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Parker v. Accellent, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

November 13, 2014

Deborah Parker
Accellent, Inc. and Portlyn LLC


JOSEPH N. LaPLANTE, District Judge.

This case might be called "Who moved my table?" in homage to the popular self-help book Who Moved My Cheese?, a parable about characters who struggle to survive in the maze where they live after suddenly discovering that the cheese on which they have come to rely is missing from its usual place.[1] The events giving rise to this case began when the plaintiff's employers, manufacturing companies known as Accellent, Inc. and Portlyn, LLC, [2] removed an adjustable table from her work station and replaced it with a stationary one.

The plaintiff, Deborah Parker, claims that she needed the adjustable table as an accommodation for her fibromyalgia and, after she discovered the table had been replaced, complained to her supervisor and her foreman-cursing in response to her foreman's directive that she get back to work. One week later, Accellent proposed transferring Parker to a different manufacturing line where all of the tables were adjustable, but Parker returned to work at the stationary table for two more days and then, after taking a brief period of approved leave, quit.

Parker has since brought claims against Accellent for:

(A) discriminating against her due to her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), and its state-law analog, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 354-A:7, I, VII(a), by
(1) subjecting her to a hostile work environment due to her fibromyalgia,
(2) failing to accommodate that alleged disability, and
(3) constructively discharging her;
(B) retaliating against her because she requested a reasonable accommodation, in further violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a), and state law, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 354-A:19, and
(C) also retaliating against her because she had taken leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1).

This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction).

Accellent has moved for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Accellent argues, among other things, that there is no genuine dispute that

(A) it did not discriminate against Parker on account of her disability because
(1) any disability-based harassment never reached the level of an actionable hostile environment,
(2) Accellent proposed a reasonable accommodation for Parker's claimed disability as soon as the company learned of it, and
(3) as a result, Accellent did not subject her to a constructive discharge; and
(B)-(C) Accellent's allegedly retaliatory acts were not motivated by her disability or her exercise of her FMLA rights.

The court agrees. Taking the admissible evidence of record in the light most favorable to Parker, the earliest Accellent knew she needed an adjustable table as an accommodation for her fibromyalgia was the day they removed the adjustable table-and, within a week, Accellent had proposed transferring her to a different manufacturing line, where all of the work tables were adjustable. After Parker nevertheless continued working on the same manufacturing line for two more days, she availed herself of a brief period of FMLA leave, then, after ignoring Accellent's invitation to formally request an accommodation, announced she was quitting. Based on these undisputed facts, no rational jury could find that Accellent discriminated against Parker due to her claimed disability, including by failing to reasonably accommodate it. Nor could a rational jury find that Accellent retaliated against Parker for requesting the accommodation, or for taking FMLA leave. Following oral argument, then, the court grants Accellent's motion for summary judgment, for the reasons detailed below.

I. Applicable legal standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" if it could reasonably be resolved in either party's favor at trial by a rational fact-finder, and "material" if it could sway the outcome under applicable law. See Estrada v. Rhode Island, 594 F.3d 56, 62 (1st Cir. 2010). In deciding summary judgment, the court "views all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving" party. Id . The following background facts are set forth in accordance with that standard.[3]

II. Background

In 1995, Parker began working Accellent, which manufactures medical devices at a facility in Laconia, in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. The facility operates in a "cellular manufacturing" environment, where each "cell" is dedicated to the manufacture of a particular product assembled as it moves through different stations along a production line. While Parker briefly held a supervisory role as a "cell coordinator, " she spent most of her career with Accellent as an assembler, working at different stations within the so-called "flexible" line, and also, from time to time, on the "speciality" and "rigid" lines.

In 1997, Parker notified Accellent that she had fibromyalgia, a condition marked by overall pain and fatigue throughout the body. More than a decade later, in March 2008, Parker sought FMLA leave as a result of her fibromyalgia, presenting a form from her health care provider noting that episodes of incapacitation were likely to occur between 1 and 3 days every month, and that Parker might "not be able to stand [or] extend [her] head for a regular work day on some days due to pain and fatigue." Between then and 2011, Parker took "a handful of days" of FMLA leave each year for her fibromyalgia, she recalls, but she has not identified the dates of that leave any more specifically, by resort to her time records or otherwise.

From early February through early April 2011, Parker accepted a voluntary furlough from Accellent so that she could care for her adult daughter, who had cancer. (Accellent had offered FMLA leave to Parker for this purpose, but she declined.) Parker attests that, when she returned to the workplace, "harassment" at the hands of her foreman, Linda Edmonds, "increased." This alleged harassment took the form of a statement to Parker in April 2011 that Parker "had no right to make decisions [on her line] because [she was] out all the time, ...

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