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Mitchell v. Elkay Manufacturing Co.

July 9, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Plaintiff Lee W. Mitchell sued his former employer, Elkay Manufacturing Company ("Elkay"), alleging two counts of retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et seq. Elkay has moved for summary judgment on both counts. For the reasons that follow, Elkay's motion is granted and the case is dismissed.


Mitchell worked for Elkay as a bowl maker at its facility in Broadview, Illinois from January 2000 until his termination on April 22, 2005. The bowl maker job is a multi-function job consisting of operating a press that draws the bowls, putting the hole in the bowls, operating the furnace, and operating the coil line that cuts the steel to make the bowls. Except for a special class of employees called the "red circle persons" who worked exclusively on only one of the line jobs, the bowl maker employees are rotated through each of the lines on a random schedule and work one of the line jobs on a given day.

On October 20, 2003, Mitchell experienced some swelling in his right arm and shoulder from a prior surgery and, when he told his supervisor about it, was told to go see the company nurse. The nurse was not available so Mitchell went home and later received a call from the nurse and Senior Human Resources generalist Renee McCline*fn1 telling him he was not allowed to come back to work without a "full duty" doctor's release. Mitchell saw his doctor, Charles Bush Joseph, M.D., on October 24, 2003, who gave him a note stating that he "may work with restriction of no bowl maker job, no lifting from ground to shldr. level. FCE pending." In a letter to Elkay concerning Mitchell's October 24, 2003 visit, Dr. Joseph explained:

At this point, Lee continues to have recurrent episodes of anterior and superior shoulder pain which are exacerbated with certain types of work activities. Unfortunately, there is little more we can offer him in terms of medical and orthopaedic treatment and I believe that a functional capacity evaluation is warranted. At this point, it is safe to allow him to return to work with restrictions in the interval. This would include no bowl-maker job position which requires lifting from ground to shoulder level greater than 20-25 pounds.

On October 25, 2003, Mitchell returned to work, gave McCline the note, and was told by McCline that he could not return to work without a "full duty" doctor release. As a result, Mitchell was approved for short term disability benefits from October 21, 2003 through December 14, 2003 and was absent for the remainder of 2003. Mitchell's doctor released him to work "full duty," with no restrictions, on January 13, 2004.

On January 26, 2004, Mitchell was at work when he started feeling nausea, dizziness, and chest and stomach pains. Mitchell told his supervisor he was going home because he was experiencing complications from blood pressure medication and his supervisor asked if he should call an ambulance. Mitchell declined, sat in the office for a little while, and then went home. Mitchell was off the next day, and when he returned to work the following day his supervisor told him he needed a doctor's note in order to return to work.

Mitchell went to his doctor's office on January 29, 2004. Mitchell's doctor gave him a note which read: "Please excuse Mr. Mitchell for 1/26-1/27 he was having side effects from his blood pressure medication. He was able to work on 1/28. Please call with any questions." Mitchell returned to work on January 29, 2004.

In late 2004, Elkay began an investigation into another employee, Ronell Ferguson, whom Elkay believed had falsely claimed insurance coverage for a purported spouse when he was not married. During that investigation, claims were made about other employees -- including plaintiff, Jerry Jones, Norman Burton and Dennis Epps -- fraudulently obtaining insurance coverage for girlfriends. Elkay's investigation consisted of contacting a third party to conduct a background check to see if there were records of the four employees' marriages, and auditing its own records in the HR department. As a result of the investigation, Elkay terminated Ferguson's employment*fn2 for failing to provide proof of his marriage after falsely electing insurance coverage for a spouse. Jones provided proof of his marriage. Burton and Epps were not married but a review of their insurance records revealed that neither claimed coverage for a spouse.

On April 20, 2005, Mitchell was informed in a letter that he was required to provide proof of his marriage to Rosalind Mitchell, whom he claimed was his spouse under the Elkay Health Care Benefits Plan, before April 22, 2005. The letter also stated that he would be discharged if he failed to comply with Elkay's directive. Mitchell told McCline that he could bring the proof back that day. Mitchell went home and retrieved a glass frame that contained a picture of him and Rosalind and a piece of paper showing he was married to Rosalind. He returned to work, met with McCline, and read out loud the handwritten date -- "2001" -- that was on the picture. Mitchell told McCline, "I'm not giving you any copies. It belongs to me and my wife. It's our personal property. You are not getting any copies." McCline never got to hold or see the date on the framed document Mitchell presented and when McCline told Mitchell that she needed a copy, he refused to provide one.

On April 21, 2005, McCline delivered a letter to Mitchell acknowledging the framed document he had brought to her office the day before, but notifying him that he still needed to provide a certified copy of his marriage certificate by April 22, 2005 or face immediate discharge. Mitchell never provided a certified copy of his marriage certificate to Elkay. As a result, Mitchell's employment was terminated effective April 22, 2005.

Mitchell married Rosalind in Nevada on April 16, 2005. Mitchell had claimed Rosalind as his spouse for obtaining dependent coverage under Elkay's group health plan ...

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