United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
November 4, 2004.
TRISH WIGGEN, Plaintiff,
LEGGETT & PLATT, INC., Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRY LEINENWEBER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Trish Wiggen (hereinafter "Wiggen") alleges that she
was terminated by her employer Defendant Leggett & Platt
(hereinafter "L&P") for disability discrimination and retaliation
in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA").
Before the Court is L&P's Motion for Summary Judgment, which is
Wiggen was employed by L&P's Batavia Branch from September 13,
1993 until she was terminated on August 31, 2001. Wiggen also
attended DeVry University and devoted approximately 25 hours per
week to her senior project. Presently and throughout her
employment at L&P, Wiggen suffered from migraine (severe tension)
headaches. See Def. SOF ¶¶ 119, 195. The migraine headaches
generally occur once a month and typically last two to three
days. See id. ¶¶ 124-125. Wiggen is self-sufficient and lives
alone. She has no limitations on major life activities. Wiggen occasionally has blackouts, feels nauseated, or dizzy when she
has a headache. See id. ¶¶ 126-138.
In addition to migraine headaches, Wiggen also suffered from
sinus headaches in 1998 and from June 2001 through April 2002.
See id. ¶¶ 139-141, 151-152. Wiggen also had a growth in her tear
duct which caused a fluid backup, adding pressure and aggravating
the headaches. See id. ¶¶ 154, 156. During July and August 2001,
Wiggen suffered from the combination of migraine and sinus
headaches. During that time, Wiggen vomited on a daily basis and
had nausea episodes and occasionally would pass out, or be unable
to eat, walk, light a cigarette, or drive due to her headaches.
See id. ¶¶ 161-62, 164-67. Despite her headaches, Wiggen
continued to report to work and keep current with her school
assignments. See id. ¶¶ 159-168.
A. Confrontations and Disruptions
James Zaerr ("Zaerr"), the branch manager, and Tina Robinson
("Robinson"), the office manager, were Wiggen's supervisors at
L&P. See id. ¶¶ 23-24, 30-33. Zaerr received numerous oral and
written reports of Wiggen's misconduct. See id. ¶¶ 104-113; Zaerr
Aff. ¶¶ 16-25, 34-39, 41, 43-45. Wiggen's working relationship
with Robinson was inconsistent and marked by frequent conflict.
See Def. SOF ¶¶ 42-43, 103. She had many confrontations with
Robinson throughout July and August, which resulted in workplace
disruptions. Most of the disagreements revolved around Wiggen's salary and time cards. Robinson and other co-workers documented
many of Wiggen's disruptions and confrontations in written and
oral complaints to Zaerr. See id. ¶¶ 56-62, 66-67.
Problems continued despite a meeting between Zaerr, Robinson
and Wiggen on August 10. On August 20, co-worker Stacie Lawhorn
documented a customer complaint about Wiggen's phone etiquette.
See id. ¶¶ 83-84. That same day, Wiggen wrote a memo to Zaerr
complaining about Danzer's phone etiquette. See id. ¶¶ 85-86. On
August 30, Wiggen argued with several L&P employees. Robinson
related one such dispute to Zaerr in a memorandum. See id. ¶¶
99-100. Wiggen also initiated a confrontation with co-worker
Lloyd Awe, and Awe wrote a memorandum to Zaerr complaining about
the manner in which Wiggen treated him. Robinson wrote a letter
to Zaerr about the dispute. See id. ¶¶ 93-97.
B. Wiggen's Medical and Discrimination-Related Complaints
In July 2001, Wiggen informed Robinson that she was having
severe migraines and was going to undergo testing. See id. ¶ 169.
She did not complain of discrimination because of her headaches.
On the same day, Wiggen wrote a letter to Jeff Hugey ("Hugey") at
L&P's corporate office, in which she reported that on one
occasion in July, Zaerr "informed [her] if [she] ever called
[L&P] corporate [offices] for a problem again he would fire
[her]." Def. Ex. N. In closing, Wiggen also stated that she
"personally believe[s] that both Mr. Zaerr and Mrs. Robinson
should be required to attend classes that will inform them what includes harassment and
discrimination on the job." Id. The remainder of the letter
related to paycheck discrepancy complaints, and there was no
mention of Wiggen's headaches.
On August 30, Wiggen wrote a second letter to Hugey, which she
sent only to him. See id. ¶¶ 176-178; Def. Ex. A. For the first
time, Wiggen referred to her medical condition, stating: "I am
under a doctor's care for a growth (tumor) whatever you want to
call it in my head which causes me to have horrible migraine
headaches and pain which would make me sound tired, which I am
due to lack of sleep which comes from much added stress from
here." Def. Exhibit A. She did not complain of discrimination
based upon her headaches. Also, on August 30, Wiggen informed
Zaerr about her sinus and tear duct problems and the worsening of
her headaches, as well as the surgeries she would need to relieve
those problems. Id. ¶¶ 172-174. She did not complain of
discrimination based upon her headaches.
Wiggen did not file a charge of discrimination until June 18,
2002, ten months after her termination from L&P. The charge
alleges only that:
On or around July 2001 I complained to Respondent
about disability discrimination but to no avail. On
August 30, 2001, I made Respondent aware of another
medical condition that I had and also complained
again to Respondent about disability discrimination.
On August 31, 2001, I was discharged. I believe that
I have been retaliated against due to my prior
complaints of disability discrimination . . ."
Zaerr decided to terminate Wiggen, after the "last straw" of
the major disruption caused by the confrontation Wiggen initiated
with Awe. Zaerr Aff. ¶¶ 38-39. On August 31, 2001, Zaerr
terminated Wiggen for disruptions in the workplace and failure to
get along with others. See Def. SOF ¶¶ 115. Zaerr relied upon the
oral and written complaints regarding Wiggen's conduct, as well
as his own personal observations of Wiggen's conduct. Id. ¶ 114.
Zaerr contends he was not aware of Wiggen's letter to Hugey until
after he had already decided to terminate Wiggen. See Zaerr Aff.
¶ 50. Wiggen purportedly "never complained to [Zaerr] of
discrimination based on any health condition or alleged
disability." Id. ¶ 52.
L&P also terminated eleven other employees between January 2000
and December 2001. See Def. SOF ¶ 198. None of those employees
had a disability or medical condition nor had they complained
about disability discrimination. Id. ¶¶ 197, 204. Two employees
were terminated due to a reduction in work force, and two were
terminated after a disciplinary process. The remaining employees
were discharged for a variety of reasons, such as theft, lying,
and inadequate performance. Id. ¶¶ 199-202.
Wiggen claims that L&P discriminated in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. and retaliated in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12203. L&P moves for
summary judgment on both claims. The summary judgment standard is
well-established. See, e.g., Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
In this case, Wiggen is pro se, and thus her pleadings are
liberally construed. See Greer v. Bd. of Ed. of City of Chicago,
267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001). However, a pro se plaintiff is
not excused from the procedural requirements of the court. See
Members v. Paige, 140 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir. 1998). Wiggen's
response fails to comply with Local Rule 56.1, of which L&P made
Wiggen aware. In purporting to respond to L&P's statements of
fact, Wiggen asserted numerous additional proposed "undisputed
facts," without citing any evidence in support of such facts,
most of which were "self-serving legal conclusions, rather than
particularized statements of facts." Greer, 267 F.3d at 727.
Accordingly, the Court strikes such responses. The Court is not
"obliged in our adversary system to scour the record looking for
factual disputes." Id. (quoting Waldridge v. American Hoechst
Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921-22 (7th Cir. 1993)). The Court reviews
each of Wiggen's claims in turn.
A. Disability Discrimination
There are two available methods for a plaintiff to prove
disability discrimination under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a):
the direct and indirect method. Buie v. Quad/Graphics, Inc., 366
F.3d 496, 503 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Robin v. Espo Engineering Corp.,
200 F.3d 1081, 1089 (7th Cir. 2000)). Under the direct method, a
plaintiff must prove that the decision to terminate her was
motivated by the impermissible purpose of disability. Robin,
200 F.3d at 1089 ("to survive a motion for summary judgment,
[plaintiff] is required to present sufficient evidence to allow a
rational jury to reasonably conclude that but for his age or
disability, [defendant] would not have fired him"). This can be
proven by direct and circumstantial evidence. Buie,
366 F.3d at 503 (citations omitted). Direct evidence "essentially requires an
admission by the decision-maker that his actions were based upon
the prohibited animus." Id. Conversely, circumstantial evidence
would allow "a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the
Because direct evidence is often difficult to procure, the
Supreme Court established the burden-shifting approach set out in
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green as an indirect method of proving
discrimination (the "McDonnell Douglas approach"). See
411 U.S. 792 (1973). To proceed under this method, the plaintiff must
first establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing
that (1) she is disabled under the ADA; (2) she is qualified to
perform the essential functions of her job with or without
reasonable accommodation; and (3) she suffered an adverse
employment decision because of her disability. Buie,
366 F.3d at 503; Dvorak v. Mostardi Platt Assoc., Inc., 289 F.3d 479, 483 (7th Cir. 2002).
If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden
shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment action. Buie,
366 F.3d at 503. If the defendant meets the burden, the plaintiff
must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the
defendant's proffered reasons were a pretext for intentional
discrimination. Id. The "ultimate burden of persuading the trier
of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against
the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff." Texas
Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).
A "disability" is defined under Section 12102 of the ADA as
(A) a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more of the major life
activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment.
42 U.S.C. § 12101(2). Major life activities include: "caring for
oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing,
speaking, breathing, learning, and working."
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i); see also Dvorak, 289 F.3d at 483. Wiggen contends that
she is disabled because of her headaches. When suffering from a
headache, Wiggen sometimes experiences blackouts or feels nauseated or dizzy, or is unable to eat, walk, or drive due to
the headache pain.
L&P responds that Wiggen is not "disabled" under the ADA
because her headaches do not "substantially limit one or more of
the major life activities" as defined under the ADA. A person is
"substantially limited" in regard to daily life activities if,
compared to the average person in the general population, she
cannot perform or is limited in the manner in or extent to which
she can perform one of the recognized activities. See
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(ii); Dvorak, 289 F.3d at 483. The nature and severity
of the impairment, the duration of the impairment, and the
permanent or long term impact of the impairment should be
considered in making such determination. See id. § 1630.2(j)
(ii)(2). The term "substantially" suggests "considerable" or "to
a large degree," and "clearly precludes impairments that
interfere in only a minor way with the performance of manual
tasks from qualifying as disabilities." Toyota Motor Mfg.,
Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 185 (2002). Thus, to be
"disabled" under the ADA, the plaintiff must offer evidence that
their impairment is long-term or permanently "prevents or
severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are
of central importance to most people's daily lives." Id. at 198.
The Court finds no direct evidence of disability animus, and so
it analyzes Wiggen's claim using the McDonnell Douglas approach. See Greer, 267 F.3d at 728. Wiggen clearly has not presented
evidence to show a "disability," and thus cannot satisfy the
first prima facie element. Wiggen's headaches do not impair her
major life activities or impact her daily activities. According
to her own testimony, Wiggen's headaches are periodic and
temporary and therefore do not constitute a long term or
permanent impairment. She lives alone and has no limitations on
caring for herself. Further, even during the few days per month
she has a headache, Wiggen faithfully attends her full time job
and continues to devote time to her studies without interruption.
Wiggen also fails to show that L&P regarded her as having an
impairment that substantially limited her major life activities.
See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(C). To the contrary, Zaerr specifically
attested that he did not regard Wiggen as having any such
impairment, and Wiggen provided no evidence to the contrary.
Wiggen has failed to establish a prima facie case of disability
discrimination. Thus, summary judgment is required in favor of
the L&P on the ADA discrimination claim, and the Court need not
examine the remaining. The Court additionally notes that even if
Wiggen had been successful in shifting the burden to L&P under
the McDonnell Douglas approach, summary judgment would still be
required in favor of L&P because it provided a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the termination supported by ample
documentation in the record. Wiggen failed to provide any
evidence to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the proffered
reason was a pretext for intentional discrimination. Buie,
366 F.3d at 503. For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants L&P's
motion for summary judgment on the claim of disability
B. Retaliation Claim
Wiggen also alleges that L&P retaliated against her in
violation of Section 12203 of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12203.
Like discrimination, retaliation can be established by the direct
or indirect method. Stone v. City of Indianapolis Public
Utilities Div., 281 F.3d 640, 644 (7th Cir. 2002). Under the
direct method, the plaintiff presents direct evidence "that he
engaged in protected activity (filing a charge of discrimination)
and as a result suffered the adverse employment action of which
he complaints." Id. The defendant is entitled to summary judgment
if it presents unrebutted evidence that it would have terminated
plaintiff even without a retaliatory motive. See id. To proceed
under the McDonnell Douglas approach, the plaintiff must first
establish a prima facie case by showing that after filing a
charge of discrimination, she, unlike otherwise similarly
situated employees, was subject to adverse action even though she
was performing her job in a satisfactory manner. See id. at 644.
"If the defendant presents unrebutted evidence of a noninvidious
reason for the adverse action, he is entitled to summary
judgment." Id. L&P argues that Wiggen has failed to establish a prima facie
case of retaliation for many reasons. First, she did not file a
charge of disability discrimination or retaliation during her
employment with L&P. Additionally, there is no evidence that she
ever complained of discrimination based upon her headaches to
anyone at L&P during her employment. Third, Wiggen did not
present evidence that other similarly situated employees were
treated differently. Fourth, L&P contends that she was not
performing her job satisfactorily at the time of termination as
evidenced by the multiple complaints regarding her disagreements
with co-workers and the complaint from a customer. Further, L&P
contends that the termination had nothing to do with any health
condition Wiggen may have had or any alleged complaints of
disability discrimination. See id. ¶ 183. Zaerr also argues that
he was not even aware of Wiggen's second letter to Hugey until
after he decided to terminate her, and denies regarding Wiggen's
headaches as imposing any limitation on her major life activities
or interfering with her ability to do her job. See id. ¶¶ 179,
Wiggen responds that her termination was in response to her
complaints to Zaerr and Hugey. Id. ¶¶ 194, 184. Wiggen testified
that she understood the following documented interactions to be
complaints of disability discrimination: her comments to Robinson
and Zaerr about her headaches and medical conditions in July and August respectively, and her two letters to Hugey in August. See
id. ¶¶ 171, 175, 177, 180.
As with the disability discrimination claim, the Court discerns
no direct evidence that L&P terminated Wiggen in retaliation for
complaints of disability discrimination. After an extensive
review of record, the Court concludes that Wiggen has also failed
to establish a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas
approach. The evidence in the record does not support Wiggen's
allegations that she complained of discrimination. To the
contrary, Wiggen did not file a charge of retaliation or
discrimination with the state or EEOC until ten months after her
termination. Only the second letter to Hugey on even mentions her
headaches, and such letter discusses office grievances, not
discrimination. The first letter to Hugey does not mention
Wiggen's medical issues at all, and briefly mentions retaliation
but not in the context of complaints regarding her headaches or
medical issues. Further, Wiggen's communications with Zaerr and
Robinson do not allege discrimination in connection with her
headaches or retaliation.
Additionally, Wiggen has failed to present evidence that other
similarly situated employees were treated differently. Zaerr
indicated that he terminated eleven other employees over a
two-year period surrounding Wiggen's termination. Of these
employees, none had a disability or medical condition, and none
complained about disability discrimination. Although Wiggen was the only employee
terminated for the specific reason of not getting along well with
others and causing office disruptions, seven other employees were
terminated without undergoing a disciplinary process for various
Additionally, Wiggen does not show that she performed her job
satisfactorily. The record is replete with complaints regarding
her conduct and supports fully L&P's contention that they
terminated Wiggen for her failure to get along with others in the
workplace. Wiggen has therefore not made a prima facie case of
retaliation. Finally, L&P has presented a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for Wiggen's termination, and Wiggen
has not presented rebuttal evidence indicating that the proffered
reason was pretext for discrimination. Therefore, the Court
grants L&P's motion on Wiggen's retaliation claim.
For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS L&P's Motion
for Summary Judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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