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Lesniak v. Quality Control Corp.

March 25, 2009

EDWARD LESNIAK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
QUALITY CONTROL CORPORATION AND QUALISEAL TECHNOLOGY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Edward Lesniak ("Plaintiff") was employed as a an assembler and machinist by Defendant Quality Control Corporation ("QCC") from June 2004 to December 2005. In 2001, prior to his employment with QCC, Plaintiff had suffered a heart attack. During his employment with QCC, Plaintiff underwent several surgeries for an unrelated colon condition. As a result of these surgeries, Plaintiff was at times placed on temporary light work duty. After an incident on November 29, 2005, where Plaintiff left the facility during work hours, QCC terminated Plaintiff for insubordination. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff alleges that QCC discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); failed to accommodate his disability or engage in an interactive process with him as required by the ADA; retaliated against him in violation of the ADA; deprived him of benefits in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"); discriminated against him based on his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); and violated his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Defendant QCC seeks summary judgment on all claims. For reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

FACTS

The facts are drawn principally from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements: Defendant Quality Control Corporation's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter "QCC 56.1"); Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1 Resp."); Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt."); and Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts (hereinafter "QCC 56.1 Resp."). Facts are also drawn from the depositions of Plaintiff Edward Lesniak, Keith LeCompte, Rob Stuebing, Jon Cosentino, John Rosa, and Piotr Sroga.

Plaintiff Edward Lesniak, born June 22, 1950, began working as an assembler for Quality Control Corporation (hereinafter "QCC") on or about June 21, 2004. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 9.) As best the court can determine, QCC is an Illinois corporation that manufactures and assembles precision components for machines to be used in markets such as aerospace and diesel fuel systems.*fn1 Sometime in August 2001, approximately three years before he began his employment with QCC, Plaintiff had suffered a heart attack, which resulted in the surgical placement of stents into his arteries. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff claims that, as a result of his 2001 heart attack, he is "[physically] restricted in many ways, including his ability to walk, run, breathe, lift above ten pounds, exert himself, bend, stretch, do housework, shop, take vacations, mow the lawn, shovel snow, bowl, play sports or work on cars"; and he "cannot walk a city block without being out of breath and feeling exerted." (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Dep., Ex. G to Pl.'s SJM Resp. [hereinafter "Pl.'s Dep."] 195-196, 234-241.) Plaintiff was not, however, placed under any physical restrictions, nor was he given any documentation to provide his employer regarding his 2001 heart attack. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 6; Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 6.)

QCC initially employed Plaintiff as an Assembler in its Quality Control Division on the V40 assembly line of its Parker Valve business, where Plaintiff's primary duty was assembling hydraulic valves.*fn2 (QCC 56.1 ¶¶ 9, 10.) According to QCC, the "[hydraulic valves] had an average weight of 10-20 pounds, but could weigh up to approximately 120 pounds." (Id. ¶10.) Plaintiff admits that some of the parts he worked with weighed ten to twenty pounds, but he claims most of them weighed less than five pounds, and that he never assembled a part of any weight close to 120 pounds. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Aff., Ex. B to Pl.'s SJM Resp. [hereinafter "Pl.'s Aff."] ¶ 10.) He insists, further, that there was never much lifting involved because the parts were pushed along on an assembly belt and thus did not have to be lifted. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶10.) Additional duties included the daily cleaning of his work area and, occasionally, a more thorough cleaning in preparation for a visit from a customer, an auditor, or an owner of QCC. (QCC 56.1 ¶¶ 11, 12.)

In late spring 2005, approximately one year after Plaintiff began his employment with QCC, Plaintiff observed blood in his stool and went to the hospital for testing. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 13.) At the hospital, Plaintiff underwent a colonoscopy and, although the doctors did not discover the source of the bleeding, they did discover and remove 28 polyps in Plaintiff's colon. (Pl.'s Dep. 87-88.) According to Plaintiff, he was diagnosed with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis ("FAP"), a permanent colon condition that requires repeat surgeries. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 69; Pl.'s Dep. 22-24.) Plaintiff undergoes a colonoscopy every six months and polyps are surgically removed during each colonoscopy. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 69, 70; Pl.'s Dep. 22-23.)

According to Plaintiff, it was around the time of his first colonoscopy in late spring 2005 that either Plaintiff or his wife informed LeCompte and Cosentino about Plaintiff's 2001 heart attack. (Pl.'s Dep. 62-64.) Plaintiff claims that, in connection with the colonoscopy, either he or his wife*fn3 informed Human Resources Manager Keith LeCompte (hereinafter "LeCompte") and Operations Manager (and supervisor) John Cosentino (hereinafter "Cosentino") about his heart attack and heart condition. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8; Pl.'s Dep. 62.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the subject of the heart attack arose when, on separate occasions, he explained to LeCompte and Cosentino his need to undergo a stress test for the colonoscopy. (Pl.'s Dep. 62-63.) Plaintiff does not say whether these alleged conversations took place in person or over the phone, precisely when they occurred, or why he could not remember exactly who informed LeCompte or Cosentino about his 2001 heart attack. He simply testified, "I'm not sure if it was me or my wife. We talked to Keith [LeCompte] [about the colonoscopy]... and I did mention I had a heart attack in 2001." (Pl.'s Dep. 62.) Plaintiff "believe[s]" he had the same conversation with Cosentino. He admits, however, that he never provided QCC with written documentation regarding his heart attack, nor identify any physical limitations that resulted from it. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8; Pl.'s Dep. 64, 65.) QCC insists, to the contrary, that Plaintiff never informed anyone at QCC about his heart attack or heart condition prior to the events leading to Plaintiff's termination. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 8.) LeCompte did not recall Plaintiff's informing him about his 2001 heart attack or a heart condition in any conversation regarding Plaintiff's colonoscopy. (LeCompte Dep., Ex. H to Pl.'s SJM Resp. [hereinafter "LeCompte Dep."] 185.) Cosentino, similarly, testified that Plaintiff never informed his about a heart condition. (Cosentino Dep., Ex. J to Pl.'s SJM Resp. [hereinafter "Cosentino Dep."] 49.)

As a result of his colon condition (not the 2001 heart attack), Plaintiff was absent from work from May 31, 2005 through June 13, 2005, and again on June 21 and 22, 2005. (QCC 56.1 ¶¶ 14, 15.) On June 7, 2005, QCC placed Plaintiff on short-term disability; on June 14, 2005, QCC received a note from one of the doctors who treated Plaintiff's colon condition, Dr. Kyoko Misawa, confirming a previous message that Plaintiff was able to return to work on June 13, 2005, but should be assigned light duty work for two weeks. (QCC 56.1 ¶¶ 16, 17; June 14, 2005 Doctor's Note, Ex. G to QCC SJM; June 6, 2005 Doctor's Note, Ex. F to QCC SJM.) Plaintiff was also restricted from lifting anything over ten pounds during the two-week light work period, which was to end on June 27, 2005. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 17.) When Plaintiff returned to work on June 13, 2005, QCC did place Plaintiff on temporary light duty in the Quality Control Division, where Plaintiff's "primary duties involved secondary operations, subassemblies, deburring parts or cleaning parts that weighed less than one pound." (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 19.) Around June 27, 2005, Plaintiff returned to his regular duties; it is unclear whether this was a return to his work on the V40 assembly line or some other assembly line. (Id. ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff took a second leave of absence from QCC in September 2005 to have part of his colon removed. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 24.) During this second leave of absence, QCC received several letters from one of the doctors who treated Plaintiff's colon condition, Dr. Jonathon Wallace, regarding Plaintiff's recovery and return-to-work status; in a letter dated October 20, 2005, the doctor advised that Plaintiff could return to work on October 24, 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.) The October 20, 2005 letter also stated that Plaintiff should be restricted from lifting anything weighing over ten pounds until November 7, 2005. (Id. ¶ 27.) When Plaintiff returned to work on October 24, 2005, QCC again placed Plaintiff on temporary light duty in the Quality Control Division, where Plaintiff's tasks were similar to those he performed while on light duty in June 2005. (Id. ¶ 29.)

On or around November 7, 2005, after Plaintiff's light duty restrictions were lifted, QCC moved Plaintiff from its Quality Control Division to its Qualiseal Division, which is in a different location, to assist with machining parts. (Id. ¶ 30; LeCompte Dep. 198; Lesniak Dep. 96.) QCC claims that Plaintiff was moved to the Qualiseal Division because there was insufficient light duty work available for him at the Quality Control Division (QCC 56.1 ¶ 30); Plaintiff contends that there was plenty of light duty work available at the Quality Control Division.*fn4 (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff testified that on or around November 21, 2005, his former supervisor John Rosa--who supervised Plaintiff while working at the Quality Control Division--informed Plaintiff that "they were busy and could use him." (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30; Pl.'s Dep. 117-18.) After the expiration of Plaintiff's medically-required work restriction on or around November 7, 2005, QCC management, specifically LeCompte, "chose to [err] on the side of caution and keep him within the restrictions of his last doctor's note." (LeCompte Dep. 197.) According to LeCompte, the work available at the Qualiseal Division was less labor-intensive than the work available at the Quality Control Division. (Id.) Apart from that testimony, nothing in the record explicitly describes the nature of Plaintiff's Qualiseal duties vis a vis his work in the Quality Control Division other than Plaintiff's testimony that, in the Quality Control Division, his primary duties involved pushing parts along an assembly line and that, in the Qualiseal Division, he ran machines and inspected small parts. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Dep. 96.) Plaintiff also testified that, in running the machines in the Qualiseal Division, he would regularly ask for and receive assistance. (Pl.'s Dep. 97.)

Qualiseal staff began to train Plaintiff on how to run the machines and perform quality checks.*fn5 (QCC 56.1 ¶ 31.) Piotr Sroga (hereinafter "Sroga"), Plaintiff's group leader, testified that Plaintiff worked primarily with two employees, Rick McCarty and Andy Migas. (Sroga Dep. 69.) The parts that Plaintiff would check were small and weighed less than a pound. (Pl.'s Dep. 96.) Plaintiff also cleaned his work area daily at the end of his shift to ensure that the area would be clean for the next employee. (QCC 56.1 ¶ 32; Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff never provided QCC with a doctor's note releasing him to return to full duty in November 2005, but he suggests he did not realize such a note was required; he notes that he was not required to do so after the expiration of his June 2005 work restrictions. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 37.) Further, Plaintiff contends that QCC never asked for a doctor's note regarding Plaintiff's ability to return to full duty (id.); LeCompte, however, testified in his deposition that either he or another employee at QCC did ask Plaintiff for such a note.*fn6 (LeCompte Dep. 196.) Thus, it is unclear whether QCC management transferred Plaintiff to the Qualiseal division out of an abundance of caution or as a result of Plaintiff's failure to provide a doctor's note.

QCC claims that, in late November 2005, it received notice that an auditor planned to visit the Qualiseal Division and, in order to prepare for the visit, QCC asked employees to perform a thorough cleaning of the work areas. (QCC 56.1 ¶¶ 38, 39.) LeCompte testified that the visit was either a customer audit or a quality system audit.*fn7 (LeCompte Dep. 204.) Plaintiff claims that he was told the cleaning was in preparation for a visit from a Fire Marshal. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff also contends that, contrary to QCC's assertion that numerous employees were asked to perform thorough cleaning duties, he "was the only person asked to perform thorough, heavy cleaning of the premises on the day in question."*fn8 (Id. ΒΆ 39.) In any event, on November 28, 2005, Sroga asked Plaintiff to perform heavy-duty cleaning, which included mopping, emptying four or five 55-gallon drums filled with chips that weighed from 200 to 300 pounds each, and emptying machines of coolant by carrying buckets ...


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