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March 21, 2001


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


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. 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.

While that general standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent is inevitably the central issue (Miller v. Borden, 168 F.3d 308, 312 (7th Cir. 1999)), that does not negate the potential for summary judgment in cases where a movant plainly satisfies the Rule 56 standards (id.). In those terms summary judgment is appropriate if the record reveals that no reasonable jury could find in favor of Cross (see Fuka v. Thomson Consumer Elec., 82 F.3d 1397, 1402 (7th Cir. 1996) and cases cited there).


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.).

On October 3 Dr. Schiappa released Cross to return to work with restrictions barring his lifting or pushing over 30 pounds and requiring him to avoid bending and squatting. Dr. Schiappa specified that Cross was unable to drive a truck (R. St. ¶ 21). That meant that if Cross were then to perform any work for Ryder, Ryder would have to accommodate him by finding an alternative position for him.

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.

Cross had been out of work for almost a year when on September 24, 1996 Dr. Mohan released him to return to work beginning two weeks later, with the restriction that he was not to lift more than five to ten pounds (R. St. ¶ 38). Cross faxed Dr. Mohan's note to Lassa, who told Cross he was going to talk with Kalinoski to try to find a position for Cross (R. St. ¶¶ 39-40).

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. ¶ 44).

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 ...

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