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Johns v. Laidlaw Education Services

March 21, 2006

EASTERN DIVISION LINDA JOHNS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAIDLAW EDUCATION SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Linda Johns worked as a bus driver for Defendant Laidlaw Educational Services ("Laidlaw") until an accident in June 2003 rendered her unable to use her right arm and shoulder without pain. For some months, Laidlaw assigned Johns to light-duty work in its office or as a bus monitor. In May 2004, believing Ms. Johns had been released by her doctor to full duty, Laidlaw terminated Plaintiff for refusing her job assignment. Proceeding pro se, Ms. Johns alleges in this lawsuit that Laidlaw discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C § 12101 et seq. when it terminated her employment on May 18, 2004. Laidlaw moves for summary judgment on Ms. Johns's claim. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

FACTS

Defendant Laidlaw has submitted a Statement of Uncontested Material Facts pursuant to this court's Local Rule 56.1. Despite being advised of the steps necessary to oppose this motion, Ms. Johns has submitted only her own unsworn statements and several documents. The court has reviewed these documents carefully and, where they create a dispute of fact, has construed them in Plaintiff's favor.

On August 16, 2002, Ms. Johns applied for a bus driver position with Laidlaw. (Deposition of Linda Johns (hereinafter, "Johns Dep."), Exhibit A to Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement, at 37.) After she acquired her commercial driver's license in November 2002, Laidlaw offered Ms. Johns a position as a school bus driver, which she accepted. (Johns Dep. at 39, 41). During the course of her employment with Laidlaw, Ms. Johns was involved in three motor vehicle accidents; one of these occurred on November 11, 2002, and a second on February 27, 2003. (Johns Dep. at 51, 58.) On April 15, 2003, Ms. Johns suffered an injury to her shoulder; as this court understands this incident, it occurred either as a result of the hood of the bus unexpectedly flying open, or as a result of Ms. Johns's attempts to pull the hood shut again. (Id. 59-61.) Doctors at the Ingalls Clinic diagnosed Ms. Johns as suffering from a shoulder sprain and recommended light duty work. Laidlaw did assign Ms. Johns to light duty, "[s]itting on the bus monitoring it." (Id. at 74-75.) She returned to full duty on June 3, 2003. (Id. at 76-77.)

On June 3, 2003, the same day she returned to full duty, Ms. Johns was involved in her third accident when the driver of a car rear-ended her bus while it stood stopped at a railroad crossing. (Johns Dep. at 78.) Ms. Johns asserts that this accident exacerbated her shoulder injury; when she complained of continued pain, staff at the Ingalls Clinic ordered an MRI. (Id. at 82.) Some time after undergoing the MRI, Ms. Johns sought treatment with James R. Ingram, D.O., of the Bone & Joint Surgeons Ltd. (Id. at 91-92.) Dr. Ingram diagnosed a possible torn rotator cuff and muscle tears, and performed surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear on September 15, 2003. (Johns Dep., p. 92, 94, 100.) On September 24, 2003, Dr. Ingram released Ms. Johns to work with the following conditions:

No lifting greater than 5lbs. for 21 days with right arm Sedentary work only for 21 days.

Must wear immobilizer for 21 days (Johns Dep. at 106-107, Medical Release/Restriction Form, Exhibit 5 to Def.'s 56.1.). Dr. Ingram restricted Ms. Johns from working at all until December 2003. As memorialized in a report he prepared on December 17, 2003, Ms. Johns was still experiencing pain at that time, but he gave her "a release returning her to work four hours a day" with restrictions. (Bone & Joint Surgeons, Ltd., memorandum, Exhibit 17 to Def.'s 56.1.) Ms. Johns did return to light duty work, which she described as "[s]itting in the office answering phones, dispatching." (Johns Dep. at 121-22.) According to a form Dr. Ingram completed on January 7, 2004, Ms. Johns was able as of that date to drive her own vehicle one to two hours per day and to ride in a motorized vehicle for two hours per day, but was not permitted to drive a commercial vehicle. (Estimated Functional Capacity Evaluation, Jan. 7, 2004, Exhibit 6 to Def.'s 56.1.)

Dr. Brian Cole, M.D., performed an independent medical evaluation of Ms. Johnson on February 9, 2004. He concluded that she had suffered a work-related injury but that her abilities were "probably very close to a job match," and that, in the absence of any "safety issues," he "would return her to full duty." (Letter of Brian J. Cole, M.D., Feb. 9, 2004, Exhibit 8 to Def.'s 56.1.) When Plaintiff again saw Dr. Ingram on February 11, 2004, he reviewed Dr. Cole's findings and suggested she follow Dr. Cole's recommendation of "an on job site functional capacity evaluation." Ms. Johns "vehemently refused" this suggestion. (Dr. Ingram Memorandum, Feb. 11, 2004, Exhibit 7 to Def.'s 56.1.) Ms. Johns acknowledged that Laidlaw personnel requested that she attempt to drive a bus as part of an evaluation of her work abilities, but she refused; she explained, "I wasn't going to get on a bus and drive it. I wasn't going to hurt myself anymore. For what?" (Johns Dep., at 113.)

Although Dr. Ingram's memorandum indicates that he did review Dr. Cole's findings, Ms. Johns testified that she did not show Dr. Cole's letter to Dr. Ingram because Dr. Ingram "hadn't okayed me to go back to driving so I wasn't going to get on [a school bus]." (Id. at 118.) In fact, on April 21, 2004, Dr. Ingram completed a medical report in which he noted Ms. Johns's diagnosis of "bicipital tendonitis" and that she could return to work with "current restrictions" -- presumably the same restrictions imposed on her months earlier. (Medical Release/Restriction Form, April 21, 2004, Exhibit 9 to Def.'s 56.1.) There is no evidence that this form was forwarded to Laidlaw.

Laidlaw evidently concluded that Dr. Cole found Ms. Johns capable of returning to work as a bus driver. In a letter to Plaintiff dated May 4, 2004, a claims agent for Laidlaw stated that Dr. Cole "determined you are capable of full duty work and need no additional treatment." Accordingly, the agent directed that Ms. Johns "return to work as a bus driver immediately." (May 4, 2004 letter of Claims Specialist Kevin Bigenwald, Exhibit 19 to Def.'s 56.1.) Ms. Johns met with Laidlaw Branch Manager Linda Brunner on May 4. She denied that she had a medical release to return to full duty and refused to sign the letter directing her to return to work until she had seen her doctor and her attorney. (Johns Dep. at 124-25.) Ms. Johns had no further contact with Laidlaw. (Johns Dep., at 152-53.) Instead, she filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on May 14, 2004. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 47.) By letter dated May 18, 2004, Laidlaw Branch Manager Brunner terminated Ms. Johns's employment. (May 18, 2004 letter, Exhibit 20 to Def.'s 56.1.) After receiving a right-to-sue notice from the EEOC, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on August 24, 2004.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment will be granted if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Bennington v. Caterpillar Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment should be granted when "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Furthermore, the moving party may ...


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