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Poff v. Rockford Public School Dist. No. 205

February 25, 2009

SHERRIE POFF, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROCKFORD PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 205, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick J. Kapala, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Sherrie Poff, has sued her former employer alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Defendant has moved for summary judgment, and, for the reasons stated below, the court grants the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

According to the relevant, undisputed facts, plaintiff formerly was employed by defendant as an Applications Supervisor, a position in which she reported directly to the Director of the Food Services Division, Christine Saletta. In 2001, plaintiff began to behave in an unusual fashion at work and was observed, on multiple occasions, sitting at her desk and staring into space. These occurrences, which the parties refer to as "spells," were the result of plaintiff's diagnosed mental illness known as dissociative disorder, and they happened on four separate occasions during plaintiff's tenure.*fn1 During these spells, which lasted for approximately 30 minutes, plaintiff would be unresponsive and unable to communicate, see, or move. After one such spell, in February 2002, plaintiff was hospitalized for a week in the psychiatric unit.

According to defendant, during this time period, plaintiff's work product began to plummet, and these concerns were documented in a March 27, 2003 written evaluation. According to the evaluation, plaintiff's quality and quantity of work had decreased, her performance in certain areas had reached an "unacceptable level," and her spells were disruptive to the workplace. The evaluation warned, "Unless this situation is quickly remedied, we will have no choice but to terminate employment."

On May 30, 2003, plaintiff began an approved FMLA leave, based on a medical certification submitted by her treating therapist, Jim Parrish. Plaintiff's leave initially was expected to last for 30 days but, after two subsequent extensions based on Parrish's request and/or additional certification, continued until the latter half of October 2003. Following the first extension, which was for a period of at least 60 days, defendant notified plaintiff of its intent to fill the position with a qualified applicant and, upon her return from medical leave, to place plaintiff "in another position at an equivalent level to the position you previously held."

On October 21, 2003, Parrish wrote defendant a letter stating that plaintiff was released to return to work on October 27, 2003. He explained that plaintiff "has been doing well for an adequate length of time to indicate that she will be able to handle the normal stress of a typical employment situation." Parrish did set forth "one stipulation" on her return to work -- "that she not work with or under the supervisor she had previously." Parrish also included in the letter a brief discussion on "how to handle the situation" if plaintiff had another "spell," which he noted was "quite unlikely" to occur. Among other things, Parrish instructed that, if a spell at work were to occur, someone should "simply ask a sympathetic co-worker, who will not overreact, to stay with [plaintiff] to stabilize her so that she will not fall to the floor."

On October 24, 2003, defendant informed plaintiff that Parrish's restriction prohibited her from assuming the duties of her previous job, and that there were no equivalent positions available. This letter from defendant also informed plaintiff that she could "seek to be considered for other positions with the Rockford Public Schools for which [she was] qualified for or take qualification tests to establish qualifications for positions." Rather than seeking a different position, plaintiff was allowed to remain at home and use the rest of her sick days and personal business days, which lasted until December 8, 2003.

On December 2, 2003, plaintiff met with personnel from defendant's Human Resources department and again was advised that the only comparable job they could place her in was her old position, but that Parrish's restrictions prevented that from occurring. Following the meeting, defendant sent plaintiff a letter dated December 4, 2003, which indicated, among other things, that plaintiff could have her old position back if the restrictions from her doctor were removed, but noted that, "Since your last performance evaluation was unsatisfactory, your performance would be closely monitored and if it did not improve to the satisfactory level, disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment would be taken." The letter also required plaintiff to notify defendant by December 14, 2003, if she would be able to return to her former position, or if there were any other vacant positions she wanted to apply for. Finally, the letter advised that if defendant could not place plaintiff in a vacant position or her previous position, then she would be laid off effective December 16, 2003.

On December 10, 2003, plaintiff sent defendant a letter of resignation, in which she stated that she was "officially retiring." (Emphasis removed). In the letter, plaintiff also expressed her intent not to work with or under her former supervisor, Saletta, and acknowledged that there were no other positions available for her. She concluded, "Because I am to respond to you by December 14, 2003, and looked at your options, I have chosen to retire." After obtaining a right to sue letter from the EEOC, plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendant has moved for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that plaintiff did not suffer a constructive discharge. Defendant also argues that plaintiff's claims for failure to accommodate also fail because, among other reasons, plaintiff never requested a reasonable accommodation. Because these arguments are dispositive, the court need not reach the other issues raised by defendants.

A. Constructive Discharge

In order to prevail on her claims for discrimination under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, and retaliation under the ADA and the FMLA, plaintiff is required to show, as part of her prima facie case for each claim, that she suffered an adverse employment action. See, e.g., Lloyd v. Swifty Transp., Inc., 552 F.3d 594, 601 (7th Cir. 2009) (discussing discrimination and retaliation claims under the ADA); Garg v. Potter, 521 F.3d 731, 736 (7th Cir. 2008) (discussing discrimination claim under the ...


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