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DENSON v. VILLAGE OF BRIDGEVIEW

August 24, 1998

ROBERT DENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF BRIDGEVIEW, d/b/a VILLAGE OF BRIDGEVIEW FIRE DEPARTMENT, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAMS

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Plaintiff Robert Denson ("Denson") brings this action against the Village of Bridgeview ("the Village"). Denson alleges that the Village violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), by refusing to hire him because of his alleged disability. Both the Village and Denson move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure solely on the issue of whether Denson is disabled within the meaning of the ADA. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants Denson's motion for summary judgment and denies the Village's motion for summary judgment.

 Background

 The following facts are uncontested. Denson applied for the position of firefighter with the Village in September 1990. The hiring process was conducted by the Village's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners ("the Board"). In April, 1993, Denson learned that he would be the next firefighter the Village hired on the condition that he passed routine medical examinations. (Pl. 12(m) PP 2-3). On April 27, the Village informed Denson by letter that he had unsuccessfully completed the testing process and that the Village had stricken his name from the list of eligible firefighter candidates. (Def. 12(m) P 9). The Village refused to hire Denson as a firefighter because Denson's uncorrected vision did not meet the minimum standards promulgated by the Board's Rules and Regulations, which required that all entry-level firefighters have a minimum of 20/60 uncorrected vision, correctable to 20/25 vision. (Def. 12(m) PP 8, 11). The ophthalmologist's visual examination revealed that Denson was nearsighted with 20/400 uncorrected vision in both eyes. (Def. 12(m) P 6).

 Denson has worn soft contact lenses for over fourteen years, and with these corrective lenses, his vision is 20/20 or better in both eyes. (Denson Aff. P 6). When he wears eyeglasses or contact lenses, Denson can perform manual tasks such as walking, seeing, speaking, learning, and working without limitation or restriction. (Def. 12(m) P 12). However, without glasses or contact lenses, Denson cannot drive, read, use a computer, walk in unfamiliar places, or discern people's faces. (Pl. 12(m) PP 2-3). Denson has been employed by Control Engineering Supply Company, a heating and air-conditioning wholesaler since 1975. During his tenure of employment at Control Engineering Supply Company, Denson's corrected vision has never affected his ability to perform any of his job duties. (Def. 12(m) P 16).

 Analysis

 Both parties now seek summary judgment in their favor on the issue of whether Denson's visual impairment constitutes a disability under the ADA. Summary judgment is proper only "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 the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court will not render summary judgment "if 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 movant bears the initial burden of establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the nonmovant must then set forth specific facts which demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Where the undisputed facts demonstrate that one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment in favor of that party is appropriate. Hong v. Children's Memorial Hosp., 993 F.2d 1257 (7th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).

 I. Procedural Issues

 Before moving to the substantive issues presented by this case, the court must resolve two procedural arguments raised by the Village. The Village first argues that the court should dismiss this case because Denson sued only the Village and not the Board as the defendant in this lawsuit. Under Illinois law, it is the Board, and not the Village, that holds the authority to hire firefighters in the Village of Bridgeview. Thus, according to the Village, the court should dismiss this case because the only defendant in the lawsuit (the Village) did not participate in the decision to reject Denson's job application based on his vision. In response to this argument, Denson filed a motion for leave to add the Board as a defendant in this action. Denson concedes that the Village is not the appropriate defendant in this litigation; however, Denson argues that the court should substitute the Board as the appropriate defendant under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Village, however, insists that Denson cannot add the Board as a defendant because Denson failed to name the Board as a defendant in his EEOC charge.

 If a party is not sued, but had adequate notice that it was subject to suit, then that party may be properly sued even though it was not named in an EEOC charge. Harris v. Stallman Trucking Co., 951 F. Supp. 134, 135-136 (N.D. Ill. 1997). In this case, the Board not only knew about Denson's discrimination allegation, but has played an active role in defending against Denson's claim. For example, the Board received correspondence from the EEOC about Denson's charge, sent correspondence to the EEOC, and received a copy of the EEOC's final determination regarding Denson's disability claim. (Pl. 12(m) P 10). These facts establish that the Board had adequate notice that it was subject to this employment discrimination lawsuit.

 Under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "parties may be dropped or added by order of the court on motion of any party or of its own initiative at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just." Fed. R. Civ. P. 21. This court finds that the Board may be properly added to the lawsuit because the Board knew that it was subject to suit by Denson. Because the Board conducts the examination process for applicants to its municipal fire department, and retains the sole authority to appoint sworn fire personnel without input from the governing body of the municipality, 65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-4, the Board is the proper defendant. Consequently, the Village of Bridgeview may be dropped from the lawsuit. The court therefore grants Denson's motion for leave to add the Board as a party defendant to this lawsuit and dismisses the Village from this action. *fn1"

 The Village next argues that the court should dismiss Denson's claim that he suffers from an "actual disability" because Denson's EEOC charge did not include this allegation. Instead, in his EEOC charge, Denson only alleged that the Village discriminated against him because the Village "regarded" him as having a disability. The Village asserts that since Denson's EEOC charge only alleged that the Village "regarded" him as having a disability, Denson's complaint must be limited to this claim and may not include his claim that he has an "actual disability."

 To bring a claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must first file a charge alleging the unlawful employment practice with the EEOC and receive notice of right to sue. See 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (incorporating 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)-(f)). As a general rule, a plaintiff cannot file claims in a court of law that were not included in the EEOC charge. See, e.g., Cheek v. Western and Southern Life Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1994). However, an ADA plaintiff may bring a claim not included in the EEOC charge, "if there is a reasonable relationship between the allegations in the charge and the claims in the complaint, and the claims in the complaint can reasonably be expected to grow out of an EEOC investigation." Cheek, 31 F.3d at 500. Furthermore, courts consistently apply a liberal reading of EEOC charges. Roesel v. Joliet Wrought Washer Co., 596 F.2d 183, 187 (7th Cir. 1979); Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp., Inc., 538 F.2d 164, 167-69 (7th Cir. 1976).

 The court rejects the Village's argument and finds that Denson is not limited to his "regarded as" claim. Denson's actual impairment claim is reasonably related to his claim that the Village regarded him as disabled because both claims involve allegations of discrimination based on Denson's nearsightedness. The Village relies on Maciejewicz v. Oak Park Pub. Library, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12697, No. 95 C 7119, 1996 WL 501743 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 3, 1996) in support of its argument that Denson's claims are not reasonably related to one another. In Maciejewicz, the court found that claims of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism were not reasonably related. However, Denson's case is clearly distinguishable. Maciejewicz involved claims of two entirely different underlying disabilities -- post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. In contrast, Denson's ...


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