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Harris v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 5, 2019

QUINTON HARRIS, GEOFFREY MILLER, NORMAN MOUNT, SCOTT ZINN, THOMAS TAYLOR, and JOHN BAKER, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOSEPH F. BATAILLON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for class certification pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.23, Filing No. 240. Plaintiffs also filed supporting brief and evidence in support of the motion. Filing Nos. 241-249. Union Pacific filed a brief in opposition and supporting exhibits, Filing Nos. 259 and 261; and plaintiffs filed a reply brief, Filing No. 289. This case is a putative class action suit and involves claims of employment disability discrimination under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12112 et seq. and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000ff-1(b). Filing No. 20, Amended Complaint.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         Union Pacific has a company-wide Fitness-for-Duty (“FFD”) program. SeeFiling No. 20, Ex. A. In 2014, Union Pacific made changes to this program. Employees in certain positions under the new policy are required to disclose specific health conditions, and the newly implemented policy automatically excludes employees who disclosed these conditions from employment. These employees then had to have a fitness for duty evaluation, and according to plaintiffs, Union Pacific routinely ignores the medical opinions of outside doctors. The records are sent to Dr. John Holland in Olympia, Washington, and his support staff. Dr. Holland and his staff do not do a physical evaluation, but he and his designees make all decisions regarding who is fit for duty.

         Plaintiffs are all previous employees of Union Pacific. Many had worked for years and were allegedly qualified and performing their jobs with no problems. They were pulled from their jobs under Union Pacific's new program, evaluated, and then excluded from their positions at Union Pacific, even though, they argue, they had no trouble fulfilling the essential functions of their jobs. Plaintiffs challenge Union Pacific's policy of removing employees from their jobs based on an arbitrary and scientifically-unsound “1% Rule” regarding the risk of “sudden incapacitation.”[2]

         Based on these allegations, the plaintiffs assert three class claims under the ADA on behalf of themselves and putative class members: (1) disparate treatment-alleging that through its Fitness-for-Duty program, Union Pacific engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by implementing qualification standards and other criteria that screen out individuals with disabilities; (2) disparate impact-alleging that the Fitness-for-Duty program had an adverse impact on individuals with disabilities by, for example, screening them out or tending to screen them out of work; and (3) unlawful medical inquiry-alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A), which provides that an employer “shall not require a medical examination and shall not make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” They seek relief on behalf of the following proposed class:

Individuals who were removed from service over their objection, and/or suffered another adverse employment action, during their employment with Union Pacific for reasons related to a Fitness-for-Duty evaluation at any time from 300 days before the earliest date that a named Plaintiff filed an administrative charge of discrimination to the resolution of this action.

         Filing No. 20, Amended Complaint, ¶ 116.

         Plaintiffs move to certify the class to include: All individuals who have been or will be subject to a fitness-for-duty examination as a result of a reportable health event at any time from September 18, 2014 until the final resolution of this action.

         DISCUSSION

         A class action “saves the resources of both the courts and the parties by permitting an issue potentially affecting every class member to be litigated in an economical fashion[.]” Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 155 (1982) (quotations and modifications omitted). The district court may grant certification only after conducting a “rigorous analysis” confirming that the requirements are met. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 351 (2011). However, “Rule 23 grants courts no license to engage in free-ranging merits inquiries at the certification stage.” Amgen Inc. v. Conn. Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 568 U.S. 455, 466 (2013). “Merits questions may be considered to the extent-but only to the extent-that they are relevant to determining whether the Rule 23 prerequisites for class certification are satisfied.” Id.

         Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the requirements for establishing and maintaining certification for a class action lawsuit. “In order to obtain class certification, a plaintiff has the burden of showing that the class should be certified and that the requirements of Rule 23 are met.” Coleman v. Watt, 40 F.3d 255, 258-59 (8th Cir. 1994).

         Rule 23(a) provides:

         One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members only if:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a).

         The United States Supreme Court has summarized the four basic requirements as these: (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613 (1997). The determination under Rule 23(a) is not perfunctory, “the court must conduct a ‘rigorous analysis' to ensure that the prerequisites of Rule 23 are satisfied.” Elizabeth M. v. Montenez, 458 F.3d 779, 784 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Gen. Tel. Co. of the S.W. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982)). “Frequently that rigorous analysis will entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 351 (2011) (internal citations omitted).

         “Plaintiffs must meet all requirements of Rule 23(a) and fall within one of the categories of Rule 23(b) to certify their . . . claims as a class action.” Blades v. Monsanto Co., 400 F.3d 562, 568-69 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Amchem, 521 U.S. at 614). Rule 23(b) allows a class action if (1) there is otherwise a risk of (a) inconsistent adjudications or (b) impairment of interests for non-class members; (2) the defendant's conduct applies generally to the whole class; or (3) questions of law or fact common to members of the class predominate and the class action is a superior method for adjudication. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b).

         In addition to the Rule 23(a) and (b) requirements, pursuant to Rule 23(c)(1)(B): “An order that certifies a class action must define the class and the class claims, issues, or defenses, and must appoint class counsel under Rule 23(g).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c). The plaintiffs propose a class action on behalf of four classes pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23.

         A. Rule 23(a) Requirements

          1. Numerosity

         The first prerequisite the plaintiffs must meet under Rule 23(a) is numerosity. Amchem, 521 U.S. at 613. Rule 23(a)(1) requires “the class [be] so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1). Rule 23(a) “requires only the impracticality, not the impossibility, of joinder.” U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Lord, 585 F.2d 860, 870 (8th Cir. 1978). The plaintiffs need only show “that joining all members of the class would be difficult.” Caroline C. By & Through Carter v. Johnson, 174 F.R.D. 452, 462 (D. Neb. 1996) (citations omitted). “There is no magic number for proving numerosity, but courts have stated as few as forty class members is sufficient to show joinder is impracticable.” Harris v. D. Scott Carruthers & Assoc., 270 F.R.D. 446, 450 (D. Neb. 2010) (citing Hale v. AFNI, Inc., 264 F.R.D. 402, ...


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