Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 99 C 630--David H. Coar, Judge.
Before Cudahy, Rovner, and Williams, Circuit Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge.
Ralph Nawrot sued his former employer, CPC International ("Bestfoods"), claiming that Bestfoods failed to accommodate reasonably his disability and discriminated against him because of his disability during his employment, and that his discharge was the product of age and disability discrimination and retaliation for seeking accommodation. In granting summary judgment to Bestfoods, the district court held that Nawrot could not show that he was a qualified individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and that he had failed to show that Bestfoods' proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for his termination were a pretext for discrimination. Nawrot asks us to reverse the decision of the district court. We do so in part. We affirm on pretext, but reverse on disability, finding that Nawrot has sufficiently demonstrated that he is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA. We remand for the district court to resolve whatever remains of Nawrot's reasonable accommodation and disability-based discrimination claims in light of our decision.
Nawrot was hired by Bestfoods in 1976, and he was promoted to warehouse supervisor in 1983. He held that position until he was fired in 1998.
At Bestfoods, Nawrot had problems, which in the beginning were rather modest. In September 1995, he made three remarks to another employee about her religion, Jehovah's Witness, and the following January, he read aloud to his supervisor a list of employee complaints in front of a group of employees. In February and August 1996, he was involved in two arguments with employees, including a supervisor, that escalated into shouting. Nawrot explains these incidents as innocent misunderstandings or completely taken out of context, but does not dispute that they occurred. Bestfoods talked with Nawrot about these incidents, and they were noted in his file. Later, Bestfoods told Nawrot that he had a good rapport with employees, was better than the previous shift supervisor, and his personnel file contained no negative reports.
But his problems continued. On February 19, 1997, Nawrot refused to shake a new employee's hand when he was introduced, saying, "I would shake your hand but I just went to the bathroom and did not wash my hands." As a result of this incident, Nawrot received a formal repri mand, which included a short written reference to his prior conduct and a final warning to him that similar future conduct would result in his termination.
Nawrot had another series of incidents, which had been in the making for some time. For years, he was friends with Margaret Ermalowicz. He even loaned her $3,000 early in 1998, after Bestfoods terminated her for fighting. The relationship seemed to sour around the time Nawrot requested that Ermalowicz pay back the money she borrowed. Adding to the trouble, and in part as a consequence of it, rumors circled around the company about their relationship. Nawrot decided to lay one of the rumors to rest. At a meeting on June 30, 1998, in the presence of approximately thirty employees, he stated:
I know there's a rumor going around that I was supposedly supposed to have solicited Margaret Ermalowicz for sex. . . . I assure you that is not true. And, as you people know, especially you ones who have been here a while, I never got involved sexually with anybody. . . . [Ermalowicz] is not of my class that I would associate with in any kind of sexual manner.
After the meeting, Nawrot approached Donna Herman and accused her of spreading the rumors. According to Herman, he yelled at her, grabbed her arm and twisted it during this confrontation. She filed two internal complaints against him. Bestfoods interviewed Nawrot, and he admitted making the statement and talking to Herman after the meeting, but denied Herman's other allegations.
But Nawrot's troubles with Ermalowicz were not confined to these incidents. During her unemployment, Ermalowicz and her Union filed a grievance against Bestfoods contesting her termination. Nawrot spoke to Ermalowicz about her grievance and helped her prepare for the arbitration hearing. As a result of arbitration, Ermalowicz was reinstated to her job at Bestfoods. But by the time Ermalowicz was reinstated, July 20, 1998, Nawrot and Ermalowicz were in the midst of resolving several issues in their broken friendship. Nawrot believed she had been spreading the rumor that he solicited her for sex and another rumor that he was stalking her. The day she returned to work, Bestfoods asked them both to stay away from each other.
Nawrot did not comply with the request. The very day Bestfoods asked him to avoid Ermalowicz, Nawrot walked by her and sang out loud three times, "I'm stalking my dog and not you" (Nawrot had given Ermalowicz a dog as a gift). Nawrot also drove alongside Ermalowicz, who was walking to her car, and said out of his window, "[W]hen are you going to tell the truth?" Both of these incidents occurred outside of the warehouse and when they were off duty.
The next day, Nawrot sent Ermalowicz a three-page letter, addressing the rumors, the money he loaned her, and the help he provided her in the arbitration. Two days later, Ermalowicz complained to Bestfoods about Nawrot's behavior, and a week later she complained again, alleging further harassment. Bestfoods investigated the complaint and terminated Nawrot shortly thereafter, because "he was insubordinate, harassed female employees, and demonstrated extremely poor judgment and disloyalty when he helped Ermalowicz prepare her arbitration case."
Nawrot has a different take on his termination. In 1980, he informed Bestfoods that he was a Type I diabetic. Diabetes involves the uncontrolled fluctuation of the blood sugar level in the body. It is a product of the failure of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin for normal carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism, or the failure of the body in general to utilize effectively the insulin produced. Insulin is a hormone; it takes sugar from the bloodstream into the cells of ...