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Pallies v. The Boeing Co.

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

June 29, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on defendant's “Motion for Summary Judgment or in the Alternative Partial Summary Judgment.” Dkt. # 35. The Court has reviewed the motion, the parties' memoranda, the associated filings, and the remainder of the record.[1]For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from plaintiff David Pallies's unfortunate development of a neurological disorder that eventually prevented him from doing his job at the Boeing Company. Pallies started working for Boeing in December 2010 as a Crane Operator Hooktender. Hooktenders operate cranes to lift, move, and position aircraft parts, equipment, and other materials. In early 2012, Pallies began to feel pain and numbness in his arms but continued working normally in his position. Pallies Decl. (Dkt. # 38) ¶¶ 2-4. In May 2014, Pallies's physician, Dr. Roger Sharf, diagnosed him with peripheral polyneuropathy and told him he may have Charcot-Marie-Toothe disease (“CMT”), a degenerative nerve disorder that causes pain and weakness in a person's limbs and extremities. Sharf Decl. (Dkt. # 23) ¶ 4.

         According to Pallies, he informed his primary managers Brandon Cowell and Stephen Lynch of his condition and its prognosis the next work day, [2] but he did not seek out Boeing Medical or the company's Disability Management division. Pallies Decl. ¶ 5. Within two months, a position as his shift's Crane Operator Dispatch became available. Id. ¶ 6. Pallies sought the position, because it was less physically demanding than hooktender and would pose fewer neuropathy-related difficulties. Id. In August 2014, he began regularly filling the dispatch job. White Decl. (Dkt. # 35-5) ¶ 8. The assignment was temporary, but Pallies's managers indicated he might be permanently assigned if he proved himself. Pallies Decl. ¶ 7.

         In November 2014, a hooktender on a different shift named Brian Tunks returned to work after a heart attack. Stevens Decl. (Dkt. # 35-4) ¶ 7. The heart attack left Tunks with a medical restriction that prohibited him from working as a hooktender. Id. Unlike Pallies, Tunks had a formal medical restriction and had entered Boeing's official reassignment protocol. Id. ¶¶ 6-8. Although Pallies had been working in the dispatch job for some time, his assignment was not permanent and the position was still technically vacant. See id. ¶¶ 7-8. Boeing policy provided that Tunks be assigned to the position.

         That assignment reflected Boeing policy in two ways. First, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) negotiated with Tunks's and Pallies's union gave the senior employee priority, see Dkt. # 35-5 at 28, and Tunks was the senior employee, Stevens Decl. ¶ 6. Second, Pallies was not in the position pursuant to a medical restriction or an officially requested accommodation. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Tunks, on the other hand, was on restriction from Boeing Medical, had formally requested the job as an accommodation, and was already officially in the reassignment process. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. For that reason, Boeing's EEOC policy also gave Tunks priority. Id. ¶ 9. The job went to Tunks in January 2015, and Pallies resumed working as a hooktender. White Decl. ¶¶ 9-10.

         To resume work, Boeing Medical needed to recertify Pallies. In his visit, Pallies disclosed his neuropathy and was still certified with no restrictions. Dkt. # 35-2 at 14-15. Pallies did not seek disabled status or a formal accommodation. He claims that he discussed the decision whether to seek out Boeing Medical with his second-level manager, Kenneth White, and that White told him going to Boeing Medical would be like “cutting your own throat.” Pallies Decl. ¶ 11. As Pallies explains it, “if he went to Boeing Medical to request accommodations, he would still not be allowed to remain in dispatch, and if he did, he risked being able to return to hooktending due to his medical condition.” Dkt. # 37 at 7.

         He did, however, take leave to treat his neuropathy. On the leave form Pallies submitted in January 2015, Dr. Sharf concluded that Pallies's condition required regular treatment and intermittent leave, but that Pallies was not “unable to perform his[] essential job functions due to th[e] condition.” Dkt. # 35-3 at 33. Pallies also briefly missed work for a knee injury, but Dr. Sharf again certified that Pallies could return to work full time and with regular duties. Dkt. # 35-2 at 139. In addition, Pallies contemporaneously submitted a health questionnaire that acknowledged his neuropathy, but still stated that he had no “conditions that [would] keep [him] from performing all tasks and functions of [his] job.” Id at 140, 144.

         Pallies continued to work as a hooktender until September 2015, at which point he sought out Boeing Medical for pain associated with his neuropathy. Boeing Medical gave him several permanent restrictions and disqualified him from working as a hooktender. Dkt. # 36-1 at 123-24. Pallies formally requested an accommodation and entered Boeing's reassignment process. Id. at 126.

         No accommodation would allow Pallies to stay on as a hooktender, which meant the only option was to reassign him to a vacant position. See Stevens Decl. ¶ 3. Over the next four months, Boeing's Disability Management department undertook an extensive search for a suitable vacant position but the effort ultimately proved fruitless. See Dkt. # 35-2 at 6-7. On January 13, 2016, Boeing designated Pallies as “Medically Unable to Perform Work Assignment” and laid him off. Id. at 187.

         On July 14, 2016, Pallies filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (”EEOC”). Dkt. # 35-3 at 10. On August 5, 2016, the EEOC issued a “Right to Sue” notice stating that it was terminating processing of Pallies's charge. Id. at 7. Pallies then sued Boeing for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and Washington's Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), RCW 49.60.030 et seq. Compl. (Dkt. # 1). After discovery, Boeing moved for summary judgment. Dkt. # 35.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether there is a factual dispute requiring trial, the Court will “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party . . . and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Krechman v. Cty. of Riverside, 723 F.3d 1104, 1109 (9th Cir. 2013). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). There is no genuine issue for trial ...

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