United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
September 8, 2005.
RODNEY HEIDEN, Plaintiff,
LITTELFUSE, INC., Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATHEW KENNELLY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Rodney Heiden has sued his former employer, Littelfuse Inc.,
under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, and
the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621. Heiden
claims that Littelfuse failed to reasonably accommodate his
learning disability and fired him because of his disability or
age. Littelfuse has moved for summary judgment. For the following
reasons, the Court grants Littelfuse's motion.
Heiden, who is 56 years old, began working for Littlefuse as a
stock material handler in Littlefuse's Des Plaines facility in
January 1973. The job required Heiden to collect various
automobile fuse-making materials and distribute them as needed to
Littelfuse's several production departments. Heiden performed the
job capably for nearly thirty years, receiving employment
evaluations ranging from satisfactory to superior. Things
changed, however, in April 2001, when Littelfuse eliminated
Heiden's job and transferred him to a different department.
Initially, his responsibilities were similar to those of a stock
material handler, but over time he was also given "backflushing"
duties, the process of sorting and counting the finished boxes of product as they came off the conveyer, stacking
them on pallets, scanning the bar code on the boxes and entering
the number of boxes of the finished product into the computer.
Heiden experienced difficulty adjusting to this new job, and as a
result, his relationship with his supervisors, Judith Iverson and
Larry Smith, became strained. On several occasions Smith and
Iverson called Heiden "clumsy," "old man," and "big ox," names
which Heiden did not appreciate. Also during this time,
Littelfuse's computer system disclosed numerous backflushing
errors traced to Heiden's department. As a result, Smith and
Iverson warned him on at least four occasions in November and
December 2002 to backflush more carefully. When the warnings
failed to remedy the errors, Littelfuse terminated Heiden's
Heiden claims it is impossible to know who committed the
backflushing errors because other people, specifically Heiden's
supervisors, also performed backflushing in the department, and
computer records fail to identify which worker committed each
error. Heiden nonetheless stops short of completely denying the
errors, conceding that he did most of the backflushing in the
department and that he could have made some of the mistakes.
Heiden also believes that regardless of who committed the
errors and despite what Littelfuse may assert, he was actually
fired because of a severe learning disability caused by his poor
short-term memory. This disability manifested itself at a young
age and caused Heiden to spend much of his elementary and high
school years in special education classes. Heiden's expert
witness, Dr. Steven Rothke, administered an I.Q. test to Heiden
sometime after his termination and estimated that Heiden's
overall I.Q. is somewhere between 74 and 83. This score,
according to Dr. Rothke, demonstrates that Heiden's intellectual
functioning is relatively weak and could indicate mild mental retardation. Moreover,
Heiden's scores on certain I.Q. sub-tests, including those
involving the general area of "working memory," indicate an
extremely low ability that affects his performance in a broad
range of activities. Heiden states that he told his supervisors
about this disability when he first started working in 1973 and
again in April and October 2002 once he transferred to the
backflushing job. Littelfuse counters that it terminated Heiden
because of his backflushing mistakes, not his alleged learning
Finally, Heiden asserts that in addition to being terminated
because of his disability, Littelfuse failed to reasonably
accommodate him by giving him a job in another department that
did not involve backflushing responsibilities.
On a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to
consider the evidence and draw reasonable inferences in favor of
Heiden, the non-moving party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In employment
discrimination cases like this one, this standard is applied
strictly, since these cases often involve credibility issues
typically reserved for a trier of fact. See Robinson v. PPG
Industries, Inc., 23 F.3d 1159, 1162 (7th Cir. 1994).
The ADA provides disabled persons with two principal workplace
rights. The first prohibits employment discrimination against a
qualified individual with a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The
second requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to
individuals with a disability who are otherwise qualified to
perform their job. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b). Heiden claims that
Littelfuse violated both rights. a. Disability discrimination
To establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination,
a plaintiff must show that he is disabled within the meaning of
the ADA; he is qualified to perform the essential functions of
his job either with or without reasonable accommodation; and he
suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability.
Dvorak v. Mostardi Platt Assocs., Inc., 289 F.3d 479, 483 (7th
Cir. 2002). If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case,
the burden shifts to the employer to produce a non-discriminatory
reason for the adverse employment action. Id. If the employer
satisfies this burden, the inference of discrimination
disappears, and the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of
the evidence that the employer's proffered reason is pretext for
intentional discrimination. Id.
For purposes of discussion, we assume that Heiden is able to
establish a prima facie case and proceed directly to the issue
of pretext. See, e.g., Johnson v. Nordstrom, Inc.,
260 F.3d 727, 732 (7th Cir. 2001). To establish pretext, Heiden must prove
more than that Littelfuse's proffered reason was wrong or
demonstrated poor business judgment. Green v. Natl. Steel Corp.,
Midwest Div., 197 F.3d 894, 899 (7th Cir. 1999). He must prove
that the reason Littefuse gives is not the real reason for its
actions. Id. To meet this burden, Heiden cites Dyrek v.
Garvey, 334 F.3d 590, 598 (7th Cir. 2003), for the proposition
that a plaintiff can prove pretext by showing the employer's
proferred reason is "factually baseless." He claims that
Littelfuse's reason is factually baseless because someone else
might have committed the backflushing errors (i.e., there is no
way to know who committed the errors because the computer records
only disclose which department committed the error.) That is
insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find Littelfuse's
proffered reason is factually baseless. Heiden has not offered
evidence that would permit a finding that Littelfuse "did not, at the time of his
discharge, honestly believe the reason it gave for firing him."
Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687,
694-95 (7th Cir. 2000).
Heiden also attempts to prove pretext by showing that
Littelfuse tolerated his errors before he assumed the
backflushing duties. This does not tend to show that Littelfuse's
reasons were pretextual, but rather suggests only that a lower
error rate was tolerated at his new position. Littelfuse asserts,
and Heiden does not contest, that errors in backflushing affected
other departments, while errors in Heiden's previous job did not.
Absent facts suggesting that Littelfuse's stated reasons for
tolerating fewer blackfushing errors were dishonest, Heiden
cannot satisfy his summary judgment burden.
Finally, Heiden suggests that Littelfuse tolerated the
backflushing errors of Eloy Huicochea, another employee in the
department, without terminating him. It is true that evidence of
differential treatment of similarly situated persons outside the
same protected class is an accepted means of showing pretext,
see, e.g., Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1042
(7th Cir. 1993), but Heiden admits, in his response to
defendant's Rule 56.1 statement, that "Huicochea's number of
errors was less than Plaintiff's, given the period of time and
number of shipments covered." Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 239. Absent
evidence from which a jury reasonably could find that Heiden and
Huicochea were similarly situated in the number of errors they
made, Littelfuse's treatment of Huicochea does not support a
finding of pretext. See Johnson v. West, 218 F.3d 725, 733 (7th
Cir. 2000) ("[O]ne means of demonstrating pretext is to put forth
evidence that employees outside the protected class who were
involved in misconduct of comparable seriousness were not
subject to similar adverse employment action.") (emphasis added).
For these reasons, Littefuse is entitled to summary judgment on
Heiden's discrimination claim.
B. Reasonable accommodation
An employer must reasonably accommodate a disabled employee's
limitations, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.
42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A); EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.,
417 F.3d 789, 802 (7th Cir. 2005). Heiden claims that Littelfuse failed to
accommodate his disability by refusing to transfer him to another
job. Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 498 (7th Cir.
1996) ("[T]he ADA may require an employer to reassign a disabled
employee to a different position as reasonable accommodation
where the employee can no longer perform the essential functions
of [his] current position."). To show that Littelfuse failed to
accommodate him in this manner, Heiden must show that such an
accommodation existed. See Mays v. Principi, 301 F.3d 866, 870
(7th Cir. 2002) (Rehabilitation Act case; "The plaintiff cannot
seek a judicial remedy for the employer's failure to accommodate
her disability without showing that a reasonable accommodation
existed."). Simply pointing to another position in the company is
not enough. Heiden must show that he was qualified for a position
that was vacant during the time in question. Gile,
213 F.3d at 374 ("[T]he ADA does not obligate employers to `bump' other
employees or create new positions."). Though Heiden claims he
could have performed the "picker-packer" job in another
department, he presents no evidence from which a jury reasonably
could find that such a position was available at the time he was
fired. Accordingly, Heiden's reasonable accommodation claim fails
2. ADEA In his response brief, Heiden does little to develop his ADEA
claim. He fails to articulate any of the elements of a prima
facie case and focuses instead on his ADA claim. In order to
establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, Heiden must
present evidence from which a jury could conclude that he belongs
to a protected class; he performed his job satisfactorily; he
suffered an adverse employment action; and Littelfuse treated
similarly situated employees outside his protected class more
favorably. Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Group, Inc.,
129 F.3d 391, 398 (7th Cir. 1997). Among other things, Heiden fails to
identify evidence suggesting that Littelfuse treated a similarly
situated employee outside his protected class more favorably.
Heiden concedes that he does not know the age of Huicochea, the
man who took over his backflushing job. Pl.'s Resp. at 5. This
lack of evidence is fatal to Heiden's ADEA claim.
For the foregoing reasons, Littelfuse, Inc.'s motion for
summary judgment is granted [docket no. 19]. The Clerk is
directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendant. The trial
date of January 9, 2006 is vacated.
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