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Solander v. South Ponderosa Stables Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 9, 2015

Frank Solander, Plaintiff,
South Ponderosa Stables Incorporated, Defendant.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff Frank Solander brought suit against Defendant South Ponderosa Stables alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Arizona Civil Rights Act ("ACRA"), and A.R.S. § 23-1501. Doc. 1. Defendant seeks summary judgment, arguing that the employee numerosity requirement under the ADA and the ACRA is not satisfied and that Plaintiff's claim under A.R.S. § 23-1501 is time-barred. Doc. 19. The motion is fully briefed. The Court will grant Defendant's motion.[1]

I. Background.

South Ponderosa Stables ("Ponderosa") hired Frank Solander as a stable worker on June 11, 2012. Doc. 1, ¶ 14. Ponderosa paid Solander a salary of $600 per month and provided him with room and board. Id., ¶ 15. Solander claims that he began to experience serious health issues stemming from sinusitis in August 2012. Id., ¶¶ 17-20. He claims that he "requested a reasonable accommodation of time off from his work duties due to his declining health and vision, " but that his employment was terminated on November 24, 2012, approximately one week after submitting the request. Id., ¶ 31, 32. These facts, as well as the source of Solander's health problems, are disputed by Ponderosa. Doc. 15, ¶¶ 18-21, 32, 33. Solander claims that his employment was terminated in violation of the ADA, the ACRA, and A.R.S. § 23-1501.

II. Legal Standard.

A. Motion for Summary Judgment.

A party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, shows "that 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate against a party who "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit... [will] preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The disputed evidence must be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

III. Analysis.

A. Employee Numerosity Requirement under the ADA and the ACRA.

The first six counts in Solander's complaint are brought under the ADA and the ACRA, and therefore rely on Ponderosa qualifying as an employer under the employee numerosity requirement of the ADA and the ACRA. See Doc. 1. For purposes of these statutes, an employer "means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year...." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(A); see A.R.S. § 41-1461(6)(a). Thus, to successfully bring his claim regarding the termination of his employment in 2012, Solander must show that Ponderosa employed 15 or more employees for 20 or more weeks in either 2011 or 2012.[2]

Solander alleges that Ponderosa had between six and nine paid workers during his employment. Doc. 29-6, ¶ 8. Ponderosa has provided payroll records for May 1, 2011 through the end of 2012 showing that a total of 13 workers were paid during that period. Doc. 20 at 4-9.[3] Solander objects to the admission of the payroll records - even though they show more paid employees than he asserts - arguing that they are irrelevant and are not supported by personal knowledge. Doc. 28 at 12. Both objections are unfounded. The payroll records are plainly relevant to the number of employees at Ponderosa. Fed. R. Ev. 401. And the affiant, Beverly Hall, is the secretary of Ponderosa and attests that the payroll records are valid records of Ponderosa. Doc. 20 at 4-5.

Despite the fact that Solander and the payroll records show that there were fewer than 15 paid employees at Ponderosa in 2011 and 2012, Solander argues, for two reasons, that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Ponderosa employed more than 15 employees during these years: (1) Ponderosa used unpaid volunteers that should be counted as employees, and (2) Ponderosa forms an integrated enterprise with Sombrero Ranches and Colorado Horses, and the employee count should include the paid workers at these entities as well. Doc. 28 at 13-19, 20-21. The Court will address each argument in turn.

1. Volunteers.

Solander claims that during his employment Ponderosa used between eight and ten unpaid volunteers each day. Doc. 29-6, ¶ 13. Solander argues that these volunteers should be counted as ...

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