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Feldman v. Trane

September 17, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge


This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendants Trane and Trane U.S. Inc. for summary judgment in their favor on the complaint of Plaintiff Janeen Feldman. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.


The factual recitation contained herein is derived from pertinent portions of Trane's Rule 56.1 statement of material fact. Because Feldman did not respond to the 56.1 statement, properly supported facts within it are deemed admitted by operation of the rule. See Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Services, Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004).

Defendant Trane U.S. Inc., formerly known as American Standard Inc., is the parent company of Defendant Trane.

In August 1995, Trane hired Feldman to serve as a part-time human resources representative to assist employees at Trane's Chicago district office. An essential part of Feldman's job was to communicate and administer Trane's insurance and benefit programs. This included handling benefits questions from employees and assisting them in completing forms and paperwork.

Around August 2003, Trane announced that same-sex domestic partners would soon be able to be covered under its Long-Term Care Insurance program. In response to the announcement, Feldman raised questions and objections to the policy in two email messages. One of the messages was directed to Carl Becker, Trane's corporate benefits manager. In the email, Feldman requested that the company reconsider its decision to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners and stated that she "sincerely ask[ed] that our plans and our company maintain criteria only for married couples."

Near the beginning of October, Feldman wrote to Trane's CEO. In pertinent part, the letter stated:

The change to cover same sex partners in benefits is a significant detriment to our company and our ethics. In addition, it is contrary to my religious beliefs...I speak out against allowing benefits for same sex unions. I do not believe that having sex outside of marriage should be a criteria for allowing benefits....This change is directly against my religious beliefs as it promotes homosexuality...[S]ince I am in Human Resources, this change directly impacts my job...Please work quickly to change the benefits enrollment eligibility for 2004.

A few days later, Becker sent an email to all human resources representatives regarding the change in coverage. Attached to the email was several talking points in a question-and-answer format to assist them in providing consistent responses to questions that were anticipated to arise from employees interested in taking advantage of the new benefit coverage. At its close, the email provided that: "[i]f employees have concerns about this coverage...that you are not comfortable addressing, please ask them to send an e-mail to the Corporate Benefits team" and provided an email address for that purpose.

After receiving Becker's email, Feldman replied, stating: I want to be open and respectfully inform you that because of my religious beliefs, I will not be able to communicate the information enclosed in this e-mail. I am a Christian and the bible speaks directly against a number of things, one of them being homosexuality... As I understand my religion, I should communicate that those who commit a sin can receive a benefit. My religion teaches if I cause a person to sin, I am also at fault. By communicating I would be an accessory to the wrong.

Because of Feldman's refusal to communicate information to employees who could qualify for available benefits, her employment as a human resources representative was terminated a few days after she sent the above-referenced email.

Feldman pursued a charge of religious discrimination and failure-to-accommodate before the Illinois Department of Human Rights. That proceeding concluded in Trane's favor in August 2006.*fn1 On May 11, 2007, Feldman filed the instant suit, alleging discrimination and failure to accommodate by Trane in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2, and asserting vicarious liability against Trane U.S. Inc. for the actions of its subsidiary. At the completion of discovery, Defendants ...

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