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HENDRICKS-ROBINSON v. EXCEL CORP.

August 4, 1997

DONNA HENDRICKS-ROBINSON, PENNY MOORE, TERESA D. WESTLAKE, AND CYNTHIA PETERS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
EXCEL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

An ADA class action.

Cross-motions for summary judgment.

Did Defendant's medical layoff policy violate the ADA?

No.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In June of 1987, the Excel Corporation ("Excel") purchased a pork slaughtering plant in Beardstown, Illinois, from the Oscar Mayer Corporation. Hogs are delivered to the plant where they are slaughtered, processed, and shipped to customers.

Since 1993, Excel has employed between 1,600 and 1,800 employees at its Beardstown plant. The production employees (who comprise approximately 85% of the plant's total labor force) are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 431, AFL-CIO ("Union"). Since 1991, Excel and the Union have maintained two Collective Bargaining Agreements ("CBA") which cover the production employees. The first agreement ran from 1991 to 1994, and the successor agreement runs from 1995 to 1999.

Production work in a meatpacking plant involves hard, heavy, and repetitive work. Accordingly, it is impossible to design meatpacking jobs to suit every individual's needs. Because the plant prepares meat for human consumption, it is subject to stringent sanitation and public health regulations. The work must be performed quickly, precisely, and often under uncomfortable conditions. Additionally, because the work involves butchering, cutting, and packaging the meat of animals of various sizes and shapes, it is impossible to mechanize many aspects of the work. Consequently, meatpacking plants traditionally have experienced higher than average rates of worker injuries. Excel is no exception.

In order to reduce employee injuries, Excel launched a comprehensive Ergonomics and Medical Management Program in 1989. Accordingly, Excel retained the assistance of an ergonomics consulting firm to assist in setting up the program and to provide ergonomics training to its supervisors, medical staff, ergonomics monitors, and certain other employees. As part of this program, Excel's ergonomics team cataloged the physical requirements of each production job at the plant on Medical Management Job Analysis ("MMJA") forms. Excel's nursing staff used the MMJA forms in determining whether a permanently restricted employee could perform the essential functions of a vacant production position. The nursing staff also consulted these MMJA forms in determining whether to place an injured employee on permanent medical layoff status.

Prior to 1991, Excel provided its employees who were injured in the plant with restricted or light duty jobs.*fn1 These light duty jobs were not subject to the bidding procedure outlined in the seniority provision of the CBA. Rather, Excel's light duty jobs could be assigned directly without regard to seniority.

However, in October 1991, Excel changed its policy and no longer assigned permanently restricted employees to light duty positions. Excel's new policy was to reserve the light duty jobs for temporarily restricted employees who would labor in the light duty positions until they were able to return to their former positions. As for employees with permanent medical restrictions, Excel reviewed their restrictions to see if the employee could perform the physical requirements of the job which they had held prior to receiving any medical restriction or if they could perform the essential functions of any other vacant production position in the plant. If they could not, Excel placed these permanently restricted employees on medical layoff status.

Once an injured employee who had been working in a light duty position had reached his maximum medical improvement, Excel's nursing department again met with the injured employee to discuss whether he could return to his former position or to any other vacant production position in the plant. If he could not, the permanently restricted employee was placed on medical layoff.

While on medical layoff, the employee was free to bid on any vacant production and/or non-production position. In addition, Excel automatically bid permanently restricted employees on all vacant production positions. If the permanently restricted employee was the most senior applicant and was able to perform the essential functions of the position, the employee was removed from medical layoff status and was awarded the position.

However, after a permanently restricted employee had been on medical layoff for a period of twelve months, Excel terminated that employee based upon Article XIII, § 7E of the CBA.*fn2 Plaintiffs are all Excel employees at the Beardstown plant who Excel perceives to have permanent medical restrictions and who were placed on medical layoff pursuant to Excel's medical layoff policy regarding permanent restrictions and who have been or will be terminated allegedly pursuant to Article XIII, Section 7E of the CBA. Plaintiffs claim that Excel's medical layoff policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

From the outset, Plaintiffs sought to litigate this case as a class action. Initially, the Court denied Plaintiffs' request to certify the class. However, upon a motion to reconsider, the Court reversed its prior ruling and certified the class. The Court decided to certify the class after Plaintiffs represented to the Court that they were not purporting to support their allegations of discrimination by focusing upon the facts surrounding each Plaintiff's individual claims. Rather, Plaintiffs asserted that they were claiming that Defendant's medical layoff policy itself violated the ADA.

Accordingly, in order for Plaintiffs to succeed as a class, they must show either that "(1) Excel's medical layoff policy on its face is violative of the ADA; or (2) although the policy on its face may not violate the ADA, a common general procedure (i.e., a procedure not apparent on the face of the policy) to its employees is violative of the ADA." Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 164 F.R.D. 667, 670 (C.D.Ill. 1996). Plaintiffs may not rely upon their individualized injuries.

III. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c); see Ruiz-Rivera v. Moyer, 70 F.3d 498, 500-01 (7th Cir. 1995). 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, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must consider the evidence 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 ...


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