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FENNELL v. AETNA LIFE INS. CO.

February 26, 1999

REBECCA L. FENNELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, AND ARAMARK CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF, V. ARAMARK CORPORATION, AND AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

           Granting the Defendants' Motion for Summary
                            Judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

These consolidated cases come before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Title I claim because Plaintiff Rebecca Fennell, a former employee, does not fall within the class of persons covered by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101-12213, in that she cannot perform the essential job functions either with or without accommodation. The court grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Title III claim because the ADA's definition of a place of public accommodation does not encompass an employee disability benefit plan.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Rebecca Fennell worked for Defendant Aramark ("Aramark") for over ten years, holding various management positions in Aramark's food service operations. (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶¶ 4, 6.) In October 1994 she began to suffer from psychogenic seizures and other mental and emotional disorders, which ultimately led to her being diagnosed as suffering from a disability due to mental illness. (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶ 7.) The illness forced her to take a leave of absence from her job with Aramark, and Aramark terminated her employment on February 15, 1996. (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶¶ 6, 7.) The Social Security Administration subsequently deemed Fennell eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶ 7.)

In addition to receiving Social Security Disability benefits, Fennell participated in a Long-Term Disability Plan as one of her fringe benefits from Aramark. (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶ 8.) Defendant Aetna Life Insurance Company ("Aetna") underwrote the policy pursuant to a contract between it and Aramark. (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶ 8.) The plan's terms provided different maximum lengths of disability benefits depending on whether the subscriber suffered from a mental or physical disability. (See Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶ 9; EEOC 1st Am.Compl. at ¶ 10.) Specifically, the plan provided for disability benefits through a disabled employee's 65th birthday in cases of disability due to non-mental conditions and for disability benefits for a maximum of 24 months for disabilities caused by a mental condition. (Am.Compl. at ¶ 9; see EEOC 1st Am.Compl. at ¶ 10.)

Because Fennell's disability fell within the latter category, her benefits terminated on April 15, 1997, two years after she began receiving them. (Fennell Am. Compl. at ¶ 10; Pls.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Defs.'s Mot. for Summ.J. at 4.) Consequently, Fennell and Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") brought separate actions before this court alleging that Aramark and Aetna discriminated against Fennell by providing a shorter duration of disability benefits because of Fennell's mental disability.

The EEOC sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction under Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. As the federal agency charged with the administration, interpretation and enforcement of Title I of the ADA, the EEOC sought to correct such employment practices and provide relief for Fennell and for all other persons adversely affected by the limitations on benefits for persons with mental conditions. (EEOC 1st Am. Compl., pp. 1-2.) Fennell sought a preliminary injunction under Title III of the ADA, which prohibits "public accommodations" from entering into contractual, licensing or other arrangements that deny the opportunity to benefit from a good or service on the basis of disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a); (Fennell Am.Compl. at ¶ 17.)

The court ruled proper venue existed in this district to bring these claims, denied the motion for a temporary restraining order, consolidated the two cases, and ordered the plaintiffs' motions for a preliminary injunction consolidated with a resolution of the case on the merits, Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2). By consent and with the court's approval, the parties agreed to forego discovery until after the court issued a ruling on summary judgment.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

The district court may enter summary judgment where the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Once the moving party has presented a properly supported motion, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleading to identify evidence that allows a reasonable jury to find in the nonmovant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Drawing from affidavits, depositions, and answers to interrogatories, the nonmovant must identify specific facts indicating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Moreover, the court's function at the summary judgment stage is not to weigh the evidence but to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable fact finder to return a ...


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