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FEISS v. METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DIST./CHICAGO

April 23, 2003

RICHARD C. FEISS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Gettleman, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Richard Feiss filed a two-count second amended complaint against defendant Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (the "District"), alleging, (1) retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and (2) failure to reasonably accommodate plaintiffs disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12117 et seq. Defendant moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R. Civ, P. 56. For the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion is granted in its entirety.

FACTS*fn1

The District is a unit of local government that provides sewage treatment and related services for an area covering most of Cook County. On or about January 13, 1994, defendant offered plaintiff the civil service position of Storekeeper, conditioned upon his passing a medical examination and pre-placement physical screening. Due to a back injury that limited plaintiffs ability to carry more than fifty pounds, *fn2 he could not complete the pre-placement screening, which required him to carry an 85-pound bag of cement on his shoulders for 100 feet.*fn3 Plaintiff's conditional offer of employment was subsequently revoked.

On February 28, 1994, plaintiff filed a charge against defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging disability discrimination. On March 3, 1994. defendant sent plaintiff a letter "in response to [his] request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act," reinstating his employment offer. According to that letter:

It has been determined that the accommodation you seek to perform the duties of Storekeeper is reasonable. Therefore, the District is prepared to reinstate its employment offer, subject to the following conditions: (1) While performing the duties of Storekeeper, if there is a need to lift any item in excess of 50 lbs., you must obtain assistance. This assistance will be in the form of available carts or mechanical equipment, or in the form of a Maintenance Laborer A or Materials Handler Laborer who is assigned to work in your storeroom location. (2) If such assistance is not available, you must contact your supervisor immediately to request such assistance. You may not lift more than 50 lbs. unassisted. [..]
On March 14, 1994, plaintiff commenced employment as a Storekeeper in defendant's purchasing department. The parties dispute whether other employees were available to assist plaintiff with heavy lifting throughout his tenure as Storekeeper and whether plaintiff was expected to do this lifting on his own. At his deposition, plaintiff testified that his supervisor, Ed Wyack, told him that defendant was short-staffed and thus could no longer accommodate plaintiff s lifting restrictions. Although in his Rule 56.1 statement plaintiff submits that "Wyack warned plaintiff that he would be disciplined and would receive a lower evaluation if he did not perform the heavy lifting [himself]," plaintiff testified at his deposition that he was never disciplined for failing to lift something over 50 pounds.

In September 1997, plaintiff interviewed for a Buyer I position after sitting for the Buyer I examination and being placed on the Buyer I eligibility list. Plaintiff and the other eight candidates were asked questions relating to their experience, education/training, computer skills, and initiative, and their written communication skills were assessed by a writing sample. Candidates were assigned scores based on their performance and ranked accordingly. With a score of 64.38, plaintiff ranked seventh on the list of nine candidates. Plaintiff maintains that the interviewers discounted his experience, *fn4 which resulted in a lower ranking and overall score relative to the other candidates, and characterizes the scoring as "subjective." The parties dispute whether plaintiff's interviewers were aware of his back injury and lifting restriction, though appear to agree that plaintiff's interviewers did not know that plaintiff had filed a charge of discrimination against defendant.

On the basis of the interview rankings, defendant appointed four candidates to Buyer 1 openings between June 1998 and May 1999, all of whom were ranked higher than plaintiff Plaintiff disputes that these candidates were more qualified than he. On July 9, 2000, the Buyer I eligibility list from 1997 expired; plaintiff did not take the next Buyer I eligibility examination in 2000.

From May 1998 through May 2001, plaintiff was also one of seven candidates on the promotion-eligible list for the position of Principal Storekeeper. Plaintiff and the other candidates were interviewed in June 1998, and were asked the same questions relating to their experience, education, judgment, supervisory skills, communications, motivation, and computer skills. Plaintiff ranked seventh on the list, with a score of 8.01. Plaintiff's interviewers were not aware that plaintiff had a lifting restriction or accommodation, or that he had filed any charge of discrimination. On June 30, 1998, the highest ranking candidate was appointed to the position of Principal Storekeeper. Plaintiff maintains that he was more qualified for the position, notwithstanding the other candidate's more extensive supervisory experience.

In 1998, plaintiff's name was removed from the list of employees with access to the document storage area and replaced by that of a maintenance laborer. One consequence of this, according to plaintiff, was that he was left without a laborer to assist him with heavy lilting. Nonetheless, plaintiff did not lose any salary by not having access to the document storage area.

In October 1998, plaintiff filed an informal complaint of discrimination with defendant's internal EEO office alleging disability discrimination and retaliation. In a memorandum generated in response to his complaint, the EEO/Training Manager noted that plaintiff was designated as "a qualified individual with a disability per the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

In March 1999, defendant required plaintiff to submit documentation to demonstrate that certain absences should count as verified under defendant's collective bargaining agreement with plaintiff's union. After plaintiff provided the requested documentation, which he disputes was actually required under the bargaining agreement, his absences were considered yen fled as he had requested.

In March 1999, plaintiff's supervisors discussed complaints regarding plaintiff's performance in the storeroom. His supervisors did not give him an oral warning or institute other disciplinary action, however. Plaintiff was also denied computer training in March 1999. No other storekeepers received computer training in or about March 1999. Plaintiff subsequently received SAP computer training, including two courses in March 2000.

On March 8, 1999, plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC, claiming disability discrimination and retaliation. He alleged that he had been denied promotions, accommodations, and computer training, and ...


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