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Mancini v. City of Providence

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 21, 2018

MARK MANCINI, Plaintiff, Appellant,
CITY OF PROVIDENCE, by and through its Treasurer, James J. Lombardi, III, Defendant, Appellee.


          Mark P. Gagliardi for appellant.

          Kevin F. McHugh, Senior Assistant City Solicitor, with whom Jeffrey Dana, City Solicitor, and Steven B. Nelson, Associate City Solicitor, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Selya and Thompson, Circuit Judges.


         Plaintiff-appellant Mark Mancini is a veteran police officer in Providence, Rhode Island (the City). Following an injury that he sustained while on duty, Mancini sued the City for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and related state antidiscrimination laws. The district court granted the City's motion for summary judgment, and Mancini now appeals. Although our reasoning differs to some extent from that of the district court, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We rehearse the facts in the light most hospitable to Mancini, consistent with record support, and trace the travel of the case. See Ahern v. Shinseki, 629 F.3d 49, 51 (1st Cir. 2010); Gillen v. Fallon Ambul. Serv., Inc., 283 F.3d 11, 17 (1st Cir. 2002).

         On November 15, 2010, Mancini (then a sergeant) sustained a knee injury while in pursuit of a suspect. Mancini received medical treatment, including arthroscopic surgery. He was placed on injured on duty (IOD) status and remained out of work until May of 2011. He was then placed on "light duty" (a temporary assignment for officers on IOD status). That placement lasted until August of 2011, when he was removed from light duty.

         On September 2, 2011, Mancini filed for accidental disability benefits, which, if granted, would effectively comprise an early retirement. Mancini alleges that this application was not filed of his own volition but, rather, was filed at the behest of his supervisor. In all events, the application was denied on June 27, 2012, based on three independent medical examinations. Thereafter, the City refused to allow Mancini to return to work on light duty.

         A few weeks before his accidental disability benefits application was denied, Mancini sat for the 2012 lieutenants promotional examination. As determined by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the City and the police union, promotion to lieutenant is based on four components: a written examination, level of seniority, level of education, and service points awarded by the Chief of Police (the Chief). Candidates may receive a score of up to 85 points for the written examination and, for each of the remaining components, may receive up to 5 points.

         Seniority and education levels have fixed formulae, with points awarded for number of years in service and degrees earned, respectively. The Chief has broad discretion with respect to the award of service points, but the CBA specifies that letters of commendation, letters of merit, and unused sick time may be taken into account. When all is said and done, candidates are ranked based on their final scores, and the City fills the available positions from the top of the list.

         In June of 2012, Mancini scored a 92 on the written exam, earning 78.2 points toward his final score. He received a full 5 points for seniority and a full 5 points for education. For the service-point component - determined prior to the administration of the written examination - the Chief awarded Mancini 0 points. Mancini's aggregate score placed him seventh among the sixteen aspirants. As the City had only five open lieutenant positions, he was not promoted. One additional point would have altered the mix and ensured his promotion.

         Mancini did not accept his rejection lightly. He exhausted his administrative remedies, filing charges of disability discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After obtaining right-to-sue letters from both agencies, he sued the City in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island.[1] In material part, his complaint alleged that the City discriminated against him on the basis of his disability when the Chief awarded him no service points and, thus, prevented him from obtaining a total score that would have resulted in his promotion. He characterized the City's actions as a failure to promote on the basis of disability under the ADA and under a gallimaufry of state laws. See, e.g., R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-112-1 et seq.; id. § 42-87-1 et seq.; id. § 28-5-1 et seq.

         Following the close of discovery, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, concluding that Mancini had failed to establish that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA. See Mancini v. City of Prov., 282 F.Supp.3d 459, 467 (D.R.I. 2017). The district court likewise granted summary judgment for the City on Mancini's state-law claims, reasoning that Mancini's failure to show a cognizable disability scuttled those claims as well. See id.; see also DeCamp v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 875 A.2d 13, 25 (R.I. 2005) (characterizing the process of proving disability under state law as "[p]aralleling the federal Americans with Disabilities Act").

         Mancini countered by filing a motion to vacate the judgment. The district court denied that motion and this timely appeal ensued.

         II. ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Mancini trains his fire on the district court's entry of summary judgment against him on his ADA claims.[2] We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, mulling the summary judgment record and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most agreeable to the nonmoving party (here, Mancini). See Avery v. Hughes, 661 F.3d 690, 693 (1st Cir. 2011); Mandel v. Bos. Phoenix, Inc., 456 F.3d 198, 204-05 (1st Cir. 2006). We will affirm only if the record discloses "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Avery, 661 F.3d at 693 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). To carry out this inquiry, we must determine whether Mancini has produced "specific facts sufficient to deflect the swing of the summary judgment scythe." Mulvihill v. Top-Flite Golf Co., 335 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 2003). "[C]onclusory allegations, improbable inferences, acrimonious invective, or rank speculation" will not suffice. Ahern, 629 F.3d at 54.

         Under the ADA, the City, as a "covered entity," shall not "discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). We apply the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework in reviewing the entry of summary judgment with respect to discrimination claims that rely upon indirect evidence. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973).

         This compendium of claims includes claims of disability discrimination under the ADA. See Gillen, 283 F.3d at 29-30; Higgins v. New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., 194 F.3d 252, 264 (1st Cir. 1999). When traveling the path demarcated by McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. See Rathbun v. Autozone, Inc., 361 F.3d 62, 71 (1st Cir. 2004). This is a task that the Supreme Court has described as "not onerous." Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).

         As said, Mancini has characterized his claim as one alleging a failure to promote on the basis of disability. The prima facie elements of a failure-to-promote claim are that the plaintiff "(i) is a member of a protected class who (ii) was qualified for an open position for which [he] applied, but (iii) was rejected (iv) in favor of someone possessing similar qualifications." Rathbun, 361 F.3d at 71.[3] These elements, if shown, "raise an inference of intentional discrimination," shifting the burden to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged employment decision. Id. Elsewise, "the inference of discrimination never arises, and the employer's motion for summary judgment will be granted." Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 824 (1st Cir. 1991).

         It stands to reason that a plaintiff claiming disability discrimination cannot satisfy the first element of his prima facie case unless he can show that he has a disability within the meaning of the ADA. See Ramos-Echevarría v. Pichis, Inc., 659 F.3d 182, 186 (1st Cir. 2011). In that regard, the ADA offers three alternative definitions of disability: "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities," 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A)[4]; "a record of such an impairment," id. § 12102(1)(B); or "being regarded as having such an impairment," id. § 12102(1)(C). There is no per se rule about either the type or quantum of evidence that a plaintiff seeking to establish a disability must supply. See Katz v. City Metal Co., 87 F.3d 26, 32 (1st Cir. 1996).

         Here, the City argues that Mancini has not demonstrated an impairment (and, thus, has not demonstrated a disability) within the purview of the ADA. In support, the City points out that Mancini failed to proffer any medical evidence showing an impairment. The City's premise is correct: at summary judgment, Mancini did not produce a shred of substantiating medical evidence. But the City's conclusion does not ...

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