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Breneisen v. Motorola

June 22, 2009

JAMES BRENEISEN, JR. ET AL., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MOTOROLA, INC. ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Michael Mahoney Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Before the court is Motorola's motion in limine seeking to bar evidence of James Breneisen, Jr.'s ("James") medical condition, expert evidence of the same, and evidence of the medical bills he has paid or is obligated to pay. Parties consented to the magistrate judge's jurisdiction on March 18, 2009. The court grants in part and denies in part Motorola's motion in limine.

II. Facts

James was one of six original plaintiffs in this suit. He was employed at various Motorola facilities between 1994 and 2003. In 1999, he began working on an hourly basis in Motorola's Factory Express Program at the Rockford facility, where he received merchandise for the program. He was given more responsibilities as the program grew, including tracking down outgoing packages, filing claims with UPS and Federal Express, devising shipping solutions, developing packaging materials, and formulating process improvements for the assembly line. By February 2000, he was given the title of Process Analyst.

In June 2000, Bobbi Cooper, the Director of Human Resources, allegedly told James that she felt he could be salaried. On January 15, 2001, before discussions on salary could go further, James took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") to receive treatment for gastro-esophageal reflux.

James returned twelve weeks later on April 9, 2001. He was reassigned to the keypad line. The keypad line is a production line position where James had to lift heavy boxes and manually press buttons on phone keypads to ensure that the phones properly functioned. James was told that while he was on leave his position had been eliminated and its duties disbursed among other positions. His pay and benefits had been the same as they were when he was a Process Analyst, but he considered the move a demotion.*fn1

James worked on the keypad line until April 20, 2001 before again taking medical leave, this time for esophageal surgery.*fn2 Breneisen et al. v. Motorola, Inc. et al., No. 02-C50509 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2005) (Crt. Doc. 141). James returned to work on September 4, 2001. (Pl.'s Resp. 4.) He was put back on the keypad line and given the title of Technician Assistant. This leave does not appear to have been protected by the FMLA.*fn3 (Def.'s Mot. 2.)

Approximately three weeks after his return on September 4, 2001, James accepted a position as Contract Coordinator in the Contracts Department. Breneisen et al. v. Motorola, Inc. et al., No. 02-C50509 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2005) (Crt. Doc. 141). With the position came a raise. Id. Darlene Patterson was his supervisor. James alleges that Patterson made work unpleasant by calling him into 30 to 45 minute meetings multiple times per week. At those meetings, she allegedly accused him of creating a hostile work environment and violating company policy. According to James, this treatment caused him to suffer from severe stress, high blood pressure, and stomach reflux. (See Pl.'s Resp. 14.) He worked as a Contract Coordinator until February 5, 2002, when he began another medical leave to undergo a total esophagectomy. James alleges that this procedure and leave were necessary because Patterson's treatment exacerbated his existing medical condition. He never returned from this leave, and Motorola eventually terminated his employment on June 27, 2003. (Defs.' Reply 5.)

III. Procedural History

James filed suit in March 2002 alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") and violations of the FMLA. James's amended complaint, filed on December 30, 2002, alleged that Motorola violated the FMLA in one or more of the following ways:

(a) Failed to return the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., to his former employment position or an equivalent employment position following his return to work after his medical leaves in 2001; (b) Failed to return the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., to an employment position having the same or equivalent working conditions, privileges and status as his former employment position after his return to work from his medical leaves in 2001; (c) Failed to return the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., to an employment position requiring the same skills, duties, responsibilities, and authority as his former position after his return to work from his medical leaves in 2001; (d) Wrongfully demoted the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., because of his medical leaves in 2001; (e) Wrongfully harassed the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., because of his absences from work while on medical leave in 2001; (f) Wrongfully harassed the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., in order to discourage him from future use of medical leave pursuant to the [FMLA]; (g) Wrongfully took intimidating actions against the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., after his medical leaves taken pursuant to the [FMLA]; (h) Wrongfully gave the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., poor evaluation reports, in retaliation for his absences while on medical leave; and (j) Wrongfully denied the Plaintiff, James P. Breneisen, Jr., promotion in retaliation for his absences from work while on medical leave under the [FMLA]. (Amended Compl. 2--3.) In a separate count, James alleged that Motorola committed each of the above violations willfully. (Amended Compl. 4--6.)

Boiled down, the above claims represent allegations that Motorola failed to reinstate James after he took FMLA leave. The claims also represent allegations that Motorola retaliated and discriminated against him for exercising his FMLA rights. The discriminatory and retaliatory actions allegedly suffered by James were his demotion to the keypad line and the harassment he experienced at the hands of Patterson. To show pretext, James cites to a string of emails produced that indicate potential discriminatory animus.*fn4

Motorola removed the case to federal court on April 18, 2002. On February 7, 2005, Judge Reinhard granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on James's IIED claim finding it preempted by the FMLA. Breneisen et al. v. Motorola, Inc. et al., No. 02-C50509 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2005) (Crt. Doc. 141).

Judge Reinhard also granted Motorola's motion for summary judgment on James's FMLA failure to reinstate claims. Id. Judge Reinhard found that James's right to reinstatement had expired before he returned to work on September 4, 2001. Id. Thus, James's failure to reinstate claim was limited to the two weeks he worked in April. Id Judge Reinhard held that James failed to present evidence that he would not have been reassigned when he returned to work on April 9, 2001 had he not taken FMLA leave. Id. at 2. Having not made that showing, James's failure to reinstate claim could not survive Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Id. (citing Vasquez v. Northern Illinois Hosp. Servs., Inc., 2002 WL 475185, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5257 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 15, 2002)).

Judge Reinhard further found that, even if the court considered James eligible for reinstatement when he returned on September 4, 2001, James was encouraged on his first day back to apply for the Contracts Department job, which was an administrative position. Id. at 2 n.2. He was transferred to that position within three weeks and received a raise. Id. Under these facts, according to Judge Reinhard, James's failure to reinstate claim was valid at most for the interim period of approximately five weeks (two weeks in April and three weeks in September) before he was transferred to the Contracts Department. Id. Regardless of whether he could recover on a failure to reinstate claim for two weeks or five, though, Judge Reinhard found that he failed to produce evidence sufficient to show ...


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