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Stan v. Fancy Colours & Co.

September 15, 1997

MICHAEL D. VAN STAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, CROSS-APPELLANT,

v.

FANCY COLOURS & COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, CROSS-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 94 C 7773 Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Magistrate Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, HARLINGTON WOOD, JR. and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

HARLINGTON WOOD, JR., Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JUNE 3, 1997

DECIDED SEPTEMBER 15, 1997

After Fancy Colours & Company ("Fancy Colours") terminated his employment, Michael D. Van Stan ("Van Stan") sued Fancy Colours contending that it fired him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. sec.sec. 12101 et seq., and that Fancy Colours' conduct in firing him amounted to intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury awarded Van Stan damages of $150,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress but determined that Fancy Colours had not violated the ADA. After the court denied their respective post-trial motions, the parties filed the instant cross-appeals. Fancy Colours claims that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, while Van Stan contends that an evidentiary error warrants a new trial on his ADA claim. We affirm the entry of judgment in favor of Fancy Colours on the ADA claim, but we reverse the entry of judgment against Fancy Colours on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

I. Background

Fancy Colours is a family-owned business that sells paints and related products from 10 stores in the Chicago metropolitan area. In 1986, Van Stan began working in the Fancy Colours' warehouse in Schaumburg, Illinois, and shortly thereafter he became the warehouse manager. In 1991, Van Stan was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. He maintains that he immediately told several Fancy Colours employees including Michael Feltes, Fancy Colours' Executive Vice President and General Manager, about his diagnosis. However, Van Stan did not seek any alteration in his work duties at that time, and his disorder apparently did not affect his job responsibilities or job performance until sometime in 1993 or 1994. Van Stan also suffered a stroke while at the warehouse. He missed eight days of work following the stroke, but the stroke seemingly had no other effect on his work duties or performance.

When the problems between Van Stan and Fancy Colours began to arise is hard to determine with certainty because the parties dispute the events leading up to Van Stan's dismissal. Apparently, however, the trouble began sometime in early 1994. Al Walters, Fancy Colours' Vice President of Operations and Van Stan's immediate supervisor, testified that he spoke with Van Stan about problems with Van Stan's job performance numerous times, particularly in early 1994. For example, he testified that he spoke to Van Stan after the entire warehouse staff complained to him about Van Stan's management style and threatened to quit. In addition, Walters testified that Van Stan committed a serious breach of company policy when he left the office in the middle of the day on May 3, 1994. Walters testified that after Van Stan and Harry Wallace, the manager of the Schaumburg retail store, "engaged in a bit of a shouting match" about whether Van Stan and his crew threw coffee grounds on the walls of the coffee room, Van Stan left the warehouse, placing his keys and pager on his desk. When Walters discovered that Van Stan had left the warehouse, he telephoned Van Stan at home, and Van Stan told him, "I've had it. I'm fed up. I quit."

Walters further testified that about two weeks after the "coffee ground incident," Van Stan showed him a doctor's note recommending that Van Stan's workload be reduced to 50 hours per week. Because he was busy and because he had already decided to fire Van Stan, Walters testified that he merely told Van Stan that he had no problem with the reduced schedule. Within a week of showing Walters the note, Van Stan went on a scheduled vacation, and Walters arranged to have another employee cover for Van Stan. The employee did such a good job cleaning up the warehouse that Walters felt comfortable with his previous decision to fire Van Stan and, consequently, did fire him.

Van Stan, on the other hand, testified that he received nothing but praise for his job performance during his tenure at Fancy Colours. He did not dispute that he left work following the coffee ground incident, but he maintained that it took place in February 1994 and that he did not resign and then agree to return to work as a result of the incident. He also testified that he showed the doctor's note to Feltes, the person at Fancy Colours whom Van Stan had informed of his bipolar disorder.

In any event, both parties agree that Fancy Colours terminated Van Stan's employment shortly after someone at Fancy Colours received the note from Van Stan's doctor. The parties agree that in May 1994, Walters telephoned Van Stan at his home while he was on a scheduled vacation to inform him that Fancy Colours was terminating his employment. When Walters broke the news to Van Stan, Van Stan asked Walters why he was terminating his employment and Walters responded "low productivity" and poor people management skills.

Following his dismissal, Feltes gave Van Stan a letter of recommendation, and Van Stan obtained a job as a warehouse manager at another company. However, Van Stan also filed a charge with the EEOC, contending that Fancy Colours discharged him because he has a bipolar disorder and because he sought a reduced workload to accommodate his disorder. After he received a right-to-sue letter, he filed the instant action contending that Fancy Colours fired him in violation of the ADA and that Fancy Colours' conduct in terminating his employment amounted to intentional infliction of emotional distress. After a jury found in favor of Fancy Colours on the ADA claim but awarded Van Stan damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, both the parties filed post-trial motions. Van Stan filed a motion for a new trial on the ADA claim, while Fancy Colours filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The district court denied both motions, and the parties cross-appealed.

II. Discussion

A. Fancy Colours' ...


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