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Heuton v. Ford Motor Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 23, 2019

Jeremy Heuton Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Ford Motor Company Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: April 16, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Kansas City

          Before SHEPHERD, MELLOY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Jeremy Heuton appeals the district court's[1] adverse grant of summary judgment in favor of Ford Motor Company on his claims of disability discrimination and retaliation under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.010-.137. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I.

         Heuton was born without a left forearm and hand. But his left arm extends approximately three to four inches below his left elbow, so he has adapted to using that portion of his left arm to perform some of the functions of his missing left hand. He applied for an entry-level assembler position at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant (KCAP), where Ford makes vehicles on a moving assembly line. There are over 700 such positions at KCAP.

         After Heuton disclosed to Ford that he was born with one hand, Barbara Patton, a nurse at Ford's medical department, instructed Heuton to provide a doctor's note stating that he was unable to grip anything with his left hand. Heuton told Patton he "[did not] have a left hand" but obtained the note anyway because Patton told him that, if he provided the note, Ford was "going to give [him] a [chance.]" Subsequently, Heuton submitted two doctors' notes to Ford. The first note provided that Heuton was "cleared to work" and that he was "unable to grip" with his left hand. The second note was from Dr. Stephanie Davis, which provided that Heuton "has a congenital defect of his left upper extremity[, ]" that "[h]is only limitation is an inability to grip with his left upper extremity[, ]" and that "[h]e has an impressive ability to adapt and performs many tasks, jobs etc without difficulty."

         After receiving these notes, Ford's medical department listed Heuton's restrictions as "Left hand: No gripping" on his Medical Examination Request Form. Dr. Kyla Kutch, the head of the medical department, then forwarded the Form to the labor relations department, headed by Ashlie O'Reilly. Eventually, Ford decided not to hire Heuton. O'Reilly noted on Heuton's Medical Examination Form that "[m]ost jobs @ KCAP require the use of both hands/arms (hand-start bolts, grab stock, position job elements, etc.)" and that KCAP was "unable to accommodate a one-hand restriction @ this time."

         Heuton sued Ford for disability discrimination and retaliation under the MHRA in Missouri state court. The matter was removed to federal district court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Both parties moved for summary judgment. After the summary judgment briefing had completed, the district court requested supplemental briefing over whether the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affected the relevant standards under the MHRA, and the court subsequently concluded that they did not. The court then scheduled oral argument on whether Heuton had shown that Ford regarded Heuton as significantly restricted from performing either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes.

         After oral argument, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Ford. Heuton v. Ford Motor Co., 309 F.Supp.3d 714, 719 (W.D. Mo. 2018). On Heuton's disability-discrimination claim, the court determined that Heuton, despite having a "full opportunity" to do so, failed to show Ford, "at the time of his rejection, had an opinion that he was unemployable elsewhere at a broad range of jobs." Id. at 715-18. On Heuton's retaliation claim, the court found that Heuton "barely [went] through the motions to save this count of his petition" but determined that he failed to show "an adverse action taken because of [his] opposition to a prohibited activity[, ]" and found no evidence that Ford's failure to hire him was in any way retaliatory. Id. at 718. The court concluded that Ford's request for a doctor's note was neither an adverse employment action nor evidence of hostility. Id. Heuton appeals.

         II.

         "We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo[, ] . . . viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may reasonably be drawn." Epps v. City of Pine Lawn, 353 F.3d 588, 591 (8th Cir. 2003). The "moving party is entitled to summary judgment if . . . there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the ...


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