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McNeil v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 26, 2019

Tasha M. McNeil, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
Union Pacific Railroad Company, Defendant-Appellee. ACLU Nebraska Foundation, Amicus on Behalf of Appellant.

          Submitted: May 16, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Tasha McNeil sued Union Pacific Railroad Company, alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (NFEPA). The district court[1] granted summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific on all claims. McNeil appeals, and we affirm.

         I.

         Tasha McNeil is a black woman who was employed by Union Pacific. She worked as a critical call dispatcher in the company's 24-hour dispatch call center. As a dispatcher, McNeil was responsible for "[r]espond[ing] timely and with a sense of urgency to incoming phone calls related to critical incidents on or near railroad property to ensure employee and public safety."

         Union Pacific dispatchers are typically scheduled to work five consecutive days each week. Each workday consists of an 8.25-hour shift. Only one dispatcher is allowed to leave the center at a time, and dispatchers are not allowed to end their shift until they are relieved by the next shift's dispatcher. They are expected to remain to resolve ongoing calls even after their shift has ended. A dispatcher's shift is color-coded to represent overtime expectations for the employee. Depending on which color shift the dispatcher is scheduled to work, the dispatcher may be expected to work overtime if another employee fails to show up to work. In that situation, a dispatcher is required to work up to four additional hours either before or after her original shift.

         McNeil took short-term disability leave from December 2012 until January 2013 due to complications from a pregnancy. She then took maternity leave until June 17, 2013, when she returned to work. Shortly after her return, she requested training to help her readjust to work after six months of leave, but her supervisor denied the training. At a later date, McNeil's supervisor disciplined her for an incident that occurred because she was not familiar with the switchboard mapping system; McNeil claimed that the incident stemmed from the earlier denial of training.

         In January 2014, the company granted McNeil leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for her sick mother. In February 2014, she received short-term disability benefits for depression. In May 2014, McNeil's doctors determined that she could return to work in June on a part-time schedule. McNeil's physician cleared her to work four days a week from 6:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Her physician specified that the restriction was temporary, and that she would be able to undertake a full-time schedule on August 1. Union Pacific prepared to accommodate her temporary restrictions, but McNeil ultimately decided not to return and instead transitioned to long-term disability leave.

         In August 2014, McNeil notified Union Pacific's employee benefits administrator that she may be ready to return to work on September 2. Three weeks later, Union Pacific received McNeil's medical records and work restrictions. The records included a letter from her doctor stating: "It is my professional medical opinion that Tasha MCNEIL may return to work on 09/02/2014. Please allow her only morning shifts and no overtime." A Union Pacific employee followed up with McNeil about the restrictions, and McNeil told her that she was restricted to "day hours only and no overtime until January."

         The next month, McNeil e-mailed the company to inquire about her work status, and an employee informed her that the call center was unable to accommodate her restrictions and had no vacancies. A week later, McNeil received a formal letter from Union Pacific saying that her "supervising department has been unable to identify a reasonable accommodation that will permit [her] to safely return to work in [her] assigned position."

         McNeil called a manager seeking information about why Union Pacific denied her request to return to work. During the call, she told the manager that her medical restrictions were not permanent. The supervisor told McNeil that if that were so, then she needed to have her medical provider send a letter informing Union Pacific of her updated restrictions. Union Pacific did not receive any updated medical records, and McNeil went back on long-term disability leave. On June 24, 2015, McNeil received notice that her long-term disability benefits would soon expire. The company terminated her employment on October 28, 2015.

         McNeil sued Union Pacific in Nebraska state court, alleging several claims of discrimination. Union Pacific removed the proceeding to federal court, see 28 U.S.C. ยง 1441(a), and the district court granted summary judgment for the company on all claims. Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). We review the ...


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