The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge
ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT,OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, SUMMARY ADJUDICATION CERTAINTEED Document 43
Defendant Certainteed Corporation ("Certainteed") seeks summary judgment, or alternatively summary adjudication, on Plaintiff Eddie Holtzclaw's ("Plaintiff") claims for disability discrimination, age discrimination, failure to accommodate disability, retaliation or wrongful termination, and punitive damages. Plaintiff contends that factual issues as to Certainteed's grounds to terminate his employment prevent summary judgment.
RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff filed his complaint in the Madera County Superior Court on July 10, 2009. (Doc. 1, Ex. A.)
On September 9, 2009, Defendant answered the complaint and removed the action to this Court based upon diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1 & Ex. B.)
On November 30, 2010, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment, or, in the Alternative, Summary Adjudication. (Docs. 43-50.) On December 21, 2010, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion, as well as a Statement of Disputed Materials Facts and Evidentiary Objections. (Docs. 51-57.) On January 12, 2011, Defendant filed its reply to the opposition, as well as Objections to Plaintiff's Evidence. (Docs. 58-60.)
On January 18, 2011, the Court vacated the hearing on the motion and took the matter under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). For the reasons discussed below, this Court GRANTS Certainteed's motion for summary judgment.
STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1
1. Plaintiff began working for Certainteed in 1979 as a Maintenance Mechanic, Step II, and held a variety of positions until he was laid off in July 2008.
2. Plaintiff was an at-will employee at all times during his employment with Certainteed.
3. Plaintiff was born on April 25, 1953.
4. On or about July 26, 2007, Plaintiff was provided a written memorandum from his supervisor, Dave Clark ("Clark"), setting forth areas wherein his performance was deficient and indicating Plaintiff was reassigned to a position as a Maintenance Buyer, responsible for purchasing spare parts for the plant and overseeing inventory. The memorandum also indicated that he would no longer be responsible for supervising other employees because of he was unable to do so effectively. Plaintiff's official job title remained as Maintenance Scheduler/Supervisor.
5. Certainteed made an effort to find another position for Plaintiff that would better utilize his skills and remove him from performing tasks for which he had poor performance, such as supervising employees.
6. Plaintiff had performance issues with respect to the duties required by the Maintenance Supervisor/Schedule position, as reflected in his separate performance reviews for 2006 and 2007. In both years, he was rated as "2" out of a possible "5." He did not receive a salary increase in 2006.
7. James Vicary ("Vicary") and Clark discussed terminating Plaintiff prior to Plaintiff receiving the July 26, 2007 written warning, prepared by Clark, due to his consecutive years of poor performance reviews. The Company did not terminate him at that time and reassigned him to the Maintenance Buyer position.
8. The July 26, 2007 memoranda stated, and Plaintiff was verbally informed, that failure to improve his performance would result in his termination.
9. Plaintiff was stripped of all supervisory duties and signed receipt of the July 26, 2007 memoranda and began working in the Maintenance Buyer position.
10. The Maintenance Buyer position job duties included requisitioning purchase orders for parts for the storeroom.
11. Plaintiff had performance issues in the Maintenance Buyer position as well, including that he lacked management-level initiative, did not initiate innovative ideas to make the store room or purchasing systems operate more efficiently, and did not implement computer training classes he took to improve his performance. Also, there were issues with employees obtaining parts from the storeroom on a timely basis. In addition, Plaintiff did not ensure that raw materials on the loading dock were properly received, processed and stored, and did not perform regular cycle counts of inventory.
12. During his employment with Certainteed, Plaintiff requested and received several medical leaves of absence - in 1997 (diabetes), 1999 (neck surgery), 2001 (lower back surgery), 2002 (lower back surgery) and 2008 (neck surgery).
13. Certainteed never denied any of Plaintiff's requests for medical leaves of absence and all leaves were paid according to Company policy.
14. In each and every instance, Plaintiff was not only provided with 12 weeks of leave to which he was entitled under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and California Family Rights Act ("CFRA"), but also, in several instances, Certainteed provided Plaintiff with additional leave and returned him to the same position, though not required to do so.
15. On or about January 16, 2008, Plaintiff requested a medical leave of absence of 20 to 24 weeks for upcoming neck surgery and recovery.
16. The January 2008 leave request was Plaintiff's first leave request in six years and occurred after he was issued the July 2007 warning.
17. In January 2008, Certainteed informed Plaintiff that he was eligible for FMLA/CFRA leave for up to 12 weeks (i.e., up to April 9, 2008), and eligible to take the balance of the leave under the Company's medical leave policy and receive short term disability benefits.
18. Plaintiff took medical leave for neck surgery and recovery for approximately 17 weeks, from January 16, 2008 until May 19, 2008.
19. While Plaintiff was on leave in 2008, his job functions were performed by several individuals who were existing employees, including one younger employee, Shannon Crouch ("Crouch"), and Gary Stofle ("Stofle"), one of Plaintiff's supervisors who is over 40.
20. While Plaintiff was on medical leave in 2008, employees who needed parts for projects they were working on wrote up requisition forms and dealt with purchasing parts on their own. As such, there was no one person performing Plaintiff's job duties while he was on leave.
21. Crouch was hired in May 2005 as a Project Engineer. He also performed various other job functions during the time period he assisted in covering Plaintiff's job duties that were not part of Plaintiff's maintenance buyer job functions, including plant beautification projects, hiring outside contractors to perform work at the plant, and working on other projects.
22. Stofle's job title was and is Maintenance Superintendent. He also performed various other job functions during the time period he assisted in covering Plaintiff's job duties when Plaintiff was on medical leave in 2008, including running the day-to-day operations of the storeroom.
23. The FMLA/CFRA portion of Plaintiff's leave expired on or about April 9, 2008, but Plaintiff was not able to be released to work by his doctor at that time so he remained on leave pursuant to the Company's medical leave policy until he was released to full duty as of May 19, 2008, pursuant to the May 13, 2008 doctor's note he provided to Certainteed. Plaintiff returned to work on May 19, 2008, approximately 5 weeks after his FMLA/CFRA leave expired.
24. Plaintiff was on leave for approximately 17 weeks total in 2008, and as with his other leaves, he was fully paid while on leave.
25. Prior to his return, Certainteed's third party leave administrator requested that Certainteed provide information on the physical requirements of Plaintiff's job duties. That information would be provided to Plaintiff's doctor so that the doctor could assess whether he could return to work and whether he needed an accommodation. Carol Long ("Long"), Certainteed's Chowchilla Human Resources Manager, provided the requested description. Plaintiff's doctor's note released him to full duty without need for accommodation.
26. Nationwide, over the past several years, Certainteed's insulation division lost business and even closed one facility in the United States.
27. Due to economic conditions, Chowchilla Plant Manager Vicary was directed by his superiors to reduce costs at the Chowchilla plant. Managers of Certainteed's other insulation plans were given similar directives.
28. Due to the decline in business and economic conditions, Certainteed's Chowchilla facility had to downsize its workforce over the past several years, which included layoffs of both salaried and hourly employees.
29. By the time Plaintiff returned from his leave on May 19, 2008, Certainteed had determined that there was no longer enough work to justify a full-time position as maintenance buyer because of the continued decline in business and the fact that Plaintiff's job duties were easily absorbed by others.
30. Upon returning from medical leave, Plaintiff was given a special assignment working on reducing inventory to cut plant costs. This was not a new job position, as Plaintiff retained the same time, salary and benefits.
31. The Chowchilla plant needed to reduce inventory due to continued lack of business.
32. Plaintiff's supervisor Clark was told by plant manager Vicary that he should assign the task of reducing plant inventory to a subordinate. Clark determined that Plaintiff could work on the project.
33. Plaintiff was given the special assignment of reducing inventory instead of continuing job duties of purchasing because of poor performance in the purchasing duties prior to his 2008 medical leave, as well as the plant's continued lack of business volume and the lack of need for a full-time employee in purchasing.
34. Plaintiff never requested a reasonable accommodation for disability upon return from medical leave in May 2008.
35. Plaintiff admittedly did not require an accommodation when he returned from his medical leave on May 19, 2008 because he was not disabled and he was released to full duty with no restrictions.
36. At no time did Certainteed perceive Plaintiff as disabled or fail to make a reasonable accommodation for Plaintiff based on any such perceived disability.
37. Plaintiff had no reason to state that Certainteed reassigned his job upon return from leave because it perceived him as disabled.
38. Plaintiff did not complain about being treated differently due to disability when he returned to work in 2008. The only time Plaintiff ever made a complaint that he was being treated differently due to disability at any time was on one occasion in 1997 when there was only sugared soda available. ...