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Jones v. CCBCC, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 18, 2019

DONNELL JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CCBCC, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Donnell Jones (“Plaintiff”) filed this case against his former employer, CCBCC, Inc. (“Defendant”), alleging disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and wrongful termination in violation of Maryland state law.[1] ECF 1-3. Discovery is now concluded, and the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, along with various oppositions, replies, and supplements. ECF 26, 27, 28, 29, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46. I have reviewed the filings, and have determined that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, I will deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF 38, and grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF 42.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for Coca-Cola Refreshments (“CCR”) in October, 2002, in a position requiring him to hold a Commercial Driver's License (“CDL”).[2] ECF 42-3 (Borella Dep.) at 23:20-23; ECF 42-4 (Plaintiff Dep.) at 10:2-7; 39:12-40:2. As a delivery merchandiser, Plaintiff drove a truck to deliver Coca-Cola products to customers in Maryland. ECF 42-4 at 107:4-109:1. At all relevant times, Plaintiff suffered from a detached retina in his right eye, which left him unable to pass the physical examination administered to CDL holders. ECF 42-5, Response 16. CCR required Plaintiff to obtain Maryland's intrastate vision waiver to maintain his position, which he did, last renewing his waiver in 2017. ECF 42-4 at 102:11-103:4; 111:5-11. During his entire tenure as a delivery merchandiser, Plaintiff performed his job duties without incident, and earned positive performance evaluations. ECF 42-2 (Padgett Dep.) at 36:13-22; ECF 43-18 (Cook Dep.) at 60:3-12; ECF 26-9 (Waters Dep.) at 21:10-21.

         In April, 2016, Defendant acquired CCR. ECF 42-2 at 10:3-19. Plaintiff became an employee of Defendant as part of that transition. Id. (responding “I am” when asked if he is aware that Plaintiff transferred from Coca-Cola Refreshments to Defendant). Plaintiff's daily job remained the same after the transition, including his job description, his truck, his supervisors, and his compensation. ECF 42-4 at 158:17-159:5 (responding “That is correct” when questioner stated that his job description as a delivery merchandiser “didn't change” and that he had the same supervisors).

         Defendant, as an interstate motor carrier, requires its drivers to comply with safety requirements imposed by the United States Department of Transportation (“USDOT”), including the USDOT vision waiver for employees unable to pass the required vision test. ECF 42-2 at 13:13-24; 24:14-20. In January, 2017, Plaintiff underwent his first required USDOT medical evaluation as an employee of Defendant, and he failed to meet the visual acuity requirement. ECF 43-22. Defendant's risk management company, Hireright, Inc. (“Hireright”), notified Defendant that Plaintiff would need the federal USDOT vision waiver in order to continue driving. ECF 42-4 at 50:3-14; ECF 43-22 (email from Hireright stating, “So unfortunately for now his exam will report as unqualified until a copy of a Federal Vision Exemption is provided.”). Upon notification that Plaintiff did not meet the relevant requirements, Defendant immediately removed Plaintiff from the role of delivery merchandiser, and informed him that he would need to obtain the interstate vision waiver. ECF 42-4 at 50: 2-14 (“And he explained to me that I could no longer drive.”); see also ECF 42-3 at 110:17-25; ECF 42-7 (Wine Decl.) ¶ 4.

         At Plaintiff's suggestion, Defendant allowed him to work by training new delivery merchandisers. ECF 42-4 at 50:15-51:11. As such, Plaintiff trained drivers from January 12, 2017 through February 9, 2017. Id. at 56: 16-21. Eventually, however, the training role was no longer needed. ECF 26-10 (Waters Dep.) at 60:6-16 (explaining that the company typically does not have a training position available). On February 9, 2017, Defendant provided Plaintiff with a letter noting that he did not have an approved Federal Vision Waiver, and stating:

At this time, you are being placed on a 60 day unpaid personal leave of absence. During this time, you are allowed to apply for open position [sic] for which you are qualified following our standard interview and selection process. . . . If at the end of 60 days, you have not been selected for another role then you will, at that time, be separated from the company.

ECF 43-28. Supervisory employees, Terry Waters and Craig Cook, met with Plaintiff on February 10, 2017, and instructed him to apply for open non-driving positions with the company. ECF 42-4 at 61:18-63:21. However, Plaintiff refused to sign the February 9, 2017 letter, left after work on February 10, 2017, and did not apply for any open positions. ECF 42-4 at 61: 21- 62: 6; ECF 42-5, Response 19.

         On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff emailed the Human Resource (“HR”) portal, stating:

This is my request for reasonable accommodations - while I am able to do my job duties, the company has added a new technical requirement - while that is being fixed, I request accommodations of assignment to other duties.

ECF 43-15. Plaintiff's email did not mention a disability. HR responded that it had forwarded his request to the appropriate HR representative, and that Plaintiff should expect a response soon thereafter. Id.; ECF 42-4 at 74:16-21; 75:1-6.

         HR employees attempted to reach Plaintiff by telephone for several days. ECF 42-7 ¶ 5 (“After receiving Donnell Jones's February 21 request for accommodation, CCCI made several attempts to contact Mr. Jones to discuss his request.”); ECF 43-17 (text exchanges between Plaintiff and Human Resources). On March 6, 2017, a Human Resource Business Partner, Angenella Fleming, spoke to Plaintiff by telephone. ECF 42-4 at 129:6-130:2. Following the conversation, Plaintiff texted Fleming to ask whether, if he received his interstate waiver while on leave, he could return to his prior position as delivery merchandiser without having to reapply. ECF 43-17. Fleming confirmed Plaintiff's understanding. ECF 42-4 at 76: 2-12.

         In April, 2017, USDOT denied Plaintiff's application for an interstate vision waiver. ECF 42-4 at 77:3-21. Because Plaintiff could not fulfill the requirements to serve as a delivery merchandiser, and had not applied for any other positions, Defendant terminated his employment. See ECF 42-3 at 44:12-22. According to Plaintiff, he did not receive a letter of ...


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