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Valerie Mcdougler v. Olin Corporation

March 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge


Before the Court is defendant Olin Corporation's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 16) to which plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. 18) and defendant a reply (Doc. 19). The plaintiff seeks recovery for her discharge from Olin Corporation, claiming that her discharge was in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. Defendant seeks summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff's discharge was based on legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons.


A district court will grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); see also Popovits v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 185 F.3d 726, 731 (7th Cir. 1999). The moving party initially bears the burden to demonstrate an absence of genuine issues of material fact, indicating that judgment should be granted as a matter of law. See Lindemann v. Mobil Oil Corp., 141 F.3d 290, 294 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). Once a motion for summary judgment has been made and properly supported, however, the non-movant has the burden of setting forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. See id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable and justifiable inferences in that party's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court will not resolve factual disputes, weigh conflicting evidence, or make credibility determinations. See Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Miranda v. Wisconsin Power & Light Co., 91 F.3d 1011, 1014 (7th Cir. 1996).


The record reveals that plaintiff was employed by defendant beginning in 1984 and worked in the defendant's facility located in the City of East Alton, Illinois. She filed an application for benefits under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act in November of 2005. In December of 2005, the defendant terminated the plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff asserts that her termination was in retaliation for filing her worker's compensation claim.

The defendant asserts that it terminated the plaintiff for a valid reason, namely because she could or would not work. Olin asserts that it instructed plaintiff to return to work, and did so before she filed her workers' compensation claim, and the decision maker did not know that she had filed a claim before she was terminated. Plaintiff asserts that defendant knew at the time of her discharge that she had been directed not to return to work by her doctors as the result of an on-the-job injury.

Plaintiff worked at several jobs while employed at Olin. During her employment, she had several leaves of absence. Between 1999-2000, she was off work for several (8-9) months for work-related carpal tunnel injury. She filed and completed a workers' compensation claim related to that claim. From May of 2001 until January of 2002, she was on disability leave due to depression. She also was on short-term disability leave for depression from May 1, 2003 to June 9, 2003, and during that time was under the care of Dr. Joy Webster, a psychiatrist. In May of 2005, she began a third short-term disability leave for depression. Plaintiff asserts that in 2002 she suffered from a medical condition as a result of the primer she used during her employment. She further claims that in April of 2005 she filed a grievance that oral warnings she received about her absences were improper because her absences were related to her medical condition from the mix she had worked with at Olin.

Plaintiff's 2005 disability leave was certified, initially, by her general practitioner, Dr. Charles Earnshaw. Thereafter, Olin notified plaintiff that she needed to be seen by a psychiatrist. Plaintiff attempted to see Dr. Webster, but was refused an appointment because she had missed several prior appointments. She then saw Dr. Sanjay Nigam in August of 2005. Dr. Nigam released plaintiff to work in September of 2005 without any restrictions. Plaintiff did not return to work and told Olin that her general practitioner wanted to see her before she returned to work. Thereafter, Olin instructed plaintiff that she had an appointment with Dr. Wayne Stillings. On November 2, 2005, she was evaluated by Dr. Stillings and he released her to work without restrictions.

After Dr. Stillings issued his release, Olin instructed plaintiff to return to work multiple times. Plaintiff acknowledged in her deposition that Olin instructed her to return to work. On November 8, 2005, Olin's leave administrator, Karen Vogan, advised plaintiff that Dr. Stillings had authorized her return to work, and she was advised to return within five days. She was also advised that failure to return to work could result in termination. On November 14, 2005, plaintiff met with Nurse Nancy Bundridge and was advised that she was expected to return by November 16, 2005.

Plaintiff stated to Bundridge that she was going to see a lawyer. On November 19, 2005, plaintiff filed a worker's compensation claim, including her claim of chemical exposures, which Olin received on November 23, 2005. On November 28, 2005, she was again advised that she was to report to work the next day. When plaintiff failed to report to work on November 29, 2005, she was sent a letter by Olin's Manager of Labor Relations, Bill Moore, that she was approved to return to work by Dr. Stillings, and was to do so within five days. Plaintiff was terminated by letter dated December 13, 2005, after she failed to return to work as expected. The record includes Moore's declaration that he terminated plaintiff without knowledge of the filing of her workers' compensation claim (Declaration of Moore, Ex. B, Doc. 17).

There is evidence in the record that on November 14, 2005, after Bundridge met with plaintiff she sent Moore an email indicating that the plaintiff had informed Bundridge that she was going to see a lawyer. She also stated in her deposition that the last conversation she had with the Olin Medical staff she was told that they would "get back to her" about returning to work, and that she gave them off work slips for December 5 and 7, 2005. Plaintiff has introduced exhibits 16 and 17 in her response to the summary judgment motion. These are doctors slips, one from her general practitioner, Dr. Earnshaw, that she should not return to work, dated December 5, 2005, and the other from Dr. Becky A. Pew, a psychiatrist, dated December 7, 2005, stating that she should not return to work due to depression.

Plaintiff testified that she was certain that Moore knew of her workers' compensation claim, but also acknowledged that she had no direct evidence that he actually knew of the filing of the claim other than the fact that he signed her ...

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