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Norris v. The Boeing Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 6, 2017

TODD NORRIS, Plaintiff,


          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant, The Boeing Company (“Boeing”). Dkt. # 29. In this case, plaintiff Todd Norris claims that Boeing discriminated against him because of his disability, terminating his employment because it did not want to - or could not - accommodate his medical need for a light-duty assignment. Boeing argues that it terminated plaintiff due to unexcused absences associated with plaintiff's 45-day period of incarceration. Plaintiff maintains that he was on an approved medical leave and not otherwise scheduled to work during his incarceration and that Boeing used the incarceration as a pretext to revoke his approved leave and treat his absences as unexcused. Having reviewed the parties' briefs, declarations, exhibits, and the remainder of the record, [1] the Court finds as follows.


         At the time of plaintiff's discharge, he had been employed by Boeing as an aircraft painter since roughly July 19, 1996. Dkt. # 40, ¶ 2. In 1996, while painting the interior of an aircraft, plaintiff slipped and injured his right shoulder. Dkt. # 40, ¶ 3. Plaintiff underwent surgery on this shoulder in 1997 and 2008. Id. After the right-shoulder injury, plaintiff painted predominantly with his left hand, and suffered progressive injuries to his left arm and shoulder as a result. Dkt. # 40, ¶ 4. Due to plaintiff's injuries, various restrictions were placed on the type of work that he could perform at Boeing. See Dkt. # 37-1 at 3-4; Dkt. # 37-2 at 18-24.

         In 2011, plaintiff was charged with several misdemeanors. Dkt. # 40, ¶ 6; Dkt. # 23-1 at 3-12. Plaintiff asked his manager at the time, Jamie Wall, about the possibility of work release, which would allow him to continue to work at Boeing during his incarceration. Id. Plaintiff was aware of other Boeing employees - including Mr. Wall - who had participated in a similar work-leave arrangement. Dkt. # 32 at 8-12; Dkt. # 40, ¶ 15. Plaintiff and Mr. Wall discussed a work-release arrangement, but no work-release was officially approved. Dkt. # 32 at 10; Dkt. # 40, ¶ 6.

         On March 10, 2011, plaintiff appeared in court for a hearing on a no-contact order violation hearing. Dkt. # 23-1 at 15. Plaintiff had requested and been granted 1.5 hours of medical leave for March 10, 2011, which coincided with the violation hearing. Dkt. # 23-1 at 15-16.

         On March 17, 2011, plaintiff was convicted of disorderly conduct. Dkt. # 23-1 at 16. Plaintiff had requested and been granted 8 hours of medical leave for March 17, 2011. Dkt. # 23 at 16-17.

         From April 1, 2011, to April 4, 2011, plaintiff was incarcerated. Dkt. # 23-1 at 17. Plaintiff had requested and been granted six and a half hours of medical leave for April 3, 2011, to April 4, 2011. April 1 and 2, 2011, fell on a weekend. Dkt. # 23-1 at 17-18. When asked during a deposition whether he was using medical leave to cover to his time in jail, plaintiff responded “I would not have needed FMLA if it would have been over the weekend.” Dkt. # 23-1 at 17. Later, plaintiff clarified that, “yes, I was using FMLA to cover my time.” Dkt. # 23-1 at 18.

         Around July 2011, Eric Hoag replaced Mr. Wall as plaintiff's manager in the painting shop. Dkt. # 37-1 at 3; Dkt. # 40, ¶ 7; Dkt. # 23-1 at 13. Mr. Hoag testified that he “didn't have any problem with . . . the quality of [plaintiff's] work, ” and that he was glad to have plaintiff working in the shop. Dkt. # 37-1 at 3-4. Plaintiff and Mr. Hoag never discussed a work-release arrangement. Dkt. # 23-1 at 28.

         In January and May 2012, plaintiff's restrictions were renewed. Dkt. # 37-2 at 16-18. In summer 2012, plaintiff was placed on a temporary light-duty assignment in a Boeing department called the “Ergo Crib” to accommodate his occupational injury. Dkt. # 37-1 at 9.

         Between August 13 and 21, 2012, plaintiff missed several days of work due to his injury. Plaintiff spoke with a Boeing Disability Management Representative (“DMR”) on August 13, 15, and 21, and expressed understanding of the need to cover his time and provide documentation supporting his absences; still, plaintiff failed to provide documentation for absences on August 13, 14, and 15. Dkt. # 37-1 at 14. On August 27, 2012, Boeing DMR Katie Lashua submitted a light-duty accommodation request on plaintiff's behalf. Dkt. # 37-1 at 14; Dkt. # 37-2 at 29. According to Ms. Lashua, the “Ergo Crib” told Ms. Lashua that they could no longer offer plaintiff a light-duty accommodation because his attendance was not reliable. Dkt. # 37-1 at 14; Dkt. # 37-2 at 29. On August 30, 2012, plaintiff was granted a light-duty accommodation in a different Boeing department. Dkt. # 37-1 at 11.

         Also on August 30, 2012, plaintiff reported to Boeing's medical department for clearance to work. Dkt. # 37-1 at 30. While there, plaintiff reported a new occupational injury, dating back to August 7, 2012. Plaintiff did not notify his manager or a Disability Management Representative about this new injury. Dkt. # 37-1 at 30-31. Plaintiff reported to work on Tuesday, September 4, 2012, but did not attend work on September 5 or 6, 2012, and he did not provide notice or justification for these absences. Dkt. # 27-1.

         On September 11, 2012, Tim Fowler, a senior manager in plaintiff's department, sent a message to the department notifying them that plaintiff was on medical leave and had not been cleared to return to work by Boeing's disability management department. Dkt. # 37-1 at 16. Mr. Fowler instructed plaintiff's department that, if plaintiff reported to work, they were to instruct plaintiff that he was not allowed to be in the factory or to perform any kind of work without first being cleared by Boeing's medical department. Dkt. # 37-1 at 16.

         On September 12, 2012, Mr. Fowler and Kristine Hansen, a Boeing human resources staff member, notified plaintiff that he had been “suspended indefinitely pending an investigation.” Dkt. # 37-1 at 18, 23. Plaintiff was not informed of the subject of the investigation, and was told not to contact any Boeing employee other than Ms. Hansen. Dkt. # 37-1 at 18. Ms. Hansen testified in a deposition that members of the Boeing Human Resources Investigation department ...

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