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Blevins v. AT&T Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 26, 2017

AT&T SERVICES, INC., Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement, [Doc. No. 66]. Plaintiff opposes the Motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted.

         Facts and Background

         Plaintiff worked for AT&T Services, Inc. (“AT&T” or “Defendant”) from 2004-2012. She worked at a call center in Olivette, Missouri. Plaintiff's first position at AT&T was a service representative, and then she became a senior consultant. A senior consultant performs the following tasks: 1) handling customer calls regarding sales and service, 2) responding to customer requests or inquiries about services, products, and billing, 3) making notations via computer terminal, 4) utilizing different mechanized systems to initiate and complete service orders, 5) working to meet revenue goals, service commitments, and other deadlines, and 6) wearing a headset. A senior consultant in Plaintiff's department would talk to the customer and type at the same time. In a typical day, a senior consultant would talk to a customer through a headset and type all day long.

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2009. In December of 2011, Plaintiff went on short-term disability. At the time, she was having headaches, swollen hands, numbness, hearing loss, trouble with fine motor skills, and fatigue. There was concern that these symptoms were related to typing and use of a headset.

         In 2012, Blevins sought accommodations for permanent restrictions, which were 1) unable to use a headset, 2) unable to type, other than to sign in and out of the computer, 3) need to sit or stand at will, and 4) inability to work over 40 hours per week.

         While Plaintiff was on short-term disability, there was a conference call which included members of management, HR, Plaintiff, and Plaintiff's union representative to discuss Plaintiff's restrictions and possible accommodations. At the time, the restrictions were no headset, and no typing other than to log on and log off of the computer. There were no disagreements about the restrictions. On the phone call, Plaintiff was asked what she thinks could happen that would allow her to do her job. Plaintiff's union representative, Pamela Farrell, made a recommendation for a voice-activated system. A representative of AT&T's HR department told Plaintiff and her union representative that AT&T would look into such a system - including the cost and whether it would affect customer privacy.

         Defendant explored the possibility of using a voice-activated system for Plaintiff's computer to accommodate Plaintiff's inability to type (other than to log in and log out), but found that there was no system that would be feasible at the call center because 1) all voice-activated systems at the time required some typing, and 2) due to the multiple systems used by a senior consultant/service representative, there was no voice-activated system that would be compatible with AT&T's multiple systems. AT&T Services, Inc. explored the possibility of allowing Ms. Blevins to use a speakerphone instead of a headset, but had privacy concerns with the speakerphone.

         There was another phone call which included Plaintiff, her union representative, and an HR representative to discuss Plaintiff's restrictions and possible accommodations. The call participants discussed voice-activated systems. The HR representative said that even the best voice-activated products require some typing. Plaintiff does not know whether the best voice-activated systems require some typing. Plaintiff's union representative, Pamela Ferrell, testified that she had no reason to question that the specific voice-activated software she proposed required some typing. She also testified that she had seen some software that eliminated typing.

         Plaintiff does not use a voice-activated computer system. She does not know whether a voice-activated system would be able to access the different AT&T systems from voice commands and be able to automatically type in customer information given.

         Plaintiff's department at the call center told her they could not accommodate her restrictions of not being able to type (other than to log in and out) and not being able to use a headset.

         Plaintiff began the process of looking for other open jobs at AT&T. Plaintiff was looking for a clerical job.

         Plaintiff's union representative gave her a binder with jobs in St. Louis. Based on this binder of jobs, Plaintiff applied for some jobs. Plaintiff does not remember the jobs for which she applied..

         At her deposition, Plaintiff described a job at AT&T that involved filing hard copy papers and printing paperwork. She does not know whether that was an open position. Plaintiff filled out two documents tilted “job vacancy request.” She signed this document on July 26, 2012. She listed desired job titles, and listed interest in Missouri and the St. Louis metropolitan area. In the two forms, she identified a total of six job positions she was interested in if there were any openings: central office clerk, business services instructor, S-2 clerical, supplies attendant, S-1 clerical, and SS-2 clerical. Plaintiff does not recall filling out any documents where she requested a job anywhere other than the St. Louis metro area.

         Pamela Ferrell, Plaintiff's union representative, assisted Plaintiff with the job vacancy request (JVR) form. After an employee fills out a job vacancy request listing positions in which he or she is interested, if a job becomes available, the employee is placed on a candidacy list and will be considered for that position.

         Plaintiff was contacted to undergo testing for a premises technician position, but did not pass.

         Plaintiff was unable to secure an open position at AT&T for which she was qualified, with or without an accommodation.

         On August 21, 2012, Plaintiff received a letter from AT&T's Integrated Disability Service Center (IDSC). It notified Plaintiff that her short-term disability payments would expire December 9, 2012, and that she may be eligible for long-term disability benefits as of December 10, 2012. The letter explained that to qualify for long-term disability benefits, an individual must be totally disabled as defined by the plan. Plaintiff filled out and signed an application for long-term disability benefits through AT&T on August 28, 2012. Plaintiff understood that she was filling out and signing an application for long-term disability benefits from AT&T. Nobody forced Plaintiff to apply for long-term disability payments from AT&T. Plaintiff understood that the long-term disability application was a voluntary process. She had a choice about whether to apply or not.

         Plaintiff's request for long-term disability benefits was approved. Her short-term disability benefits ended on December 9, 2012 and her long-term disability benefits began December 10, 2012. She received her first long-term disability benefit check at the end of December, 2012. Under the long-term disability plan, Plaintiff is provided 50 percent earnings protection.

         Plaintiff must complete a questionnaire every year for AT&T's long-term disability benefit program. While on long-term disability, the IDSC continues to monitor Plaintiff's medical condition. Plaintiff has provided updates and information to the IDSC for over four years.

         On August 15, 2013, Plaintiff filled out and signed the first long-term disability questionnaire for AT&T after her original application for long-term disability. On the questionnaire, Plaintiff was asked “in your own words tell us why you cannot work in your own or any occupation.” Plaintiff responded: “The reason I can't work is because stress triggers MS. I don't want to have MS attack that puts me in an immobile state.” At her deposition, Plaintiff explained that this answer did not encompass all of the health challenges that she is facing. Plaintiff stated, “It shouldn't have just been one thing pinpointed. It should have been the overall health issue, period. It should have been my health, my life, my-you know, those things that I said earlier. But at this particular time I was just sick and just wanted to do what I needed to do to get better. So that's why the statement went to oh, I'm stressed. But it was more than that.” On December 15, 2014, Plaintiff filled out and signed another questionnaire regarding her long-term disability benefits. On the questionnaire, Plaintiff was asked “in your own words tell us why you cannot work in your own or any occupation.” Plaintiff responded: “I am sick and lately my symptoms have increased. I don't want to have any relapses if avoidable.” Plaintiff is currently receiving long-term disability benefits through AT&T. Other than a “little period” where Plaintiff did not receive short-term disability benefits due to the delay in obtaining complete medical records (which she was subsequently paid for), Plaintiff has continuously been getting either short-term or long-term disability payments from AT&T from 2011 to the present.

         The supervisor's manual applicable during Plaintiff's employment at AT&T states that “employees who leave the service of the company immediately following the expiration of sickness disability benefits are not entitled to payment in lieu of vacation.” Plaintiff does not claim that this policy was violated.

         Plaintiff never waived short-term or long-term disability payments. Plaintiff has been paid far more in long-term disability payments than the value of four weeks of vacation.

         Plaintiff applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on October 16, 2012, alleging a disability since December 4, 2011. Plaintiff's application for social security disability benefits was completed on December 5, 2012. Id. at p. 4. In her application, Plaintiff claimed: “I became unable to work because of my disabling condition on ...

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