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COLLINS v. OSF HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

May 20, 2003

RICHARD COLLINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OSF HEALTHCARE SYSTEM, SAINT JAMES HOSPITAL, OSF SAINT JAMES HOSPITAL, AND FRANCISCAN CARE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm, United States District Judge.

ORDER

This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss [#7] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise specified, the following allegations are taken from the Complaint in this matter. Plaintiff, Richard Collins ("Collins"), was married to Patricia Collins ("Mrs. Collins"), who is now deceased. Prior to her death, Mrs. Collins was an employee of OSF Saint James Hospital ("OSF") in Pontiac, Illinois.

On June 12, 2000, Mrs. Collins entered into an approved medical leave of absence. Prior to the conclusion of that leave period, she regained her health and was ready to return to work. However, OSF denied her the opportunity to return to active employment as a result of a change in her job description that was made during the term of her medical leave. Collins contends that the change in his wife's job description was made for the sole purpose of preventing her return to work and that OSF's refusal to allow her to return to active employment was based on wrongful discrimination on the basis of her handicap in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), her advanced age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Collins also alleges a pendent state law claim for "breach of employment relationship."

OSF has now moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim. Collins has responded, and this Order follows.

ANALYSIS

A complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears from the pleadings that the plaintiff could prove no set of facts in support of her claim which would entitle her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957); Gould v. Artisoft, Inc., 1 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 1993). Rather, a complaint should be construed broadly and liberally in conformity with the mandate in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(f).

For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; its well-pleaded factual allegations are taken as true, and all reasonably-drawn inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984); Lanigan v. Village of East Hazel Crest, 110 F.3d 467 (7th Cir. 1997); M.C.M. Partners, Inc. v. Andrews-Bartlett & Assoc., Inc., 62 F.3d 967, 969 (7th Cir. 1995); Early v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 959 F.2d 75 (7th Cir. 1992).

Collins has brought this suit both individually and as the executor of his wife's estate. OSF first argues that Collins lacks standing to bring any of these claims individually. Specifically, OSF asserts that Collins was not an employee of the hospital, and his only connection to it is the fact that he was married to Mrs. Collins, who was an employee, and became the executor of her estate.

Without a single citation to authority, Collins responds that he should be allowed to maintain an individual claim because he is entitled to certain benefits as Mrs. Collins' spouse, namely life insurance proceeds which would have been payable directly to him as her beneficiary upon her death. However, this ignores the real issue of who has standing to bring claims pursuant to the FMLA, the ADA, and the ADEA.

The FMLA provides a right of action "against any employer . . . by any one or more employees," and an employee is further defined as "any individual employed by an employer." 29 U.S.C. § 203(e),2617(a)(2), and 2611(3). Similarly, the ADEA "prohibits an employer from discriminating against its employees on the basis of age," and defines an employee as "an individual employed by any employer." Hayden v. La-Z-Boy Chair Co., 9 F.3d 617, 619 (7th Cir. 1993); 29 U.S.C. § 630(f). The ADA prohibits covered entities from discriminating "against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual" with regard to the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); Bombard v. Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc., 92 F.3d 560, 563 (7th Cir. 1996). In order to be a "qualified individual" under the ADA, there must be an employment relationship, as that term is further defined as "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8).

These are personal causes of action premised upon an employment relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, and the private rights of action allow the plaintiff to seek compensation or benefits due to him or her as an employee. See Alexander v. Rush North Shore Medical Center, 101 F.3d 487, 492 (7th Cir. 1996) (noting that a plaintiff must prove the existence of an employment relationship in order to maintain a Title VII action against the defendant.) Any claims to be made under these statutes belonged to Mrs. Collins as the allegedly aggrieved employee, and the real party in interest is Collins in his capacity as the Executor of Mrs. Collins' Estate.

There is authority allowing the personal representative of a deceased former employee to pursue employment discrimination claims on behalf of the decedent's estate. Collins v. Village of Woodridge, 96 F. Supp.2d 744 (N.D.Ill. 2000); Pueschel v. Veneman, 185 F. Supp.2d 566 (D.Md. 2002); Kulling v. Grinders for Indust., Inc., 115 F. Supp.2d 828 (E.D.Mich. 2000). However, the parties have not cited, and the Court is not otherwise aware of, any authority holding that the spouse of the deceased employee can maintain an individual action in addition to an action as the personal representative of the estate under the FMLA, ADEA, or ADA. In fact, what little authority exists on this question indicates that an individual claim by a dependant beneficiary of the deceased employee is not proper. See Niemeier v. Tri-State Fire Protection District, 2000 WL 1222207, at *2 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 24, 2000) (holding that a dependent beneficiary has no standing to bring a claim under the ADA because she is neither an employee nor attempting to secure employment with the defendant); Micek v. City of Chicago, 1999 WL 966970, at *5 (N.D.Ill. Oct. 4, 1999) (holding that dependent beneficiary's claims fell outside the ADA's zone of interest because she was not an employee, ...


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