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Alsept v. Honda of America MFG., Inc.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

June 3, 2013

Junior Alsept, Plaintiff,
Honda of America Mfg., Inc., Defendant.


THOMAS M. ROSE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. 21. Plaintiff Junior Alsept's claims his employment with Defendant Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc. was wrongfully terminated. Because Plaintiff was not otherwise qualified for employment, and because he never formally requested accommodation, and because he was not subject to treatment that would cause one to be forced to resign, Plaintiff's disability discrimination claims fail. Neither do Plaintiff's claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention and supervision, wrongful discharge, breach of implied contract, and negligence survive the motion.

I. Background

Plaintiff Junior Alsept worked as a production associate on Line 2 in engine assembly at the Honda Anna Engine Plant from the beginning of his employment in 2002. Alsept depo. at 59. With the downturn in the economy in early 2009, Line 2 was phased out, and the employees who had worked on that line were reassigned to other lines or departments. Finch depo. at 9.2 Alsept was assigned to a new job process on Line 3 in the engine assembly department in June 2009. Id. at 61.

Once he was assigned to his new job, Alsept claims he was harassed by Jeremy Burmeister and John Meinerding. Alsept depo. at 61. According to Alsept, Burmeister "called [him] a mother - mother-effer one day. He looked right at me and said, Mother-effer, don't piss me off, Junior. Don't piss me off Junior." Alsept depo. at 62, doc. 22-1 at 7, PageID #981. Alsept also contends that Burmeister started a rumor that Alsept was quitting work to go work at McDonald's, which Alsept claims was humiliating. Alsept. Depo. at 64. Alsept asserts Meinerding joined in on the McDonald's rumor, and repeatedly called Alsept "coach." Alsept depo. at 66, 68.

This treatment so affected Alsept that he needed to take time off of work. Alsept depo. at 63. Alsept has always had paranoid tendencies. Alsept depo. at 41. However, his paranoia reached a new high while dealing with issues at Honda in 2009 and 2010. Alsept depo. at 42-43. Alsept began having increased panic attacks in 2010 when he would attempt to return to work, for fear of being around Meinerding or Burmeister. Alsept depo. at 81, 84-85. Alsept's panic attacks caused him to get flustered, to start sweating, his heart to beat really fast, and to have difficulty breathing. Alsept depo. at 82.

On September 15, 2009, Alsept requested, and Honda granted, a six-week leave of absence due to Plaintiff's diagnosis of depression and anxiety by his psychologist, Dr. Glen Strobel. Caudill depo. at 10; Ex. 1 to same, at HAMALSEPT000103. Over the next year, with the exception of a few attempts to return to work gradually at the request of Alsept's doctor, Alsept remained on leave. Caudill depo. at 49.

In a letter to Honda Medical Department dated December 7, 2009, Dr. Strobel indicated that Plaintiff was reporting harassment at the hands of his co-workers prior to beginning his leave of absence in September 2009. Ex. 2 to Caudill Depo., Doc. 18-4, at 7. On January 25, 2010, Alsept spoke with a nurse at Honda requesting a transfer to a different production position. Alsept Depo. at 72-73; Caudill Depo. at 20-21. Alsept's psychologist wrote a letter to Honda dated September 8, 2010 stating that "[i]f at all possible, Junior is more likely to be successful in his return to work if he returned to work in a new area of the plant." Ex. 5 to Caudill Depo., Doc. 18-4 at 14.

Mike Martin, the business administration coordinator, "was human resources" for the Anna location. Martin depo. at 7.4 He explained in an email that while Alsept's doctor wrote a letter to Honda stating that he should not return to his current department, it was "not a reasonable request, and we would not consider this request, " simply because it was not "specific... it has to be in the form of restrictions." Martin depo. at 8-9. However, he never requested more information from Alsept's doctor, as he perceived it as the purview of the medical department to handle. Martin depo. at 9-10. He further explained that the medical department would look to see if the accommodation could be made within the department, and if not, then there is a plant placement committee to determine if a person could be placed in another position within the plant, followed by a company-wide search. Martin depo. at 15-16. However, in Alsept's case, nothing was ever done outside the medical department. Martin depo. at 16. The medical department received a statement from Dr. Tennenbaum, the fitness for duty evaluator, which stated that "if practical... a new job assignment, this would seem reasonable, one concern being that any graduated return to work program does bring forth curiosity among co-workers." Jackson depo. at 21, Ex. 18, Doc. 18-2, at 7-8.

However, Honda determined that since Alsept would continue to struggle interpersonally, there was no need to look at any different job areas for him. Jackson depo. at 22. In fact, Carolyn Caudill, the coordinator of the medical department at the Honda Anna plant, testified that "to move somebody from one department to another in the manufacturing area is a lot of work." Caudill depo. at 8-9, 22-23.

Alsept further explained to Emily Scott, a coordinator in charge of leave programs, that he was concerned about returning to work in the same department. Scott depo. at 7-8 and 12. Scott, however, informed him that at Honda "you're probably not going to be able to get away from a large group. You might want to think about that." Scott depo. at 13. Instead, she told him that if he wanted a transfer, he would need to come back to work to the same department, and then request an interdepartmental request to transfer through human resources. Scott depo. at 13.

Further, Honda has a program called the Medically Inactive Transition program, or MIT. Martin depo. at 22. The MIT program is a program when an employee has been off work for six months, which allows the employee to still accrue time with the company, come back to work, and retain all benefits of being an associate, for up to four years in an attempt to return the employee to work. Martin depo. at 22-24. Alsept would have entered the MIT program on September 27, 2010. Jackson depo. at 14. Instead of placing Alsept into that program, Honda scheduled a "fitness for duty" evaluation on Alsept, for September 29, 2010 and then chose to return him to work in the same department. Jackson depo. at 16 and 23. After being told he was to be returned to the same department, however, Alsept did not return to work on September 29, 2010. (Id.; Ex. 21 to Jackson Depo.) After Alsept failed to return. and Honda had left several voicemails inquiring why he had not returned to work (Ex. 21 to Jackson Dep.), Mike Martin of Honda Administration sent Alsept a letter on October 4, 2010 notifying Alsept that he had failed to come to work for three days and that he must contact Martin immediately to discuss the issue. (Alsept Dep. at 75; Ex. J to same.)

At that point Plaintiff called Martin and informed him that he was going to resign his position. (Id.) Alsept then went to the Anna Engine Plant for an exit interview. (Id.) In response to inquiries from Martin on why he was resigning, Alsept stated that he "was going to move to Florida with a brother." (Id. at 76.) During the exit interview, Alsept never said that he was unable to perform the fast paced nature of the job or that he was resigning because of harassment by co-workers. (Id.) In fact, in completing the exit interview summary, Alsept instructed Martin to state that the primary reason for resignation was "family related issues, " despite the fact that other options such as "couldn't adjust to pace/stress" and "dissatisfied w/work environment/conditions" were listed. (Martin Dep. at 17-18; Exs. 32-33 to same.) After the interview and Alsept's submittal of a handwritten letter of resignation (Ex. 34 to Martin Dep., Doc. 18-9 at 3), Alsept's employment with Honda ended.

On October 13, 2011, Alsept filed a complaint with the Court of Common Pleas of Shelby County, Ohio, asserting that Honda of America Mfg., Inc., is liable on claims of disability discrimination under Ohio Revised Code §§ 4412.02(A) and 4112.99, interference with the exercise of rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2615 and 2617, religious discrimination in violation of Ohio Revised Code 4112.02, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention and supervision, wrongful discharge, breach of implied contract, and negligence. On November 4, 2011, Honda removed the matter to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Doc. 1. On March 8, 2012, Alsept amended his complaint to add a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101. Doc. 11.

Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all claims. Doc. 21. Plaintiff has responded, opposing summary judgment, with the exception of Plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act claim and religious discrimination claim, which Plaintiff admits lack factual support. Doc. 22. Defendant having replied, doc. 23, the matter is ripe for decision.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard of review applicable to motions for summary judgment is established by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and associated case law. Rule 56 provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Alternatively, summary judgment is denied "[i]f there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Hancock v. Dodson, 958 F.2d 1367, 1374 (6th Cir. 1992) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986)). Thus, summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party seeking summary judgment has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions and affidavits which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id., at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S., at 250 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

Once the burden of production has shifted, the party opposing summary judgment cannot rest on its pleadings or merely reassert its previous allegations. It is not sufficient to "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rule 56 "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings" and ...

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