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KORZENIOWSKI v. ABF FREIGHT SYSTEMS

March 17, 1999

MICHAEL KORZENIOWSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ABF FREIGHT SYSTEMS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Michael Korzeniowski ("Korzeniowski") has sued ABF Freight Systems, Inc. ("ABF"), asserting that ABF violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA," 42 U.S.C. § 12101-12117*fn1) by discriminating against him because of his arteriosclerotic heart disease. Korzeniowski brought additional claims of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA," 29 U.S.C. § 621-634) and intentional infliction of emotional distress, an Illinois common law claim over which this Court has 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) supplemental jurisdiction.

ABF now moves for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56. Both sides have complied with this District Court's General Rule ("GR") 12(M) and 12(N),*fn2 and the motion is fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons set out in this memorandum opinion and order, ABF's motion is granted and this action is dismissed.

Summary Judgment Standards

Familiar Rule 56 principles impose on ABF the burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). For that purpose this Court must "read[] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," although it "is not required to draw unreasonable inferences from the evidence" (St. Louis N. Joint Venture v. P & L Enters., Inc., 116 F.3d 262, 265 n. 2 (7th Cir. 1997)). While "this general standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent is inevitably the central issue" (McCoy v. WGN Continental Broad. Co., 957 F.2d 368, 370-71 (7th Cir. 1992)), that does not negate the potential for summary judgment in cases where a movant plainly satisfies the Rule 56 standards (Washington v. Lake County, 969 F.2d 250, 254 (7th Cir. 1992)). In those terms summary judgment is appropriate if the record reveals that no reasonable jury could conclude that Korzeniowski was treated in a statutorily prohibited discriminatory fashion (see Fuka v. Thomson Consumer Elecs., 82 F.3d 1397, 1402 (7th Cir. 1996) and cases cited there).

As with every summary judgment motion, this Court accepts nonmovant Korzeniowski's version of any disputed facts. What follows in the Facts section (and in later factual discussion) is culled from the parties' submissions, with any differences between them resolved in Korzeniowski's favor. Other relevant facts, which fit somewhat better into the substantive legal discussion, will be set out later in this opinion.

Facts

Korzeniowski worked as a linehaul supervisor for freight carrier ABF from September 25, 1995 until he was fired on August 6, 1997 (A.12(M) ¶ 4). Before his discharge Korzeniowski took a medical leave of absence from October 28, 1996 to January 27, 1997 to undergo leg surgery on a blocked femoral artery (id. ¶ 17). When he returned to work (without any restrictions), his ability to act as a linehaul supervisor was unaffected (id. ¶ 18). At the same time, Korzeniowski still had cardiovascular heart disease and high blood pressure, for which he took medication, and he has experienced some dizziness and some leg pain (K.12(N) ¶ 19).

On June 16, 1997 Korzeniowski saw his cardiologist, Dr. Surendra Avula. Korzeniowski testified that Dr. Avula then advised him to maintain a "set schedule" so as faithfully to follow his diet and medication schedule (A.12(M) ¶ 20). But neither Dr. Avula nor any other doctor has then or ever placed Korzeniowski under any work-related medical restrictions (id. ¶ 22).

After Dr. Avula advised Korzeniowski to maintain a set schedule, Korzeniowski asked Manager of Linehaul Operations Mike Brinker ("Brinker") to remove him from the rotating shift schedule. Brinker complied with Korzeniowski's request, placing him on his preferred day-shift-only schedule,*fn3 despite the fact that Korzeniowski never provided any medical documentation of his need to work a non-rotating schedule (id. ¶¶ 23-25).

On August 6, 1997 linehaul supervisor Jim Fisher ("Fisher") missed his road side day shift due to a family emergency (id. ¶ 27). To solve the scheduling problem, Brinker had called Korzeniowski the evening before to ask if he would work the night shift. When Korzeniowski said he preferred not to, Brinker kept him on the day shift but assigned him to the road side position instead of his normal shuttle side position. Brinker based that decision on the fact that Korzeniowski had previously worked as a road side linehaul manager for ABF, while the other linehaul supervisor available that day was new and had no road side dispatching experience (id. ¶ 29).

At about 5:00 a.m. August 6, Brinker called shuttle linehaul supervisor Douglas Allen ("Allen") and asked him to tell Korzeniowski about his assignment and to tell him that Brinker would be in early to help him work road side (id. ¶ 30). Korzeniowski arrived shortly after that call, and Allen told him of his change in assignment (id. ¶ 31). According to ABF, Korzeniowski became upset and said that he was not going to work the road side shift (id. ¶ 32). However, Korzeniowski says (and this Court therefore credits) that he never told anyone he would not work the road side position (K.12(N) ¶ 32).

Korzeniowski then approached Scott Mayberry ("Mayberry"), the supervisor whom he was supposed to relieve on the road side shift. While Mayberry was finishing up, Korzeniowski told Mayberry that he wasn't feeling well. At about 6:15 a.m. he left work without first seeking the approval of a superior management employee (A.12(m) ¶ 33). Korzeniowski testified that he drove to Christ Hospital, calling his wife from his car phone on the way and telling her to meet him there. He told her he was experiencing chest pains and tingling in one arm (K.Dep.105-06).

Mayberry testified that he did not believe Korzeniowski was sick, but that he left work because he was angry about being assigned to the road side. Those beliefs were based in part on an earlier conversation when Korzeniowski told Mayberry that he would quit if ABF ever assigned him to work road side again. Mayberry also testified that Korzeniowski did not appear ill and did not say why he felt sick (A.12(M) ¶ 34).*fn4 In fact Korzeniowski never told anyone at ABF that he was having chest pains or that he was leaving to go to the hospital, nor did he call an ambulance or ask anyone to drive him to the hospital (id. ¶ 35).

When Brinker arrived at ABF at 7:15 a.m., Mayberry told him that Korzeniowski had left work after becoming upset about his assignment. Mayberry also informed Brinker that Korzeniowski claimed to feel ill, but that Mayberry did not believe him (id. ¶ 39). Brinker then called Allen at home to investigate further. Allen told him that Korzeniowski was very upset about being assigned to road side, so that he refused to fill that position and then left work (id. ¶ 40). As noted earlier, Korzeniowski contests that version of events — and in that respect this opinion credits the ABF people's account of their conversations, though it does not credit their characterization of Korzeniowski's reason for leaving (which is what he really disputes).*fn5

Brinker testified that he believed Korzeniowski's actions constituted job abandonment. He called Director of Transportation Columbus Dalmut ("Dalmut") and Director of Personnel Dan Griesse ("Griesse"), both of whom agreed that Korzeniowski should be fired for job abandonment (id. ¶¶ 41-45).

After the decision to terminate Korzeniowski had been made, Korzeniowski's wife called Brinker and said her husband was in the emergency room with chest pains. Brinker, Dalmut and Griesse testified that the information did not change their belief that Korzeniowski had abandoned his job. They felt he was simply trying to cover up his decision to abandon his job (id. ¶¶ 47-48). On August 7, 1997 Brinker sent Korzeniowski a letter stating that his employment had been terminated for job abandonment (id. ¶ 49).

ADA Claim

ADA ยง 12112(a) ...


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