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ERJAVAC v. HOLY FAMILY HEALTH PLUS

July 13, 1998

SANDRA J. ERJAVAC, Plaintiff,
v.
HOLY FAMILY HEALTH PLUS, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Plaintiff Sandra J. Erjavac is suing defendant Holy Family Health Plus under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., for disability discrimination. Erjavac, who worked for Health Plus as a managed care specialist, alleges that Health Plus failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her diabetes, subjected her to a hostile work environment, and constructively discharged her. Health Plus' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 is currently before this Court. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

 RELEVANT FACTS

 We begin by presenting the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. *fn1" Sandra J. Erjavac has insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Def.'s Facts P 2. As a result, Erjavac is required to monitor her blood sugar levels constantly and give herself insulin injections multiple times a day. Id. P 52; Pl.'s Facts P 52. Erjavac must also follow a strict diet in order to control the disease. Def.'s Facts P 52; Pl.'s Facts P 52. In addition to having diabetes, Erjavac suffers from bulimia and depression. Def.'s Facts PP 3, 57, 60. Erjavac takes medication and has received psychological counseling for her depression for the past ten years. *fn2" Id. PP 3, 57, 61.

 In August or September 1995, Erjavac submitted a job application to the Human Resources Department of Holy Family Medical Center ("Holy Family"). Id. P 10. Holy Family Health Plus ("Health Plus"), a subsidiary of Holy Family, contacted Erjavac about interviewing for a managed care specialist position. Id. P 11. The job description included physician credentialing and general office support, such as answering telephones and performing clerical work. Id. P 13.

 Three managers, Susan Natker (Executive Director), Cleopatra Smyrniotes (Utilization Manager), and Kate McMahon (Operations Manager), interviewed Erjavac for the position. Id. PP 11, 12. Health Plus later contacted Erjavac for a second interview and subsequently offered her the managed care specialist position. Id. P 14.

 A post-offer physical examination revealed Erjavac's diabetes. Id. P 15. Erjavac asked the occupational health nurse not to disclose her diabetes to the department. Pl.'s Facts P 15. Erjavac claims that she requested confidentiality because she was concerned about Natker's response to her general question about health care benefits during one of the interviews. Id. Natker allegedly responded: "Why? Are you sick?" Id. Natker then laughed and said, "Oh, I'm not supposed to ask that." Id. Erjavac nonetheless admits that her diabetes did not serve as a barrier to her employment. Def.'s Facts P 15; Pl.s Facts P 15.

 Erjavac began working at Health Plus in September 1995. She shared an office with another managed care specialist, Maria Velarde, in a converted patient room containing two desks and a bathroom. Def.'s Facts P 16. Erjavac's position initially involved physician credentialing, taking minutes at meetings, typing correspondence, and sorting mail. Id. P 17. Erjavac and Velarde also answered the sixty to eighty telephone calls coming into the office each day. Id. P 18.

 At the outset of her employment, Erjavac's supervisors told her that employees could not leave the work area unless someone covered the telephones. Id. P 19. This policy existed before Erjavac's arrival and applied to both Erjavac and Velarde. Id. PP 19, 23. In February 1996, Erjavac first disclosed her diabetes to her supervisors. She expressed that she needed greater access to the bathroom than the current policy allowed. Id. P 22.

 Before disclosing her diabetes, Erjavac testified that if she needed to use the restroom when Velarde was unavailable, she could ask anyone to cover the telephones except Paula McNutt. Pl.'s Facts P 23. After the disclosure, however, Erjavac claims that the telephone policy became more stringent. Id. Erjavac's supervisors told her that if she needed to use the restroom when Velarde was unavailable, she could ask only one of three supervisors to cover the telephones. Def.'s Facts P 23; Pl.'s Facts P 23.

 This more stringent policy put even greater restrictions on Erjavac's access to the bathroom. As a result, Erjavac claims that on one occasion she ended up soiling her pants when McMahon refused to cover the telephones in Velarde's absence. Pl.'s Facts P 23. Additionally, Erjavac states that when she asked a co-worker instead of a supervisor to cover the telephones, that co-worker was reprimanded. Id.

 On March 28, 1996, approximately one month after she revealed her diabetic condition, Erjavac received a favorable performance review. Def.'s Facts P 24. Erjavac received another favorable review on July 16, 1996, which resulted in a salary increase. Id. P 26. Erjavac did not consider the March and July reviews to be discriminatory or harassing. Id. P 27.

 In September 1996, Health Plus began a reengineering process that eliminated approximately 100 positions and restructured many employees' job functions. Id. P 28. Around the same time, Erjavac resigned from her position in the hopes of pursuing another job. Id. P 30. At her going-away party in October, however, Erjavac approached Natker, Smyrniotes, and McMahon and asked if she could rescind her resignation. Id. P 31. Without hesitation, Natker allowed her to do so. Id. Erjavac agreed to accept the changes resulting from the reengineering, including working in a new office, which contained four desks and a bathroom. Id. PP 29, 33. At the time Erjavac rescinded her resignation, she also told her supervisors about her problems with bulimia and depression, and explained that she needed additional time off work. Id. P 34. Natker responded that this would be no problem. Id.

 On December 5, 1996, Erjavac received a performance review from McMahon, who by that time had replaced Natker as Executive Director. Id. PP 38, 39. Erjavac met with McMahon and Smymiotes to discuss the review. Pl.'s Facts P 39. Erjavac scored a 43.21, indicating that she was meeting expectations overall. Def.'s Resp. P 39. But Erjavac characterized the review as unfair. Def.'s Facts P 38. Specifically, Erjavac was dismayed that the review criticized her for taking previously approved time off from work. Pl.'s Facts PP 35, 36. Despite this criticism, McMahon recommended a salary increase. Def.'s Facts P 40.

 During the meeting, Erjavac raised her need for better access to the bathroom, and asked for more flexibility as to whom she could ask to cover the telephones. Pl.'s Facts P 39. McMahon allegedly refused to relax the telephone policy, responding, "if you don't like my rules, there's the door." Id. PP 39, 68.

 Erjavac left Health Plus after receiving this review. Def.'s Facts P 41. Health Plus did not fire or discipline her; rather, Erjavac says she quit because McMahon refused to relax the telephone policy. Id. P 41; Pl.'s Facts P 41.

 After she left Health Plus, Erjavac filed a timely charge of disability discrimination with the EEOC. She received a Notice of Right to Sue, and then filed suit in this Court under the ADA. Erjavac alleges that Health Plus violated the ADA in three ways: (1) refusing to accommodate Erjavac's diabetes by rejecting her requests for better access to a restroom; (2) subjecting Erjavac to a hostile work environment based on her disability through various actions; and (3) constructively discharging Erjavac by insisting on strict adherence to the telephone policy. We now evaluate these claims under well-established summary judgment standards.

 SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

 Summary judgment is proper when the record shows 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. P. 56(c); Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Flanders Elec. Motor Serv., Inc., 40 F.3d 146, 150 (7th Cir. 1994). A genuine issue for trial exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The court must view all the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the nonmovant's favor. Cincinnati Ins., 40 F.3d at 150; Wolf v. Buss America, Inc., 77 F.3d 914, 918 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 136 L. Ed. 2d 116, 117 S. Ct. 175 (1996). But if the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, or just raises "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 261; Unterreiner v. Volkswagen, Inc., 8 F.3d 1206, 1212 (7th Cir. 1993).

 The court's sole function is to decide whether sufficient evidence exists to support a verdict in the nonmovant's favor. Credibility determinations, weighing evidence, and drawing reasonable inferences are jury functions, not those of a judge deciding a motion for summary judgment. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. This standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where issues of intent and credibility often dominate. Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993).

 ANALYSIS

 I. Disability Discrimination

 The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability because of that disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). A "qualified individual with a disability" is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job that the individual holds or desires. Id. § 12111(8). Health Plus maintains that it is entitled to summary judgment on Erjavac's reasonable accommodation claim because Erjavac is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA and, assuming arguendo that she is disabled, Health Plus provided her a reasonable accommodation.

 A. Erjavac Is Disabled

 To receive the ADA's protections, Erjavac must first show that she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA. See Roth v. Lutheran Gen. Hosp., 57 F.3d 1446, 1454 (7th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). The ADA defines disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities" of an individual. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). Whether a person is disabled is an individualized inquiry, determined on a case-by-case basis. Roth, 57 F.3d at 1454 (citing Byrne v. Board of Educ., 979 F.2d 560, 564 (7th Cir. 1992)). The Supreme Court recently interpreted the ADA's statutory language to hold that a woman's HIV infection constituted a disability under the ADA. Bragdon v. Abbott, 118 S. Ct. 2196, 141 L. Ed. 2d 540, 1998 U.S. LEXIS 4212, 1998 WL 332958, at *5 (1998). The Court broke down the statutory language into the following analysis:

 
First, we consider whether respondent's HIV infection was a physical impairment. Second, we identify the life activity upon which respondent relies (reproduction and child bearing) and determine whether it constitutes a major life activity under the ADA. Third, tying the two statutory phrases together, ...

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