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Martinez v. University Medical Center

United States District Court, District of Nevada

January 26, 2015


ORDER (DKT. #22)


Defendant University Medical Center (“UMC”) seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff Martin Martinez’s claims for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), retaliation under the ADA, and state tortious discharge. UMC argues I should dismiss Martinez’s ADA claims related to events Martinez never reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) because Martinez failed to exhaust administrative remedies. UMC also urges me to grant summary judgment on Martinez’s ADA claims arising from a December 1, 2011 incident which Martinez did report to the EEOC, because at that time Martinez’s injury was considered temporary and he therefore was not covered by the ADA. UMC further asserts that Martinez suffered no adverse employment action, and Martinez did not request an accommodation in association with the December 1 incident. Additionally, UMC argues no compensatory or punitive damages are available for an ADA retaliation claim as a matter of law, and punitive damages are not awardable against UMC as a governmental entity for any claim.

Martinez responds that he adequately exhausted all of his ADA claims. Martinez contends he indicated in his EEOC charge that he was complaining about continuing violations, and he kept the EEOC apprised of developments in his case, including his termination. Martinez thus argues his allegations about events after the December 1 incident reasonably could have been expected to grow out of the EEOC’s original investigation. As to the December 1 incident, Martinez argues he was covered by the ADA because the anti-retaliation provision protects any individual who opposes an act or practice that violates the ADA, even if that person is not disabled. Martinez also contends he suffered an adverse employment action because he was suspended when he refused to perform activities that violated his doctor’s work restrictions. Martinez disputes that compensatory and punitive damages are not awardable for ADA retaliation claims. Martinez abandons his state law tortious discharge claim. (Dkt. #25 at 5 n.2.) I grant in part and deny in part UMC’s motion.

I. Background

Martinez worked as a warehouse technician at UMC, a job which required heavy lifting. (Dtk. #22-1 at 1; Dkt. #25-1 at 2; Dkt. #26-1 at 3.) On August 4, 2011, Martinez suffered a hernia and an L5-S1 disc protrusion while lifting boxes in the warehouse. (Dkt. #22-1 at 1; Dkt. #25-1 at 2.) Martinez was placed on temporary modified duty with no lifting over 10 pounds, no repetitive bending, and no climbing. (Dkt. #22-1 at 2.) Martinez filed a worker’s compensation claim for these injuries that same date. (Dkt. #25-1 at 2.)

UMC and Martinez entered into a modified duty work contract to commence on September 12, 2011. (Dkt. #22-1 at 5.) Under the contract, Martinez was given a 90-day assignment with the central supply department in the clinical lab to perform work consistent with his doctor’s restrictions. (Id.)

On December 1, 2011, Martinez was working in the blood bank mail room, and he began talking on his cell phone. (Dkt. #22-1 at 10; Dkt. #22-2 at 1.) Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call from Karen Edwards, the manager of pathology. (Dkt. #22-1 at 10; Dkt. #22-2 at 1.) Edwards advised Martinez that he needed to perform duties related to the third floor tubing system. (Dkt. #22-1 at 11; Dkt. #25-1 at 2.) Martinez previously had worked with the tubing system and knew he could not do as Edwards asked because that work strained his back. (Dkt. #22-1 at 12; Dkt. #25-1 at 2.) He told Edwards he would not do those tasks because it would result in back pain and would violate his doctor’s orders. (Dkt. #22-2 at 1.) Edwards advised Martinez that because he could not do the job tasks, he would be transferred. (Dkt. #22-2 at 1.) Martinez also states Edwards suspended him. (Dkt. #25-1 at 2.) Martinez then contacted worker’s compensation personnel who previously had been helpful to him. (Dkt. #22-2 at 1.) They advised him to clock out and go home because there was no other light duty for Martinez to perform at the moment, and he would be contacted when something was available. (Id.)

According to Martinez, he remained on suspension from December 1 through January 4, 2012. (Dkt. #25-1 at 2.) According to UMC’s records, Martinez did not appear for work on December 8, 9, or 14, and he was suspended for three days for his unexplained absenteeism. (Dkt. #22-2 at 5.) On December 13, 2011, Martinez sent a letter to James Mumford, director of human resources, complaining about Edwards’ conduct and indicating he believed he had been discriminated against on the basis of age, race, and disability. (Dkt. #22-2 at 1-2, 9.)

On January 13, 2012, Martinez filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (Dkt. #22-2 at 9.) Martinez marked the boxes on the charge form to indicate he was alleging discrimination based on national origin, disability, and retaliation. (Id.) Martinez identified the beginning date of the alleged discriminatory conduct as December 1, 2011, and the latest date as the date he filed the charge. (Id.) Martinez checked the box on the form indicating his charge related to “continuing action.” (Id.)

In the fact section of his charge, Martinez described the December 1, 2011 incident regarding Edwards’ request that Martinez perform duties that violated his doctor’s restrictions and his response that performing the tasks would injure him. (Id.) On the form, Martinez wrote that Edwards “became angry and suspended me from working in the mail room.” (Id.) He also indicated that he told UMC’s human resources about the incident, but there was no investigation, he was told Edwards “did nothing wrong, ” and Martinez would remain on suspension. (Id.)

On January 5, 2012, UMC and Martinez entered into another modified duty work contract, placing Martinez in the engineering department. (Dkt. #22-2 at 10.) Martinez worked light duty in the engineering department through April 4, 2012. (Dkt. #25-1 at 3.) Martinez requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act from April 5 to June 4, which UMC approved. (Dkt. #22-2 at 11-12; Dkt. #22-3 at 1.)

On June 5, 2012, UMC sent Martinez a letter indicating that because his medical condition remained unchanged and Martinez confirmed he would not be able to return to work, Martinez was “a candidate for a medical separation.” (Dkt. #22-3 at 2.) Under UMC’s medical separation process, UMC would “conduct a 30 working day job search for available alternative work for which [Martinez] may qualify and can perform with or without an accommodation.” (Dkt. #22-3 at 2.) Martinez applied for numerous jobs at UMC, but he did not obtain any of those jobs. (Dkt. #22-1 at 15-28; Dkt. #22-3 at 18; Dkt. #25-1 at 3-4.)

On July 23, 2012, UMC indicated that Martinez had exhausted all available leave and was not able to accept another position. (Dkt. #22-3 at 4.) UMC therefore suspended Martinez “pending medical separation.” (Id.) UMC advised Martinez that pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement, Martinez had ten days to file a grievance or his employment would terminate. (Id.) No grievance was filed and UMC terminated Martinez’s employment on August 7, 2012. (Id. at 5.)

Martinez did not file a separate charge of discrimination with the EEOC relating to his efforts at finding another job at UMC that would reasonably accommodate his disability, nor did he file a charge relating to his separation from employment. Martinez contends he kept in contact with the EEOC regarding his January 13 charge, and forwarded to the EEOC documents relating to his termination. (Dkt. #25-1 at 5; Dkt. #26 at 23-31.) On September 21, 2012, Martinez requested a right to sue letter from the ...

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