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Hill v. Cook County

March 19, 2007

YOLANDA HILL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Yolanda Hill ("Hill" or "Plaintiff"), brought suit against Cook County, Illinois ("Defendant" or "the County") for three employment-related violations: violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of religion brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, discrimination on the basis of religion in violation of Title VII, and failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted as to the § 1983 claim and the ADA claim, and denied as to the Title VII claim for religious discrimination.

Facts

Plaintiff lives in Chicago and has suffered from epilepsy throughout her life. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts Which Mandate Denial of Summary Judgment ("Pltf. 56.1 Add. Facts") at ¶ 1. Her epilepsy causes her to have seizures, and these seizures usually occur in the morning hours of the day. These seizures can be caused by stress. When the epileptic seizures occur, they last less than one minute, but during that time she cannot stand, speak, or function. Id.

Hill had been working for Cook County Hospital for nearly 25 years, starting in 1982. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Def 56.1 Facts") at ¶¶ 1, 5. The County originally hired Hill as a patient transporter at Cook County Hospital. Id. at ¶ 5; Pltf. Ex. B. at 22. In 1988, Plaintiff applied for the position of elevator operator because she found that the position of patient transporter was too physically demanding. Id. at ¶ 7-8. She received the elevator position in 1988 and worked in that position until 2002 when the elevator operator position was phased out as part of the hospital's relocation to a new building. Id. at ¶ 9. In 2002, the County informed her that her position was no longer available and provided her with a choice of different positions in order to remain employed. Hill chose to become a patient transporter again. Id. at ¶ 10.

In her new transporter position starting in 2002, Mr. Babajide Labinjo ("Labinjo") supervised Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 11. When she first returned to the job in 2002, Plaintiff found that she could not perform the job of transporter because she had been placed on the daytime shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Plaintiff experienced more seizures in the early part of the day; when she worked the evening shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.), she did not have seizures. Pltf. 56.1 Add. Facts at ¶ 6. Once she was transferred to the evening shift in February of 2003, Hill was able to perform the transporter job. Pltf. Dep. at 57-61.

Plaintiff is a member of the Children of Light Church which practices Orthodox Judaism. Pltf. 56.1 Add. Facts at ¶ 8. As part of her religion, Plaintiff does not work during the Sabbath, defined as sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. Pltf. Dep. at 111-13. Hill told her supervisor that she could not work the Sabbath, but Labinjo told her that he could not schedule her differently from other employees to avoid work on the Sabbath. Pltf. Dep. at 114-16. Labinjo testified that he could not change the schedule because he was following the terms of the hospital's collective bargaining agreement, applicable to all employees under his supervision, which required that employees work some weekends. Def. 56.1 at ¶ 32.

In February 2003, Plaintiff received a notice of disciplinary hearing regarding her attendance. Id. at ¶ 36. Plaintiff had been absent seventeen times between May and September 2003, all of them Fridays and Saturdays. Id. at ¶ 38; Pltf. Ex. L. During that time, when she called in to report an absence, she called in sick. Causey Dep., Def. Ex. 9, at 8-9. Carol O'Neil, a Union representative who attended the disciplinary hearing with Plaintiff, testified that she and Ms. Hill informed Labinjo that Hill needed religious accommodation at the hearing but that Labinjo would not accommodate the requested change in schedule. Pltf. Ex. J at ¶ 3. As a result of the hearing, Plaintiff received a five-day suspension. Def. 56.1 Facts at ¶ 43.

In January 2004, Plaintiff injured her knee and did not work from January through March 2004. Def. 56.1 Facts at ¶¶ 14-15. Upon returning to the hospital from her leave, Plaintiff returned with restrictions as to the amount that she could pull or lift. Def. 56.1 Facts at ¶ 49, Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 21. Plaintiff admitted that between 2004 and 2006, she was not qualified to perform the essential functions of the position of transporter. Id. at ¶ 16.

After she returned to work in 2004, Hill worked with human resources at Cook County Hospital to find an alternate position. Id. at ¶ 50. She admits that she could not meet the available qualifications for two open positions, clerk and telephone operator, because she did not have the minimum qualifications. Id. at ¶¶ 20-25. Plaintiff then applied for the position of Building Service Worker ("BSW"). The Job Summary of a BSW includes the ability to stand for long periods of time, stoop, bend, reach, and lift up to 40 pounds. Def. Ex. 8. Hill believed that she could meet these requirements but that she might not be able to stoop, bend, and reach due to her knees. Pltf. Dep. at 104-106. Plaintiff admits that she sought to be given an accommodation in which "she was not required to perform all the functions of the job." Def. Ex. 4 at ¶ 14. The Director the of environmental services department at the Hospital, Arndell Ricks ("Ricks"), testified that stooping, bending, and reaching were necessary to perform the job duties of a BSW. Ricks Dep., Pltf. Ex. V, at 29-39. Ricks admitted that he had several disabled persons who worked in the environmental services department, each of whom had some restrictions as to one of the requirements of the BSW position. Def. 56.1 Facts at ¶ 53; Ricks Dep., Pltf. Ex. V, at 30-31. When Plaintiff applied for a job as a BSW in the environmental services department in 2004, the human resources analyst denied her application because she could not meet the job qualifications. Def. 56.1 at ¶ 55,56; Pltf. Resp. 56.1 at ¶¶ 55-56; Pltf. Add. 56.1 at ¶¶ 35-37.

In late 2004, Plaintiff applied for and received disability benefits from the Pension Board of Cook County. Def. 56.1 at ¶ 57. She received her final disability payment on July 31, 2005. Id. On December 8, 2005, Plaintiff resigned from Cook County employment and withdrew her entire pension. Def. 56.1 at ¶¶ 59-60.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is correct when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and view all reasonable inferences in the non-moving party's favor to determine if a genuine issue of a material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A material fact is one that is outcome-determinative under governing law. Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). In analyzing the facts for the purposes of a summary judgment, the Court will "limit its analysis of the facts.to evidence that is properly identified and supported in the parties' [Local Rule 56.1] statement." Bordelon v. Chi. Sch. Reform Bd. of Trs., 233 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2000). But a party must do ...


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