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Coleman v. Cook County

February 25, 2010

CATHRYN COLEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before this Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Cook County against Plaintiff Cathryn Coleman. Cook County seeks summary judgment in its favor on Coleman's failure to accommodate and retaliation claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101. For the reasons stated below, Defendant' s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED on all claims regarding requests for reasonable accommodation denied prior to July 8, 2004 and DENIED as to all other claims.

FACTS

Plaintiff Cathryn Coleman began working for Cook County Hospital, Fantus Clinic, on May 21, 1990. (Def. Statement of Facts ("SOF") ¶ 5). She assumed the position of Clerk V in or around the year 2000 and resigned in or about October 2007. (Pl. SOF ¶ 2.) The duties of a Clerk V in Registration include greeting people, obtaining registration information, electronically entering and verifying patient information, checking patients out, scheduling follow-ups, creating document packets, answering calls, and generating reports, among other responsibilities. (Pl. SOF ¶ 4.)

Coleman began suffering intermittent problems with her voice in 1998. (Def. SOF ¶ 14.) In February of 2002, Coleman visited a health clinic for cursory evaluation of her harsh, strident, and low volume voice. (Id.) She was seen by Matt Wendell, who attributed her condition to "probable acute strain, severe infection and subsequent vocal abuse," recommending a period of total voice rest before voice therapy. (Id.)

On January 31, 2003, Dr. Lawrence Okafor completed a Request for Medical Data form, stating that Coleman was disabled from January 15, 2003 to February 3, 2003. (Def. SOF ¶ 17.) He provided a "Restricted Release" note, restricting Coleman to work environments not exposed to "extremes of heat, cold or humidity." (Id.) Dr. Okafor instructed that Coleman should "avoid cold air blowing on her all day" and "minimize talking until she fully recovers her voice." (Id.)

Coleman filed an initial claim of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Resources ("IDHR") and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on May 4, 2005, alleging that she had been denied these accommodations in January 2003, among others throughout the intervening two years. (Pl. SOF ¶ 21.) Coleman did not file a claim for discrimination until May 2005 because she thought that her supervisor, Lillian Scruggs, would eventually accommodate her, being herself a disabled individual. (Pl. SOF ¶ 22.)

On February 25, 2003, Dr. Okafor issued an Attending Physician's Statement of Disability form and indicated that plaintiff was disabled. (Id.) In response to the form question "When will the patient be able to return to Regular Occupation," Dr. Okafor wrote "indefinite." (Id.) Dr. Okafor would continue to postpone Coleman' s return-to-work date, stating as his reason that she was receiving speech therapy, until June 1, 2005. (Def. SOF ¶ 18.) In December 2004, Plaintiff was diagnosed by Dr. Benjamin Gruber with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neuromuscular disorder of the larynx, which affected her ability to speak. (Def. SOF ¶ 15.)

Coleman filed her second claim of discrimination with the IDHR and EEOC on July 18, 2005. She alleged that the County, citing a lack of positions available that could accommodate her medical restrictions, had prevented her from returning to work on March 14, 2005, even when a number of appropriate positions allegedly existed. (Pl. SOF ¶ 23.)

On April 29, 2005, Coleman visited Dr. Elam, who performed a hysterectomy for fibroids on May 20, 2005. (Def. SOF ¶ 19.) Dr. Elam required Coleman to remain off work through August 1, 2005. (Id.) At follow-up appointments, Dr. Elam successively pushed back this date until Coleman was cleared to return to work, with restrictions, on March 28, 2006. (Id.)

Coleman returned to work in June 2006, after Tom Jablonski of Human Relations accepted her restrictions. (Def. SOF ¶ 29; Pl. SOF ¶ 27.)*fn1 Coleman was reassigned as Clerk V to the Specialty Care Center. (Pl. SOF ¶ 28-29.) She worked on a project specifically created for her, wherein she confirmed insurance verification information on the Medifax system, an outpatient registration data collection program. (Def. SOF ¶ 29, 30.) The position did not require Coleman to speak to patients; instead, she identified, aggregated, and reconciled potential insurance coverages for patients. (Id.; Def. SOF ¶ 32, 36.) The project allowed Coleman to return under special funding, as a temporary employee related to the Medifax contract. (Def. SOF ¶ 33.) The arrangement was to continue to the extent that budget funds were available or approved. (Id.)

On May 31, 2007, the Medifax contract expired, and Coleman could no longer access Medifax' s verification system to fulfill her duties under the special project. (Def. SOF ¶ 34; Def. SOF ¶ 37.) Uncertain whether the County would renew the contract or hire another vendor, Coleman worked on the Internet until departing for medical leave in July 2007. (Def. SOF ¶ 37.) She did not return to her specially funded position. (Def. SOF ¶ 34, 38.)

Coleman returned from leave in September 2007 with medical restrictions, including "avoid prolonged talking; avoid extreme temperatures." ((Def. SOF ¶ 20; Def. SOF ¶ 21; Def. SOF ¶ 38.) Her supervisor, Scruggs, did not permit Coleman to return to work as a Clerk V with these restrictions. (Id.) Scruggs testified that, in her estimation, the position of Clerk V required "constant talking all day long." (Scruggs Dep. 126:2-21.) Coleman reported to Employee Health Services ("EHS") with the same medical restrictions on October 3, 2007. (Def. SOF ¶ 21.) Her restrictions were, again, not accepted. (Id.) Plaintiff filed a claim of retaliation for filing the previous charges on September 21, 2007. (Pl. SOF ¶ 24.)

Coleman resigned on October 22, 2007. On December 20, 2007, Coleman filed a final claim of discrimination and retaliation with the IDHR and EEOC. In her complaint, she alleged that, due to the elimination of her position and statements by her employer indicating that "there was no place for [her] to work within [the County's] environment," she had been subjected to a hostile work environment and compelled to resign. (Pl. Ex. J-3.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). At summary judgment, the "court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a ...


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