Ehlerding v. Am. Mattress & Upholstery, Inc.

Decision Date22 September 2016
Docket NumberNo. 1:15-CV-165,1:15-CV-165
Citation208 F.Supp.3d 944
Parties Jason EHLERDING, Plaintiff, v. AMERICAN MATTRESS AND UPHOLSTERY, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

David W. Frank, Christopher C. Myers & Associates, Fort Wayne, IN, for Plaintiff.

David M. Holmes, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER
RUDY LOZANO, Judge, United States District Court

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss and Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike, filed by the Defendants, American Mattress and Upholstery, Inc., Mark Roedeske,1 and Lajuan Wade, on November 24, 2015. (DE # 16.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED .

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Jason Ehlerding ("Plaintiff"), filed his complaint on June 29, 2015. (DE # 1.) He was granted leave to amend on August 13, 2015; his first amended complaint was docketed that same day. (DE # 7 & DE # 8.) The first amended complaint brings claims against American Mattress and Upholstery, Inc. ("American Mattress"), Mark Roedeske ("Roedeske"), and Lajuan Wade ("Wade") (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. section 2000(e) et seq ("Title VII"), the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. section 12111 et seq ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. section 1981 (" Section 1981"), and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. section 2601 et seq ("FMLA"). The first amended complaint incorporates and attaches a copy of Plaintiff's Charge of Discrimination, which was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on or about August 25, 2014. (DE # 8.) Plaintiff also attaches a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC which is dated April 30, 2015. (Id. ) Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on November 24, 2015. (DE # 16.) Plaintiff filed his reply on December 7, 2015. (DE # 18.) Defendants filed their reply on December 14, 2015. (DE # 19.) Thus, the motion is ripe for adjudication.

DISCUSSION
Facts

As was adequately set forth by Defendants in their memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss,2 Plaintiff alleges, through his attached Charge of Discrimination, that he is a biracial male who was employed as a sales manager at American Mattress, located at 4614 Coldwater Road in Fort Wayne, Indiana from January 21, 2013, until his wrongful termination on April 4, 2014. According to Plaintiff, on March 10, 2014, he underwent hernia

surgery in relation to an injury he allegedly sustained at work. Prior to the surgery, he notified the regional manager about his need for time off of work. Plaintiff alleges that he was entitled to use FMLA to address this serious health condition.

After his surgery, Plaintiff was placed on work restrictions and was directed not to lift heavy objects. American Mattress initially indicated it would comply with the work restrictions by having an assistant help Plaintiff when necessary. However, Plaintiff alleges that he was only given assistance twice during the remainder of his employment with American Mattress. Otherwise, he was required to go against this lifting restriction. In addition, upon his return from medical leave, Plaintiff was allegedly given an increased work load and scheduled to work six days a week, at least one of those days for which he was not paid. Later, he returned to his normal work schedule.

On April 4, 2014, Plaintiff encountered a customer who was upset by a delivery driver who had failed to assemble a bed that had been ordered. Plaintiff contacted his regional manager, Roedeske, about the situation. Roedeske told Plaintiff that the customer was lying and argued with Plaintiff, allegedly using profanity. Following the phone conversation, Plaintiff spoke again with Roedeske and was told he was fired.

Plaintiff contends that he was discriminated against, retaliated against, and wrongfully terminated on the basis of race and disability as well as for his use of medical leave. He claims to have suffered from emotional distress and mental anguish as a result of Defendants' wrongdoing. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, liquidated damages, and attorney fees and costs.

Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Johnson v. Rivera , 272 F.3d 519, 520 (7th Cir. 2001). A complaint is not required to contain detailed factual allegations; however, the plaintiff must allege facts that state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). It is not enough that there might be some conceivable set of facts that entitle the plaintiff to relief. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 553–56, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The plaintiff's obligation "requires more than labels and conclusions...." Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. The Supreme Court has provided that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court generally considers only the factual allegations of the complaint and any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those allegations; however, a court may also examine information from documents "if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to his claim." Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 729 (7th Cir. 2014) ; see Williamson v. Curran , 714 F.3d 432, 443 (7th Cir. 2013) (noting the Seventh Circuit has taken "a relatively expansive view of the documents that a district court properly may consider in disposing of a motion to dismiss."). Here, Plaintiff's Complaint attaches, refers directly to, and incorporates the Charge of Discrimination which may be considered by this Court in ruling on the motion to dismiss without converting it into a motion for summary judgment. See Vasquez v. Caterpillar Logistics, Inc. , No. 1:15–CV–398-TLS, 2016 WL 1573179, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Apr. 19, 2016) (citing Miller v. Herman , 600 F.3d 726, 733 (7th Cir. 2010) (documents attached to complaint are considered part of the complaint)).

ADA Claim

The ADA "provide[s] a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). To state a claim pursuant to the ADA, a plaintiff must allege that "(1) he is ‘disabled’; (2) he is qualified to perform the essential function of the job either with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability." Gogos v. AMS Mech. Sys., Inc. , 737 F.3d 1170, 1172 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing E.E.O.C. v. Lee's Log Cabin, Inc. , 546 F.3d 438, 442 (7th Cir. 2008) ). Therefore, as an "initial matter" under this rubric, a plaintiff must establish that he is disabled as defined under those statutes and relevant regulations. See, e.g., Steffen v. Donahoe , 680 F.3d 738, 743 (7th Cir. 2012). Enacted in 1990, the ADA originally defined disability as "(A) a physical or mental impairment

that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (current version at 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1) ). Because the 1990 statute failed to define the terms ‘substantially limits' and ‘regarded as,’ the precise meaning of each phrase was left to judicial interpretation. See, e.g., Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams , 534 U.S. 184, 198, 122 S.Ct. 681, 151 L.Ed.2d 615 (2002) (holding that a disability ‘substantially limits' a major life activity where it "prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people's daily lives" and has an impact that is "permanent or long term"); Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc. , 527 U.S. 471, 489, 119 S.Ct. 2139, 144 L.Ed.2d 450 (1999) (holding that in order to be ‘regarded as' having a disability, an employer must "believe either that one has a substantially limiting impairment that one does not have or that one has a substantially limiting impairment when, in fact, the impairment is not so limiting.").

Effective January 1, 2009, the ADA was amended to "carry out the ADA's objectives" by "reinstating a broad scope of protection." See ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA"), Pub. L. No. 110–325, 122 Stat. 3553 (2008). The ADAAA itself is described as "[a]n Act to restore the intent and protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990," and in its findings Congress specifically noted that the original intent of the ADA was to provide "broad coverage" and a "clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." Id. Specifically, Congress found that the United States Supreme Court had improperly narrowed the protection intended to be afforded under the ADA, and the ADAAA rejected the holdings of Sutton and Toyota Motor Mfg . Importantly, the ADAAA left the ADA's three-category definition of "disability" intact3 but clarified how the categories are to be interpreted. For example, the ADAAA now provides a specific definition for the term "Major Life Activities" whereas prior to the amendments, courts could only look to previous case law and regulations interpreting the ADA for guidance. The definition of major life activities includes but is not limited to "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). Congress also added "[r]ules of construction regarding the...

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