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Filson v. Big Ten Conference

December 11, 2006

JAMES FILSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE BIG TEN CONFERENCE AND JIM DELANY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff James Filson filed the present three-count Complaint alleging violations under Title I (Count I), or in the alternative, Title III (Count II) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., against his former employer the Defendant Big Ten Conference ("Big Ten") and his former supervisor, Defendant Jim Delany ("Delany"), who is the Big Ten's Commissioner. Filson also alleges a state law claim of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage against Delany (Count III). Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Counts II and III of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint, not the merits of the case. Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 1989); see also Cler v. Illinois Educ. Ass'n, 423 F.3d 726, 729 (7th Cir. 2005). The Court will only grant a motion to dismiss if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Centers v. Centennial Mortgage, Inc., 398 F.3d 930, 933 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). The Court must assume the truth of the facts alleged in the pleadings, construe the allegations liberally, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Centers, 398 F.3d at 933.

BACKGROUND

From 1992 until 2004, Filson officiated Big Ten football. (R. 1-1 Compl. ¶ 7.) In 2000, Filson lost his right eye in an accident and elected to have it removed and a prosthesis put in place. (Id. ¶ 9.) Prior to having eye surgery, Filson contacted his immediate supervisor, David Parry, the Big Ten's Coordinator of Football Officials, and told him about the accident and his resulting condition. (Id. ¶ 10.) Parry responded by telling Filson that he expected him to work hard at recovery and be able to return for the upcoming football season. (Id.) After his surgery, Filson investigated whether he could continue officiating and also sought advice from doctors and surgeons. (Id. ¶ 11.) Based on this advice and his doctor's release, Filson returned to officiating in the Fall of 2000 with Parry's approval. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12, 14.)

After his accident and return to officiating, Filson was very honest about his eye condition and spoke openly about it. (Id. ¶ 15.) Meanwhile, after returning for the 2000 football season, Filson officiated the next five seasons without incident. (Id. ¶ 16.) During those five years, Filson's performance reviews were, on average, substantially better than his reviews in the eight years preceding the loss of his eye. (Id.) In fact, Filson performed so well that he was chosen to officiate two bowl games during those five years, including the Orange Bowl, which is an honor bestowed upon the highest rated officials in the Big Ten. (Id.)

In the Spring of 2005, a reporter contacted Lloyd Carr, the head football coach of the University of Michigan, and told him that Filson was officiating with one eye. (Id. ¶ 17.) Carr then contacted Defendant Delany. (Id.) Thereafter, without first asking Filson about his condition or subjecting him to vision or performance assessments, Delany instructed Parry to terminate Filson's employment, which Parry did on May 3, 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19.) Parry explained to Filson that Delany did not want to deal with the backlash of the Big Ten public knowing about Filson's condition and thought that he would have "hell to pay" if the public found out about it. (Id. ¶ 20.)

ANALYSIS

I. Title III of the ADA -- Count II

In his Complaint, Filson brings a claim under Title I of the ADA, which governs employment practices. Defendants are not seeking to dismiss this claim. Filson, however, also alleges an employment discrimination claim under Title III of the ADA, which concerns public accommodations. Defendants move to dismiss this claim arguing that Title III does not apply to work-related disability discrimination claims. The Court agrees.

A. Purpose of the ADA

"Congress enacted the ADA to ensure that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and advantages available indiscriminately to other members of the general public." Olinger v. U.S. Golf Ass'n, 205 F.3d 1001, 1004 (7th Cir. 2000), rev'd on other grounds, 532 U.S. 1064, 121 S.Ct. 2212, 150 L.Ed.2d 207 (2001); see also Wisconsin Cmty. Servs., Inc. v. City of Milwaukee, 465 F.3d 737, 750 (7th Cir. 2006) (ADA designed "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities") (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 12101(b)(1), (b)(4)). "The ADA's mandate extends to three broad, yet distinct, areas: employment (Title I), public ...


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