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Dunsworth v. National Oilwell Varco L.P.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 24, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant National Oilwell Varco, L.P.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 41], filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 and LCvR56.1. Defendant seeks a judgment in its favor on Plaintiffs' claims of disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Alternatively, Defendant seeks a determination that Plaintiffs cannot recover backpay or punitive damages as a matter of law and that Plaintiffs failed to mitigate their damages.

         Plaintiffs Christopher Dunsworth and Shawn Shelton have filed a joint response in opposition to the Motion, disputing both that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on their ADA claims and that Defendant is entitled to a determination of any damages issues. See Pls.' Resp. Br. [Doc. No. 47]. Defendant has filed a timely reply brief [Doc. No. 55]. Thus, the Motion is fully briefed and at issue.

         Standard of Decision

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant 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). In appropriate circumstances, a party may obtain summary judgment on a part of a claim or a defense. See id.; see also Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562, 564 (10th Cir. 1997) (“defendant may use a motion for summary judgment to test an affirmative defense”).

         A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Id. at 255. All facts and reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. If a party who would bear the burden of proof at trial lacks sufficient evidence on an essential element of a claim, all other factual issues concerning the claim become immaterial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a dispute of material fact warranting summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific facts” that would be admissible in evidence and that show a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir. 1998). “To accomplish this, the facts must be identified by reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated therein.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Court's inquiry is whether the facts and evidence identified by the parties present “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.” See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         Through its Motion, Defendant asserts as one basis for summary judgment that Plaintiffs cannot recover back pay, nor seek reinstatement or front pay, because they rejected an unconditional offer of reinstatement that was made on the same day their employment ended. Defendant relies on a legal rule announced in Ford Motor Co. v. EEOC, 458 U.S. 219 (1982), which is an affirmative defense to liability. See Giandonato v. Sybron Corp., 804 F.2d 120, 122 (10th Cir. 1986); see also Anastasio v. Schering Corp., 838 F.2d 701, 707-08 (10th Cir. 1988). “Where, as here, a defendant moves for summary judgment to test an affirmative defense, ‘[t]he defendant . . . must demonstrate that no disputed material fact exists regarding the affirmative defense asserted.' Once the defendant makes this initial showing, ‘the plaintiff must then demonstrate with specificity the existence of a disputed material fact.'” Helm v. Kansas, 656 F.3d 1277, 1284 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Hutchinson, 105 F.3d at 564).

         Statement of Undisputed Facts[1]

         Plaintiffs worked for Defendant as temporary contract workers in jobs they obtained through a staffing agency on the recommendation of a former high school classmate, Jacob Folmar. Folmar was the plant manager of Defendant's manufacturing facility in Oklahoma City where a division of the company, Tuboscope, makes parts that Defendant uses to provide oilfield services. The relevant facts are straightforward and largely undisputed.

         In August 2013, Plaintiffs learned of job openings at Defendant's facility through Folmar, with whom they had remained in contact after high school through social media. Folmar was aware Plaintiffs had performed military service and were veterans, but he did not know they had been discharged with disability ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). Plaintiff Christopher Dunsworth met with Folmar and discussed available positions. Dunsworth did not mention during the conversation any physical impairment or issues related to an injury during his military service; he had previously performed oilfield service work and other work without experiencing issues due to that injury.

         Defendant had a contract with SOS Staffing Services, Inc. (“SOS Staffing”) to provide personnel for the Tuboscope facility. Dunsworth applied for employment at Tuboscope's facility through SOS Staffing on August 12, 2013, and Plaintiff Shawn Shelton applied on August 15, 2013. On August 19, 2013, Dunsworth began working as a trainee on a computer numeric control machine. On August 26, 2013, Shelton began working as a trainee on a manual machine. Plaintiffs carpooled to work together after Shelton was hired.

         Defendant required all workers at its Tuboscope facility to attend a one-day safety orientation before starting work. During Plaintiffs' safety training, they were asked (like all new workers) to disclose any medications that could cause a safety issue. Shelton told the Tuboscope safety representative, Andrew Lee, that he was not taking any medications. At some point, Dunsworth informed Lee about the prescription medications he received through the VA by showing them to Lee. Lee expressed concern about a pain medication that was prescribed for use on an as-needed basis. Dunsworth told Lee that he took it only at night because it caused drowsiness and helped him sleep. Plaintiffs were also instructed during their orientation to call in and speak to a supervisor or manager if they were going to be absent or late, and to request sick leave using a written form.

         Folmar was not Plaintiffs' immediate supervisor or trainer. He did not interact with them directly except on August 26, 2013, Dunsworth told Folmar that he needed time off for a doctor's appointment and Folmar approved Dunworth's oral request to be absent. Also, on August 29, 2013, Folmar learned that Plaintiffs had failed to show up for work at their scheduled times without calling their respective supervisors or him about being tardy or absent, and Lee told Folmar about Dunsworth's prescribed pain medication.

         Upset by the “no call no show” of workers whom he had recommended, Folmar reached out to Plaintiffs - first by attempting to call them and then by sending a group text message. The following exchange occurred beginning at 8:25 A.M.:

Folmar: So I'm guessing u guys gave up on me or found something better? Hope ...

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