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MILLER v. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS OF STATE

March 1, 1996

BOBBI MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:

  OPINION

A tragic story.

A car accident left the Plaintiff blind.

Her employment as a correctional officer was terminated.

Unfortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act provides no relief.

I. Background

Bobbi Miller began her employment as a correctional officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections ("DOC") on April 11, 1988. She began her employment at the Lincoln Correctional Center and was subsequently transferred to the Graham Correctional Center.

In June of 1986, Miller was injured in an automobile accident and sustained severe head injuries. In the summer of 1993 — as a result of the head injuries — Miller experienced substantial loss of vision. Consequently, Miller was placed on indefinite medical leave upon the recommendation of Dr. Gary Blackman, an optometrist. In July and August of 1993, and January of 1994, Miller was examined by her treating physician, Dr. David Gelber — a neurologist at, the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Dr. Gelber determined that Miller had approximately 20/800 vision; thus, in the words of Dr. Gelber, she was "essentially blind in both eyes." Dr. Gelber also believed Miller's blindness was permanent.

In the Fall of 1993, Miller expressed an interest in returning to work at the Graham Correctional Center. On March 16, 1994, Miller met with Kenneth P. Dobucki — Warden of the Graham Correctional Center — to discuss the possibility of returning to work at the DOC. After listening to Miller's suggestions, Warden Dobucki expressed concerns about a severely visually impaired individual working in the DOC and stated that he would have to discuss the matter with Central Management.

On March 31, 1994, Miller received a letter from Warden Dobucki notifying her that her request to return to a correctional officer position was denied. Warden Dobucki indicated that a visually impaired correctional officer would pose a threat to the safety and security of the facility. Warden Dobucki noted further that due to her visual impairment, Miller could not perform a substantial or significant portion of her regularly assigned duties as a correctional officer; thus, she was terminated effective April 15, 1994.

In May of 1994, Miller filed a contract grievance with the State of Illinois Department of Central Management Services. The hearing officer found that no contract violation had occurred. That issue is now on its fourth and final appeal.

In August of 1995, Miller initiated the instant case alleging that the DOC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., by refusing to allow her to return to work as a correctional officer.

II. Legal Standard — Summary Judgment

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment shall be granted if the record shows 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." Black v. Henry Pratt Co., 778 F.2d 1278, 1281 (7th Cir. 1985). The moving party has the burden of providing proper documentary evidence to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510-11, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Unquestionably, in determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence is to be taken in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party must come forward with specific evidence, not mere allegations or denials of the pleadings, which demonstrates that there is a genuine issue for trial. Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639 (7th Cir. 1987).

III. Discussion

The Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") prohibits employers from discriminating "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A "qualified individual with a disability" is "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8).

Accordingly, in order to recover under the ADA, the plaintiff must establish three general elements: (1) that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that he is qualified, i.e., he is able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation; and (3) that the employer terminated him because of the disability. White v. York Int'l Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995).

A. A Disabled Individual

Regarding the first element, an individual is "disabled" if he has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A).*fn1 "Major life activities" are those activities that the average person in society can perform with little or no difficulty. Haysman v. Food Lion, Inc., 893 F. Supp. 1092, 1100 (S.D.Ga. 1995). Such activities include functions such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). An individual is "substantially limited" in a "major life activity" if he cannot perform the activity or is "significantly restricted" as to the condition, manner, or duration under which he can perform the activity as compared to the average person in the general population. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1).

Here, Miller essentially is blind in both eyes.*fn2 Thus, she obviously is substantially limited in the major life activity of seeing. Accordingly, Miller has established the first element of an ADA claim — she is disabled for purposes of the ADA.

B. A Qualified Individual

Next, Miller must establish that she is a "qualified individual." To review, in order to be considered a "qualified individual," Miller must show that she can perform the essential functions of the position at issue with or without reasonable accommodation. The position at issue here is that of a correctional officer in the DOC. Accordingly, the next step in the Court's analysis is to determine: (1) the essential functions of the correctional officer position and (2) whether Miller can perform those functions with or without reasonable accommodation.

The "essential functions" are the "fundamental job duties of the employment position" in question. 29 C.F.R. ยง 1630.2(n)(1). In determining what functions are ...


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