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Mills v. St. Louis County Government

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

June 29, 2018

THEODA MILLS, Plaintiff,
ST. LOUIS COUNTY GOVERNMENT, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court[1] on Defendant St. Louis County Government's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 49). Plaintiff Theoda Mills opposes the motion. (ECF No. 52).

         Plaintiff, a restaurant inspector for St. Louis County's Department of Public Health (“the Department”), filed a three-count petition against St. Louis County, Steven Stenger, and several employees of the Department, namely, Sharon Gardner, Donald Edwards, and Joyce Theard, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and age and disability discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). (ECF No. 3). In his petition, Plaintiff claimed that Defendants discriminated him because he “had a severe allergy to shellfish.” (Id. at ¶ 9).

         Defendants removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, et seq., and filed motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 7 & 19). The Court dismissed with prejudice Plaintiff's claims for discrimination based on age and disability under the MHRA and Plaintiff's ADA claim against Steven Stenger, Sharon Gardner, Donald Edwards, and Joyce Theard. (ECF Nos. 30 & 36). Plaintiff's ADA claim against St. Louis County is the sole remaining claim.

         I. Background [2]

         Plaintiff began working for the Department as a seasonal, part-time vector control assistant in September 2007, and he transitioned to the full-time position of vector control supervisor in September 2010. (ECF Nos. 51, 51-7). During the nine months Plaintiff worked as a vector control supervisor, Sharon Gardner, the Department's human resources administrator, received multiple complaints from Plaintiff's supervisor relating to Plaintiff's communication skills and job performance. (Id.). In February 2011, Dr. Dolores Gunn, the health director, advised Plaintiff by letter that his “six-month probationary period that was scheduled to end on February 27, 2011 will be extended three months (May 31, 2011).” (ECF No. 51-12).

         After meetings with Plaintiff's supervisors and a conversation with Dr. Gunn, Ms. Gardner determined that Plaintiff “could [not] be successful in his current position because he was not working well with his supervisors.” (ECF Nos. 51, 51-4). In May 2011, Ms. Gardner asked Plaintiff if he would accept a demotion to an environmental technician position. (Id.). Plaintiff accepted the demotion, effective the following month. (Id.). At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he was “relieved” by the offer and “more than willing” to work as an environmental technician. (ECF No. 51-7 at 111).

         The duties of an environmental technician included, among other things, inspecting food at food pantries and food distributed by the summer feeding program. (ECF No. 51-7 at 16, 56). Pursuant to the Department's progression policy, when an environmental technician successfully completed a two-year term, he or she automatically promoted to the position of environmental representative. Environmental representatives inspected restaurants, swimming pools, childcare facilities, tobacco retailers, and lodging facilities. (ECF No. 51).

         In May 2013, Plaintiff emailed Ms. Gardner inquiring about his upcoming promotion and pay increase. (Id.). He did not mention a food allergy or a desire not to perform restaurant inspections. (Id.). The Department promoted Plaintiff to environmental representative in June 2013. (Id.).

         In July 2013, Plaintiff emailed Joyce Theard, the Department's assistant environmental health director, expressing interest in reassignment to the part-time position of special purpose monitoring (SPM) collector.[3] (ECF No. 51-18). In the email, Plaintiff stated: “I would like to express my interest in operating in the part-time position of SPM collector and forego my fulltime position as an Environmental Representative. I have some long standing issues working in certain food environments and base my request on them.” (ECF No. 51-18). Ms. Theard responded, thanking Plaintiff for his “interest to be reassigned to the SPM program as a part-time, term (grant) employee” and explaining that “this position has yet to be established and is pending approval from county administration.” (Id.). When the Department posted the position in October 2013, Plaintiff did not apply. (ECF No. 51).

         In February 2014, Plaintiff began a six-week training program in restaurant inspection. (ECF No. 51). Plaintiff informed his trainer, Michelle Paillou, that he “did not want to inspect restaurants, ” but never informed her that he was allergic to shellfish. (ECF Nos. 51, 51-3). Likewise, he informed his manager, Carrie Dickhans, the Department's food and environmental sanitation program manager, that he disliked inspecting restaurants but he did not tell her about his shellfish allergy or request accommodation. (ECF Nos. 51-1).

         On April 1, 2014, Plaintiff assisted Ms. Paillou in the inspection of a specialty, seafood grocery store. (ECF No. 51). In his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he began to feel lightheaded and dizzy and asked Ms. Paillou if he could leave work early.[4] (ECF No. 51-7 at 23). However, Plaintiff did not inform Ms. Paillou that he felt ill, much less that exposure to shellfish caused his illness. (Id.; ECF No. 51-3). Plaintiff did not tell Ms. Dickhans or Ms. Paillou that exposure to shellfish made him sick because he did not recognize the causal relationship between his sickness and the shellfish exposure. (ECF No. 51-7 at 28-29).

         On May 6, 2014, Ms. Dickhans asked a different trainer, Byron Norman, to work with Plaintiff because Plaintiff was struggling to complete the restaurant inspection training. (ECF No. 51-1). Mr. Norman supervised Plaintiff in the inspection of a restaurant that served multiple types of shellfish. (ECF Nos. 51, 51-2). According to Plaintiff's deposition testimony, he handled shellfish during the inspection and suffered a severe allergic reaction that included, among other symptoms, difficulty breathing. (ECF Nos. 51, 51-7 at 12, 17). Plaintiff also stated that he informed Mr. Norman that “I need[ed] to get away from the environment, ” but did not provide a reason because “I didn't understand why.” (ECF No. 51-7 at 13). Mr. Norman, on the other hand, stated in his affidavit that Plaintiff neither complained of feeling sick nor exhibited signs of an allergic reaction. (ECF No. 51-2).

         That same day, Plaintiff sent an email, with the subject line “Notice of Resignation, ” to Mr. Edwards.[5] (ECF No. 51-25). The email stated, in relevant part:

Today my decision has been made. For months I have toiled with the need to resign, after being forced into a position clearly unsustainable and forces the closure of my tenure here at St. Louis County.
For months, I have tried to rationalize how I have come to this place in work and life. And have concluded that each organization has its own culture and are sometime [sic] unwilling or unable to accept the views and ideas of those wishing to have a little input. This stifling of one's freedom of expression and the under cutting of my personally [sic] and professionally [sic] growth is a remedy [sic] for ...

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