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Tuvell v. International Business Machines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 7, 2015



DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Walter Tuvell ("Tuvell") filed this lawsuit against Defendant International Business Machines, Inc. ("IBM") alleging that he was unlawfully terminated as a result of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and Mass. Gen. L. c. 151B, §§ 4(1), 4(16), 4(4) and 4(5). D. 10. IBM has moved for summary judgment. D. 73. For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS the motion.

II. Standard of Review

The Court grants summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A fact is material if it carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law." Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). The movant bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in her pleadings, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986), but "must, with respect to each issue on which she would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in her favor." Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010). "As a general rule, that requires the production of evidence that is significant[ly] probative.'" Id . (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249) (alteration in original). The Court "view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor." Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

III. Factual Background

The facts are as represented in IBM's statement of material facts, D. 74, and undisputed by Tuvell, D. 82, unless otherwise noted.

Tuvell is a white male, born in 1947, who claims to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD")[1] stemming from an incident in 1997 when he was allegedly offered a job with the Microsoft Corporation ("Microsoft"), which was subsequently rescinded. D. 82 ¶¶ 1, 2.

On November 3, 2010, Tuvell was hired by Netezza Corporation ("Netezza") in the Performance Architecture Group. Id . ¶ 4. In this position, Tuvell reported directly to Daniel Feldman and reported "on a dotted line" to Fritz Knabe. Id . IBM subsequently acquired Netezza, and Tuvell, Feldman and Knabe became IBM employees. Id . ¶ 5. Until May 2011, Tuvell worked with Feldman and Knabe without any notable conflicts. Id . ¶ 6.

A. Tuvell's Conflicts with Supervisors at IBM

In the spring of 2011, however, Tuvell and Knabe's professional relationship began to deteriorate. Id . ¶¶ 6, 8-9. On May 18, 2011, Feldman reported to Tuvell that Knabe had expressed concern that Tuvell had not completed a work assignment on time. Id . ¶ 7. Then, on June 8, 2011, Knabe asked Tuvell about an outstanding assignment in front of several other employees. Id . ¶ 8. During this conversation, both Tuvell and Knabe were heard to raise their voices. Id . Seemingly as a result of these two incidents, on June 10, 2011, Feldman told Tuvell that he did not believe that Knabe and Tuvell could continue to work together effectively. Id . ¶ 9. Feldman subsequently switched Tuvell to a different project and, in turn, assigned another employee, Sujatha Mizar, who is Asian, female and younger than Tuvell, to work with Knabe. Id . ¶¶ 10-12. This transfer did not result in any change to Tuvell's pay or his rank within the company. Id . ¶¶ 10-11. Nevertheless, Tuvell contends that Knabe's conversation with Feldman on May 18, 2011 constituted discrimination based on age, sex and race. Id.

On June 14, 2011, Feldman sent Mizar and Tuvell an email asking for daily status reports detailing the transition tasks completed and raising any issues with regard to the shift in responsibilities. Id . ¶ 14 (citing Transition of Responsibilities Email, D. 76-19). Mizar replied to the email with a brief status update, copying Tuvell and adding that Tuvell should "feel free to add anything" that Mizar "might have forgotten." Id . (quoting Transition of Responsibilities Email, Tuvell Exh. 58). The next day, Feldman clarified that he expected a separate status report from both Tuvell and Mizar. Id . In response, Tuvell sent an email to Feldman, copying Human Resources Specialists Kelli-ann McCabe and Diane Adams, complaining that the request to provide separate status reports was "blatant" and "snide harassment/retaliation." Id . ¶ 15 (quoting Transition of Responsibilities Email, D. 76-19). Tuvell further complained that Feldman had "unilaterally forced an adverse job action upon [Tuvell]" and that the transition constituted "a prima facie case (and even stronger) for discrimination on the grounds of both age and sex, and perhaps even race." D. 76-19 at 1-2. On June 16, 2011, Tuvell sent additional emails to Adams and McCabe complaining of harassment by Feldman based on Feldman's decision to switch Tuvell's assignment. D. 82 ¶ 16. Tuvell told Adams and McCabe that he believed it was "infeasible" for him to work with Feldman. Id.

That same day, Adams forwarded Tuvell's email regarding Feldman to a Senior Case Manager in IBM's Human Resources Department, Lisa Due. Id . ¶ 17. Due then conducted an investigation into the situation, interviewing five individuals, including Tuvell. Id . In his interview with Due, Tuvell described his experience with Feldman and Knabe as the equivalent of "torture" and "rape." Id . On June 29, 2011, Due informed Tuvell of the results of her investigation and her conclusion that his concerns were not supported. Id . ¶ 19. Due further informed Tuvell of his appeal rights if he was dissatisfied with Due's findings. Id . Based upon Due's findings, IBM decided not to transfer Tuvell to another supervisor. Id . ¶ 18.

In July 2011, Tuvell took medical leave for elective surgery followed by vacation. Id . ¶ 20; D. 76-1 at 6 (clarifying date). Before taking leave, Tuvell sent an email to Feldman and another colleague notifying them that he had completed an assignment regarding a wiki page. D. 76-22 at 3. In the email, Tuvell explained that the update could be found by searching the wiki but he also attached the link, adding "if you're lazy you can just click this link." Id . Feldman thanked Tuvell for the work but informed Tuvell that his communication style was "the sort of thing that you want to avoid." Id. at 2. Tuvell apologized for his use of the word "lazy" and said that he would "search harder for less ambiguous/offensive wording." Id. at 1. On July 20, 2011, Tuvell sent a second email explaining that "laziness is lauded as a prime virtue of programmers, " concluding that "[o]bviously no apology was necessary." Id. at 4. Tuvell then apologized for the apology. Id . When Tuvell returned from leave on August 3, 2011, Feldman met with him to discuss pending and future projects. D. 82 ¶ 24. At this meeting, Feldman also talked with Tuvell about the series of emails, which Feldman considered to be inappropriate, and gave Tuvell a warning letter. Id . ¶ 25. The letter instructed Tuvell to "[i]mmediately cease" "unprofessional, disrespectful, demeaning, disrupted, offensive or rude" behavior and specifically mentioned Tuvell's July 20, 2011 email. D. 76-11.

B. Tuvell's Short Term Disability Leave, Internal Complaints and Accommodation Requests

On August 11, 2011, Tuvell told Kathleen Dean, a nurse in IBM's Medical Department, that he wanted to apply for Short Term Disability ("STD") because of a "sudden condition." D. 82 ¶ 26. Dean provided Tuvell with information on how to apply for STD leave and, on August 15, 2011, Tuvell notified Feldman that he would be taking sick days until his STD request was processed. Id . Tuvell simultaneously submitted a Medical Treatment Report ("MTR"), indicating that he was suffering from a "sleep disorder and stress reaction." Id . ¶ 32. Tuvell represented that due to his medical condition he was not "able to function at his job responsibilities." D. 76-38 at 1. The MTR further indicated that Tuvell "suffered severe impairment in his ability to manage conflicts with others, get along well with others without behavioral extremes, and interact and actively participate in group activities" and "suffered serious impairment in his ability to maintain attention, concentrate on a specific task and complete it in a timely manner, set realistic goals, and have good autonomous judgment." D. 82 ¶ 33. IBM approved Tuvell's STD leave on August 17, 2011. Id . ¶ 34. While Tuvell was out on medical leave, IBM restricted his access to the company's internet and facilities. Id . ¶ 53.

On August 18, 2011, Tuvell filed a "Corporate Open Door Complaint" entitled "Claims of Corporate and Legal Misconduct." Id . ¶ 27. The first part of the complaint was titled "Acts of Frtiz Knabe" and was 129 pages, including 22 pages written by Tuvell and 107 pages of supporting materials. Id . The second part was titled "Acts of Dan Feldman" and included 31 pages of allegations, plus 122 pages of supporting documents. Id . Tuvell acknowledges that he spent 22 hours a day over the course of 2-3 weeks on these complaints. Id . ¶ 28.

A week later, on August 25, 2011, Tuvell complained that IBM had not finalized its investigation of his Open Door Complaint. Id . ¶ 29. On September 15, 2011, the Program Director for IBM's Concerns and Appeals, Russell Mandel, completed a version of the investigation report. Id . Based upon his interviews with nine people, including Tuvell, Mandel concluded that Tuvell had not been subject to any adverse employment actions. D. 88-2 at 19 (Mandel Investigative Report).

Tuvell submitted a second MTR on September 9, 2011, indicating that he was "totally impaired for work." D. 82 ¶ 35. Upon receiving the second MTR, Dean contacted Tuvell and informed him that given the nature of his diagnosis for a sleep disorder and stress reaction, the MTR form must be completed by a specialist. Id . ¶ 36. Tuvell responded that his "family physician is fully competent to diagnose [his disorder]." D. 76-16 at 5. Tuvell added that, if necessary, it would take time to get a psychotherapist and that he would "be forced to enter an abusive situation" if he had to return to work as his condition was a direct result of Feldman's "direct abusive psychological attack." Id . Dean agreed to accept the MTR completed by his physician for one month. D. 82 ¶ 36. Dean was subsequently informed by Dr. Stewart Snyder, the Physician Program Manager of IBM's Integrated Health Services, that for psychological disorders IBM policy required the MTR forms to be completed by a psychiatrist if the employee is out for more than six weeks "because if a person is ill enough that they can't work for that long then they have exceeded the expertise level of a family physician to deal with their mental illness." Id . ¶ 37. Dean contacted Tuvell and told him "that in the interest of ensuring that he was receiving proper care, IBM required a psychiatrist to complete his MTR" if he remained out for another month. Id . ¶ 38. Tuvell responded that there was nothing that a psychiatrist could do to "help" him because there was nothing "wrong" with him and emphasized that the only reason that he was out on STD was because of the abuse he faced at work. Id . ¶ 39. Tuvell added that IBM's handling of his complaints was "intentionally psychologically abusive." Id . Dean subsequently informed Tuvell that IBM would accept a MTR from his Licensed Social Worker, Stephanie Ross, who was providing him psychotherapy. Id . ¶¶ 36, 40, 41. Tuvell then provided IBM with MTRs completed by Ross for October and November of 2011. Id . ¶ 41. These MTRs all indicated that Tuvell was totally impaired for work. Id.

Ross's October MTR indicated that Tuvell suffered from "ongoing acute stress symptoms especially regarding the perception of retaliation following sudden demotion without cause, disruption of sleep, eating, symptoms of helplessness and anxiety, " id. ¶ 42 (quoting October MTR, D. 76-26 at 1), and noted that Tuvell had "serious impairment in getting along with others without behavioral extremes and initiating social contacts, negotiating, and compromising." Id . Tuvell acknowledges that, at around this time, he ...

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