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Piccadaci v. Town of Stoughton

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 15, 2019

GAETANO T. PICCADACI, JR.
v.
TOWN OF STOUGHTON and JOHN BATCHELDER

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Gaetano Piccadaci, Jr., brought this lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court against his former employer, the Town of Stoughton (Stoughton), and his quondam supervisor, John Batchelder, [1] primarily for wrongful termination. Piccadaci alleges that defendants discriminated against him based on his age, disability, race and national origin, and gender in violation of state and federal law. More specifically, the Complaint sets out one claim against Batchelder individually for harassment and retaliation (Count VI) and six claims against defendants collectively for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) (Count I), the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Count II), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Counts III and IV), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Count V), and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (Count VII).[2] Defendants removed the case to the federal district court and now move for summary judgment on all counts.[3] For the reasons to be explained, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be allowed.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Piccadaci as the nonmoving party, are as follows. In 2002, Piccadaci began working as a seasonal contractor plowing snow for Stoughton. On November 4, 2013, Stoughton hired him as a full-time truck driver and laborer for a probationary period of one year.[4] Throughout his employment, Piccadaci was supervised by Batchelder, the Superintendent of Stoughton's Department of Public Works (DPW).

         In January of 2014, Batchelder questioned Piccadaci's carpentry skills. Piccadaci represented himself as a finish carpenter, but neither Batchelder nor Thomas Fitzgerald, the assistant DPW director, considered Piccadaci's woodworking skills to meet finish carpentry standards. That winter, Batchelder also questioned Piccadaci's ability to drive a stick shift truck, even though he had a Class A CDL license. Piccadaci interpreted Batchelder's criticisms as verbal attacks.

         On August 2, 2014, Piccadaci began experiencing stomach pains, but he continued to work. On August 18, 2014, he presented to Dr. Louis Silvagnoli, Jr., who opined that he could return to work. SOF, Ex. 4. On August 26, 2014, he sought a second opinion from Dr. Syed Imam, who advised him not to return to work that week. SOF, Ex. 5. The doctors' notes, which were provided to Fitzgerald, did not mention a disability or request an accommodation.

         During the year, Fitzgerald heard from several foremen that they were not pleased with Piccadaci's performance. They characterized him as lazy, unreliable, and difficult to work with. In particular, Piccadaci was criticized for failing to respond to four out of six overtime sanding requests that winter. Fitzgerald spoke with Batchelder about the foremen's concerns and recommended that Piccadaci be terminated. At the end of August, Batchelder informed Piccadaci that he would be fired. On August 27, 2014, Michael Hartman, Stoughton's Town Manager, formally notified Piccadaci of his termination.[5]

         On June 4, 2015, Piccadaci filed a charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), alleging that Stoughton and Batchelder had wrongfully terminated him. After the MCAD found a lack of probable cause on March 31, 2017, Piccadaci initiated this lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court on August 11, 2017. Defendants then removed the case to this court on January 31, 2018.

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate when, based upon the pleadings, affidavits, and depositions, “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 material fact is one which has the “potential to affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law.” Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993). For a dispute to be “genuine, ” the “evidence relevant to the issue, viewed in the light most flattering to the party opposing the motion, must be sufficiently open-ended to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the issue in favor of either side.” Nat'l Amusements v. Town of Dedham, 43 F.3d 731, 735 (1st Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). “Even in cases where elusive concepts such as motive or intent are at issue, summary judgment may be appropriate if the nonmoving party rests merely upon conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990).

         Disability Discrimination

         To make out a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA and Massachusetts Chapter 151B, Piccadaci must show that: (1) he has a disability within the meaning of the law; (2) he is nonetheless able to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) his employer replaced him with a non-disabled person or otherwise sought to fill the job. Jacques v. Clean-Up Group, Inc., 96 F.3d 506, 511 (1st Cir. 1996); Dartt v. Browning-Ferris Indus., Inc., 427 Mass. 1, 3 (1998).[6] If Piccadaci succeeds in establishing a prima facie showing of disability discrimination, the burden then shifts to defendants to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Trs. of Forbes Library v. Labor Relations Comm'n, 384 Mass. 559, 564 (1981). If defendants meet this burden, it then falls to Piccadaci “to prove that the adverse action was taken ‘because of his . . . handicap,' and not for the reason proffered by the employer.” Gannon v. City of Bos., 476 Mass. 786, 794 (2017) (citation omitted).

         The court will assume that Piccadaci has made the requisite prima facie showing. He alleges that he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and an anxiety disorder, but that he is nonetheless qualified to perform the essential functions of his job as a truck driver and laborer. His termination ten months into his probationary period undoubtedly constitutes an adverse employment action. Defendants, in turn, have articulated a lawful business reason for firing Piccadaci, namely his poor work performance and spotty attendance record.

         Piccadaci contends that defendants' proffered reason is pretextual because he was not formally or informally disciplined prior to the termination.[7] As evidence, he points to a fellow employee, Carlos Viveiros, who similarly refused to work overtime, but was not terminated.[8] He also contends that Batchelder's rejection of his August 18, 2014, medical note “indicates a discriminatory animus” attributable to his handicap. Opp'n at 7. In this ...


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