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Squibb v. Memorial Medical Center

April 13, 2006

MARY RIOS SQUIBB, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Memorial Medical Center's Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 41). Plaintiff Mary Rios Squibb has alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 and 12112(a), and the Illinois Workers Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Plaintiff Mary Rios Squibb began working for Defendant Memorial Medical Center in 1990 as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex., Deposition of Mary Squibb (Squibb Dep.) at 14. She became a Registered Nurse (RN) in 1992. Id. During her time with Memorial, Squibb suffered several job-related injuries. In February 1993, while trying to lift a patient, Squibb strained her lower back. Id. at 20. As a result of the injury, Squibb had to miss work, but eventually returned to work with a lifting restriction. Id. at 21-22. She underwent surgery for the lower back injury. Squibb's doctor released her from the lifting restriction following the surgery.

On January 12, 1999, Squibb incurred another back injury while working. This time she injured her back when she and a nursing technician tried to move a patient from a bed to a recliner. On March 25, 2000, Squibb again injured her back while working as a floor nurse on Floor 2B at Memorial. The March 25, 2000, workplace injury occurred when she and another nurse, Ruth Ann Cope, tried to move a non-responsive patient from the bathroom to the bed. Id. at 25-26. Because of that injury in 2000, Squibb's physician restricted her from: (1) lifting more than 5 pounds; (2) pushing and pulling; (3) sitting and standing for an extended period of time; and (4) bending and stooping. Id. at 27; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 45)(Plaintiff's Response), Ex. 3, Doctor's note dated 8/28/00.

In December 2000, Squibb underwent another back surgery, which was performed by Dr. Stephen Pineda. Id. On April 23, 2001, Dr. Pineda released Squibb to return to work in a light-duty capacity, such as desk duty, but limited her to lifting no more than ten pounds and working for no more than 4 hours a day. Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 4, Dr. Pineda's note dated 4/23/01. According to Squibb, her 10-pound lifting restriction continued through approximately July 2001. Squibb Dep. at 34. Squibb returned to work on Floor 2B sometime in late April 2001 and attempted to perform work duties within her restrictions. She was stripped of any tasks involving patient care and lifting and was told to request assistance in the event she was required to lift a patient. Squibb, however, testified in her deposition that sometimes she had to perform duties that were outside of her doctor's restrictions, including pushing a patient in a wheelchair for discharge. Id. at 30-31. She stated that she complained to Linda Eilering, Memorial's Worker's Compensation Coordinator, who told her to talk to her supervisor, David Beatty, about her restrictions and to request assistance.

On May 8, 2001, Squibb filed a worker's compensation claim regarding her 1999 injury. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex., Declaration of Michele Frye (Frye Decl.), ¶ 4. On May 21, 2001, she also filed a worker's compensation claim regarding her 2000 injury. Id. On June 19, 2001, Dr. Pineda issued a note indicating that Squibb's restrictions remained the same. On July 25, 2001, Dr. Pineda issued another note indicating that Squibb should not lift more than 10 pounds, which would exclude most patient encounters. On August 24, 2001, Memorial transferred Squibb from working on Floor 2B in patient care to a light-duty, temporary assignment in the Ostomy and Wound Care office that met her work restrictions.*fn1 Squibb testified that, prior to this move, she spoke to Beatty regarding Memorial's inability to accommodate her physical restrictions as an RN in patient care.

By a letter dated October 18, 2001, Eilering advised Squibb to begin searching for a permanent position within her physical restrictions. The letter stated, in part:

I also noted in an email from this date, that you were directed to begin a search for permanent placement, within your restrictions. You may contact a Human Resource Generalist to assist you in this job search.

Your current restrictions include: working 6 hour shifts, 3 days a week, no lifting over 10 pounds, no patient encounters, and desk work as appropriate.

Memorial's Return to Work Program will continue to locate appropriate assignments for you, as it can accommodate most any physical restriction, however permanent placement is desired.

Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 8, Eilering letter dated 10/18/01. On October 23, 2001, Squibb provided Memorial with a return-to-work slip from Dr. Pineda in which he indicated that she could return to patient care 3 days a week, gradually increasing to 5 days a week as she became able, and to "[m]aintain/continue her previous weight restrictions." Squibb Dep. at 37; Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 9, Dr. Pineda's note dated 10/23/01.

On November 3, 2001, Squibb was placed in another temporary, light-duty position in the Medical Records Department. Squibb Dep. at 223. On November 13, 2001, Squibb provided Memorial with another update from Dr. Pineda in which he indicated that he did not believe Squibb could ever lift 50 to 100 pounds. Id. at 38-39; Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 10, Dr. Pineda's note dated 11/13/01.

In December 2001, Memorial transferred Squibb to a temporary, light-duty position as a unit clerk, inputting lab orders into a computer, answering phones and answering call lights. Squibb Dep. at 44, 224. She remained in that position until August 2002. Id. at 225.

Sometime in January 2002, despite her lifting restriction, Squibb expressed to Dr. Pineda that she did not like working in a clerical-type position because she was an RN and that she wanted to work as an RN in patient care. Id. at 40. On January 15, 2002, Dr. Pineda issued a note indicating that "Squibb may advance to 50 [pound] restriction." Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 10, Dr. Pineda's note dated 1/15/02. Pineda provided another update on Squibb's condition on February 26, 2002. He noted in this update that the pain clinic was changing Squibb's medication and that he "suggested to her that initially she could work three days a week and then she can advance this as tolerated . . . . Otherwise her status and examination remain without significant changes." Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 11, Dr. Pineda's note dated 2/26/02. On April 16, 2002, Dr. Pineda informed Squibb that he believed her 50-pound lifting restriction would remain permanent.*fn2 Squibb Dep. at 42.

On August 19, 2002, Memorial transferred Plaintiff to a temporary, light duty RN position on Floor 2B. According to Michelle Frye, Manager of Employee Health Services at Memorial, Squibb's light duty position on Floor 2B was a temporary position while her restrictions remained temporary. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex., Deposition of Michele Frye (Frye Dep.) at 39. In that position, Squibb was not to be assigned patients. However, she occasionally had to perform duties that required her to lift a patient. She complained to Beatty about having to work outside her physician's restrictions and was told to request assistance when performing tasks outside her restrictions. She testified that an RN without any physical restrictions was required to lift or transfer a patient. Squibb Dep. at 49.

In November 2002, Squibb settled her worker's compensation claim against Memorial with respect to her 2000 injury. In December 2002, Dr. Pineda informed Squibb that she was at her maximum medical improvement and that the 50-pound lifting restriction would remain permanent. Id. at 49-50. Memorial was notified of this update. Squibb testified that the only restriction that Dr. Pineda had indicated to her at that time was the lifting restriction.

On December 17, 2002, Squibb met with Eilering. Squibb states that Eilering told her at this meeting that she could no longer work in the light-duty RN position. Id. at 51. Based on the conversation that took place during this meeting, Squibb contends that Defendant Memorial terminated her employment at this time. Squibb testified in her deposition as follows:

Q: And what did she tell you?

A: She told me that since my workmen's comp case had been settled that I no longer had the position on 2B.

Q: What else did she say?

A: Well, I asked her why I didn't. And she said, Well, because your workmen's comp case is settled and you no longer have that job. You will have to find something else. And I said, Well, I have to work tomorrow. And she said, You don't understand. You no longer have a job here. To have a job here you will have to reapply for a job.

Q: And what else did she say?

A: She may have said the job was temporary. And I said, I understand that, I think. But why can't I go back and have my job back? And she said, You don't understand. You no longer have a job here. And I don't know--that's all I remember.

Q: Okay. Did she tell you during that conversation that you would be put on a personal leave of absence to look for positions in the hospital that were regular or permanent positions?

A: To be honest, all I know is she told me I no longer had a job there. And I was just upset that I was not able to work there anymore. I don't remember.

Q: But you were put on a personal leave of absence at that time, right?

A: I think that's why they have called it. * * * *

Q: What I'm trying to get is just the process you went through to find -- when you were put on a -- you were put on a 30-day personal leave of absence, right, as of mid December 2002?

A: Yes.

Q: And at that point you were told to look for a job within Memorial that meets your restrictions of 50 pounds, lifting no more than 50 pounds, right?

A: Yes.

Squibb Dep. at 51-52, 56-57.

Memorial disputes that Squibb was terminated in December 2002. Memorial states that, given Dr. Pineda's assessment that Squibb's restriction would remain permanent, Eilering advised Squibb that she could no longer work in the light-duty position as an RN in patient care and, thus, should look for another position that would meet her permanent restriction. Squibb admitted at her deposition that she received neither a formal letter indicating that she was terminated from her employment in December 2002, nor a COBRA notice following her alleged termination in December 2002. Squibb Dep. at 215. Memorial's personnel records for Squibb show that she was placed on a 30-day personal leave of absence. Additionally, Squibb acknowledged that Memorial provided her access to job postings.

By a note dated December 31, 2002, Dr. Pineda explained his assessment of Squibb's physical condition:

I think realistically 50 pounds would be the maximum weight that she can lift.

She is awake and alert. She is able to stand, walk, and fire her upper and lower extremity musculature's strongly. . . . I certainly think that she is at her maximum medical improvement at this point unless the X-rays show something different.

Plaintiff's Response. Ex. 15, Dr. Pineda's update letter dated 12/31/02. On or about January 6, 2003, Jodi Lutz-Sanchez, Memorial's Employee Health Coordinator, contacted Squibb to discuss her permanent restrictions. She contacted Squibb after Eilering told her that Squibb had reached her maximum medical improvement.

On January 9, 2003, Squibb and her husband, John Squibb, met with Lutz-Sanchez. According to Lutz-Sanchez, she told Squibb that Memorial would assist her in finding a position, but would not place her in a position. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex., Deposition of Jodi Lutz-Sanchez (Lutz-Sanchez Dep.) at 25. Lutz-Sanchez told Squibb that she would be referred to a Human Resources Generalist who would assist her in finding a position that would accommodate her restrictions.

During this meeting, Lutz-Sanchez gave Squibb a list of jobs available at Memorial. Id. at 29. Lutz-Sanchez testified that she also told Squibb that Memorial could not accommodate her in the position of an RN in patient care. According to Lutz-Sanchez, this was not a reasonable accommodation that Memorial could provide because it would require Memorial to hire another person to carry out the essential job duties that Squibb could not carry out due to her physical restrictions. Id. at 25.

At this meeting, Lutz-Sanchez ordered Squibb to undergo a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) in order to assess her physical capabilities within her 50-pound permanent lifting restriction. According to Lutz-Sanchez this evaluation would help Memorial in finding a suitable position for Squibb. Id. at 26, 28. Squibb began her FCE on January 15, 2003, but the test was stopped due to Squibb's rising blood pressure during the exam. Squibb continued her FCE on January 21, 2003, and it was completed the following day. Squibb's FCE results showed that she was able to sit continuously, kneel continuously, stand continuously, twist frequently, bend occasionally, climb occasionally, and push and pull rarely. The results further indicated, in part, as follows:

FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT:

The client demonstrated the following significant abilities:

* Material handling abilities in the light physical demand range

* Good bilateral hand strength and coordination * Good balance abilities

* Good positional tolerances for static standing, prolonged sitting, kneeling and sustained crouching

* Good elevated work abilities.

The client demonstrated deficits in the ...


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