Jackson v. TSA Processing Chi., Inc.

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation2021 IL App (2d) 200769,193 N.E.3d 349,456 Ill.Dec. 381
Docket Number2-20-0769
Parties Theodore JACKSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. TSA PROCESSING CHICAGO, INC., and Tresten Sneed & Associates, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date23 November 2021

2021 IL App (2d) 200769
193 N.E.3d 349
456 Ill.Dec.
381

Theodore JACKSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
TSA PROCESSING CHICAGO, INC., and Tresten Sneed & Associates, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 2-20-0769

Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District.

Opinion filed November 23, 2021


Kevin J. Kuhn, of Kuhn Firm P.C., of Chicago, for appellant.

Patrick J. Walsh and Scott Drumheller, of Griffin Williams McMahon & Walsh, LLP, of Geneva, for appellees.

JUSTICE HUDSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

193 N.E.3d 352
456 Ill.Dec. 384

¶ 1 I. INTRODUCTION

¶ 2 Plaintiff, Theodore Jackson, appeals an order of the circuit court of Du Page County dismissing his second amended complaint against defendants, TSA Processing Chicago, Inc., and Tresten Sneed & Associates, Inc., alleging that defendants discriminated against him based on his disability in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. (West 2012)). The trial court ruled that plaintiff's complaint was time barred and that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of section 1-103(I) of the Act ( 775 ILCS 5/1-103(I) (West 2012)). The trial court also denied plaintiff's motion to strike defendants’ motion to dismiss for failing to comply with section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) ( 735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2020) ). For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

¶ 3 II. BACKGROUND

¶ 4 As this case comes to us following a motion to dismiss, the majority of the following is derived from the factual allegations set forth in plaintiff's second amended complaint. Defendants hired plaintiff to "operate a metal-cutting machine at [defendants’] plant located in Bensenville, Illinois." Plaintiff suffers from a congenital disability, called ectodermal dysplasia hydrosis. Persons suffering from this condition "have a reduced ability to sweat because they have fewer sweat glands than normal or their sweat glands do not function properly." This can lead to a dangerously high body temperature (hyperthermia ). It can be life threatening. Plaintiff informed defendants prior to July 18, 2013, that he suffered from this condition. Plaintiff was able to perform his job adequately from January 7, 2013, until July 18, 2013. He further alleged that he would have been able to continue doing so if defendants had not fired him.

¶ 5 On July 18, 2013, plaintiff "became overheated due to unusual extreme Summer [sic ] temperatures in the workplace and his inability to sweat." After unsuccessfully attempting to cool himself down, plaintiff asked a plant manager, John Torres, if he could go home early that day. Torres directed plaintiff to wait in the breakroom until plant manager Bobby Medus returned. Plaintiff attempted to comply, but the breakroom was too hot. He attempted to call Medus, but Medus did not answer his phone. Out of concern for his own safety, plaintiff left. Later that day, Torres called plaintiff and informed him that he was fired.

¶ 6 Plaintiff alleged that he was able to perform his job adequately (as shown by his successful performance of it for the six months leading up to July 18, 2013). He further alleged that he was fired in retaliation for asking for the reasonable accommodation of leaving early on one occasion. He would have been able to continue to adequately perform his job if he had not been fired. Moreover, "Defendants had a practice of allowing other, non-disabled, employees who were injured or ill to leave work early but refused to extend this courtesy to [plaintiff] because of, and despite, his disability."

¶ 7 Plaintiff's complaint also states that he timely filed a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department) on August 27, 2013. On January 12,

193 N.E.3d 353
456 Ill.Dec. 385

2018, the Department dismissed plaintiff's charge for lack of substantial evidence. Plaintiff appealed to the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission), and the Commission vacated the Department's dismissal and remanded the case to the Department for a finding of substantial evidence. The Department issued a "Notice of Substantial Evidence" (the original notice) on December 31, 2018, and mailed the notice to plaintiff the same day"; however, the notice was incorrectly addressed, as it was sent to his previous address. Plaintiff alleged that he did not receive the notice at that time. Plaintiff alleged "on information and belief" that he had notified the Department of his change of address and that the Department "possessed the information necessary to contact him." On May 6, 2019, the Department issued a correctly addressed "Amended Notice of Substantial Evidence" (amended notice), which informed plaintiff that he had a right to institute a civil action within 90 days. Plaintiff received it shortly thereafter, and he filed the instant action on July 22, 2019.

¶ 8 Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint in accordance with section 2-619.1 of the Code (id. ). In this motion, defendants asserted that plaintiff's claim was time barred, as plaintiff failed to file his complaint within 90 days of the Department's December 31, 2018, finding of substantial evidence. Defendants further argued that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of section 1-103(I) of the Act ( 775 ILCS 5/1-103(I) (West 2012)). Plaintiff moved to strike the motion for failing to comply with section 2-619.1 in that the various arguments advanced by defendant were not clearly labelled as to whether they were based on section 2-615 or section 2-619 ( 735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619 (West 2020)). The trial court found that, while plaintiff was correct, defendants’ omission did not prevent it from understanding defendants’ motion, and it therefore denied plaintiff's motion to strike.

¶ 9 Regarding defendants’ motion to dismiss, the trial court agreed with both arguments and dismissed plaintiff's second amended complaint with prejudice. The trial court first addressed defendants’ timeliness argument. It first noted that, under the Act, a plaintiff must file an action within 90 days of receiving a notice of substantial evidence. By administrative regulation, receipt is presumed five days after the Department mails the notice. The court noted plaintiff's claim that he did not receive the notice (plaintiff and his attorney submitted affidavits to substantiate this claim, including supporting documentation). However, it found that there was no evidence that plaintiff provided the Department with his new address. The court held that the presumption of receipt was rebuttable but that plaintiff's mere assertion that he did not receive the original notice failed to rebut the presumption.

¶ 10 As for defendants’ argument that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act, the trial court first noted that it was clear that plaintiff had a disability and that he suffered an adverse employment action. However, the Act requires that his disability be unrelated to his ability to perform his job. The trial court found that, to qualify for protection under the Act, plaintiff's disability would have to not affect plaintiff's ability to perform his job. According to the trial court, plaintiff's job included working in July. It stated, "[E]xtraordinary [sic ] hot days in July are not uncommon around here or August for that matter." The trial court added, "[H]e can't perform the job if he can't work in July in the hot weather." The trial court then granted defendants’ motion to dismiss. Plaintiff now appeals.

193 N.E.3d 354
456 Ill.Dec. 386

¶ 11 III. ANALYSIS

¶ 12 On appeal, plaintiff raises two main issues. First, he asserts that the trial court erred in finding his claim time-barred. Second, he argues that the trial court incorrectly determined that he was not disabled within the meaning of section 1-103(I) of the Act ( 775 ILCS 5/1-103(I) (West 2012)). We agree with both contentions.

¶ 13 In addition, plaintiff asserts that the trial court should have stricken defendants’ motion to dismiss for failing to comply with section 2-619.1 of the Code ( 735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2020) ). Given our resolution of the first two issues, we need not address this one; though, we do agree with the trial court that defendants’ omission was not significant enough to hinder an understanding of defendants’ motion. We now turn to plaintiff's main arguments.

¶ 14 A. Timeliness

¶ 15 As this first issue concerns the timeliness of plaintiff's complaint, section 2-619 of the Code governs. See id. § 2-619. For the purpose of resolving a motion under this section, the moving party admits the sufficiency of the complaint and asserts affirmative matter to defeat the plaintiff's claim. Martinez v. Cook County Sheriff's Office , 2017 IL App (3d) 160514, ¶ 15, 418 Ill.Dec. 161, 89 N.E.3d 995. In ruling on such a motion, a court must construe pleadings and other supporting documents in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Id. We review de novo a dismissal pursuant to section 2-619. Van Meter v. Darien Park District , 207 Ill. 2d 359, 368, 278 Ill.Dec. 555, 799 N.E.2d 273 (2003). "W...

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