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SEISSER v. PLATZ FLOWERS AND SUPPLY

May 9, 2000

MARY L. SEISSER, PLAINTIFF,
V.
PLATZ FLOWERS AND SUPPLY, INC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Mary Seisser ("Seisser") has sued her ex-employer Platz Flowers and Supply, Inc. ("Platz"), claiming that she was discharged or "constructively discharged"*fn1 because of her poor vision in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12101 to 12117).*fn2 Platz has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56. Both sides have complied with this District Court's LR 56.1,*fn3 and Platz's motion is now fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons set out in this memorandum opinion and order, the motion is denied.

Summary Judgment Standards

Familiar Rule 56 principles impose on Platz 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)). As Pipitone v. United States, 180 F.3d 859, 861 (7th Cir. 1999) has more recently quoted from Roger v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 21 F.3d 146, 149 (7th Cir. 1994):

A genuine issue for trial exists only when a reasonable jury could find for the party opposing the motion based on the record as a whole.

That "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)). However, neither "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties" (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)) nor the existence of "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" (Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)) will defeat a summary judgment motion.

What follows in the Facts section (and in any later factual discussion) is culled from the parties' submissions. And as with every summary judgment motion, this Court accepts nonmovant Seisser's version of any disputed facts where it is arguably supported by the record.

Facts

Seisser was hired by Craig Thoren ("Thoren") to work for Platz in 1978 (S.Resp. ¶ 1). In 1985 Seisser followed Thoren from Elgin to Morton Grove, Illinois when he was promoted to General Manager (id. ¶ 2). While she initially acted as an "office supervisor," in 1991 Seisser became Thoren's assistant (Seisser Dep. 12-13). As such, her duties related to "insurance benefits, collections, accounts receivable, writing promissory notes, [and] doing any of the special projects that [Thoren] needed done" (id. 13).

In 1995 Thoren became Platz' CEO (S.Resp. ¶ 2). In that same year Seisser had a toe and part of her foot amputated as a result of an injury (S.St. ¶ 4). That procedure also revealed a heart problem that necessitated heart surgery as well (id. ¶ 5). Undiagnosed diabetes was the cause of both the heart problem (P. St. ¶ 7) and Seisser's subsequently impaired vision (Seisser Aff. ¶ 5). During that period Platz and Thoren adequately accommodated Seisser's health problems.*fn4

By October 1995 Seisser's vision problems had made work difficult for her (S.St. ¶ 7), and her eyesight ultimately deteriorated to a point where she was legally blind (P. St. ¶ 8).*fn5 Platz reimbursed Seisser for her purchase of a magnifying screen for her computer and later purchased her a larger computer monitor (S.Resp. ¶ 19). While Seisser was again working full time by January 1996 (Seisser Dep. 33), a portion of her duties were then performed by Thoren (P. St. ¶¶ 21-23). In that same month Seisser asked Thoren to have the Department of Rehabilitative Services ("DORS") evaluate her disability and her duties to determine what if anything could be done to assist her. Thoren's response "was a flat outright no" (Seisser Dep. 62).*fn6

In May 1996 Seisser again asked that Thoren allow DORS or some other agency to evaluate her situation and make recommendations (S.St. ¶ 12). Seisser says that Thoren again responded negatively, stating that a government agency might require wheelchair ramps or aisles to be widened (id.). Thoren asserts, however, that he agreed to Seisser's second request (P. Resp. ¶ 13).*fn7 But the fact is that no agency ever did an evaluation, and Thoren never raised the subject with Seisser again (Thoren Dep. 62). Seisser also asked Thoren whether certain computer reports that Seisser dealt with could be drawn from the beginning of the print run so that the text would be darker. Thoren said "no," stating "that would be asking somebody to do something out of the ordinary" (S.St. ¶ 13).*fn8

Thoren testified that Seisser's poor eyesight resulted in performance problems. For example, she misfiled items, injected typographical errors into correspondence and miscoded bills (Thoren Dep. 35, 36-37, 39).*fn9 Thoren also said that Seisser suffered from a "general slowing in what she was able to do before" (id. 35). For her part Seisser said that her vision problems "prevent[ed][her] from performing certain tasks" (Seisser Dep. 90), but even though she admitted making more mistakes than before, she estimated that she "could perform 80 to 90 percent of [her] job functions" (id. 94).

On October 31, 1997 Thoren initiated a conversation with Seisser to discuss her future with Platz (S.St. ¶ 14). Thoren told Seisser "I want you to take an early retirement" (id. ¶ 15). When asked by Seisser if there were any other options, Thoren said "no" (id. ¶ 16).*fn10 Seisser believed that ...


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