Ethridge v. Illinois Dep't of Juvenile Justice, Case No. 08-cv-867-SCW

Decision Date12 August 2011
Docket NumberCase No. 08-cv-867-SCW
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Illinois

WILLIAMS, Magistrate Judge:

I. Introduction

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 59 & 60). Plaintiff opposes the motion (Doc. 62). Based on the pleadings, the applicable law, and the following, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion (Docs. 59 & 60).

On December 11, 2008, Plaintiff filed a three count claim against the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") (Doc. 2). Plaintiff subsequently dismissed Count III alleging state law retaliatory discharge (Docs. 10 & 11). On November 20, 2009, Defendant IDOC filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice ("IDJJ") not IDOC was the proper defendant (Doc. 14 & 15). In response to that motion, Plaintiff sought leave to file his Amended Complaint properly alleged IDJJ as a Defendant which Judge Reagan granted on January 6, 2010 (Docs. 17 & 20).

Subsequently on January 15, 2010, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint against IDJJ for discrimination based on his disability in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (hereinafter "ADA") (Count I) and age discrimination in violation of 29 U.S.C.§ 621, et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (hereinafter "ADEA") (Count II) (Doc. 25). Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to resign his employment with Defendant and effectively retire because of Defendant's failure to accommodate his disability and that such failure to accommodate was because of his age and disability (Doc. 25 ¶¶ 16 & 30). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he was a qualified individual with a disabiltiy and was able to perform all of the essential functions of his position with Defendant with reasonable accommodations but that Defendant refused to allow Plaintiff to work between August 24, 2007 and October 1, 2008, and then refused to allow him reasonable accommodations between October 1 and October 29, 2008 in order to pressure Plaintiff into resigning his employment (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). Further, Plaintiff alleges that due to his age, Defendant refused to allow Plaintiff to return to work, pressured him to resign or terminate his employment, and refused Plaintiff reasonable accommodations (Id. at ¶ 30).

On April 21, 2011, Defendant filed the current pending Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 59 & 60). Plaintiff filed his response on June 11, 2011 (Doc. 62) as well as an Affidavit to supplement his Response on June 14, 2011 (Doc. 65).

II. Factual Background

This matter stems from events that occurred at the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro, Illinois during 2007 and 2008. The Illinois Youth Center is a boot camp for youths who have committed crimes (Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at pp. 37-38). In the Center, juveniles are housed in dormitories which hold bunk beds and are housed 24 or 30 to a room (Id. at p. 39, Doc. 59 Ex. 11 at pp. 48-49). The juveniles are not restrained while in the housing units (Id.). The Illinois Youth Center has been under the administration of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice ("IDJJ") since the department's creation on June 1, 2006, at which time all juvenile correction centers in the state were transferred from the authority of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"). See 730 ILCS 5/3-2.5-15(a),20(a)(2). At the time of the transfer all personnel once employed for IDOC in juvenile correction centers were transferred to the employment of the IDJJ. 730 ILSC 5/3-2.5-15(a), 40(a).

Plaintiff began working at the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro in 1998 as a Youth Supervisor (Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at p. 10). While working at the Center, Plaintiff injured his back on two separate occasions, on May 3, 2004 and on December 14, 2004, while responding to fights between inmates (Id. at pp. 11-13, 15). As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff went on disability on December 2005 as his injuries required back surgery. On August 24, 2007, Christopher D. Heffner, Plaintiff's surgeon determined that Plaintiff had reached his maximum medical improvement and imposed permanent physical restrictions on Plaintiff. The restrictions prevented Plaintiff from walking or standing for more than 20 minutes at a time, or 60 minutes in a day, and prevented him from lifting or carrying over 30 pounds (Id. at pp. 73-74; Doc. 59 Ex. 1). On September 13, 2007, Heffner completed a form entitled "Authorization for Disability Leave and Return to Work" (Doc. 59 Ex. 1). On the form, Heffner indicated that Plaintiff was "totally disabled" and that he could never return to his current occupation; Heffner also imposed the above-stated restrictions (Id.; Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at pp. 77-82). He also noted that Plaintiff was both temporary and totally disabled from his regular occupation and that he would "never" be able to return to his regular job due to the restriction (Doc. 59 Ex. 1).

Subsequently, on November 8, 2007, Plaintiff obtained an "Authorization for Disability Leave and Return to Work" form from Karen Chamness, a physician's assistant with Plaintiff's family doctor. This form stated that he could return to work but that his activities were restricted to standing or walking on concrete for no more than 20 minutes and lifting no more than 30 pounds (Doc. 59 Ex. 2). Chamness further indicated that Plaintiff had "no limitation of functional capacity" and was "capable of heavy work" with "[n]o restrictions" (Id.). Sometime in late November 2007, Plaintiff spoke with Pam Wilkey, Human Resources Rep. for Defendant, who informed Plaintiff that he could notreturn to work (Doc. 59 Ex. 10 at p. 48; Ex. 9 at pp. 60-64, 95). Defendant insists that Plaintiff was not allowed to return to work in 2007 because the form submitted by Chamness was inconsistent and there was no indication that the limitations would not exceed 90 days (Doc. 59 Ex. 3 at ¶8). Plaintiff states that Pam Wilkey informed him he could not return to work because the IDJJ was afraid that he would reinjure himself (Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at pp. 60-64). Defendant also expressed concern that the limitations on Plaintiff's physicians would raise safety concerns as employees might have to stand on concrete more than 20 minutes in the event of a fire or in breaking up a fight between inmates and that Plaintiff's inability to lift more than 30 pounds would interfere with his ability to restrain inmates if a fight so required (Doc. 59 Ex. 11 at pp. 55-57). Plaintiff maintains that he could have exceeded the prescribed limits if need be and that subduing inmates did not require heavy lifting.

After Plaintiff was prohibited from returning to work, Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC on December 3, 2007 (Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at p. 101; Doc. 59 Ex. 7). The Charge alleged that Plaintiff suffered a continuing action of discrimination based on age and disability between May 9, 2007 and December 3, 2007 and stated that Marcia, an agency official responsible for disability compensation would not return he phone calls after he was released by both doctors and his employer had been informed he could return to work with reasonable accommodations (Doc. 59 Ex. 7; Doc. 25 Ex. A). Plaintiff's Charge also stated that his Workmen's Compensation Lawyer had spoken with Marcia and that she told him Plaintiff would not be working for the state and that he should resign or retire (Id.). Plaintiff's Charge indicated that he had been forced to retire because of his age and that he was denied a reasonable accommodation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Id.). The EEOC charge does not mention Frank Wilkie. The EEOC issued Plaintiff a Right to Sue letter on September 15, 2008 (Doc. 25 Ex. A).

Also in September of 2007, Plaintiff received a release from Heffner stating that hecould return to full duty on a trial basis (Doc. 59 Ex. 13). On the form Heffner placed no restrictions and stated he was capable of heavy work, albeit on a trial basis (Id.). Plaintiff returned to work on third shift on October 1, 2008 (Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at p. 109). After returning to work, Plaintiff requested an accommodation from his supervisor Frank Wilkie (Doc. 59 Ex. 11 at pp. 22-23). Specifically, Plaintiff asked that he be able to sit in a cushioned chair for part of his shift or that he be allowed to work in the control room for his entire shift. Wilkie refused Plaintiff's first request because he stated the chair could be used by the inmates as a weapon (Id. at pp. 22-24). Although Wilkie did not recall Plaintiff's request to work in the control room, Wilkie would not have allowed an employee to work for an entire shift in the control room as employees rotate positions in order to stay alert during their shift (Doc. 59 at pp. 59-61). After his accommodations were denied, Plaintiff obtained a form from his family doctor, Mark Preuss, stating that he could not work due to his back pain (Doc. 59 Ex. 5; Ex. 9 at pp. 120-21). Plaintiff later submitted his resignation which stated his resignation was effective October 31, 2008 (Doc. 59 Ex. 9 at p. 146; Doc. 59 Ex. 6).

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary Judgment is appropriate only when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmovant. Buscaglia v. United States, 25 F.3d 530, 534 (7th Cir. 1994). The movant in a motion for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by specific citation to the record; if the party succeeds in doing so, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to set forth...

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