United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Kathleen B. Burke United States Magistrate Judge
Carol Messenheimer (“Messenheimer”) brings this
action under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et
seq., and Ohio law, O.R.C. § 4112.02, against her
employer, Coastal Pet Products, Inc. (“Coastal”).
She alleges that Coastal discriminated against her on the
basis of disability, limitations associated with
Meniere's disease, by demoting her and by failing to
accommodate her disability. She also claims that Coastal
retaliated against her for engaging in a protected activity
in violation of the ADA.
has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all of
Messenheimer's claims pursuant to Federal Rule Civil
Procedure 56 (“the Motion”). Doc. 26.
Messenheimer has filed an Opposition brief, Doc. 41, and
Coastal has filed a Reply, Doc. 43. As set forth below,
Coastal has shown that it demoted Messenheimer due to her
documented poor managerial record; it has also shown that she
never requested an accommodation and that it had no notice
that she had a hearing problem resulting from her
Meniere's disease. Messenheimer has failed to provide
evidence to the contrary or to show that Coastal's reason
for demoting her was pretextual.
there is no genuine issue of material fact and Coastal is
entitled to summary judgment.
Pet Products, Inc., manufactures and distributes “pet
restraint products, including leashes, collars and related
pet accessories.” Doc. 27, p. 6 (Def.'s Memo. in
Support of MSJ). Coastal hired Messenheimer in 1980 as a
factory worker, also known as an associate. Doc. 1, p. 2,
¶7 (Complaint); Doc. 34-3, p. 1 (Aug. 2012 Performance
Evaluation). In 2005, Messenheimer was promoted to the
position of supervisor in Coastal's Distribution
Department where she supervised a team of associates and
shift-leaders, also referred to as Work Force Coordinators
(“WFC”s). Doc. 34, p. 1, ¶ 3; Doc. 34-4, p.
1. In 2014, she was demoted to associate. Doc. 34-4, p. 1
(Feb. 2013 Annual Review); Doc. 36-1, p. 1 (Sept. 2014
Employee Warning Report).
Messenheimer is diagnosed with Meniere's disease in
in 2008-2009, Messenheimer was diagnosed with Meniere's
disease, “a disorder of the inner ear which . . .
causes symptoms of vertigo and fluctuating hearing loss to
permanent hearing loss.” Doc. 1, p. 2, ¶9; Doc.
38, pp. 41-42 (Messenheimer Dep.). Messenheimer takes
medication that allows her to manage her symptoms and, due to
“severe hearing loss, ” she has used hearing aids
since June 2014. Doc. 38, pp. 44, 50, 55. Even with her
hearing aids, she reports having some difficulty hearing in
noisy environments. Doc. 38, p. 55. At the time she was
diagnosed, Messenheimer did not inform Coastal that she had
Messenhimer receives warnings from Reese and Gordon about her
performance while supervising in Area C.
Messenheimer first became a supervisor in 2005, she was
assigned to Area C in Coastal's Distribution Department
and was overseeing two WFCs and approximately 12 associates.
Doc. 34, p. 1, ¶ 3 (McGavern Aff.). Her main
responsibilities were to (1) maintain safety standards, (2)
train her associates and WFCs, (3) ensure quality control,
(4) facilitate communication between associates, management,
and workers on different shifts, (5) coach and lead her
associates and WFCs using positive reinforcement, and (6)
provide biannual employee assessments. Doc. 33-4, pp. 1-2.
performance evaluations indicate that she exceeded
expectations in the areas of safety, quality control, and
training; however, beginning in 2009, she was repeatedly
warned by her manager, Jason Reese, that she needed to
improve her communications with fellow supervisors and her
ability to instruct those whom she supervised in a calm and
composed manner. Doc. 35, p. 1, ¶ 2 (Gordon Aff.).
Specifically, Messenheimer received warnings regarding her
managerial style at least four times between November 2009
and July 2011. Doc. 35, p. 1, ¶ 2. In her deposition,
Messenheimer initially denied that she received warnings
regarding her managerial style prior to 2011; however, later
in her deposition, she confirmed that Reese met with her and
discussed her demeanor as early as 2009. Doc. 38, pp. 81, 96.
15, 2011, Reese brought Messenheimer's managerial issues
to the attention of Eric Gordon (“Gordon”),
Coastal's Company Distribution Manager. Doc. 35, p. 1,
¶ 2. As Distribution Manager, Gordon is the person who
“oversees all functions of distribution” and who
would “make a decision whether to demote” a
Distribution Department employee. Doc. 40, pp. 8, 11 (Smith
Dep.). Reese and Gordon met with Messenheimer to discuss her
demeanor and the manner in which she directed her associates.
Doc. 35-1, p. 1. The minutes from the meeting were laid out
in a Communication/Counseling Report:
It was brought to our attention by an associate that we
were having issues with Carol and the demeanor she was using
to instruct associates in their daily job functions. She was
also not being consistent in the instruction that was being
given. This was the 4th such complaint since November of
2009. Carol needs to address associates in a calmer demeanor
and give clearer, calmer direction. Associates should know
what to expect. Carol needs to be more constructive when
addressing errors/reprimands and address them outside of the
Doc. 35-1, p. 1.
Communication/Counseling Report also reflects that
“Carol expressed that she was unhappy and had been for
a while. Carol was asked if she wanted a change or if she
wanted to step down. . . . [S]he did not know.” Doc.
35-1, p. 1. Messenheimer disagreed with the problems raised
in the Report and told them “there was [sic] two sides
to every story and that they were listening to what the
others were saying . . . .” Doc. 38, p. 78. Even so,
she made an effort to start using phrases like
“please” and “thank you” and
“good job.” Doc. 38, p. 78.
Messenheimer receives an Employee Warning Report from
McGavern and Gordon for her performance in Area C and is
transferred to another department.
April 2, 2012, Shawn McGavern replaced Reese as
Messenheimer's manager in Area C. Doc. 34, p. 1,
¶¶ 1-2. McGavern witnessed Messenheimer act
“rudely and negatively toward associates and WFCs in
her area” and five WFCs stepped down or transferred to
other areas, due, at least in part, to Messenheimer's
demeanor toward them. Doc. 34, p. 1, ¶ 7. Messenheimer
agrees that the WFCs left her area “because of problems
they had with [her].” Doc. 38, p. 98.
August 2012 and February 2013, McGavern brought up these
issues in Messenheimer's mid-year and annual reviews.
Doc. 34-3, p. 1 (Aug. 2012 Performance Evaluation); Doc 34-4,
pp. 1-3 (Feb. 2013 Performance Evaluation). McGavern also
held weekly meetings throughout January and February of 2013
with Messenheimer, her WFCs, and her associates “where
he attempted to remedy the problems that were raised.”
Doc. 34, p. 1, ¶ 8. In her deposition, Messenheimer
reported that she believed that the employees who complained
about her “had it out for [her], ” and she did
not take any sort of remedial action because she
“didn't feel [she] was doing anything wrong.”
Doc. 38, pp. 93-94.
of 2013, McGavern brought Messenheimer's continuing
performance issues to Gordon's attention. Doc. 35, p. 1,
¶ 4. Together, they issued an Employee Warning Report
and met with Messenheimer on July 29, 2013, to discuss her
ongoing managerial issues. Doc. 35, p. 1, ¶ 6. Gordon
told Messenheimer that he was transferring her to a different
supervisory position in a different department, Coastal's
Labeling Department. He explained that “there were
issues in her current department and her managers wanted to
give her a clean slate to be able to be successful as a
supervisor at Coastal Pet.” Doc. 40, p. 6. Her new
position would also require her to supervise fewer employees.
Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶¶ 1-2 (Perkins Aff.). Gordon told
her that she would have “90 days to make the needed
changes” or she would be “removed from the
Supervisor's position.” Doc. 34-5, p. 1. During the
meeting, Messenheimer denied any problems with her managerial
style and conveyed that she believed the associates who had
complained about her were not being truthful. Doc. 35, p. 1,
¶ 6. However, she agreed that it was a good decision to
give her a clean slate with new associates. Doc. 38, p. 103.
still did not inform McGavern or Gordon that she has
Meniere's disease and any related limitations.
Messenheimer receives more complaints about her performance
in the Labeling Department and is demoted.
her transfer to the Labeling Department in July 2013,
Messenheimer worked under the management of Barbara Perkins
and supervised one WFC and five associates. Doc. 36, p. 1,
¶¶ 1-2. Messenheimer alleges that, during her
orientation, Perkins commented, “I hope you don't
have any problems going up and down ladders because the
previous supervisor, that's what she would have to
do.” Doc. 38, p. 106. Perkins testified in her
deposition that her comment was something she would typically
say to people joining the department because it was part of
the job function in the Labeling Department. Doc. 39, p. 5.
Messenheimer confirmed that Labeling Department employees
regularly had to climb a ten-foot ladder to unjam a conveyor.
Doc. 38, p. 106. Though Messenheimer had concerns about
climbing ladders due to her vertigo, she did not ask for an
accommodation or respond at all to Perkins' comment. Doc.
38, p. 106. Perkins stated that, at that time, she “had
a general understanding that [Messenheimer] suffered from
bouts of vertigo” but did not know that she had any
hearing problems. Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶8.
initially performed well in her new position; however, a year
later, around September 2014, Perkins began to receive
complaints regarding Messenheimer's demeanor from one of
the associates Messenheimer supervised, Tabitha Early. Doc.
36, p. 1, ¶¶ 2-3. Early reported that Messenheimer
was rude to associates and would “walk away a
lot” when associates were trying to ask her questions.
Doc. 39, pp. 5-7 (Perkins Dep.). Perkins investigated the
complaint by interviewing other individuals who worked with
Messenheimer and she received several other reports
confirming Messenheimer's treatment of
associates. Doc. 39, p. 8.
did not notify Messenheimer of these complaints. Doc 39, p.
8. Instead, on September 17, 2014, Perkins brought the
complaints to the attention of Eric Gordon. Doc. 36, p. 1,
¶ 4 (Perkins Aff.). Perkins advised Gordon that
Messenheimer “had failed to demonstrate the ability to
consistently present a friendly and professional image as it
pertained to associates and WFCs who worked under her
supervision.” Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶ 4. Gordon and
Perkins decided to demote Messenheimer to an associate
position and transfer her to a different work area due to her
record of demeanor-related issues with WFCs and associates
dating back to 2009. Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶ 5.
September 18, 2014, while at work, Messenheimer had an
episode of Meniere's disease. Doc. 38, p. 121. She
experienced vomiting, vertigo, and dizziness. Doc. 38, p. 43.
Perkins called an ambulance and Messenheimer was taken to the
hospital. Doc. 38, p. 121. Messenheimer was out of work for
eleven days on medical leave. Doc. 38, p. 52. She returned
from medical leave on September 29, 2014, at which time
Gordon and Perkins met with her to notify her of their
decision to demote her. Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶ 6. In the
meeting, Gordon and Perkins explained that they had received
complaints that Messenheimer had been rude to her associates
and had refused to help them when they came to her for
assistance. Doc. 36-1, p. 1. They presented Messenheimer with
an Employee Warning Report, outlining their decision and its
basis. Doc. 36, p. 1, ¶7; Doc. 36-1, p. 1. At no point
in the meeting did Messenheimer tell them she had hearing
Messenheimer has two meetings with Coastal's Human
her demotion, Messenheimer submitted a letter to
Coastal's Human Resource Department (“HR”)
requesting that they undertake an investigation into her
demotion. Doc. 40, p. 10. She alleged that age and disability
discrimination were the basis of her demotion. Doc. 40, p. 10.
HR Director Merrie Smith (“Smith”) investigated
and found a note in Messenheimer's HR file written on a
prescription pad from Messenheimer's doctor, stating,
“P[atien]t has Meniere's Disease with intermittent
vertigo. There may be times when she cannot climb a
ladder.” Doc. 41-7, p. 1 (Doctor's Note). Smith
stated in her deposition that the note was never given to her
directly, and she only checked Messenheimer's file when
she was asked to investigate. Doc. 40, p. 7. The note is
dated August 8, 2013, but there is no evidence regarding when
or how the note was added to her file.
November 7, 2014, Smith and Joe Tucker, Vice President of HR,
met with Messenheimer to discuss her allegations in more
detail. Doc. 40, p. 10. Messenheimer explained that she felt
that she was discriminated against because of her recent
leave of absence. Doc. 40, p. 10. In her deposition, she
recalled that Smith and Tucker treated her well during the
meeting. Doc. 38, p. 130. She did not recall whether she told
them during that meeting that she had hearing problems as a
result of her Meniere's disease. Doc. 38, pp. 128-129,
after November 7, 2014, Messenheimer requested a second
meeting with the HR department so that she could explain that
she has Meniere's disease and related vertigo and hearing
problems. Doc. 38, pp. 131-33. Smith said that she did not
know Messenheimer used hearing aids. Doc. 40, p. 7. The new
information did not change Coastal's position regarding
Messenheimer's demotion. Doc. 40, pp. 10-11.
Messenheimer filed a charge against Coastal with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)
alleging discrimination based on retaliation, age, and
disability. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on January
12, 2017, and Messenheimer filed her ...