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Mobley v. Allstate Insurance Co.

July 8, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:04-cv-1430-SEB-VSS-Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

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


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiff Catherine A. Mobley worked for Allstate Insurance ("Allstate") for sixteen years before being laid off with 31 other employees in October 2003 as part of a reduction in force ("RIF"). In July 2001, Mobley had begun having problems concentrating and staying awake at work, due to what was ultimately diagnosed as essential tremor and nocturnal myoclonus. From fall 2002 until April 2003, Mobley wrangled with her supervisors over workplace accommodations for her conditions. In May 2003, Allstate permitted Mobley to regularly work in a private room rather than a cubicle. Although Mobley's earlier, temporary placement in this private room had improved her work performance, Mobley's performance level never reached the "meets" level after May 2003, causing her name to be included on the RIF in October of that year. Mobley subsequently brought suit against Allstate under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), bringing claims for failure to accommodate her disability, discriminatory termination, and unlawful retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Allstate on all claims, which Mobley now appeals. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.

I. Background

Mobley began working for Allstate Insurance in 1987 and during the period of time relevant to this suit, July 2001 through October 2003, Mobley held the position of Staff Claims Service Adjuster. In this role, Mobley's immediate supervisor was Nancy Brechbuhl. Brechbuhl, in turn, was directly supervised by Alexandra Balatsoukas, the manager of the Indianapolis Allstate facility where Mobley worked.

Prior to her annual review in 2002, all of Mobley's performance evaluations had been positive. Allstate's review system for Claims Adjusters centered upon numeric goals regarding the quality and quantity of their work. If a Claims Adjuster is meeting these goals, they are rated as "Meets" or "Exceeds." If they fall below a "meets" level, they are then placed on a performance improvement plan and given "Requires Improvement" ("RI") status. Once on RI status, an employee is then reviewed at the 30, 60, and 90 day marks to determine if they have improved to a "meets" level. If, after this time, a Claims Adjuster has not reached a "meets" level, they are then placed on "Job in Jeopardy" ("JIJ") status. Typically, if a Claims Adjuster cannot improve to a "meets" level after another 90 days, she is terminated. For those Claims Adjusters taken off RI or JIJ status for reaching a "meets" level, any fall under a "meets" level over the next twelve months generally results in immediate JIJ status.

From March 2001 to July 2001, Mobley was away from work on an approved disability leave for depression. During this leave, Mobley sought treatment after she began to experience tremors and involuntary muscle movements, and was diagnosed with essential tremor. Upon returning to work in July 2001, Mobley experienced difficulty with her concentration and focus, as well as staying awake while at the office. At the same time, Mobley was also assigned to work on approximately 100 uninsured and underinsured motorist ("UI/UIM") claims that, up to that time, had not been worked on properly and were more complicated than those involving insured motorists.

At her next annual performance evaluation, in March 2002, Mobley was informed that she was "not meeting the accountabilities of your position," which Mobley disputed. In July 2002, Mobley was then formally placed on RI status. In response, Mobley explained that her health condition was affecting her concentration and memory, and that she was undergoing tests in order to diagnose the problem. That same month, Mobley underwent a sleep study, the results of which she passed along to Brechbuhl.

In early fall 2002, Mobley asked Brechbuhl if she could use the "huddle room," which was a small conference room, on an as needed basis to help with her concentration and focus. Brechbuhl permitted Mobley to do so, so long as she asked Brechbuhl for permission on each occasion. That fall, Mobley also requested that Brechbuhl let her work from home one or two days a week to help her productivity, and allow her to work solely on bodily injury ("BI") evaluations in order to limit her focus and increase her performance. Brechbuhl denied both of these requests. Mobley points out, however, that Allstate permitted one of her non-disabled co-workers to work from home several afternoons a week so she could watch her son's baseball games, and later assigned another, lower rated employee to work exclusively on the BI files.

On October 30, 2002, Mobley responded to her RI status review, which reported that she had not returned to a "meets" performance rating. In her response, Mobley noted that she had been diagnosed with essential tremor, myoclonus, and narcolepsy, and was attaching medical documentation to that effect. She then noted that she was on medication and wrote, "I have felt much better the last two weeks. I believe that once I am able to work through the backlog that has accumulated, I will return to the Meets/Exceeds employee I have been for the last 15 years." The attached medical records were then faxed to Allstate's human resources department on November 11, 2002.

Mobley then had a follow-up meeting with Balatsoukas on November 18, 2002 regarding her RI status. In this meeting, Mobley told Balatsoukas that using the huddle room had been beneficial and that she thought it would also be helpful if she could work at home one day a week and focus on BI evaluations. Balatsoukas denied these requests, allegedly telling Mobley that she would do the same work as everyone else at the company, or she would be terminated. A week or two later, however, Brechbuhl informed Mobley that Balatsoukas had decided to permit Mobley to use the huddle room again. According to Mobley, Brechbuhl conveyed that Balatsoukas was letting Mobley use the huddle room to prove that she was not disabled and that this accommodation would have no impact on her performance. Using the huddle room, however, Mobley was able to bring her performance level up to a "meets" status by the end of January 2003. As a result, in early March, Balatsoukas and Brechbuhl had a meeting with Mobley to confirm her improved status. At this meeting, Mobley was told that because of her improvement, she was being moved out of the huddle room. Mobley was also informed that although she would keep the UI/UIM files she already had, in the future she would only be assigned BI claims.

Around the same time, Mobley also received further medical information. In February 2003, Mobley received a note from her physician requesting that Mobley be provided with an alternate schedule, where she would take Wednesdays off, but work ten hour days the other four days of the work week, in order to provide her with extra time to sleep. She passed this information along to Allstate sometime in late February or early March as part of FMLA paperwork for her being gone from work from February 10 to 14.

On March 21, 2003, Mobley met with Balatsoukas and Brechbuhl to discuss her requested change to her schedule. Balatsoukas informed Mobley that this request had been denied because her being out of the office on Wednesdays would cause difficulties in covering her phone calls. Balatsoukas did, however, suggest that Mobley's schedule be pushed back to 9:00 - 5:30, in order to give her more time to sleep in the morning, although Mobley expressed that this would not help given the fact that she would probably have to come in early and stay late anyway to complete her work.

Following this meeting, Mobley contacted Allstate's Resolution Tracking System sometime around March 25, and was put in contact with Human Resources Division Manager Sybil Brenner. Through this contact, Mobley provided Allstate with additional information it requested from her physician. Mobley's physician indicated on a form that Mobley suffered from lifelong medical conditions, and in response to being asked "[w]hat specific accommodations are needed," her physician wrote:

- being in room by herself-helps her concentrate.

- working Monday & Tuesday for 10 hrs, have Wed. off, work Thursday & Friday for 10 hrs.

Mobley, at least earlier in March, had viewed these proposals as alternative accommodations.

Around this same time, despite Mobley's being assigned the easier BI files, without the use of the huddle room, her performance rating again dipped below "meets" status, and she was told she would be reviewed again in June. In late April and early May, additional accommodations were made for Mobley. On April 28, Brenner from human resources conveyed to Balatsoukas in an email that it was important to accommodate Mobley, and that accordingly, she was to be permitted to use the huddle room again, seeing as it had previously been successful in improving her performance. Mobley began using the huddle room again in the first week of May, and around the same time, at least eighteen of Mobley's files were transferred to another employee in order to alleviate her workload. Although Mobley's schedule also continued to be pushed back a half hour to give her time to sleep in, she complained that Balatsoukas would not permit her to work past 5:30 p.m., which prevented her from getting all her needed work done.

By the summer, Mobley was still not performing at a "meets" level, and in July, in the hopes of improving her performance, she began taking work home with her. By August, however, Mobley's performance still had not improved to a "meets" level, and on August 26, 2003 she was provided with notification that she had been placed back on RI status, even though Allstate could have placed her directly in JIJ status. The next month, in September, Brechbuhl ...

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