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Essebo v. Tyson Foods

July 8, 2009

VALERIE ESSEBO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TYSON FOODS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

This matter is now before the Court on Defendant, Tyson Foods' ("Tyson"), Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Tyson's Motion for Summary Judgment [#12] is GRANTED.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 7, 2008, Plaintiff, Valerie Essebo ("Essebo"), filed a cause of action alleging retaliatory discharge in the Circuit Court of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County. On October 3, 2008, Tyson filed a Notice of Removal to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In its Notice of Removal, Tyson alleged that Tyson and Essebo are citizens of different states, and the alleged amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Essebo did not object to this removal.

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Essebo is a resident of Illinois; the defendant, Tyson, is a Delaware corporation, with its principle place of business in Arkansas, and the alleged amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

When viewed in a light most favorable to Essebo, all evidence and reasonable inferences demonstrate the following relevant facts:

Plaintiff, Essebo, a non-english speaker (French and Ofon), was hired by Tyson in August, 2004. At all times relevant to her employment, Essebo was a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union ("Union"). As such, she paid Union dues, and she knew of her company's Union representative. As of October, 2004, Essebo was assigned the job of Feather Bone Buster at Tyson's Joslin Plant. This position required Essebo to use a machine to crack bones from cow carcasses as they came by on a chain.

On October 11, 2004, Essebo was injured at work when a cable attached to the machine she used for cracking carcass bones broke, causing the machine to fall on Essebo's thigh, knocking her to the ground. Tyson filed a Workers' Compensation claim for the accident on the day of her injury. As a result, Essebo received Workers' Compensation benefits from December 2, 2004, through April 29, 2007, when Tyson discontinued Essebo's disability benefits asserting its belief that Essebo had "reached her maximum medical improvement." (Def's Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, p. 5). Currently, there is a case pending on this matter with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission.

On the night of the accident, Essebo went to Genesis Health Systems ("Genesis") for emergency medical treatment. On October 14, 2004, Essebo sought the treatment of Dr. Lund ("Lund"). Lund placed Essebo on work restrictions, and Tyson accommodated the restrictions by giving Essebo a light-duty job. Essebo returned to Lund on two occasions prior to December 1, 2004, and she remained on work restrictions throughout this time. On December 1, 2004, Lund released Essebo from work restrictions, over her protests.

On December 2, 2004, Essebo sought a second opinion from Dr. Burge ("Burge"), a chiropractor. Burge gave Essebo a note excusing her from all work for two weeks. After taking Burge's note to the personnel manager, Tyson released her from work, in accordance with Burge's orders. Tyson states that on December 13, 2004, it sent Essebo a letter, in English, explaining that she was being placed on leave of absence, effective December 2, 2004, through December 2, 2005. The letter further informed Essebo that she could return anytime to her position as a Feather Bone Buster, or alternatively, she could "utilize the job bidding system...to sign, win and secure a different job" she could better physically tolerate.*fn1 On December 15, 2004, Essebo provided Tyson with another note from Burge, explaining that she must remain off work until she consulted a neurosurgeon regarding her injuries.

Subsequent to Essebo's consultations with both Lund and Burge, she saw Dr. Udehn ("Udehn"). Udehn excused Essebo from work until after she had surgery to correct her injury. After surgery, Udehn continued to excuse Essebo from work. In response to the work-release slips, Mitchell Reyhons, Tyson's regional case manager, sent Udehn a letter, with a copy sent to Essebo, explaining that Tyson would accommodate any work restrictions except for bed rest. Essebo testified in her deposition testimony that Udehn never released her to work light-duty. Essebo further testified that, after additional consults with Dr. Goetsch, from Milan Medical Group ("Milan"), neither Dr. Goetsch, nor an physical therapist from Milan ever released her to work. She further testified that no doctor from whom she sought treatment ever released her to work either light-duty, or her full-duty job of Feather Bone Buster. Consequently, Essebo never contacted Tyson or the Union to let them know that she was able to return to any type of work. Her deposition testimony confirmed that she does not believe she is capable of performing any job, anywhere.

Tyson stated that on November 30, 2005, two days prior to the expiration of Essebo's one year leave of absence, it sent a letter to Essebo informing her that employment forfeiture would result if she failed to return to work within the remainder of her leave of absence, pursuant to Tyson's policy. Essebo denies receiving such a letter. In any event, ...


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