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Anderson v. United Conveyor Supply

November 15, 2006

ROSEMARY ANDERSON PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED CONVEYOR SUPPLY, COMPANY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

After working for seven years at United Conveyor Supply Company ("Defendant" or "United Conveyor"), Plaintiff Rosemary Anderson ("Plaintiff") was terminated after returning to work from a six-week leave of absence following surgery unrelated to her disability. She claims that she was fired because of her disability, degenerative arthritis, and her age, fifty-seven, and has filed a two-count disability and age discrimination complaint. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's termination was lawful because she was laid off due to a reduction-in-force wherein her work was easily assumed by two other existing employees. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment that is now before the Court. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the Defendant's motion for summary judgment on both counts.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

The following facts are undisputed or presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiff when contested.

A. PLAINTIFF'S CAREER AT UNITED CONVEYOR SUPPLY COMPANY

Plaintiff, Rosemary Anderson, was born on February 21, 1947. Compl. at ¶ 4.*fn1 She was first employed by Defendant from April 1995 until February 1996 when she went to work for Allendale and Associates. DS ¶ 1. Sometime in January 1997, Plaintiff was invited to apply for a supervisory position in Defendant's production department. Anderson Dep. at 11-12. On January 13, 1997, Plaintiff returned to United Conveyor as Supervisor of Administrative Services. DS ¶ 1. She held that supervisory position until her termination on January 26, 2004. Id.

Her duties as Supervisor of Administrative Services included supervising two employees, Ellen Layne and Martha Lind, filling out NAFTA clerical requests (certificates required by North American Free Trade Agreement to accompany Defendant's Canadian exports), creating databases, and working on any special requests from the purchasing manager, quality manager, or transportation manager. Anderson Dep. at 40-45. During her tenure with Defendant, Plaintiff received annual reviews averaging a rating of 3.4 on a 5 point scale. Hauck Dep. at 21. These ratings were considered average. Id. Her immediate supervisor was Phil Hauck ("Hauck"), Manager of the Deerfield District Office. Id. at 14.

B. PLAINTIFF'S DISABILITY

In 2002, Plaintiff was diagnosed by her family physician with degenerative arthritis. Anderson Dep. at 20. Although Plaintiff did not provide Hauck with written documentation from her doctor regarding this disability, she informed Hauck orally of her condition. Id. Hauck acknowledged being aware of her disability. Hauck Dep. at 21. After being diagnosed in 2002, Plaintiff made several accommodation requests for her condition. Anderson Dep. at 22. She asked for an ergonomic chair, keyboard, headset, and wheelchair accessible ramp. Id. at 22, 77. These accommodations were approved by Hauck to Plaintiff's satisfaction. Id. at 21-22.

During her employment, Plaintiff also had numerous leaves of absences due to various surgeries. DS ¶ 2. Before each surgery, Plaintiff asked Hauck for permission to work from home. Anderson Dep. at 28. With one exception, all of her requests to work from home were denied. Id. Plaintiff's only approved request was authorized by her then-supervisor Doug Basler when she had bunion surgery in 1995 and she was allowed to work from home for three weeks. Id at 30. Plaintiff has no quarrel, however, with any of Defendant's conduct regarding her degenerative arthritis or her previous leaves of absence. Id. at 22, 39.

C. PLAINTIFF'S DECEMBER 2003 REQUEST TO WORK FROM HOME

In December 2003, Plaintiff had a hysterectomy, a surgery unrelated to her ongoing degenerative arthritis disability. Anderson Dep. at 33-34. On December 8, 2003, Plaintiff spoke with Hauck and, as she had prior to her other surgeries, orally requested to work from home for six weeks following her surgery. Id. at 26. At the time of this request, she presented Hauck with a document from her surgeon, Dr. Michael J. Hubbell, which indicated she would be having surgery. Id. at 25. This document did not actually recommend any accommodations beyond being off work for six weeks to recuperate from surgery. Id. at 33. In fact, when she returned to work on January 26, 2004, Plaintiff was able to work without any accommodation. Id. at 37-38.

Plaintiff further states that prior to speaking with Hauck, she checked with Ed Pozezinski, the manager of Internet Technologies, about the possibility of accessing work databases from home in order to fulfill her duties during the six week post-operative recovery period. Anderson Dep. at 28. Pozezinski indicated that if Hauck agreed to the request, then he would have no problem with her request to work from home. Id. at 29. Plaintiff states that Hauck denied her request and told her she needed to recuperate, not work, during those six weeks. Id. at 24.

D. PLAINTIFF'S TERMINATION

On January 26, 2004, Plaintiff had fully recovered and returned to work. Anderson Dep. at 37-38. Plaintiff worked until 3:00 P.M. that afternoon when Hauck called her into his office. Id. at 37. Plaintiff was terminated at this meeting. Id. Defendant states that Plaintiff's termination was simply a reduction in work-force and her position was eliminated. Hauck Dep. at 33-34. Because Plaintiff did not have many tasks, two employees were able to fulfill her duties in addition to their own tasks. Layne and Johnson (formerly Lind) Affidavits. Plaintiff states that her position was not actually eliminated because her duties, as Defendant acknowledges, were simply shifted to the other two employees, Martha Lind and Ellen Layne. DR ¶ 23. Martha Lind was twenty-eight years old and Ellen Layne was fifty-eight years old. DR ¶19. Hauck also acknowledges that Plaintiff was the only person he had fired due to a reduction in force since he first became manager in 1982. Hauck Dep. at 39-40.

As evidence of the Defendant's improper animus, Plaintiff cites several statements made by Defendant's agents and other employees. During his deposition, Hauck said that having employees take time off represents a loss of productive time. Hauck Dep. at 34. Additionally, Plaintiff, after her termination, was told by former co-workers that Defendant had a problem with Plaintiff's medical leaves of absence. Plaintiff was told by Judy Gillis, a co-worker, that she (Judy Gillis) was not surprised by Plaintiff's discharge because Hauck had a problem with employees taking time off from work. Anderson Dep. at 47-48. Bobbie Klienfelder and Debbie Lorenz expressed similar feelings and stated to Plaintiff that they also knew Hauck had a problem with Anderson being off work for surgeries. Id. at 49-50, 53. Bill Anderson, another co-worker, told Plaintiff that he was not surprised by her termination because he was aware that Martha Lind wanted Plaintiff's position. Id. at 51. The statements of Judy Gillis, Bobbie Klienfelder, Bill Anderson, and Debbie Lorenz are out-of-court statements constituting hearsay, and the Court gives these statements no weight. See Fed. R. Evid. 802; Gustovich v. AT&T Communications, Inc., 972 F.2d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 1992) ("When action on a motion for summary judgment the judge considers only evidence that would be admissible at trial").

E. TREATMENT OF OTHER EMPLOYEES

Plaintiff argues that Defendant's actions toward employees other than Plaintiff also evidence an improper age and disability animus. To show this animus, Plaintiff alleges that most of her duties were shifted to Martha Lind, a younger (twenty-eight years old) and not disabled ...


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