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WILLIAMS v. EASTSIDE LOMBERYARD AND SUPPLY COMPANY INC.
March 23, 2001
ED WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
EASTSIDE LUMBERYARD AND SUPPLY COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert, U.S. District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Ed Williams ("Williams") is suing his former employer,
Defendant Eastside Lumberyard Supply Company ("Eastside"), for violating
the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and
Illinois law prohibiting retaliatory discharge. Williams claims that,
after work-related injuries, Eastside failed to reasonably accommodate
those injuries by not awarding him a permanent light-duty position (Count
1), and by later firing him because of his accommodation request (Count
2). Williams also claims Eastside fired him because he attempted to
exercise his rights under the Illinois worker's compensation statutes
(Count 3). Now before this Court is Eastside's summary judgment motion,
Williams' response, and Eastside's reply (Docs. 21, 25, 26, 29). For the
following reasons, Eastside's motion for summary judgment on the ADA
claims is granted, and Williams' state retaliatory discharge claim is
remanded back to state court.*fn1
Eastside supplies building materials to about 150 lumberyards and other
companies in Southern Illinois. Its business employs about 10 to 12
warehouse employees to pack and ship upwards of 100 to 200 shipping
orders daily. In March, 1993, Eastside hired Williams as a
Driver/Warehouseman. On September 1, 1998, Eastside placed him on
inactive job status and ultimately fired him on April 6, 1999. Williams
claims that Eastside's behavior violated the reasonable accommodation and
the anti-retaliation provisions of the
ADA and constituted the tort of retaliatory discharge under Illinois law.
A. The Driver/Warehouseman Position
Eastside hired Williams as a Driver/Warehouseman. Drivers and
Warehousemen work side by side at Eastside. Both must be able to load and
unload trucks with the same products in the Eastside warehouse. Thus, the
essential functions of the Driver and Warehouseman positions are
essentially identical, save for one caveat: Drivers have commercial
drivers' licenses and Warehousemen do not. So Drivers must be able to
drive semi-trucks as well as be able to load and unload the deliveries,
while Warehousemen stick to the loading and unloading.*fn2 There are
various essential job functions common to both Drivers and Warehousemen.
First, a Driver/Warehouseman must be able to load and unload trucks by
hand. Eastside stores its products (e.g., vinyl molding, aluminum roof
vents, Styrofoam, windows, cabinets, roof shingles, nails and screws) on
pallets or in stacks which may be on the floor of its warehouse. Drivers
pull their trucks up to the loading area to pick up a delivery.
Warehousemen load the truck by forklift and by hand. Drivers must be able
to do the lifting themselves because, while normally two people
participate in loading a truck, sometimes other employees are unavailable
to help the Driver load his truck. After arriving at the delivery stop,
Drivers sometimes have to unload their truck.
Customers also show up at the Eastside facility where Drivers and
Warehousemen have to wait on them. Because customers sometimes order
less than a full pallet of goods (which would apparently be loadable by
forklift), Drivers and Warehousemen must be able to load the purchased
goods by hand. This requires both lifting the products up from the floor
and putting them on fresh pallets and manually moving items from the
stacked pallet of goods to a clean pallet on which various items can be
stacked, wrapped for delivery, and moved onto the truck.
Eastside's goods are heavy and require manual lifting. Some of the
items that Drivers and Warehousemen must be able lift by hand include:
5-gallon buckets of adhesive (50-60 pounds); boxes of nails (50 pounds);
vinyl sheeting (20-100 pounds); flats of roof shingles (60 — 80
pounds); and vinyl siding (70-80 pounds).*fn3 These products must be
lifted when they are brought to the Eastside warehouse, taken off the
trucks and put into inventory, and pulled to fill customer orders.
Eastside customers generally assist in unloading their orders.
However, because their help is sometimes unavailable, Drivers must be
able to unload the goods to ensure that the Eastside materials brought to
a customer's facility are taken off his truck.*fn4 Some customers have
no forklift, so their orders must be unloaded by hand.
Customers buy a variety of products, items such a shingles, nails,
paneling or molding, which are unloaded by hand. In the case of shingles,
once delivered to a customer, the shingles would have to be unloaded from
the truck by manually stacking them down on the ground or on a pallet.
And, though items such as garage doors, gutters, steel and aluminum
normally take two people to unload, occasionally a Driver will have to
unload these items himself.
In sum, the most essential job function of both the Driver and
Warehouseman positions is the physical ability to handle, carry, and
stack items weighing up to 75 to 80 pounds, i.e., the physical ability to
do heavy lifting.
Second, Drivers/Warehousemen have to twist, bend, squat, and move about
too. Williams' job required twisting and bending, and lifting by
squatting. Once items are stacked on clean pallets, they are
shrink-wrapped. Shrink wrapping secures the items in place and involves a
lot of moving up and down the load to ensure it is bound by the wrap.
Third, a Driver, as was Williams, must be able to have the ability to
drive between 200 and 400 miles a day. In Williams' case, he would drive
800 miles in a typical week.
These essential functions for Drivers/Warehousemen positions were
committed to writing by Eastside in 1995 or 1996. Williams acknowledges
that Eastside's list accurately sets forth the essential job functions
B. The Injury And Initial Medical Treatment
In October, 1995, Williams was unloading vinyl siding and hurt his
back. Afterward, Williams received some initial medical treatment, which
culminated in the removal of two herniated discs by Dr. Sherwyn Wayne in
December, 1995. While recuperating from surgery, Dr. Wayne gave Williams
lifting restrictions and released him to go back to work. Eventually,
Dr. Wayne released Williams to full duty in July or August, 1996.
After three days of working at full duty, Williams asked to be returned
to light duty, which involved a 25-pound lifting restriction given by
another one of Williams' physicians, Dr. Parks. Assuming that William's
inability to go back to full duty was only temporary, Eastside assigned
Williams various light-duty tasks. For example, Eastside allowed
Williams to load drywall on trucks using a forklift and then to deliver
drywall to customers. This "drywall delivery" task required no manual
lifting and permitted Williams to work part-time, picking up some 20 to
30 hours a week.
Williams continued to see doctors to treat his back injury from 1996 to
1998, and in the fall of 1997, Williams started receiving vocational
rehabilitation as part of his workers' compensation benefits.
C. August 31, 1998 and September 1, 1998
On August 31, 1998, Williams was seen for the first time by Dr. Matthew
Gornet, a neurosurgeon. Dr. Gornet recommended Williams stop driving
because that could do further damage to his lower back. Williams told
Fran Whipps, his rehabilitation counselor, that as a result of his
medical condition, he did not think he should continue his job searching
activities. Whipps contacted Eastside. When Whipps contacted Eastside,
Eastside was unaware of any new injury, need for treatment, or
D. The Second Surgery, Current Medical Condition, And Functional
In November, 1998, in a two-part surgical procedure conducted over
several days, Dr. Gornet performed a back fusion operation on Williams.
In this procedure, Williams had titanium screws and hardware placed into
his back along with portions of his hipbone. As a result of this
surgery, Williams was further limited. Williams is (1) at high risk to
sustain further injury and disability if he returns to work as a Driver,
(2) medically restricted from lifting greater than 25 pounds, (3)
medically restricted from repetitive bending, (4) medically restricted
from bending from a squatting position, and (5) medically restricted from
repetitive twisting and turning.
Dr. Gornet's restrictions are accurate, valid, and now permanent.
Williams can lift only items weighing less than 25 pounds, and he
requires the assistance of a "lifting helper" if he wants to carry
anything over 25 pounds. Williams is unsure, given his restrictions,
whether he could do the shrink wrapping required to secure goods loaded
E. Events of April 5, 1999 and April, 6, 1999
On April 5, 1999, Williams returned to Eastside and presented a letter
from Dr. Gornet addressed to the attorney handling Williams' workers'
compensation claim stating:
Because of his type of work, I believe [Williams]
would be at high risk to sustain further injury and
disability if he returned to work as a truck driver.
Currently I would place the following restrictions on
him[:] no lifting greater than 25 pounds, no
repetitive bending, no ...