,
(1986)) (stating that the non-moving party must demonstrate
more than a mere "scintilla" of evidence in its
favor). "[Unsupported allegations do not create a
material issue of fact." Weinstock v. Columbia
Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). The role of the
district court in deciding a summary judgment motion "is
to determine whether genuine issues of material fact exist
for trial, not to make findings of fact." O'Hara
v. Nat. Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 642 F.3d 110,
116 (2d Cir. 2011). In making this determination, the court
must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor
of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See
Garcia v. Hartford Police Dep't, 706 F.3d 120, 127
(2d Cir. 2013).
provides, in relevant part, that an attorney who presents a
pleading to the court certifies that to the best of the
person's knowledge, formed after a reasonable inquiry,
"the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if
so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a
reasonable opportunity for further investigation or
discovery." Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 (b)(3). If the court
determines that Rule 11 (b) has been violated, the court may
impose an appropriate sanction on the party that violated the
rule. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(1).
Motion for Summary Judgment
argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
each of the counts set forth in Valenti's Complaint. The
court will consider each of SleepMed's arguments in turn.
Counts One: Disability Discrimination
first count of Valenti's Complaint alleges that SleepMed
violated the ADA by discriminating against her on the basis
of her disability. See Compl. at 5-6. SleepMed
argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Count One
because (1) Valenti was not qualified to perform the
essential functions of her job, with or without a reasonable
accommodation; (2) Valenti did not suffer an adverse
employment action because of her disability; and (3) Valenti
cannot prove that SleepMed's reasons for its actions were
discriminatory. See Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ.
J. ("Def.'s MFSJ Br.") (Doc. No. 24-1) at
10-16. For the reasons that follow, the court concludes that
there are genuine issues of material fact relevant to the
resolution of each of the points raised by SleepMed. Thus,
SleepMed's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied as to
context of a motion for summary judgment, federal claims that
an employee has been discriminated against due to a
disability are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas Corp.
v. Green framework. 411 U.S. 792, 802, 804 (1973);
see McMillan v. City of New York, 711 F.3d 120, 125
(2d Cir. 2013). First, "[a] plaintiff must establish a
prima facie case; [then] 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."
Sista v. CDC Ixis North America, Inc., 445 F.3d 161,
169 (2d Cir. 2006). A plaintiff can show the prima facie case
of discriminatory discharge under the ADA by demonstrating,
by a preponderance of the evidence, that: "(1) [her]
employer is subject to the ADA; (2) [she] was disable within
the meaning of the ADA; (3) [she] was otherwise qualified to
perform the essential functions of [her] job, with or without
reasonable accommodation; and (4) [she] suffered adverse
employment action because of [her] disability."
McMillan, 711 F.3d at 125 (quoting Sista,
445 F.3d at 169).
does not contest the first two elements of the prima facie
case, but does argue that there is no genuine issue of
material fact with regard to the third and fourth elements.
See Def.'s MFSJ Br. at 10-15. The court
considers each of SleepMed's arguments in turn.
first argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on
Valenti's claim of discriminatory discharge because she
was unqualified to perform the essential functions of being a
Sleep Tech, with or without accommodation, because she could
not escort patients nor meet the physical lifting
requirements of the position. See jci at 11 - 13.
Valenti responds that the essential function of the Sleep
Tech position is to "perform comprehensive
polysomnographic testing, analysis, and associated
intervention." See Pl.'s MFSJ Obj. at 11.
This is a function she is qualified for and therefore, she
argues, she can perform the essential functions of the role.
See Id., at 11 - 12. She also argues that
she was still able to greet and escort patients as required
in the job description, she just did so from the elevators
instead of the hotel lobby. See id, at 12-13.
Valenti does not argue that she could greet and escort
patients from the lobby. See id, Thus, the question
for the court is whether there is a genuine issue of material
fact as to the essential functions of a Sleep Tech.
term "essential functions" is not clearly defined
in the ADA, which only contains guidance that consideration
must be "given to the employer's judgment as to what
functions of a job are essential, " and the written
description of the job provided in advertising and
interviewing applicants. See 42 U.S.C. § 12111
(8). The court must give substantial deference to the opinion
of the employer with regards to whether a function is
essential. McBride v. BIC Consumer Prods. Mfg. Co.,
Inc., 583 F.3d 92, 98 (2d Cir. 2009). The Second Circuit
has also directed courts to review the regulations
promulgated by the EEOC to further illuminate what
constitutes an "essential function." Id.
at 98; see 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(1) (2012) ("The
term essential functions means the fundamental job duties of
the employment position the individual with a disability
holds or desires. The term 'essential functions' does
not include the marginal functions of the position.").
EEOC regulations explain that a job function may be
considered "essential" for any of the following
non-exhaustive reasons: (1) "the reason the position
exists is to perform that function;" (2) there is a
"limited number of employees available among whom the
performance of that job function can be distributed;
and/or" (3) the job function is so highly specialized
"that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or
her expertise or ability to perform the particular
function." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(2). The
regulations further indicate that the following evidence is
relevant to the determination of whether a job function is
(i) The employer's judgment as to which functions are
(ii) Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or