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Teresa Rodriguez, By Richard M. Fogel, Trustee v. City of Chicago

March 25, 2011

TERESA RODRIGUEZ, BY RICHARD M. FOGEL, TRUSTEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Teresa Rodriguez filed her amended complaint against the City of Chicago (the "City"), alleging that the City violated the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") by reassigning some of her duties as deputy director of the O'Hare Modernization Project and then discharging her. Before the court is the City's motion for summary judgment on Counts I, II and IV of the amended complaint [#168].*fn1 For the following reasons, the City's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

LEGAL STANDARD

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 issue of 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).

BACKGROUND*fn2

Teresa Rodriguez was employed by the City from July 18, 1988 to September 20, 2006, when her employment was terminated. Rodriguez was the deputy director of the O'Hare Modernization Project ("OMP") from December 1, 2004 to September 20, 2006. Her responsibilities included administering the OMP's budget, implementing financial controls, and managing two OMP facilities. Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts ("Def.'s SoF") ¶¶ 9--10; Pl.'s Ex. B.*fn3 Rodriguez's prior positions with the City included director of administration for the

Department of Human Services and deputy commissioner for the Department of Planning and Development. Her prior job responsibilities included overseeing the human resources staff and managing human resources for the Department of Human Services. Rodriguez testified that she was familiar with the procedures for taking leave under the FMLA and knew that FMLA leave forms had to be turned in to the human resources department for processing and review.

I. Rodriguez's Illness and Termination from Her Position at OMP

Rodriguez had diabetes and high blood pressure prior to January of 2006. That month, however, Rodriguez also began to suffer from heart palpitations. She was admitted to the emergency room at Christ Hospital because of her heart problems on January 27, 2006, after she awoke with "cardiac symptoms." Def.'s Ex. 5, Rodriguez Dep. 107:6--20. While she was at the hospital, Rodriguez spoke on the phone Rosemarie Andolino, the executive director of OMP. Rodriguez told Andolino that "they were running tests, my heart had gone to 296 palpitations, and that I had been transported from my home to the emergency room where they were checking because the doctors had a suspicion that I suffered a heart attack." Id. at 113: 11--23. Rodriguez also told Michael Boland, the former first deputy of OMP, Patricia McCaskill, the assistant commissioner over human resources at OMP, and Denitra Gardner, her assistant, that she was at the hospital. Rodriguez was discharged on February 1, after receiving a diagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia ("SVT"), which is an abnormally rapid heartbeat that can cause severe palpitations, dizziness, and angina. She was ordered not to work and to stay on bed rest. On February 8, Rodriguez received a note from her doctor that certified that she had been "medically disabled and unable to work" from January 26 to February 8. Pl.'s Ex. F. The note states that Rodriguez could return to work on February 9. Id.

Rodriguez returned to work on February 10 and attended a late morning meeting with Andolino. After the meeting ended, Rodriguez went back to her office because she was not feeling well. She took her blood pressure and read that her blood pressure was 170 over 107. Rodriguez then called her doctor, who told her that she needed to go to the emergency room because they were concerned that she was having another SVT episode. Several of Rodriguez's colleagues at OMP were walking in and out of her office at this time, and one of them offered to take her to Resurrection Hospital. Another colleague called an ambulance, and the paramedics came to Rodriguez's office and took her blood pressure. Rodriguez told the paramedics that she had SVT. She was eventually taken out of the office on a gurney while several employees at OMP watched. Gardner accompanied Rodriguez to the hospital and called OMP from Rodriguez's hospital room. Gardner told Andolino and McCaskill that Rodriguez had been admitted to the hospital and would have to stay overnight. Rodriguez was hospitalized for about two days following this incident and was discharged with orders to stay home.

On February 18, while she was still home from work, Rodriguez experienced another cardiac episode and was re-admitted to Christ Hospital. On February 20, Dr. A. Tom Petropulos performed an ablation procedure on Rodriguez's heart.*fn4 When Dr. Petropulos was asked, at his deposition, whether he considered Rodriguez's SVT to have been "cured" after he finished the ablation procedure, he responded, "Yes." Def.'s Ex. 22, Petropulos Dep. 27:19--22. Nevertheless, Rodriguez was hospitalized again from February 27 to March 1 because she was experiencing severe recurring chest pains, high blood pressure and heart palpitations. Rodriguez was examined by Dr. Thomas Bump, who thought that Rodriguez's chest plains could have resulted from the ablation. Dr. Bump advised Rodriguez not to engage in strenuous activity and to continue under observation. On March 1, Dr. Nouri Al-Khaled performed a cardiac catheterization on Rodriguez. The results from the procedure showed that Rodriguez's heart was "normal" and that there was nothing wrong with Rodriguez's coronaries or heart muscle.

Rodriguez returned to work on March 7 but did not work a full day because she was experiencing dizziness, heart palpitations, and angina. Before she left for the afternoon, Rodriguez told Boland that she was not feeling well and needed to go home. Rodriguez attempted to work on March 8 but again had to leave early because she was not feeling well. Rodriguez again told Boland that she was going home because she was ill. On March 9, Rodriguez met with Andolino and submitted a written request for an advance of ten days of sick leave. The request states that the sick days "will be used to cover absences from work in February and March of 2006, due to cardiac-related illness." Pl.'s Ex. G.

Rodriguez visited her primary care physician, Dr. Virendra Mathur, four times in March, April, and May and complained of gastric pains and dizziness.*fn5 Dr. Mathur monitored Rodriguez's heart activity with a Holter monitor from May 10 to May 12. Rodriguez also had two follow-up visits with Dr. Petropulos, on March 14 and 23, where she complained of dizziness, chills, chest pain, nausea, and low blood pressure. Dr. Petropulos concluded that her "various nonspecific symptoms . . . are not likely to be of a cardiac origin." Def.'s Ex. 22, Petropulos Dep. 32:17--35:6.

Sometime in the first half of 2006, Rodriguez met with Andolino and told her that she could not continue doing the same level of activity that she had been doing and that her job was too demanding, given her illness. Def.'s Ex. 5, Rodriguez Dep. 380:10--20; Def.'s Ex. 3, Andolino Dep. 192:1--194:24. Whether Andolino then offered to remove some of Rodriguez's job responsibilities is in dispute. Andolino testified that she asked Rodriguez what job responsibilities could be removed and then told Rodriguez to "get back to [her]" when Rodriguez did not describe the changes that she wanted to make. Def.'s Ex. 3, Andolino Dep. 193:4--14. Rodriguez testified that she received "no response" from Andolino when she said that her job was too taxing and that Andolino "didn't [indicate] one way or the other" as to whether Rodriguez would be given reduced responsibilities. Def.'s Ex. 5, Rodriguez Dep. 382:3--11. Neither Rodriguez nor Andolino could recall precisely when this conversation took place.

On June 1, Rodriguez attempted to work a full day at OMP but suffered a cardiac episode during a meeting with aviation officials and OMP contractors. She was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Between March 1, when Dr. Al-Khaled performed the cardiac catheterization, and June 1, Rodriguez missed a total of eight full days of work and eight half days (3.5 hours off per day) due to illness or doctor's appointments. Def.'s SoF ¶ 61. Rodriguez also missed one day of work for "vacation" on March 31 and one half day due to her mother's illness. Id. Boland signed and approved each of Rodriguez's leave disposition slips during this time period. Id. ¶ 63.

At some time before June 5, Boland recommended to Andolino that Rodriguez's duties be reassigned because she was not adequately performing her job and he needed "somebody [to] get the job done." Def.'s Ex. 9, Boland Dep. 177:10--14.*fn6 Rodriguez returned to work on June 5. That day, she met with Andolino and Boland and learned that many of her duties had been redistributed to other individuals at OMP. Rodriguez learned that, going forward, she would primarily be responsible for ordering supplies, making sure that there was always a staff member covering the reception desk, and training support staff as well as contractors regarding the procedures for ordering supplies. Andolino told Rodriguez that her duties had been redistributed "because [she] had been out on June 1st at the hospital." Def.'s Ex. 5, Rodriguez Dep. 227:24--228:1. The distribution of Rodriguez's duties was memorialized in a memo to OMP staff. Def.'s Ex. 14.

After Rodriguez undertook her new responsibilities, she found that she became dizzy and physically exhausted from packing office supplies. Rodriguez told Boland that her new responsibilities continued to be a physical strain. Boland said that it would be possible to assign additional people to help Rodriguez pack the supplies. On July 25, Rodriguez met with Dr. Mathur and complained again of chest pain and dizziness when she changed position. The next day, Rodriguez met with Dr. John A. Burke, one of her treating cardiologists and complained of chest tightness, a pounding heartbeat, and high blood pressure. Dr. Burke ordered a test for an adrenal gland tumor and a thirty-day event recorder. The results of the adrenal gland test was normal and the thirty-day event recorder showed that Rodriguez showed no SVT.

Rodriguez called Dr. Al-Khaled's office on August 21 because her blood pressure was going up and down and she felt like she was going to pass out. She met with Dr. Al-Khaled on August 24 and Dr. Al-Khaled ordered a renal arterial Doppler and a CT scan because "there [was not] anything else we could do to [Rodriguez] from a cardiac perspective" at that time. Def.'s Ex. 23, Al-Khaled Dep. 29:2--38:18. Dr. Al-Khaled gave her a note excusing her from work for two weeks while she awaited the results of the tests. Id. at 41:18--43:22; Pl.'s Ex. F at D000958. At his deposition, Dr. Al-Khaled testified that his practice was to excuse a patient from work only when they requested it. Def.'s Ex. 23, Al-Khaled Dep. 43:19--21. He also noted, however, that his decision to excuse Rodriguez was consistent with his usual practice and that when "this patient had lightheadedness with episodes of near syncope . . . until I finish my workup, I'd rather that my patient wouldn't go back out to work." Id. at 43:2--5.

On August 25, Rodriguez met with Boland, gave him Dr. Al-Khaled's note, and said that she was "given doctors' orders" to stay home from August 24 to September 11. Def.'s Ex. 5, Rodriguez Dep. 254:4--15. Boland told her that because of her reduced responsibilities, OMP was going to change her job title and salary and that she would have to return the city vehicle that she had been using. Id. at 255:8--21, 279:15--280:1; Def.'s SoF ¶ 26. Boland granted Rodriguez's request for leave, but asked that she wait until August 29 to start her leave because McCaskill was on vacation and he did not know how to enter the leave in the City's timekeeping system. Rodriguez said that it "would not be a problem" to start her leave on August 29 and agreed to come back August 29 for a half day. Def.'s Ex. 5, Rodriguez Dep. 256:18--21. Rodriguez returned to the office on August 29 and met with McCaskill. She told McCaskill that she would need to request FMLA leave "because [she] was not getting better." Id. at 257:16--258:9. McCaskill encouraged her to request FMLA leave. Id. McCaskill gave forms to Rodriguez that were for disability leave, not FMLA leave. Def.'s SoF ¶ 58 & Pl.'s Resp. thereto.

On September 8, Rodriguez told Boland that she would need to stay out of the office until September 12 because she had an appointment with her cardiologist and her cardiologist would tell her when she could return to work. Rodriguez met with Dr. Burke on September 11.

Dr. Burke scheduled a referral for a second opinion because Rodriguez continued to report symptoms and Dr. Burke "had run through every test [he] could think of to help her and wasn't coming up with anything new." Def.'s Ex. 21, Burke Dep. 47:6--18. That same day, Dr. Burke gave Rodriguez a "back to work slip with no restrictions." Def.'s Ex. 21, Burke Dep. 39:23--40:12, 49:24--51:3. Rodriguez then scheduled an appointment to meet with a cardiologist at Loyola University, Dr. Ivan Pacold. She called Boland and told him that she would need to miss work because she was going to see a specialist.

Rodriguez met with Dr. Pacold on September 14 and he told her that he intended to do additional testing, give her a Holter monitor, and that he wanted her to do a cardiac rehabilitation exercise program. Dr. Pacold testified that he examined Rodriguez and reviewed her medical records and found no reason to believe that Rodriguez had experienced SVT at any time after the ablation. His notes reflected that, after the ablation, Rodriguez "developed a wide variety of symptoms that do not appear to be related to the procedure or any other identifiable cardiac disease" and that Rodriguez was anxious about her health and "became essentially disabled by these concerns." Def.'s Ex. 24, Pacold Dep. 37:6--39:22, 46:1--47:21. Dr. Pacold testified that Rodriguez should have been able to physically sit at a desk, or he would not have recommended an exercise rehabilitation program. Id. at 30:6--10, 67:8--17. After her visit with ...


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