Spurling v. C&M Fine Pack, Inc.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation739 F.3d 1055
Docket NumberNo. 13–1708.,13–1708.
PartiesKimberly SPURLING, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. C & M FINE PACK, INC., Defendant–Appellee.
Decision Date13 January 2014


Lori W. Jansen, Rockwell & Jansen, Fort Wayne, IN, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Dinita L. James, Michael Mishlove, Alejandro Valle, Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan LLP, Indianapolis, IN, for DefendantAppellee.

Before BAUER, KANNE, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

This appeal follows the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of C & M Fine Pack, Inc., (C & M) regarding its termination of Kimberly Spurling. Spurling alleged that C & M discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADA”), as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background
A. Spurling's Employment at C & M

Spurling began working for C & M in February 2004 as a Forming Inspector/Packer assigned to the third/night shift. In 2009, she began to exhibit a pattern of decreased consciousness and alertness, for which she received several disciplinary warnings. Spurling received a Final Warning/Suspension on February 15, 2010. On that date, Spurling left her work site to use the restroom and did not return for over twenty minutes. Spurling was later found sleeping in the restroom by a coworker.

Following her suspension, Spurling met with plant manager Darrin Claussen and three of her supervisors. Claussen's meeting notes reflect that Spurling indicated that her sleep issues were caused by medication that her doctor had prescribed. She produced a note to the same effect, which stated, “Pt was recently asked to discontinue medicine related to her passing out—please excuse symptoms [at] work.”

Spurling continued to experience difficulty remaining conscious while at work. On April 12, 2010, Jim Cardenas, Spurling's shift supervisor, reported her for being completely asleep while packing parts. He expressed concern for Spurling's safety and the lack of improvement in her wakefulness.

As a result of the continuing problem, Spurling attended a meeting with management personnel, who issued her a Final Warning/Suspension on April 15. The Final Warning/Suspension note stated:

On 4/12/10 you were observed ... with your head down at you[r] inspection station. To get your attention they had to yell your name at which time you snapped to and responded. This occurred several times during the shift ... A review of your personnel file shows that in the last twelve months you have received three write-ups for performance and the last one a final warning with suspension for sleeping during your shift. Per our progressive discipline practice you have been suspended pending determination of the level of discipline you will receive for this latest incident. You were informed that you could face termination of employment per our progressive disciplinary practice. You were informed that I would be in touch no later than Monday, April 19[,] with [C & M]'s decision. You were also informed that if you had further information that was relevant to our deliberation, you needed to contact me prior to Monday.

Paul Bellant, the Human Resources Manager at C & M, testified that it was typical for C & M to wait almost two weeks for new information to be produced for consideration in whether to terminate an employee. On April 16, Spurling informed Bellant that her performance issues might be related to a medical condition. Bellant met with Spurling to provide her with a letter regarding the ADA and documentation for Spurling's physician to complete. The paperwork stated that it should be returned no later than April 30.

After Spurling received the paperwork, she alleges that she requested time off to determine the extent of her medical issues. Bellant denies that Spurling ever requested time off, and insists that she was not eligible for FMLA leave as she was facing suspension pending termination of employment.

That same day, April 16, after giving the ADA paperwork to Spurling, Bellant emailed C & M's Vice President of Human Resources, Jeffrey Swoyer, concerning the action that C & M wanted to pursue regarding Spurling. Bellant's email recommended that C & M terminate Spurling, but conceded that in order to do so, Swoyer's authorization was required. The email acknowledges Bellant's communication with Spurling and states, “I have ADA paperwork that she will have her doctor fill out to begin the interactive process regarding her ability to perform ... her job safely. I will put her on [leave of absence] until process is completed.”

Spurling met with her physician, Dr. James Beitzel, on April 21. He filled out the ADA paperwork and marked “yes” by the box asking if the patient had a mental or physical disability covered under the ADA. Dr. Beitzel wrote that Spurling exhibited excessive drowsiness that affected her job performance and recommended periods of scheduled rest. Finally, he wrote “add'n medical work up in progress” at the bottom of the form.

Directly after her medical examination, Spurling took the paperwork to Bellant, who told her that he and Claussen would review the material and then send it to the corporate office for further review. Spurling alleges, and C & M disputes, that Bellant indicated that C & M would have an interactive meeting with her on April 26 to discuss her request for reasonable accommodations. No meeting occurred.

Regarding the import of Dr. Beitzel's examination, Bellant testified that the notation stating Spurling was suffering from a condition covered by the ADA was insufficient to establish that she had a disability. Likewise, Swoyer testified during his deposition, “I don't believe that the doctor is in a position to make that determination. It is his opinion.” Instead of seeking clarification from Dr. Beitzel regarding Spurling's medical evaluation, C & M chose to proceed with her termination.

On April 28, Bellant emailed Swoyer his recommendation to terminate Spurling. He stated, [W]e recommend the aggressive approach. Upon review of all the facts presented we feel that we did the interactive process during the progressive disciplinary process.” Bellant acknowledged that while “there is an element of risk ... we feel we did everything during the discipline process.”

C & M proceeded with the termination of Spurling and informed her of its decision on April 28, 2010. On May 27, 2010, Spurling received a definitive diagnosis for narcolepsy, which in her case is manageable with proper medication.

B. District Court Proceedings

Spurling brought suit and made three claims under the ADA: disability discrimination, failure of the interactive process, and failure to provide reasonable accommodations.1 She also claimed that C & M interfered with her rights under the FMLA.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of C & M on both claims, holding that an employer could not be held accountable for discrimination under the ADA when both the employer and employee are unaware that a condition exists. The court stated that the central issue was one of causation; that is, whether Spurling suffered an adverse employment action as a result of her disability. It found that the termination took place on April 15, when Bellant's initial termination recommendation was made. The court found that C & M could not have discriminated against Spurling, as it had terminated her prior to having any knowledge of her condition.

For the same reason, Spurling's FMLA claim failed. The district court held that, since C & M was unaware of Spurling's qualifying condition, it could not be held liable for firing her because of that condition. The FMLA requires employer knowledge of the qualifying condition, which C & M did not have when it terminated Spurling on April 15.

II. Analysis

Spurling challenges the district court's decision to grant C & M summary judgment on both her ADA and FMLA claims. Spurling argues that the district court erred in finding that April 15 was the effective date of her termination. She alleges that she was not actually fired until April 28, at which time C & M knew that she suffered from a disability covered under the ADA.

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, and examine the record and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pagel v. TIN Inc., 695 F.3d 622, 624 (7th Cir.2012). Summary judgment is proper if the 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). We will reverse a grant of summary judgment if a material issue of fact exists that would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party. Adeyeye v. Heartland Sweeteners, LLC, 721 F.3d 444, 449 (7th Cir.2013).

A. ADA Claim

To establish a prima facie ADA claim, Spurling must show that: (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) she is qualified to perform the essential functions of her job either with or without reasonable accommodation, and (3) she has suffered from an adverse employment decision because of her disability.” Dvorak v. Mostardi Platt Assoc., Inc., 289 F.3d 479, 483 (7th Cir.2002).

1. Termination Date

The district court relied on our holding in Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., Inc., 47 F.3d 928, 932–33 (7th Cir.1995), to find that C & M did not have the requisite knowledge to fire Spurling “because of” her disability. Citing that case, the district court reasoned that an employer who fires an employee without knowledge of her disability relies on other, non-disability related, grounds. It determined that C & M fired Spurling on April 15 and found that C & M's lack of knowledge regarding Spurling's disability obviated the need to decide whether she was actually disabled.

The district court's...

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