Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. No. 98-L-86 Honorable William G. Schwartz, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh
Angelia Jackson (plaintiff) filed a two-count complaint against her former employer, Sweet Ideas, Ltd. Partnership (defendant), doing business as Mr. Bulky's Treats and Gifts (Mr. Bulky's), alleging a failure to accommodate and retaliatory discharge in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the Act) (42 U.S.C. §12101 et seq. (1994)). The circuit court of Jackson County granted summary judgment for defendant. Plaintiff now appeals. Plaintiff contends that she presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact as to each essential element of her claims under the Act.
Plaintiff was hired by defendant in 1993 and was promoted to manager of the Carbondale store prior to October 27, 1995. In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that on October 27, 1995, she hit her left knee on a display at work and suffered torn cartilage as a result. Plaintiff contends that she has degenerative arthritis. Plaintiff alleges that defendant terminated her employment on July 7, 1997, because of her impairment.
Plaintiff presented work slips signed by Neill Valdes, M.D., indicating that plaintiff was receiving treatment for degenerative arthritis in the left knee. A work slip dated February 27, 1996, indicated that plaintiff could return to work full time, but plaintiff was not to climb ladders, squat, or kneel. A work slip dated June 26, 1997, indicated that plaintiff could work on a routine basis, but it placed permanent restrictions on plaintiff. In addition to the previous restrictions of no climbing ladders or kneeling, Dr. Valdes proscribed prolonged walking or standing. The note also stated that plaintiff should sit down as needed and use a cane.
In her response to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff directly testified by submitting an affidavit and portions of her deposition. Plaintiff testified that on June 26, 1997, upon instructions from her doctor, she began using a leg brace and a cane at work. Plaintiff testified that as of June 1997 her knee injury limited her walking to one-half block and that her knee would become inflamed after prolonged walking. Plaintiff testified that her knee injury prevents her from dancing, fishing, or mowing her yard.
Although plaintiff's testimony is somewhat unclear on the point, it appears that plaintiff first asked for an accommodation after her visit to Dr. Valdes in February 1996. Plaintiff apparently asked for a stool to sit on and was allowed to place one in a back room. Plaintiff testified that after her June 1997 visit to Dr. Valdes she asked Gloria Lepper, regional manager for defendant, to allow a stool to be placed in the front of the store so she could sit down periodically while working. According to plaintiff, Lepper responded that plaintiff could no longer work at Mr. Bulky's and should quit.
Plaintiff presented an affidavit from Terri Scott. Scott had been an assistant manager of Mr. Bulky's under plaintiff and became manager after plaintiff's termination. Scott testified that she went to a lunch meeting with Lepper and plaintiff on July 3, 1997. Scott claims that during that meeting Lepper told plaintiff that plaintiff needed to find another job because her disability prevented her from doing her job. Lepper did not elaborate on why she thought plaintiff could no longer do the job. According to Scott, plaintiff responded that all she needed was a stool so that she could sit down from time to time and rest her knee. Lepper then responded that she would check with the home office to see if plaintiff could continue employment.
In its answer to plaintiff's complaint, defendant states in part, "Plaintiff was terminated because she was no longer physically able to perform the duties of her job." In the deposition of plaintiff, defendant questioned plaintiff regarding a walk-through evaluation Lepper had done with plaintiff on July 3, 1997. Plaintiff testified that the evaluation was a routine process in which Lepper would review a form Lepper had filled out while walking through the store. Although the form itself is not in our record, plaintiff testified that the form contained critical comments regarding the inflation of balloon displays, the rotation of bins, the securing of helium tanks with a chain, the reworking of a display of baskets and T-shirts, the training of staff regarding cleaning procedures, dirty floors, and borrowing money from a safe. The completed form was signed by Lepper, Scott, and plaintiff.
Plaintiff testified that she had been a competent worker and could have continued performing her duties even with the restrictions from her injury. Plaintiff described her job in her deposition:
"Q: What were your duties as manager?
A: To make sure the store was ran [sic]. I made schedules, did payroll, food orders, checked in food shipments, scheduled meetings."
Defendant elicited testimony from plaintiff that the maintenance of the store required moving, climbing, bending, and carrying heavy items. Plaintiff testified that as manager she often delegated such duties. Plaintiff contends that in her opinion she could do the job even with the additional restrictions of no prolonged walking or standing. In her affidavit, Scott testified that in July 1997 she received training from a store manager from Evansville, Indiana, who ...