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LANGFORD v. COUNTY OF COOK

May 8, 1997

MICHELLE LANGFORD, VICTORIA RUTHERFORD, and JOYCE SIMMONS, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE COUNTY OF COOK and SABRINA ALLEN, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

 Plaintiffs Michelle Langford, Victoria Rutherford and Joyce Simmons bring various claims stemming from the abrupt termination of their employment against defendants Sabrina Allen, their former supervisor, and the County of Cook, which operates the hospital where they worked. Their suit includes federal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12112 (Count II), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of their Fourteenth Amendment rights (Counts III-V); and state law claims for retaliatory discharge (Counts I and VI) and breach of contract (Count VII). The defendants have moved for dismissal of all counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

 RELEVANT FACTS

 The following facts are drawn from the allegations of the complaint, which we take as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss. Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 322 (7th Cir. 1996). The plaintiffs, Langford, Rutherford, and Simmons, all worked for Provident Hospital, which is owned and operated by defendant Cook County, at various times between 1993 and early 1996. Their supervisor was defendant Sabrina Allen, the Director of Information Systems for Provident.

 Langford was hired in August, 1993. At some point thereafter, she alleges that Allen began to harass her. In February, 1995, Langford filed a worker's compensation claim for mental injury related to the stress she was encountering on the job. In September, 1995, Langford took disability leave and filed a claim for disability benefits. Langford's doctor approved her return to work in January, 1996, with the condition that she not work under Allen. Provident did not place her in any other position or permit her to return to work. In April, 1996, Langford was expressly fired.

 Rutherford was hired in May, 1993. She, too, alleges that at an unspecified point Allen begin to harass her unjustifiably. In September, 1995, Rutherford filed a claim for disability benefits and took disability leave. Her doctor permitted her to return to work in December, 1995, so long as she did not work under Allen. Nevertheless, Rutherford was not reassigned and was eventually notified in May, 1996 that she had been terminated. Rutherford and Langford received right-to-sue letters from the EEOC on May 21, 1996.

 Simmons was hired in June, 1995. Her job responsibilities included data processing and troubleshooting software and hardware problems. Soon after she was hired, she raised questions about the legality of Provident's use of bootlegged or pirated software. After raising these questions, Simmons was unjustifiably harassed by Allen. As a result of the stress caused by this harassment, Simmons filed a worker's compensation claim for mental injury and took disability leave in July, 1995. In October, her doctor approved her return to work so long as the work was limited to light duty. Simmons alleges that thereafter Provident and Allen took away her job responsibilities. She was fired on December 1, 1995.

 All of the plaintiffs make substantially similar allegations regarding the nature of their employment relation with Provident. The plaintiffs allege that their employment contracts were partly written and partly oral, and that they were "modified by Provident's policies, procedures and actions" over time. The contracts were not for at-will employment, but rather expressly provided that any discipline, up to and including discharge, must be imposed in a progressive stages, and must be for just cause. Moreover, the contracts provided that the plaintiffs would be employed by Provident so long as they performed reasonably and satisfactorily, and the plaintiffs received specific assurances to the same effect. Each of the plaintiffs alleges that she nevertheless was terminated without just cause.

 The plaintiffs filed separate suits, which were consolidated by this Court. The defendants have moved to dismiss all claims.

 LEGAL STANDARDS

 A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the suit. Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 1989). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court views all facts alleged in the complaint, as well as any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 322 (7th Cir. 1996). "[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim which would entitle [her] to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). The complaint need not identify a legal theory, and even "specifying an incorrect theory is not fatal." Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992). The only question is "whether relief is possible under any set of facts that could be established consistent with the allegations." Id. (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. at 45-46).

 ANALYSIS

 We first review plaintiffs Langford's and Rutherford's ADA claims (Count II). We then take up the plaintiffs' various § 1983 claims, which include due process claims against defendant Allen (Count III) and defendant Cook County (Count IV), and equal protection claims against Allen (Count V). Last, we examine the plaintiffs' state law claims for retaliatory discharge (Counts I and VI) and breach of contract (Count VII).

 Count II: Discrimination under the American with Disabilities Act

 Count II, directed only to defendant Cook County, alleges that the terminations of Langford and Rutherford constituted discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Langford and Rutherford allege that they both had a known disability and were qualified to perform their positions with reasonable accommodations. The defendants argue that the plaintiffs have not alleged that they are disabled within the meaning of the ADA.

 The ADA makes it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability . . . in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). To prevail on a claim for disability discrimination, the plaintiff must establish "(1) that she is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that she is qualified, that is with or without reasonable accommodation (which she must describe), she is able to perform the essential functions of the job; and (3) that she suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability." Weiler v. Household Fin. Corp., 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10566, No. 93 C 6454, 1995 WL 452977 at *3, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10566 at *7-8 (N.D. Ill. July 27, 1995), aff'd, 101 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 1996); see also Byrne v. Board of Educ., 979 F.2d 560, 563 (7th Cir. 1992).

 Rutherford and Langford allege in general terms all the requirements of disability discrimination under the ADA. More specifically, they allege that the nature of their disability is that they suffer from a stress related disability that limits their ability to work under a specific supervisor, defendant Allen. These more specific allegations regarding their claimed disability override their general allegations and support the defendants' argument that the "disability" they describe is not a disability covered by the ADA. Plaintiffs usually need not plead specific facts under the notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). However, "if a plaintiff does plead particulars, and they show that [she] has no claim," then she has pled herself out of court. Thomas v. Farley, 31 F.3d 557, 558 (7th Cir. 1994).

 A plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the ADA if she has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of [her] major life activities." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). The defendants argue that Rutherford and Langford have failed to allege that their mental impairment "substantially limits one or more or [their] major life activities." The term "major life activities" is not defined by the ADA. Instead, courts look to the definition of this term provided in the regulations issued to implement Title 1 of the ADA, 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630, which in turn refer to the Rehabilitation Act regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 104. See Bolton v. Scrivner, Inc., 36 F.3d 939, 942 (10th Cir. 1994). The Rehabilitation Act regulations define "major life activities" to include:

 
caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. This list is not exhaustive. For example, other major life activities include, but are not limited to, sitting, standing, lifting, reaching.

 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app., § 1630.2(i).

 The plaintiffs allege that they were able to work but only under a different supervisor. The Seventh Circuit has held, however, that this type of restriction does not "substantially limit" the "major life activity" of work. "The major life activity of working is not 'substantially limited' if a plaintiff merely cannot work under a certain supervisor because of anxiety and stress . . . ." Weiler v. Household Fin. Corp., 101 F.3d 519, 524 (7th Cir. 1996); see also Palmer v. Circuit Court, 905 F. Supp. 499, 507 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA because she had a personality conflict with supervisor that caused her to suffer severe anxiety and depression). The complaint does not allege that they are disabled from any ...


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