The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, Senior District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Franklin Cross ("Cross") has filed a three-count Complaint against his
former employer Ryder Integrated Logistics ("Ryder"), claiming that Ryder
terminated him unlawfully from his truck driver job with the company.
Cross alleges that Ryder terminated him (1) because he was disabled in
violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA,"
42 U.S.C. § 12101-12117), (2) because of his race in violation of
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000e to
2000e-17)*fn1 and (3) in retaliation for having filed a workers'
compensation claim in violation of Illinois law (820 ILCS 305/4(h)).
Ryder has moved for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56, and
both sides have complied with this District Court's LR 56.1.*fn2 For the
reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, Ryder's motion is
granted and this action is dismissed in its entirety.
Summary Judgment Standards
Familiar Rule 56 principles impose on Ryder the burden of establishing
the lack of a genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrelt,
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 Verdure c. P & L
Erders., 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.
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.
Ryder provides outsourced distribution functions for companies (R. St.
¶ 5). Cross, an African-American male, began his truck driver
employment with Ryder on June 11, 1995 (R. St. ¶¶ 4, 6),*fn3 with
Ryder Operations Manager Joe Lassa ("Lassa," who is white) having
actively recruited him from a company that contracted to provide drivers
to Ryder — indeed, Ryder had to pay that company a $1,500 fee to
hire Cross away to handle the same account that he had serviced as a
contract driver (R. St. ¶¶ 8-11). On September 1, while on duty
unloading a truck in Kansas City, Missouri, Cross felt a snap in his back
and neck (R. St. ¶ 13). Although Cross was able to complete his run,
he continued to experience back and neck pain when he returned to
Aurora, Illinois (R. St. ¶¶ 14, 15). Cross sought and received
treatment at the emergency room of Trinity Hospital, where he was given
medication and a referral to several physicians for possible followup
(R. St. ¶ 15).
Cross visited several doctors regarding his injury. First he was
examined by Dr. James Schiappa on September 5 (R. St. ¶ 16). On the
basis of that evaluation, Dr. Schiappa kept Cross off of work for two
weeks (id.). Dr. Schiappa evaluated Cross again on September 14, and on
that occasion he determined that Cross should not work again until
October 5 (R. St. ¶ 18). Meanwhile, on September 12 Cross had filed a
workers' compensation claim with the Illinois Industrial Commission (R.
St. ¶ 17).
Ryder referred Cross to its own doctor, Dr. Avi Bernstein, for an
independent medical examination on September 29 (R. St. ¶ 19).*fn4
In his assessment of Cross following that visit, Dr. Bernstein wrote that
while Cross appeared to have suffered a cervical and lumbar strain as the
result of a work-related accident, "there is evidence of severe symptom
magnification and exaggeration of his physical examination" and that
Cross "appeared to have excessive diffuse symptomatic complaints" (R.
St. ¶ 20). Dr. Bernstein recommended treatment with medications and
physical therapy program for a period of three to four weeks, after which
he expected Cross to be able to return to work (id.).
Ryder has a policy as to the accommodation of injuries: When an
employee is unable to perform his job due to injury, Ryder will return
him to work if there is a position available that is within the
employee's skills and abilities to perform and that is consistent with
his medical limitations (R. St. ¶ 22). Upon learning that Cross had
been released to return to work with limitations, Lassa spoke to Rob
Kalinoski ("Kalinoski," Ryder's Driver Recruiting Center Manager for its
Driver Recruiting Center in Bridgeview, Illinois) to ask whether there
were any positions available that Cross could perform subject to his
limitations (R. St. ¶ 23).
As Driver Recruiting Center Manager, Kalinoski (who is also white) was
responsible for filling all driver, warehouse and warehouse clerical
positions in the Chicago area (R. St. ¶ 24). Due to a backlog of work
at the Recruiting Center, Kalinoski needed someone to assist at the
Center in making phone calls and doing filing, and he told Lassa that he
could use Cross as long as there was a need for such services (R. St.
¶ 25). On October 13 Lassa wrote Cross a letter directing him to
return to work on October 18 in a light duty job as Transportation Clerk
at the Recruiting Center (R. St. ¶ 26).
On October 18 Cross returned to work in compliance with that direction
(R. St. ¶ 27). Toward the end of that day, which he had spent making
phone calls and doing filing, Cross claimed to have reinjured his back and
was taken to the emergency room at Christ Hospital (R. St. ¶¶ 28-29).
Dr. Schiappa examined Cross the next day and kept him off of work until
October 23 (R. St. ¶ 30). Dr. Schiappa also referred Cross to Dr.
Mark Cohen for pain treatment (id.).
In an October 24 letter Lassa wrote Cross that Dr. Schiappa had cleared
him to return to work and that the Transportation Clerk position remained
available to him (R. St. ¶ 31). Although some factual disputes exist
as to the ensuing sequence of events, it appears that Lassa had a phone
conversation with Cross about that letter in which Cross said that he was
going to be examined by Dr. Cohen (R. St. ¶ 32, Cross Dep. 76-77). It
further appears that Dr. Cohen kept Cross off of work based on that
examination (R. St. ¶ 33).*fn5
On November 6 Dr. Bernstein examined Cross for a second time (R. St.
¶ 34). In a same-day letter to Pretzer, Dr. Bernstein said that Cross'
"physical examination reveals an almost hysterical display of discomfort"
and that Cross exhibited abnormal and contradictory responses (R. St.
¶ 35). Dr. Bernstein concluded that Cross' "objective findings do not
support his subjective complaints" and recommended that Cross be returned
to work (id.).
Cross did not return to work, though. Cross visited a number of other
physicians of his own choosing, all of whom, including Dr. Jagan Mohan,
kept him off work (R. St. ¶ 36). Plainly, then, there was a
difference of opinion as to the severity of Cross' condition among the
doctors who examined him, but a difference that is ultimately of no
significance to the outcome of this case.
Lassa then asked Kalinoski whether there were any positions that fit
within Cross' restrictions (R. St. ¶ 41). After Kalinoski reviewed
the available positions, he determined that none of them met Cross'
restrictions (R. St. ¶¶ 42-43) and told that to Lassa (R. St. ¶
Then later that month (October 1996) Lassa got in touch with a member
of Ryder's Human Resources Department, Robin Shaw ("Shaw"), to inquire
about the appropriate action in Cross' case (R. St. ¶ 47). After
Lassa spoke with Shaw on several occasions, and after some involvement by
Ryder's legal staff (R. St. ¶¶ 48-49), Lassa sent a ...