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Kotwica v. Rose Packing Company

September 25, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan Humphrey Lefkow United States District Judge

Judge Joan H. Lefkow


Plaintiff, Teresa Kotwica ("Kotwica"), filed suit against defendant, Rose Packing Company ("Rose Packing"), alleging discrimination, specifically failure to accommodate, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), as codified at 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2006).*fn1 Pending before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Kotwica's motion for summary judgment [#27] is denied and Rose Packing's motion for summary judgment [#21] is granted.


Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Id. While the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986), where a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on bare pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000).


Rose Packing is an Illinois corporation and operates a meat packing facility on Chicago's South Side that employs over 500 people. It meets the ADA's definition of an "employer."

42 U.S.C. § 12111(5). Rose Packing employs production and maintenance employees (known as "general laborers") in multiple departments, including boning, processing, packing, slicing, and cooking. All general laborers are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1546 ("Union"). General laborers in each department are required to rotate through different positions within and across departments. This rotation requirement is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement between Rose Packing and the Union and is intended to avoid repetitive injuries and address fluctuations in workload.

Kotwica worked at Rose Packing from March 28, 1996 to June 8, 1999, and again from July 10, 2000 to March 13, 2006. During this time, Kotwica worked primarily as a general laborer in the packing department, the cooking room, the slicing room, and the boning room. She also spent some time performing clerical work for the SBC department and the production support office and translated on the company's behalf between Polish and English.

During Kotwica's employment with Rose Packing, the company had in place a return to work policy that required employees returning from leave for a personal medical condition to have no medical restrictions. Employees with work-related medical conditions were allowed to return to work with restrictions if they could be accommodated. Otherwise, they remained at home until the restrictions were lifted or could be accommodated.*fn2 Any employee who had been out for more than fourteen days had to receive clearance from the company physician before being allowed to return to work. To satisfactorily complete this examination, a general laborer was required to lift at least fifty pounds.

In January 2005, while Kotwica was working in the production support office, she took approved leave from work to receive injections to her hip. Her hip problems were considered a personal, not a work-related, medical condition. Kotwica's physician originally placed certain restrictions on her return to work (no lifting over fifteen pounds, no kneeling, no squatting, and five minutes of sitting every hour). Rose Packing's nurse, Linda Madlener ("Madlener"), notified Kotwica that she could not return to work with the restrictions her doctor had imposed per company policy. Despite this, Kotwica returned to work at the direction of Pete Rose, Rose Packing's vice president, and Al White, chief Union steward. Only several days later did Kotwica's doctor provide a note releasing Kotwica to work with no restrictions, thus belatedly complying with company policy.

In July 2005, Kotwica was transferred from the production support office to the boning department, to which she returned as a general laborer. On December 1, 2005, Kotwica had total hip replacement surgery. She took twelve weeks of leave as allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"). Rose Packing originally expected Kotwica to return to work on February 25, 2006, without restrictions. In January 2006, during her leave, Kotwica worked at least forty hours for the Union as an interpreter and organizer. She wished to continue in this role, but the Union required that she return to work at Rose Packing to do so.

On February 1, 2006, Kotwica's surgeon, Dr. Mark Gonzalez, released her for work with restrictions: "Ms. Kotwica may return to work full-time as of 2/6/06. She is restricted from: heavy lifting, squatting, crawling, or climbing." Ex. C to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. After receiving this note, Madlener told Kotwica that she could not return with these restrictions. On February 21, 2006, Bill Tobiasz ("Tobiasz"), Rose Packing's Human Resources Manager, sent Kotwica a letter informing her that her FMLA leave, taking into account two additional days for Christmas and New Year's Day, would be exhausted on February 25, 2006, at which point she "must be ready to start . . . regular unrestricted work." Ex. E to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. Kotwica was also informed that she must receive clearance from Rose Packing's physician prior to that date pursuant to company policy and that if she was unable to return at that time, she must use her two weeks of unused vacation. On February 23, 2006, Madlener sent a letter to Dr. Gonzalez asking him to clarify Kotwica's work restrictions. In the letter, she described Kotwica's job duties:

Teresa's job would not involve squatting or crawling however with regards to climbing, there is some use of 'step-stools' at times with height variations ...

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