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Breneisen v. Motorola

January 15, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 02 C 50509-Philip G. Reinhard, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge

ARGUED MAY 29, 2007

Before BAUER, WOOD, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

James Breneisen, Jr., Barbara Breneisen, Laura Jones, Anna Lineweaver, Jennifer Horton, and Amy Boonos claim that their supervisors at Motorola, Inc.'s Service Center in Rockford, Illinois penalized them for taking medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).*fn1 They say that they were demoted, denied raises, questioned upon return from leave, and given negative performance evaluations. To support their allegations, they offer the declarations of twenty-three others who claim that Motorola discriminated against persons using FMLA leave. In 2002, the plaintiffs sued Motorola and several individual defendants claiming discrimination and retaliation in violation of the FMLA, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). James also alleged that he was denied his right to be reinstated to his previous position or an equivalent one when he returned from a FMLA leave.

Motorola and the individual defendants moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted the motion. The court found that James could not show that he was reassigned because he had taken leave, the other plaintiffs had not suffered any adverse actions, and the plaintiffs' IIED claims were preempted by the FMLA. We reverse the grant of summary judgment on James's FMLA claims because he has offered evidence to show that the position he held before taking leave was eliminated only because he had taken leave and that he was demoted upon returning from leave. We also reverse the grant of summary judgment on Lineweaver's FMLA claims because an issue of material fact exists as to whether she was denied a tuition reimbursement because of her use of FMLA leave. We affirm with respect to the other plaintiffs' FMLA claims because they failed to show that they were subjected to adverse actions or that actions were taken on account of their exercise of FMLA rights. The grant of summary judgment on all the plaintiffs' IIED claims was also proper because the plaintiffs were not subjected to extreme and outrageous conduct.


In this section, we recount the facts pertaining to James Breneisen in the light most favorable to him. We detail the remaining facts in the relevant sections of the analysis.

James was employed at various Motorola facilities between 1994 and 2003. In 1999, he began working in Motorola's Factory Express Program (FEP) at the Rockford facility, where he received merchandise for the program. That November, he was given the additional responsibility of tracking down items lost upon delivery to Motorola. As the program grew, he was also asked to track down outgoing packages, file claims for UPS and Federal Express, devise shipping solutions, develop packaging materials, and formulate process improvements for the assembly lines. By February 2000, James had received the title of Process Analyst to match his new responsibilities.

Beginning in June 2000, James began to report to June Johnson, the new manager of FEP. That month, James says Bobbi Cooper, the Director of Human Resources, told him that she felt he was performing the responsibilities of a salaried employee and that she would explore whether he might receive a salaried position. Before anyone determined whether James would become a salaried employee, he left for FMLA leave on January 15, 2001, to receive treatment for gastro-esophageal reflux. He had previously taken leave at least a dozen times without incident. But, this time, when he returned from leave in April 2001, he was told to work on the keypad line. This was a production line position and it required James to lift heavy boxes and manually press buttons on phone keypads to ensure the phones properly functioned. Motorola claims James was given this job because his prior position was eliminated and his tasks distributed to other employees. Amber White, an administrative assistant, testified that she thought the position had not been eliminated and that she had taken on most of James's functions. James worked in the keypad position for eight days before taking leave for esophageal surgery.

When James returned to work on September 4, 2001, he met with Johnson and Alan Shaw, the plant's Senior Operations Manager. By now, James had exhausted his annual entitlement to FMLA leave. During this meeting, James was informed that his former Process Analyst position had been phased out because of business needs, the responsibilities of that position distributed to others, and that he would have to work in the keypad position because there were no other available positions. James received the title of Technician Assistant, but his pay and benefits were not affected. Nonetheless, James complained that he thought the move was a demotion. White later testified that she viewed the move, although lateral, as a demotion, and it may have looked like a demotion to the rest of the department.

Later that month, James applied for and accepted a Contract Coordinator position in the Contracts Department, where he reported to Darlene Patterson, the department manager. James was satisfied with the work he received in the Contracts Department but says Patterson made work unpleasant by calling him into thirty to forty-five minute meetings multiple times per week to accuse him of creating a hostile work environment and violating company policy. This treatment caused James to suffer from severe stress, high blood pressure, and stomach reflux. James worked in the Contract Coordinator position until February 5, 2002, when he began another medical leave to undergo a total esophagectomy. Motorola terminated James's employment on June 27, 2003.

In March 2002, the plaintiffs brought this suit in Illinois state court against Motorola, June Johnson, Darlene Patterson, Alan Smith, and several individual defendants who have since been dismissed from the case. The complaint alleged that the defendants violated the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., by discriminating and retaliating against the plaintiffs for taking FMLA leave. The plaintiffs also claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress, and James alleged that he was denied his FMLA right to reinstatement upon return from medical leave. The defendants removed the case to federal court and moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that James failed to show that he would have been reinstated to his former position if he had not taken leave, none of the plaintiffs had viable discrimination claims because they did not suffer any adverse employment actions, and the plaintiffs' state law IIED claims were preempted by the FMLA.

The district court did not address the plaintiffs' retaliation claims or the authenticity of five purported emails at the heart of the plaintiffs' claims. Those messages, if authentic, would show that the defendants tried to pressure employees who took FMLA leave to resign, that James was demoted because he exercised his FMLA rights, and that the defendants wanted to use James as an example to other employees. However, because the district court found that none of the plaintiffs suffered adverse employment ...

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