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Feliberty v. Kemper Corp.

October 16, 1996




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 94 C 5684 Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

Before CUDAHY, EASTERBROOK, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.



In the course of his employment, Mario Feliberty spent a lot of time typing at a computer keyboard. As a result, he developed carpal tunnel syndrome, which eventually became so severe that it prevented him from typing at all. Feliberty blames his employers for the advanced state of his affliction, contending that his condition deteriorated because they failed to reasonably respond to his request for modifications in his workstation. He believes that this failure constitutes discrimination as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. sec. 12101 et seq., and he brought a lawsuit in the district court, asserting this belief. His employers responded to his allegations with a motion for summary judgment. Pointing to his complaint and to a charge that he had filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they insisted that he had admitted that they had provided him with reasonable accommodations. The district court agreed with the employers and entered summary judgment for them. Because we conclude that the employers' motion did not adequately establish a basis for summary judgment, we reverse the judgment of the district court.


The Kemper Corporation hired Feliberty, a physician, to serve as the Medical Director for some of its constituent entities, the Kemper Life Insurance Companies, the Federal Kemper Life Assurance Companies, the Fidelity Life Association and Kemper Investors Life Insurance Company. As Medical Director, Feliberty facilitated life insurance underwriting by analyzing the medical records of policy applicants. A significant part of this duty involved the review of case files which Kemper stored on computers. According to his own affidavit in the record, Feliberty spent as many as six or eight hours of each day using a computer keyboard.

All of this keyboard use caused numbness and pain in his hands and wrists. On April 21, 1993, Feliberty went to a doctor, who concluded that he suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition arising when swelling around the tendons in the hand compresses the median nerve in the wrist. If unrelieved, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to nerve damage. On the day after this diagnosis, Feliberty asked Kemper to modify the arrangement of his computer and keyboard to accommodate his condition. Unfortunately, the record does not show just what Feliberty asked Kemper to do; nor does the record show precisely what Kemper did in response to this request; but, the record does show that, in late May 1993, Kemper did something. By this time, however, Feliberty's condition had worsened, and the modification that Kemper provided did not relieve his distress. In June 1993, he returned to the doctor who advised him to stop working and to consult a surgeon. Feliberty followed this advice, and during the summer of 1993 he had surgery on both hands. The surgery did not help. By October 1993, a doctor found that he suffered from two of the potential consequences of carpal tunnel syndrome, median neuropathy and a superimposed reflex sympathetic dystrophy. These polysyllabic disorders make the hands feel weak and move involuntarily.

Feliberty did not return to his job at Kemper, nor did he ask for further accommodations of his disability. He did file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 1993, alleging that Kemper violated the ADA by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. In March 1994, Kemper terminated his position because it found that outside physicians retained on contract were adequate replacements for an inside medical director. Six months later, Feliberty initiated a lawsuit in federal court, bringing claims under the ADA and state law. The district court dismissed the state law claims, and Feliberty does not appeal this decision. He does appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment to Kemper on his ADA claim.


When we review a district court's grant of summary judgment, we consider the record according to the same standards employed by the district court. Beck v. University of Wisconsin Bd. of Regents, 75 F.3d 1130, 1134 (7th Cir. 1996). We thus consider all of the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and we draw all reasonable inferences from that evidence in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. Id. Summary judgment is appropriate if the record reflects no genuine issues of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Applying the standard defined in Rule 56 involves, first, identifying the material issues in terms of the applicable substantive law and, second, evaluating the evidence in the record to determine whether disputes about these issues are genuine. These are two distinct legal analyses. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986).

The ADA defines the issues of material fact relevant to Feliberty's claim, and the parties do not dispute what they are. The ADA applies to employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees, which it calls "covered entities." 42 U.S.C. sec. 12111(2). It prohibits these entities from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability, those who can perform the essential functions of the job that they hold or desire, with or without a reasonable accommodation. 42 U.S.C. secs. 12112(a)-(b), 12111(8). The statute specifically defines several forms of discrimination, and Feliberty alleged that Kemper engaged in the kind of discrimination described in sec. 12112(b)(5)(A). That section provides that a covered entity discriminates when it fails to make "reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such a covered entity." In light of these provisions, Feliberty's suit raised two central issues of material fact that were dispositive in the district court: whether he could perform the essential functions of his job with or without a reasonable accommodation, and whether Kemper had provided a reasonable accommodation.

Although they do not disagree about the nature of the relevant issues, Feliberty and Kemper do disagree about whether there is--or can be--a genuine dispute about them. To prevail on its motion for summary judgment, Kemper had the initial responsibility of informing the district court about the basis for its motion and identifying those aspects of the record that demonstrated the absence of a genuine dispute about the material issues. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Feliberty's appeal is based on the argument that Kemper utterly failed to make this identification adequately. He believes that, when considered in the light most favorable to him, the record does reveal material factual disputes. Kemper maintains that it was entitled to summary judgment because Feliberty committed a serious procedural error in responding to its motion. In any ...

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