Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

WOOTEN v. ACME STEEL CO.

December 12, 1997

ROSCOE WOOTEN, Plaintiff,
v.
ACME STEEL COMPANY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

 This case presents a unique dispute under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12001 et seq. (1994): does an employer's refusal to reinstate an employee who quit during an alleged episode of depression violate the ADA? Plaintiff Roscoe Wooten brings this issue before the Court, claiming, although in a less than clear manner, that defendant Acme's conduct in denying him reinstatement constitutes two types of discrimination under the ADA: (1) a failure to reasonably accommodate Wooten's disabling depression, and (2) disparate treatment. *fn1" See Weigel v. Target Stores, 122 F.3d 461, 464 (7th Cir. 1997). Specifically, Wooten's reasonable accommodation claim alleges that he is entitled to reinstatement as a reasonable accommodation for his depression, and that Acme's refusal to do so discriminated against him because of his disability. His disparate treatment claim alleges that Acme discriminated against him because it previously "disregarded" the resignations of non-disabled employees but refused to do the same for the disabled Wooten.

 Acme has moved to dismiss both claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because Acme's motion attached an affidavit with testimony relating to disparate treatment, we converted Acme's motion to dismiss that claim into a motion for summary judgment and allowed Wooten to conduct expedited discovery, including a deposition of the affiant. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). For the reasons that follow, we grant both motions. *fn2"

 RELEVANT FACTS *fn3"

 Acme hired Wooten in 1986 as a laborer. His job was to operate a machine that cuts steel strapping used in steel bindings. (Am. Comp. P 6.) Wooten was promoted sometime around 1989 to the position of Strapperman, which involved more difficult work with the machinery and commanded a substantially higher wage. (Id.) At some point during his tenure with Acme, Wooten began suffering from manic depression. (Id. P 7.) Although Wooten's depression interferes substantially with many of his major life activities, Wooten still performed his job well. (Id.) He acknowledges, however, that episodes of depression can leave his judgment impaired. (Id.)

 In May 1995, Wooten told his general foreman, Jim Montgomery, that he was suffering from stress and depression. (Id. P 9.) Montgomery directed him to Acme's personnel department for assistance. (Id.) Personnel recommended that Wooten see Barbara Francesconi, a certified counselor, for stress and depression counseling and therapy. (Id. PP 9-10.) After meeting with Wooten several times, Francesconi determined that he was suffering from depression, and requested that Acme permit Wooten to attend more counseling and therapy sessions to help him manage his stress. (Id. P 11.) Acme consented and arranged for additional counseling. (Id.)

 Despite receiving treatment, Wooten's battle with depression continued. During one especially severe depressive episode that occurred on Friday evening, October 23, 1995, Wooten called his foreman and verbally resigned. (Id. P 12.) The following Monday morning, Wooten asked the foreman to disregard his resignation, explaining that it had been tendered during a fit of severe depression. (Id. P 14.) Wooten's foreman referred him to the personnel department. (Id.) Wooten immediately called personnel and explained the situation, requesting, again, that Acme ignore his resignation. (Id. P 15.) But Acme refused. (Id.)

 Wooten then sought help from the United Steel Worker's Union ("USWA"), which directed him to see a psychiatrist for a second opinion on his depression. (Id. P 16.) Wooten took the advice and went to see psychiatrist Jeffrey Ivanoff. (Id.) Dr. Ivanoff agreed with Francesconi's assessment -- he diagnosed Wooten with manic depression. (Id.) Armed with these two opinions, the USWA asked Acme to reinstate Wooten, contending that he had resigned during a severe depressive episode that had impaired his judgment. (Id.) Later, Barbara Francesconi wrote a letter on Wooten's behalf stating that Wooten had resigned during a severe depressive episode when he was "irrational and . . . his judgment was impaired." *fn4" (Id. P 17; Ex. A.) On November 5, 1995, Acme reiterated its decision not to reinstate Wooten. (Id. P 17.)

 Wooten filed a charge with the EEOC and, after receiving a Notice of a Right to Sue, filed this ADA action in federal court. *fn5" (Id. P 18.) We now consider whether Wooten's reasonable accommodation claim states a claim for relief, and whether his disparate treatment claim can survive summary judgment.

 LEGAL STANDARDS

 I. Discrimination Claims Under the ADA

 The ADA gives rise to two distinct categories of disability discrimination claims. One is a claim alleging discrimination "under the specific terms of the statute," including a failure to reasonably accommodate an employee's known disability. Hunt-Golliday v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation Dist., 104 F.3d 1004, 1011 (7th Cir. 1997). The second is a claim for disparate treatment discrimination, i.e., treating a disabled employee differently (than nondisabled employees) because of his disability. Sieberns v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 125 F.3d 1019, 1021 (7th Cir. 1997). Where the two claims diverge is in the method of proof. Disparate treatment can be shown either with direct evidence or indirectly using the McDonnell-Douglas burden shifting approach. *fn6" See Sieberns, 125 F.3d at 1021. But burden-shifting is not an appropriate method of proving a reasonable accommodation claim; its prima facie case simply mirrors the statutory elements. See Bultemeyer v. Fort Wayne Community Sch., 100 F.3d 1281, 1283 (7th Cir. 1996). As we indicated earlier, Wooten asserts claims of both types. We first address his reasonable accommodation claim, the subject of Acme's motion to dismiss.

 II. Motions to Dismiss

 When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, we must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995); Northern Trust Co. v. Peters, 69 F.3d 123, 129 (7th Cir. 1995). A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the suit. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). It will be denied unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle her to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept the truth of conclusory legal allegations, see Baxter v. Vigo County Sch. Corp., 26 F.3d 728, 730 (7th Cir. 1994), and may grant the motion to dismiss if it fails to state a claim for relief, see Corcoran v. Chicago Park Dist., 875 F.2d 609, 611 (7th Cir. 1989). Using these standards, we address the sufficiency of Wooten's reasonable accommodation claim.

 ANALYSIS

 I. Reasonable Accommodation

 The ADA's specific terms prohibit "discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Discrimination is defined, inter alia, as "not making 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 covered entity." Id. § 12112(b)(5)(A). The following establishes a prima facie case under this subsection: "(1) [the employee] is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) [the employee] is qualified, that is, with or without reasonable accommodation (which [he] must describe), [he] is able to perform the essential functions of the job; and (3) [the employee] suffered an adverse employment action because of [his] disability." Garza v. Abbott Labs., 940 F. Supp. 1227, 1235 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (internal quotations and citations omitted); Kelleher v. Solopak Pharm., Inc., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15381, 1997 WL 610779, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 26, 1997). With respect to the third element, the Seventh Circuit interprets the words "because of" to mean that the disability was the sole cause of the adverse employment action. See Despears v. Milwaukee County, 63 F.3d 635, 636 (7th Cir. 1995) (stating and examining the sole causation element); Siefken v. Village of Arlington Heights, 65 F.3d 664, 666 (7th Cir. 1995) (examining the causation element and finding that "but for" causation is not enough under the ADA); Valle v. City of Chicago, 982 F. Supp. 560, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15698, 1997 WL 627642, at *2 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (stating the causation element).

 For purposes of its motion to dismiss the reasonable accommodation claim, Acme does not dispute that Wooten is disabled, or that he is able to perform the essential functions of his job. 100 F.3d at 1284. Acme's attack on the prima facie case is twofold: (1) reinstatement after quitting is not, as a matter of law based on Wooten's allegations, a reasonable accommodation, and (2) Wooten's depression was not the sole cause of the "adverse employment action"-- characterized by both parties as Wooten's act of resignation. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.