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Jeffrey Block v. Illinois Secretary of State

December 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge:


I. Introduction

Before the Court is Defendant Illinois Secretary of State Department of Police's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 40). Defendant argues that it should be granted summary judgment because Plaintiff can not prove discrimination under the ADA or retaliation for exercising his FMLA rights. Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff does not qualify as an individual with a disability under the ADA, nor can he meet the direct or indirect method of proving a violation of his rights under the ADA or the FMLA. Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. 44). Plaintiff has also requested that the Court strike Defendant's memorandum of law in support of motion for summary judgment (Doc. 41) because it lacks proper citation to the facts as required under LOCAL RULE 7.1(d). Plaintiff further argues that he has met his burden and has presented both direct and indirect evidence of discrimination under the ADA and FMLA. Defendant has filed a Reply (Doc. 47) addressing the motion to strike and issues raised in Plaintiff's Response. Based on the following, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 40).

II. Factual Background

This action stems from Plaintiff's dismissal from his position as a police officer under the Secretary of State Police. Plaintiff first experienced problems with his work in 2002 or 2003 when Sergeant Hoffman initiated complaint's about Plaintiff's job performance (Doc. 41 Ex. 4 at pp. 59, 61-62). Sometime later in June of 2004, Plaintiff was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a disease which includes symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting fatigue, and joint pain which occur on an intermittent rather than daily basis (Id. at pp. 20-22; Ex. 8 at p.

15). After advising Hoffman of his diagnosis, Sergeant Hoffman suggested that plaintiff apply for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Plaintiff, in turn, applied for FMLA on January 4, 2006 and was approved on January 9, 2006 (Id. at p. 29; Ex. 8 at p. 18).

In January 2006, the Department of Secretary of State Police placed Plaintiff on a leave of absence until he underwent a fitness for duty examination (Id. at pp. 32-33; Ex. 8 at p. 19). The leave expired on March 15, 2006. Around the same time, Plaintiff's supervisors believed Plaintiff was displaying poor work performance by failing to do his work, submit work in a timely fashion, and failure to update information for his work assignment (Doc. 41 Ex. 8 at pp. 21-23, 31, 67, & Ex. 10). Thus, Sergeant Hoffman was ordered to keep a weekly account of Plaintiff's time records (Id. at pp. 22-23). On an occasion in July 2006, Plaintiff failed to notify his direct supervisor that he was sick and thus was taking time off, and Sergeant Hoffman counseled Plaintiff as to this matter (Id. at p. 67). Plaintiff maintains that Sergeant Hoffman harassed him because of his use of benefit time and treated him differently because of his illness (Id. at pp. 67-68). Plaintiff continued to experience problems at work, failing to return telephone calls on a case he was working on and sometime in early September 2006; Sergeant Hoffman had to instruct Plaintiff to complete the reports as to that case or face written discipline (Id. at p. 31 & Ex. 20).

On September 16, 2006, Plaintiff complained to the Inspector General of the Secretary of State that one of his supervisors, Lieutenant Wingo, had asked him to engage in misconduct (Doc. 41 Ex. 10 at p. 19). Plaintiff also met with Steve Roth, Director of Personnel, Inspector General Nathan Maddox, Director of the Department of the Secretary of State Police Brad Demozio, along with Plaintiff's counsel, on September 16, 2006 to discuss the allegations against Wingo (Id.). Wingo, subsequently, committed suicide on September 27, 2010 (Doc. 41 Ex. 8 at pp. 39-40).

Due to Plaintiff's close relationship with Wingo, Director Demuzio authorized another officer to be with Plaintiff in order to support him, and the Secretary of State Police provided officers with the opportunity to attend stress debriefing presented by Chaplain Lovin (Doc. 41 Ex. 7 at pp. 37-38, 43). Plaintiff alleges that in the months after Wingo's death, he continued to feel building stress at work and he was devastated and depressed by Wingo's death (Doc. 41 Ex. 5 at p. 85). On September 26, 2006, Captain Brad Warren was advised by Chaplain Lovin that Plaintiff was stressed over the death of Wingo and that Plaintiff had gone missing and Lovin was very concerned about Plaintiff's state and felt that the Secretary of State Police needed to locate Plaintiff. In response, Director Demuzio authorized an officer to contact the Illinois State Police to air a dispatch on September 29, 2006 in order to locate Plaintiff (Doc. 41 Ex. 11 at pp. 28-29). Director Demuzio believed, based on the information given to him, that Plaintiff had not reported for work, could not be reached by telephone after numerous attempts to contact him, and that his employer was concerned about him given his close relationship to Wingo (Doc. 41 Ex. 7 at 52-53; Ex. 6 at Ex. 8). Deputy Director Steven Rutledge contacted the Illinois State Police about the situation with Plaintiff but did not inform them that he was suicidal (Doc 41 Ex. 6 at Ex. 8; Ex. 7 at pp. 52-56). The Illinois State Police, in turn, issued a dispatch stating that there were indications that Plaintiff was suicidal. Deputy Director Rutledge complained to the Illinois State Police about the use of the term "suicidal" to describe Plaintiff (Id.).

On October 25, 2006, Captain Michael Pippin, who was in charge of supervising internal investigations with the Secretary of State Police, began to investigate allegations by Sandy Block, Plaintiff's estranged wife, who had reported that Plaintiff was driving out of his assigned area and harassing her at home (Doc. 41 Ex. 9 at pp. 26-27). On November 1, 2006, Lieutenant Willenborg sent a memo to Captain Warren, who was not involved in the investigation of Plaintiff, stating that, based on her review of Plaintiff's attendance records, Plaintiff's performance was unsatisfactory and she recommended he be disciplined (Doc. 41 Ex. 12 at pp. 13, 15, & Ex. 32). Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Willenborg harassed him due to her critical reviews (Doc. 41 Ex. 4 at pp. 67-68). Plaintiff met with Willenborg and Hoffman to discuss his timekeeping (Doc. 41 Ex. 12 at p. 19). Although Willenborg recommended discipline, Warren instead chose to institute a performance improvement plan to help Plaintiff meet his job's expectations (Doc. 41 Ex. 11 at pp. 34-35).

On November 14, 2006, as part of the Illinois Secretary of State Police investigation, Plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave until a fitness for duty examination could be performed. Plaintiff had informed investigators that he did not believe he was fit for duty. On February 27, 2007, Dr. Terry Killian reviewed Plaintiff who claimed he was recovering from Wingo's death (Doc. 41 Ex. 4 at p. 73). Dr. Killian found that Plaintiff was fit for duty (Id.). Steve Roth, Director of Personnel for the Office of the Secretary of State Police, relied, in part, on those findings when making his independent decision about the allegations against Plaintiff (Doc. 41 Ex. 10 at pp. 34, 14-15). On July 2, 2007Steve Roth independently found that Plaintiff should be terminated for his misconduct (Id. at p. 12).

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Under FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 56(a) summary judgment should be awarded "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." A party can establish that a fact is in dispute by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). A party can also prove that the cited materials do not establish a genuine dispute, "or that an adverse party cannot procedure admissible evidence to support the fact." Id.

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 genuine issue of triable fact." Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

IV. Analysis

A. Motion to Strike

The Court first addresses Plaintiff's Motion to Strike which was raised in his Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment (See Doc. 44). Plaintiff argues that Defendant's memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment should be stricken ...

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