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Simpson v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Will County

October 11, 2007

LAURA J. (MUNCH) SIMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF WILL COUNTY, ILLINOIS, A PUBLIC AGENCY, DOUG WILSON, AND MIKE COSTIGAN, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before me is a motion for summary judgment brought by defendants Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Will County, Illinois (the "Office of the Chief Judge"), Doug Wilson ("Wilson") and Mike Costigan ("Costigan") (collectively "defendants") on the claims brought against them by plaintiff Laura J. (Munch) Simpson ("Simpson").*fn1 Simpson, a former employee of the Office of the Chief Judge, contends that defendants denied her request for a leave of absence and later terminated her employment in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (2007) ("FMLA"). For the following reasons, I grant defendants' motion.

I.

Summary judgment is appropriate where the record and affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); see also Steen v. Myers, 486 F.3d 1017, 1021 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). If the moving party meets this burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Ptasznik v. St. Joseph Hosp., 464 F.3d 691, 694 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Becker v. Tenenbaum-Hill Assocs., Inc., 914 F.2d 107, 110 (7th Cir. 1990)). The existence of merely a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). I must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

In this case, taking the facts in the light most favorable to Simpson, the relevant facts are as follows:*fn2 prior to September 23, 2002, Simpson was employed as the Facility Director of River Valley Detention Center ("RVDC"), a detention center in Will County, Illinois that houses a juvenile detention facility. The Office of the Chief Judge oversaw the RVDC, and Simpson was an at-will employee of that office. During the relevant portions of Simpson's employment at the RVDC, Judge Rodney B. Lechwar ("Judge Lechwar") served as the Chief Judge. He made all decisions concerning hiring, firing, and transferring employees of the office. Neither Wilson nor Costigan had the authority to hire or fire Simpson.

Simpson was responsible for drafting and developing a policy and procedures manual for the RVDC. The policies and procedures in the manual applied to her, as did the RVDC "Rules of Conduct." One of the rules provided that RVDC employees should not "fraternize with" any person in custody. Other rules were that the RVDC director must maintain personnel files for every employee, and must "in a timely manner" contact a juvenile's parent or guardian and the responsible agency in the case of serious illness, surgery, injury or death. The rules stated that "unsatisfactory performance" included violations of the Rules of Conduct or violations of certain written procedures.

RVDC also had written policies concerning sick leave. RVDC Policy No. 2.08 stated that members who claimed disability leave for three consecutive working days had to furnish "proof of their illness or injury" before returning to work. This same policy provided that members must "personally call in sick" and tell their supervisor "the nature of their illness or reason for their use of sick/disability leave." Further, members had to report their absences for each day that they were sick unless a staff member previously informed a supervisor that he would not be returning to work until a certain day in the future.

When Simpson was the director of the RVDC, she held the highest-ranking position there. This changed on September 23, 2002, when the Office of the Chief Judge created a "Court Services Department." Simpson was made the superintendent of this department. She reported to Wilson, the assistant director, who in turn reported to Costigan, the director, who in turn reported to Judge Lechwar. During her employment with the Office of the Chief Judge, Judge Lechwar gave Simpson several merit-based pay raises.

Prior to and after her transition to superintendent, Simpson had been seeing Dr. Daniel Clark ("Dr. Clark"). Dr. Clark treated Simpson for various reasons between October of 2000 and October of 2002. On October 27, 2001, Simpson saw Dr. Clark for knee pain, and he noted that Simpson's knee was locking and that there was pain, swelling, and bruising. On August 30, 2002, Dr. Clark referred Simpson to an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Farrell, for treatment of her right knee because her knee pain was no better than before.

Simpson testified in her deposition that on September 23, 2002, after Judge Lechwar informed her he was creating a new Court Services Department, she told Judge Lechwar and Costigan that the next day she had a doctor's appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. Although she argues in her statement of facts that on September 24, 2002, Wilson was advised of her "wanting to take sick time off because she had physical problems," she also stated in her deposition that during a meeting with Wilson on September 24 she did not recall her physical condition "coming up in conversation." There is no other evidence that on this date Wilson was aware of her physical condition or of her desire to take sick leave at this time.

On September 24, 2002, Dr. Farrell saw Simpson for the first time and diagnosed her with chrondomalacia of the right patella, a cartilage problem that creates pain beneath the kneecap. The day before Simpson saw Dr. Farrell, on September 23, 2002, she told Judge Lechwar that she could not walk well and was seeing Dr. Farrell the next day. Judge Lechwar admitted in his deposition that at some point he became aware that Simpson had "something going on with her leg or knee."

On October 15, 2002, Simpson sent Wilson a memorandum that stated:

Please be advised that I will be taking 3 sick days over the course of the next three weeks. My first scheduled Doctor's appointment is Wednesday, October 16, 2002. The second appointment is actually an appointment for my daughter at Children's Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, October 22, 2002. My second Doctor's appointment is Thursday, October 31, 2002. I currently have adequate sick time to cover these absences. This is for your information and records.

On October 16, 2002, someone in Dr. Clark's office completed a note for Simpson that stated that Simpson was "off work till [sic] 10/31/02." Dr. Clark testified that he authorized his staff to draft this note because he wanted Simpson to see Dr. Farrell. Simpson gave this note to Wilson. Wilson also testified in his deposition that he recalled talking to Costigan around October 16, 2002, and receiving "something from [Costigan] that indicated that [Simpson] had a knee problem."

On October 31, 2002, someone in Dr. Farrell's office completed a note for Simpson that stated that she was "off work until further notice." Simpson also gave this note to Wilson. Dr. Farrell authorized this note because he wanted to suspend Simpson's work activities until he had determined an appropriate course of action.

Simpson testified that she called Wilson on November 1, 2002 to tell him about her doctor's recommendation that she take off work until further notice. According to Simpson, Wilson then told her she would need to call in sick every day so that he could notify his superiors of her status. Simpson testified that after asking him if this was necessary, since she was busy, she said to Wilson, "I'm just going to file for FMLA, please send me the paperwork for FMLA." She testified that Wilson responded that he would not send her the paperwork, and that she was not eligible for FMLA because she had not been at her present position for more than a year. Simpson also contacted someone at the Will County Human Resources Department and was also told that she could not have FMLA paperwork from that source, either. According to Simpson, she did not contact Judge Lechwar about her request because on November 6, 2002, she received a memorandum prohibiting her from contacting Judge Lechwar's office without his permission.

On November 8, 2002, Simpson sent Wilson a fax stating, "I will not be in today per my medical leave." On November 12, 2002, Simpson again faxed Wilson, "Per my Doctor's note, I will not be in today." Simpson sent identical faxes to Wilson on November 13-15, 18-19, 21, and 25, 2002. On November 19, 2002, Costigan called Simpson and asked her to provide him with documentation regarding her diagnosis, ...


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