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Adams v. Persona, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

August 21, 2015

DAMON ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
PERSONA, INC., Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          For Damon Adams, Plaintiff: Daniel G. Leland, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP, Minneapolis, Mn; Michael William Strain, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sturgis, SD.

         For Persona, Inc., Defendant: Sandra K. Hoglund-Hanson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith, Sioux Falls, SD.

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          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

         Lawrence L. Piersol, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Persona, Inc.'s (Persona) motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Persona is seeking to dismiss two of Plaintiff Damon Adams's (Adams) causes of action. The first, Count II in Plaintiff's Complaint, is an allegation of unlawful retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" or the " Act" ). The second, Count IV of the Complaint, is an allegation of associational discrimination also in violation of the ADA. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Because this is a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the facts set out in the Complaint, taken as true, must be viewed in light most favorable to Complainant-Adams and all logical inferences must be drawn in his favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

         A. Plaintiff's Alcohol Dependency

         Adams began working for Persona in February 1982 at Persona's plant and warehouse in Madison, South Dakota. During his time with Persona, Adams was promoted to various positions, reaching the position of Plant Manager by the time Adams was terminated from employment. Adams, during all relevant time working for Persona, suffered from alcoholism. In August 2012, after being notified of possible alcohol related misconduct at the workplace, David Holien (Holien), Persona's CEO, A1 Haselhorst (Haselhorst), Persona's Production Manager, and Carol Hinderaker (Hinderaker), Persona's President

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of Human Resources, met with Adams. During this meeting, Adams was told that Persona was engaging in a " fact finding mission," Complaint at 3, and was asked questions about his alcohol consumption. In response, Adams admitted to his alcohol dependency. Hinderaker thereafter advised Adams to enter treatment and that Persona would allow him ten weeks leave. Additionally, Adams was suspended from work and his employment status set to be reevaluated in thirty days.

         Several days following the " fact finding" meeting, Adams spoke with Hinderaker and was informed of his suspension. Hinderaker also stated that she would attempt to find a new position for Adams upon his return, but that it may not be in Madison. Furthermore, Adams was informed by Hinderaker that the ten weeks of leave would be covered through Adams's accumulated vacation pay and that he would have four weeks of accumulated vacation pay remaining. Adams entered a 30-day treatment facility on the same day he spoke with Hinderaker. He completed the treatment on September 12, 2012 and, on September 28, again met with Holien, Haselhorst, Hinderaker, and Greg Kulesa (Kulesa), Persona's President. At this meeting, Adams detailed his struggle with alcoholism and expressed his commitment to his job, his recovery, and sobriety. Further, Adams stated his wish to return to his old position as Plant Manager. Adams was again told that Persona was engaging in a " fact finding mission" and that it was " 'not prepared to make a decision'" as to Adams's employment. Complaint at 4. On October 10, 2012, Adams again met with Kulesa, Haselhorst, Holien, and Hinderaker. This time Adams was told that Persona was terminating Adams as of that day.

         B. Daughter's Autoimmune Disease

         Adams's daughter suffers from an autoimmune disease requiring transfusion treatments every six to eight weeks. Adams's daughter's health insurance was provided through Adams's insurance plan with Persona. In November of 2011, Hinderaker held a company meeting wherein she stated that Persona's health insurance premiums were to be increased to 22.51%. It was also at this meeting that Hinderaker stated that two of Persona's employees were causing the premium hike. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that Hinderaker implicitly named Adams as one of the two employees insofar as Hinderaker stated " that one reason the insurance premium rates were going to be higher was because one employee's daughter needed treatments every six to eight weeks and the treatments were expensive." Complaint at 2.

         On August 14, 2012, a day after Adams entered treatment, Adams's wife, Jody, spoke with Dennis Holien (Chairman Holien), Persona's Chairman of the Board, regarding Hinderaker's November 2011 comments regarding the Adams' daughter's treatments. Chairman Holien stated that Persona runs a report " every so often to see which employees have the highest payout of/ insurance benefits, . . ." and the report indicated that Adams was an employee with one of the highest amounts. Complaint at 4.

         In February 2013, Adams filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On September 29, 2014, the EEOC dismissed Adams's charge ...


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