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Garton v. BWXT Technical Services Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 7, 2020

DAVID GARTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BWXT TECHNICAL SERVICES GROUP, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DAVID C. NYE CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Defendant BWXT Technical Services Group, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 33. After the Motion was fully briefed, the Court held oral argument on September 23, 2019, and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         In March of 2006, Plaintiff David Garton began working for the Idaho National Laboratory as a heavy equipment operator at the Naval Reactor Facility (“NRF”). The NRF is a classified facility operated by the United States Navy within the Idaho National Laboratory. Defendant BWXT Technical Services Group, Inc. (“BWXT”) is a subcontractor operating at the NRF. BWXT operates primarily in nuclear facilities, and its personnel works with and around radioactive materials, equipment, and hazardous materials and waste. Garton became employed as a Crane Operator for BWXT on October 1, 2010, when BWXT took over the NRF contract from Philotechnics (“POC”), a contract under which Garton was already employed.

         While employed at POC, Garton worked with co-workers who would remain co-workers during Garton's time at BWXT, including Rod Severin, an Ironworker foreman. Garton's conflicts with co-workers, specifically with Severin, began in or around 2008. Severin allegedly started harassing Garton by giving him looks of discontent, which Garton described as giving him “the pig eye (as if he couldn't stand the sight of me).”” Dkt. 39-4, ¶ 4. According to Garton, Severin's glare caused him to experience increased feelings of anxiety.

         In an August 30, 2012, physical with a third-party medical provider, Dr. Eric Perttula, Garton indicated that he was taking “multiple potential mentation altering medication[s].” Dkt. 36, ¶ 11. Garton's use of such medications prompted Dr. Perttula to pull Garton's Department of Transportation (“DOT Driver”) and Crane Qualifications.

         Sometime following the physical with Dr. Perttula, but before September 30, 2012, a meeting took place at BWXT between Construction Group Manager Chuck Muller, Curtis Christiansen (a General Foreman), Severin, and Garton. The group called Dr. Perttula to discuss Garton's medication use and the impact it might have on his job. After Garton assured Dr. Perttula that he only took his medications after work or in the evening, Dr. Perttula reinstated Garton's DOT Driver and Crane qualifications.

         Garton believes that this meeting was the first time Severin learned of his medication use. According to Garton, almost immediately after the meeting he was informed by another employee, Gary Winthers, that Severin made a comment about Garton being a “pill popper.” Dkt. 39-4, ¶ 8. Garton contends that between the meeting in August 2012, until April 2015, Severin and another co-worker, Troy Staggie, referred to him as a “pill popper” on multiple occasions.

         On April 15, 2015, Garton submitted a complaint to Tim Walsh, BWXT's local HR Representative at NRF, complaining about Severin's behavior towards him. In addition to other complaints of harassment by Severin, Garton's 2015 complaint to Walsh alleged that Severin labeled him a “pill popper” after the meeting with Dr. Perttula, and that Staggie had also called him a “pill popper.” In response to Garton's complaint, BWXT launched an investigation into Garton's claims, which included interviewing Garton, Severin, and other BWXT employees.

         BWXT completed the investigation in early May 2015. On May 6, 2015, Walsh and additional HR personnel met with Garton to inform him that BWXT could not conclusively prove Garton's allegations. Later that day, HR personnel met with Muller and emphasized BWXT's expectation that employees treat each other with professionalism and respect, and stressed that there should be no retaliation against Garton for raising his concerns. On May 7, 2015, Walsh and Muller met with Severin and discussed Garton's allegations at length. They reiterated BWXT's standards of professionalism and respect expected of all employees, and informed Severin there was to be no retaliation against Garton.

         In April and May 2015, Garton approached managers claiming he was sick and asking if a different employee could handle cranes for him. BWXT began interacting with Garton to try to understand the situation and any accommodations they could make to get him back to crane duties. On May 22, 2015, Garton provided a note from his personal doctor, Gary Soucie, stating Garton could not operate the bridge crane due to “significant panic attacks, ” but was working through his anxiety so he could return to full duty. Meanwhile, BWXT temporarily allowed Garton to refrain from operating cranes.

         On June 11, 2015, Dr. Perttula examined Garton to get clarification on his health situation. Dr. Perttula noted that Garton was to avoid the use of the bridge crane or any crane that had an enclosed cab. On July 10, 2015, Garton provided another note from Dr. Soucie, which stated that Garton could return to work and that he should report to Dr. Soucie if he felt uncomfortable.

         On June 29, 2015, Garton appears to have told his healthcare provider that the “[h]arassment has now stopped at work.” Dkt. 36, ¶ 33. However, in mid-July 2015, Garton launched a complaint directly with BWXT corporate to dispute the findings of BWXT's first investigation of his April 2015, complaint. Florence Phillips, an attorney for BWXT, investigated Garton's complaint.

         On August 13, 2015, confused by the conflicting information it had received from Dr. Perttula and Dr. Soucie regarding Garton's ability to perform his crane duties, BWXT sent a letter to Dr. Perttula asking for additional clarification regarding Garton's condition and restrictions. In its letter, BWXT included information about the NRF site and its high-risk activities. On August 19, 2015, Dr. Perttula pulled a report on Garton's medications, in an attempt to determine whether Garton was taking any medication that had not previously been reported to him. On August 24, 2015, Dr. Perttula sent a letter to BWXT, revoking Garton's Crane Operator and DOT Driver qualifications pending further evaluation, and requesting both a complete reconciliation of Garton's medications and mental health exam. Dkt. 39-4 ¶ 32, Dkt. 39-3.

         On September 2, 2015, Dr. Perttula conducted a follow up exam of Garton. Dr. Perttula disqualified Garton from his DOT Driver and Crane Operator Qualification due to Garton's “Situational Anxiety.” Dkt. 35-2, Ex. O. Garton met with his supervisors later that day, who informed him of Dr. Perttula's conclusion and stated he would be placed on unpaid administrative leave in order to regain his qualifications. Garton's union also told BWXT that Garton would work to regain his qualifications.

         After he was placed on administrative leave, Garton took no steps to regain his crane operator qualifications, and BWXT heard nothing further from him. On December 12, 2015, BWXT sent a letter to Garton seeking permission to interact with Dr. Perttula to determine any reasonable action BWXT could take to address Garton's limitations. Garton signed the release on December 29, 2015 and returned it January 4, 2106. However, Garton rescinded his authorization later that same day, forbidding BWXT or Dr. Perttula from receiving or providing information. At some point after January 4, 2016, Garton was terminated from BWXT's systems.

         BWXT's occupational medicine expert, Dr. Paula A. Lantsberger later reviewed Garton's medical history, conditions, and construction jobs at the NRF. In conducting her review, Dr. Lantsberger found that Garton had repeatedly omitted information and falsified information on his applications for Commercial Driver Certification and fitness for duty forms since the start of his employment at the NRF. For example, Garton repeatedly failed to accurately disclose his use of numerous disqualifying medications, including Alprazolam, Oxycodone, and Zanaflex. Garton also failed to disclose his anxiety, depression, and narcolepsy diagnoses in his first application for Commercial Driver Certification and in many subsequent fitness for duty forms that he completed.

         Dr. Lantsberger concluded that from the time of Garton's initial hiring at the NRF and throughout his time at BWXT, Garton did not meet the criteria ...


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