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Runkle v. Rosauers Supermarkets, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

June 7, 2018

ELIZABETH T. RUNKLE, Plaintiff,
v.
ROSAUERS SUPERMARKETS, INC., BOB BURRIS, and RAY SPRINKLE, Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Rosauers Supermarkets, Inc., Bob Burris and Ray Sprinkle's Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 motions for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed, Defendants Burris and Sprinkle's motion should be granted, and Rosauers' motion should be denied.

         I. Background

         Runkle began working for Rosauers Supermarkets, Inc. (“Rosauers”) in 2007 at its grocery store in Kalispell, Montana where she worked as a clerk. In January, 2014, Runkle disclosed to Bob Burris, the store manager, that she is disabled due to a mental illness. She alleges Burris thereafter made conditions of her employment difficult for her, and discriminated against her, all based on her disability. She asserts that ultimately she was constructively discharged from her employment on September 18, 2016.

         As a result of the discrimination Runkle allegedly experienced, she pursued her remedies with the Montana Human Rights Bureau. Ray Sprinkle, the chairman of the board and CEO of Rosauers' parent company, URM Stores, Inc., was involved in the Montana Human Rights Bureau's investigation. Runkle alleges Sprinkle further perpetuated the discrimination against her through his testimony and involvement in the investigation.

         Runkle commenced this action with her complaint filed May 17, 2017. She advances claims against Defendants under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

         II. Applicable Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) entitles a party to summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Betz v. Trainer Wortham & Co., Inc., 504 F.3d 1017, 1020-21 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Additionally, because Runkle is appearing pro se in this action the Court must construe her documents liberally and give them “the benefit of any doubt” with respect to Defendants' summary judgment motions. Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348, 352 (9th Cir. 1999). See also Erickson v. Pardus 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         III. Discussion

         A. Burris and Sprinkle

         Runkle asserts her claims under authority of Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Doc. 1 at 6, and Doc. 40 at 1.) Title I of the ADA exposes “employers” to liability for discriminating against an employee based on a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Walsh v. Nevada Department of Human Resources, 471 F.3d 1033, 1036 (9th Cir. 2006). But the ADA limits the definition of “employers” to those who employ 15 or more workers. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(a). As a result, individuals who are not “employers” cannot be held liable under Title I of the ADA. Walsh, 471 F.3d at 1038.

         Burris and Sprinkle move for summary judgment dismissing Runkle's ADA claim under Title I because they are individuals and employees, not Runkle's employer.

         Runkle responds by suggesting Burris and Sprinkle are “employers” under the ADA because they, as either her supervisors or executive managers within Rosauers' business structure, had authority to control the terms and conditions of her daily work. But Runkle's suggestion is insufficient as Runkle was employed by Rosauers (doc. 14 at 2, ¶ 5), not Burris and Sprinkle, and neither Burris nor Sprinkle meet the statutory definition of an “employer” under the ADA. Supervisory employees do not qualify as “employers” under the ADA despite their authority to control, discipline, hire or fire an ...


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