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Pamela S. Hanson v. Caterpillar

September 14, 2011

PAMELA S. HANSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CATERPILLAR, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Pamela S. Hanson ("Hanson" or "Plaintiff") worked for Defendant Caterpillar, Inc. ("Caterpillar" or "Defendant") from October 11, 2004 until she was terminated on or about February 10, 2005. Hanson claims that Caterpillar violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., when it terminated her. Defendant has moved for summary judgment. I grant Defendant's motion on the grounds that Hanson is not a "qualified individual with a disability" under the ADA.

I. BACKGROUND

Caterpillar hired Pamela Hanson as a supplemental employee on October 11, 2004. Hanson was employed as an assembler at Caterpillar's Aurora, Illinois manufacturing facility. At all times during her employment, she was a member of the United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Local Union 145. As such, a collective bargaining agreement between the Union and Caterpillar governed her position as a supplemental employee.

Hanson worked on the assembly line for the 980 tractor. The 980 assembly line was one of several lines in the mile-long manufacturing facility in Aurora. To get to her position on the line, Hanson needed to rotate her head in order to look for forklifts and other equipment in the facility. Once at her work station, Hanson's tasks were as follows: she was responsible for attaching the steering shaft, hydraulic hoses, toolbox, and side panels to the 980's cab. Additionally, she "torqued down" the cab, or secured it to the main body of the tractor. Accomplishing these tasks required various combinations of climbing the large vehicle, carrying parts and tools weighing from five to fifteen pounds, crawling into tight spaces, and twisting and turning her neck.

On or about October 25, 2004, Hanson injured her neck while attaching the hydraulic hoses to the cab. While pulling on a torque wrench, Hanson heard a "pop" in her neck. Despite the injury, Hanson continued working the shift. She did not seek medical attention or report the injury on the day she was injured.

Over one month later, on December 3, 2004, Hanson reported her injury.*fn1 On that same date, Hanson saw a physician in Caterpillar's medical department, Dr. William Roggenkamp. Hanson described the October incident and explained that she had been having neck pain in the five to six weeks since it occurred. Dr. Roggenkamp performed an examination and ordered x-rays. The x-rays showed "marked spurring" between Hanson's fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae, along with arthritis in the front of her neck. Dr. Roggenkamp concluded that the condition was not actually caused by the October incident, but was a degenerative condition.

Based on his diagnosis, Dr. Roggenkamp recommended that Hanson wear a soft neck collar and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Additionally, he attached the following medical restrictions on Ms. Hanson: 1) no lifting over ten pounds, 2) no pushing or pulling over ten pounds with either of her arms, 3) no rotating or bending of the neck, and 4) no overhead work. Hanson insisted that she did not need the medical restrictions.

Dr. Roggenkamp notified Hanson's direct supervisor, Alan Kitterman, of the restrictions. Also informed was the "Move Coordinator," Dee Sheffer. Sheffer's job was to match medically restricted employees to jobs that fit within their restrictions, with additional considerations for job qualification and seniority.*fn2

Based on her restrictions, Kitterman determined that Hanson could not work in her regular assembly job. Plaintiff disputed the determination and still disputes it. Regardless, she was moved to "the cage," an office area on the shop floor. There, Hanson did light duty -basically filing and other paperwork tasks - on what was understood to be a temporary basis. In "the cage," Hanson reported to Junior Smith.

On December 6, 2004, Hanson returned to Dr. Roggenkamp for her prescribed follow-up appointment. At the appointment, Hanson reported less pain and Roggenkamp noted increased range of motion. Roggenkamp prescribed onsite physical therapy.

The following day, December 7, 2004, Hanson again came in to see Dr. Roggenkamp. At this appointment, Hanson indicated that her pain had not improved and that she could not bend her neck down to read. Roggenkamp concluded that Hanson had "acute cervical syndrome with significant calcification." He then referred Hanson to an outside spine specialist, Dr. Thomas McGivney at Castle Orthopedics.

Plaintiff saw Dr. McGivney on December 9th, and based on her description of her pain and restricted movement, McGivney ordered four weeks of physical therapy, two to three times per week. He also ordered the following medical restrictions: 1) no lifting over twenty pounds, 2) no pushing or pulling with both arms, and 3) no overhead work. Again, Plaintiff disputed the need for any restrictions.

Plaintiff returned to see Dr. Roggenkamp on December 13th and reported on her visit to Dr. McGivney. Plaintiff reported that her neck was feeling better, but Roggenkamp kept his restrictions in place. Roggenkamp's restrictions were slightly more strict than ...


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