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HABEEBUDDIN v. CITY OF CHICAGO

March 31, 2003

MOHAMMED HABEEBUDDIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On June 7, 2001, Plaintiff Mohammed Habeebuddin ("Habeebuddin") filed this lawsuit against his employer, the City of Chicago Department of Revenue. Plaintiff alleges, in Count I, that Defendant failed to accommodate his disability, photophobia, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 29 U.S.C. § 12112 et seq. In Count II, Plaintiff invokes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000, et seq., alleging that Defendant retaliated against him in response to his filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In Count III, Plaintiff claimed that he was discriminated against because of his national origin (he was born in India). Defendant moves for summary judgment on each of Plaintiff's claims.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff Mohammed Habeebuddin is of Indian national origin. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts in Support of Summary Judgment, (hereinafter "Def.'s Rule 56.1"), ¶ 8.) In 1990, Plaintiff began working as a Parking Revenue Security Specialist in the Street Operations Division in Defendant City of Chicago's Department of Revenue. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff testified that he was the only employee in that Department who is of Indian national origin. (Plaintiff's Deposition, (hereinafter, "Plf.'s Dep."), Ex. F to Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts, (hereinafter, "Plf.'s Rule 56.1"), at 65.) Revenue Security Specialists are responsible for performing security and surveillance activities to insure integrity in the accounting of proceeds from more than 28,000 public parking lots and parking meters within the City of Chicago. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 10.) According to the City of Chicago's official job description, the essential duties of a Parking Revenue Security Specialist are:

Implements security measures to ensure the proper accounting of all parking revenues collected from city-owned parking meters and lots; conducts surveillance of private vendors collecting parking revenues to ensure meter cans are properly removed and replaced; monitors the transport of collection canisters to a designated site for the counting and depositing of monies; carries out established security procedures including the salting of meters, sealing of canisters and tracking of meter keys to reduce potential for theft and vandalism; patrols city streets to locate illegally moved booted vehicles in order to recover boot devices and request towing of vehicles; conducts internal investigations of alleged or suspected misconduct by department employees; prepares work reports of surveillance and investigative activities.*fn2
(Affidavit of Thomas Stevens, (hereinafter, "Stevens' Aff."), Ex. 10 to Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 23; Parking Revenue Security Specialist Job Description, (hereinafter, "official job description"), Ex. A to Stevens' Aff.)

At some point in 1993, Plaintiff claims that he reported a co-worker to the City of Chicago for stealing $30,000. (Plf.'s Dep., at 3, 144.) Plaintiff has not identified the co-worker involved, the individual(s) to whom he reported the incident, nor the details regarding the alleged theft, but he claims that after reporting the theft, he was assigned to work at a parking garage for three and a half years as a punishment for making this report. (Id. at 144-45.) Later in his deposition, however, Plaintiff testified that from the date he was hired in 1990 until February 8, 1999 he had done nothing but "field work," which was his preferred assignment. (Id. at 339, 353.) The parties agree that "field work" includes, among other things, checking on collection crews in the street, replacing parking meter cans, and money counting duties at the bank.*fn3 (Def. Rule 56.1 ¶ 46.) Neither party has explained whether field work also includes the garage duties described by Plaintiff, nor has either party identified who it was that actually assigned Plaintiff to do field work or garage duties.

Although there were approximately eight Revenue Security Specialists in early 1997, only three remained by June 1997: Thomas Stevens, Stefan Morgan, and Plaintiff. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 25.) According to Plaintiff, the numbers dropped because five of the Revenue Security Specialists were fired, (Plf.'s Dep., at 30); Stevens, who became a supervisor the following year, testified that the employees resigned due to a "shake-up in the department," but he did not explain the nature of the "shake-up" or why it resulted in five resignations. (Stevens Dep., at 11.)

Since at least January 1, 1998, Steven Kelso served as the Deputy Director of Street Operations for the Department of Revenue. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 12, 13.) In this capacity, Kelso oversaw security and parking enforcement, and was responsible for approving disciplinary actions against security personnel. (Id.) From November 1999 until at least February 2000, Charles Jones was the Assistant Deputy Director of Street Operations and reported to Kelso. (Id. ¶ 14.)

On January 1, 1998, Stevens was promoted from Revenue Security Specialist to Revenue Security Supervisor.*fn4 (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 18-19.) As a result of this promotion, Stevens supervised all of the Revenue Security Specialists and reported directly to Kelso. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 18-19.) Around the same time, Stevens also assumed the duties of the Manager of Parking position, which required him to supervise another separate staff. (Stevens Dep., at 26.) Because of the increased workload, Stevens occasionally delegated some of his own responsibilities as Revenue Security Supervisor to Morgan. (Id. at 27.) Stevens explained that he selected Morgan rather than Plaintiff because he believed that Morgan knew the operations and because Plaintiff was having difficulties handling his current duties. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 29, 30.) Plaintiff admitted his shortcomings, explaining that his work performance suffered due to his distress about not having been promoted to the position of supervisor even though he had more seniority and greater experience than Stevens. (Plaintiff's (Corrected) Local Rule 56.1(B)(3)(A) Response to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, (hereinafter "Plf.'s Rule 56.1 Rsp."), ¶ 30.)

During 1998, Plaintiff had a number of performance infractions, including incorrectly parking his personal vehicle; failure to return a meter key for three days; allowing an unauthorized person into a bank counting room; failure to inspect a parking meter can before it was taken out to the field; and failure to verify that meter keys had been returned to the vault, a facility located on the third floor of the Kraft Building, where keys for City of Chicago parking meters are maintained. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 65, 147, 151-57.) On January 22, 1999, Plaintiff participated in a regularly scheduled performance evaluation conducted by Stevens.*fn5 (Stevens' Aff. ¶ 79.) As part of this evaluation, Plaintiff was rated 2.86 on a performance rating scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 157, 158.) A score of 2 on this scale means the employee "requires improvement"; a score of 3 is "good." (Id.) This score of 2.86 was lower than Plaintiff's previous performance rating, but Plaintiff acknowledged in writing on his performance review document that Stevens was "fair" to him, that he was "satisfied" with the rating, and that he would try to improve. (Id. ¶¶ 158-160.)

On January 1, 1999, Stevens was promoted to Manager of Off-Street Parking and subsequently, in May 2001, to Manager of Parking. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 21-22.) The record does not reveal who made these decisions or how they were made. Around this same time, Stevens decided to assign himself and the Revenue Security Specialists to perform vault functions on a rotating basis. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 52.) According to Stevens, vault duty was not new to Revenue Security Specialists. (Stevens' Aff. ¶¶ 24-28, 30.) As early as 1997, according to Stevens, Revenue Security Specialists were tracking meter keys, which are maintained in the vault. (Stevens Aff. ¶¶ 24-28, 30.) Plaintiff insisted, however, that Revenue Security Specialists were never assigned to the vault before 1999 and that prior to his own assignment to work there, only mechanics were assigned vault duties.*fn6 (Plf.'s Dep., at 33-34.)

It is undisputed that Plaintiff himself had never been assigned to the vault prior to February 8, 1999, when Stevens met with Plaintiff and assigned him to the vault. (Plf.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 8.) Both sides agree that vault duties include: opening the vault, distributing and tracking the keys stored in the vault, and completing the necessary paper work to assist with the tracking of keys. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 39-44.) Plaintiff claims that his assignment to vault duty was a form of punishment for his honesty in reporting the theft in 1993.*fn7 (Id. ¶ 266.) It is undisputed, however, that Plaintiff did not object to working at the vault during a meeting on or about January 22, 1999, when Stevens first discussed the vault assignment with Plaintiff. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 49.) Stevens asserts that Plaintiff's assignment to the vault was on a rotating basis (Stevens Aff. ¶ 37), but Plaintiff claimed that he was assigned to the vault for two months without a break before someone began rotating with him. (Plf.'s Dep., at 30.) Neither party has explained the typical rotation period or schedule for vault rotations.

Soon after Plaintiff starting working in the vault, he started complaining about the assignment to his supervisors. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 74-76.) In February 1999, Plaintiff complained to Jones that he should not be assigned to vault work. (Id. ¶ 74.) In February or March 1999, Plaintiff complained to Stevens about the loud music that Shirley Davis, a maintenance mechanic, played in the vault. (Id. ¶ 75.) The record does not disclose how this issue was resolved. In April 1999, Plaintiff complained to Stevens that his seniority should excuse him from working at the vault. (Id. ¶ 76.) Both sides agree, however, that work assignments for Revenue Security Specialists are not based on seniority. (Id. ¶ 77.)

Plaintiff's most significant complaint for the purposes of this litigation pertained to the lighting in the vault. Both sides agree that the vault was illuminated by a bare tube flourescent fixture that hung from the ceiling. (Plf.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 7.) During his first week working there, Plaintiff complained to Stevens that the vault lighting was giving him headaches and eye problems and was interfering with his sleep. (Id. ¶ 11.) When Plaintiff asked Stevens how long he would be assigned to the vault, Stevens responded that Plaintiff would be working there until further notice, and suggested that Plaintiff wear sunglasses. (Plf.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 11.) Defendant points out that Plaintiff did not have headaches when he was assigned to the bank, where he worked under flourescent lights for 18 months, prior to his assignment to the vault.*fn8 (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 59, 80.) Plaintiff explained that the bank's lighting was still uncomfortable, but it was better than the vault lighting because it was not as bright. (Plf.'s Dep., at 137-39.)

Plaintiff's Alleged Disability

On April 8, 1999, Plaintiff first consulted a doctor, his optometrist, about the eye problems he experienced from the vault lighting. (Id. ¶¶ 82-83.) Plaintiff's optometrist, Dr. Barry Siegel, observed that Plaintiff had photophobia, a sensitivity to bright lights, but he could not determine what was causing it, because "everything appeared normal" in Plaintiff's eyes. (Id. ¶ 86.) Both sides agree that photophobia is a symptom rather than a condition or diagnosis. (Id. ¶ 85.) Dr. Siegel provided Plaintiff with a note stating that Plaintiff had photophobia and that the light in the vault was bothering his eyes.*fn9 (Id. ¶ 84.) At some point later in April, Plaintiff submitted Dr. Siegel's April 8, 1999 note to Stevens (Id. ¶ 117), who forwarded it to Kelso, Jones, and Maribeth Anderson, Director of Personnel for the Department of Revenue. (Plf.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 15; Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 15.) Siegel recommended that Plaintiff wear sunglasses to protect his eyes and that he work in an environment with "subdued" light to eliminate the eye strain and headaches he experienced. (Id. ¶¶ 84, 118.) Plaintiff began wearing sunglasses in late March 1999, which, according to Plaintiff, helped his eye condition "at least a bit." (Id. ¶¶ 112-113.) Because Siegel is not an expert in the area of photophobia was unable to determine the cause of Plaintiff's photophobia, he recommended that Plaintiff consult an ophthalmologist. (Id. ¶ 86.)

Siegel conducted two follow-up exams of the Plaintiff. During an exam on May 10, 1999, Siegel noted that bright lights might be causing Plaintiff's headaches, eyestrain and fatigue. (Id. ¶ 119.) After this follow-up exam, on May 27, 1999, Siegel wrote a second note, stating that Habeebuddin "suffers from fatigue, glare and possible headaches secondary to the bare flourescent bulbs in the office. It would be appreciated if you could change [Plaintiff's] work environment to help minimize the problem." (Id. ¶ 120.)

Although Defendant acknowledges receiving Siegel's first note, whether subsequent notes from Plaintiff's doctors were provided to Plaintiff's managers is less certain. Plaintiff only stated generally that he submitted all of his doctors' notes to Stevens, but failed to identify the specific notes or the dates on which he submitted them. (Plf.'s Dep., at 142.) Furthermore, Anderson stated in her deposition that she could not remember which note or notes she received, and Stevens only stated generally that he received more than one doctor's note from Plaintiff, but could not remember any specific notes other than the April 8, 1999 note from Dr. Siegel. (Deposition of Maribeth A. Anderson, (hereinafter "Anderson Dep."), Ex. C to Pltf.'s Rule 56.1, 66-67; Stevens Dep., at 76.) It is undisputed, however, that when Stevens received a doctor's note from Plaintiff, he notified Jones and Anderson. (Plf.'s 56.1 ¶ 15.)

On May 27, 1999, Plaintiff followed Siegel's advice and consulted an ophthalmologist, Dr. David Tresley. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 87.) Dr. Tresley could not identify any organic cause for the photophobia and assured Plaintiff that there was nothing medically wrong with his eyes. (Id. ¶¶ 88-89.) Like Siegel, Tresley characterized photophobia as a symptom rather than a condition or diagnosis. (Deposition of David J. Tresley, (hereinafter, "Tresley Dep."), at 30, Ex. 8 to Def.'s Rule 56.1).) According to Tresley, prolonged exposure to bright lights would not cause any long-term effects, and Plaintiff was able to continue working.*fn10 (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 95.) Specifically, Tresley stated that a bare overhead hanging flourescent light had no specific damaging effects on the eyes. (Id. ¶ 108.) Tresley prescribed glasses for Plaintiff, which he believed would improve Plaintiff's symptoms. (Id. ¶ 101.) In addition, Tresley wrote a note addressed to Defendant, on Plaintiff's behalf, stating "it would be appreciated if you could change" Plaintiff's work environment because the bare flourescent bulb causes Plaintiff discomfort. (Tresley Dep., at 25-27.) The record does not indicate whether Plaintiff gave this note to any of his supervisors.

Tresley opined that Plaintiff was not doing everything he could to alleviate his symptoms because Plaintiff did not fill the prescription for new glasses as of February 2000. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 103-04; Tresley Dep., at 63-64.) Plaintiff explained at his deposition that he was "ninety percent" certain that the reason he didn't fill the prescription was because of financial difficulties he had at the time, but he also admitted that he never actually explored the cost of filling this new prescription. (Plf.'s Dep., at 111-112.)

On June 5, 1999, Plaintiff visited his internist, Dr. Bowser. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 105.) Bowser, like the other doctors Plaintiff consulted, determined Plaintiff had photophobia. (Id. ¶ 107.) Bowser drafted a note on Plaintiff's behalf requesting that Defendant alter Plaintiff's work environment because bright lights could be aggravating his photophobia. (Plf.'s Rule 56.1 ¶ 20.) Although he drafted this note, Bowser also believed that Plaintiff's discomfort could be caused by his failure to fill his prescription for new glasses. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶¶ 106, 107; Deposition of Robert Bowser, Ex 3 to Def.'s Rule 56.1, at 22-23.) Again the court notes that the record is unclear as to who, if anyone, received this note.

Plaintiff claims that the bright lights in the vault had caused permanent damage to his eyes (Plf.'s Dep., at 40); however, no medical evidence has been provided to the court to substantiate this claim. To the contrary, Plaintiff acknowledged in his deposition that the doctors informed him that his vision problems would not persist for life. (Id.) Plaintiff claims, however, that his ...


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