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PALAO v. FEL-PRO.

October 20, 2000

DRUCY PALAO, PLAINTIFF,
V.
FEL-PRO., INC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Drucy Palao has brought suit against Fel-Pro, Inc., for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA").

Fel-Pro has moved for summary judgment on Palao's claims. It argues (1) that her ADA claim fails because she was not disabled as the statute defines that term; (2) that her FMLA claim fails because she exceeded the 12 weeks of leave allowed by law (thereby negating Fel-Pro's obligation to rehire her); and (3) that she failed to exhaust administrative remedies with regard to her PDA claim. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees and grants Fel-Pro's motion for summary judgment as to all counts.

Background

Palao began work at Fel-Pro in March of 1987. Fel-Pro manufactured gaskets and sealants in a facility in Skokie, Illinois, where Palao worked as an operator of various machines and as a parts inspector. On December 20, 1997, she was fired. Fel-Pro claims that Palao was fired for failing to return to work after 12 months. Palao claims that Fel-Pro refused to reinstate her in violation of the ADA, FMLA, and PDA because she had become disabled, taken medical leave, and become pregnant.

From 1987 until 1995, Palao worked as a machine operator and inspector, apparently without any physical difficulty. In 1995, Fel-Pro implemented a new management system, referred to as the "cell team concept of production." Under this system, employees rotated through several different positions. It was thought that the cell team concept improved morale by limiting monotony, reduced repetitive stress injuries, and made absences easier to cover. Palao was assigned to the STP cell. The different positions in the STP cell included four machine presses and an inspector position.

In late 1995, Palao's right shoulder began hurting. Her doctor diagnosed partial rotator tendinitis and recommended several restrictions: a 20 pound lifting limitation, limited use of her right arm, and no repetitive use of her right arm. As a result, Fel-Pro accommodated Palao by allowing her to work in the inspector position full-time, without rotating through the other positions. The other members of her cell were therefore unable to rotate through all five positions and were limited to operating the four machine presses.

Palao's shoulder pain required her to undergo surgery, which took place on March 14, 1996. She returned to work approximately eleven weeks later, on June 7, 1996. At that time, her doctor's restrictions were as follows: no lifting of more than 15-20 pounds, no repetitive activity, no overhead work, and no pushing or pulling. Palao returned to work in the inspector-only position within the STP cell.

At some point shortly thereafter, Palao informed Fel-Pro that she was pregnant. Fel-Pro claims that Palao informed the company of this on June 10, 1996, when she asked to have her shifts changed, partly because of sleeping difficulties brought on by pregnancy. Palao claims to have told Fel-Pro prior to June 10, 1996 that she was pregnant and that she would be taking maternity leave beginning sometime in December, 1996.

Palao continued working in the inspector-only position under her doctor's restrictions until August 30, 1996. In early September, Fel-Pro's recruiter, Amy Fox, met with Palao to evaluate her qualifications and skills, apparently as part of an effort to place Palao in another position for which she was qualified. Fel-Pro maintains that the cell team concept involved the phasing out of the inspector-only position that Palao was filling. Palao accepted a temporary position in Quality Assurance with the understanding that it would run until her maternity leave commenced.

On November 26, 1996, Palao's doctor issued a work release stating that Palao's work restrictions were permanent in nature. Palao continued to work in Quality Assurance until December 20, 1996. Afterwards, she was on maternity leave until February 17, 1997. At that time, she attempted to return to work but was informed that there were no available positions for which she was qualified.

Analysis

In considering whether there are genuine issues of material fact for trial, we are required to consider all evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Palao, the non-moving party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In employment discrimination cases such as Palao's, this standard is applied strictly, as these cases often involve credibility ...


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