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Tanya Ammons v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

November 9, 2011

TANYA AMMONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

This employment discrimination case reaches this court on a motion for reconsideration. On March 18, 2011, this court granted summary judgment to the Defendant, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) on Plaintiff Tanya Ammons' counts alleging employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII. The court rejected Ammons' ADA claim under the exhaustion of remedies doctrine, noting that her charge focused on two discrete acts-denied transfers-that were not like or reasonably related to her original charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (Summ. J. Op. at 9, ECF No. 138.) It rejected her Title VII claim for the same reason. (Id.)This court reconsiders its ruling and concludes that its reliance on Conner v. Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 413 F.3d 675 (7th Cir. 2005), was incorrect.

I. BACKGROUND

Ammons suffers from clinical depression and went on approved medical leave from her job as a Maintenance Laborer Class A (MLA) with the MWRD on December 21, 2006. Pursuant to the ADA, she requested to engage in the interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation for her disability on December 28, 2006. In February 2007, Ammons' psychiatrist sent two letters to the MWRD detailing Ammons' workplace restrictions. Meanwhile, on February 8, Ammons formally requested a transfer to one of two positions-the Calumet Centrifuge or the Calumet Storeroom. Although the Centrifuge position was vacant at the time Ammons made her request, another employee had already requested a transfer into that position on May 31, 2006. The Storeroom position was not vacant at the time of Ammons' request for transfer.

On March 12, 2007, MWRD's director of personnel, Patrick Foley, wrote to Ammons indicating that MWRD had completed a preliminary analysis of Ammons' request for accommodation, but noted that it could not finalize any determination until Ammons' doctor, Dr. Herman, released her to return to work. On March 19, 2007, Dr. Herman authorized Ammons to return to work. On April 18, 2007, Ammons filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that MWRD had failed to accommodate her disability.

Meanwhile, the Centrifuge position, which had been vacant since June 2006, was filled by Mr. Watts on June 11, 2007. The Storeroom position became vacant on April 30, 2007 and was filled by Mr. Jones on August 27, 2007. Around the time of these transfers, MWRD had continued to correspond with Ammons and her doctor. Dr. Herman lifted Ammons' travel restriction on May 21, 2007, and Ammons had clarified the duties she could perform in a letter to MWRD dated May 22, 2007. Nonetheless, the MWRD sent a letter to Ammons on June 21, 2007 indicating that it could not identify any reasonable accommodations for Ammons. In that letter, MWRD offered unpaid leave to Ammons. Ammons took that leave, obtained a right to sue letter from the EEOC on August 11, 2008, and she filed a complaint in this court on October 3, 2008.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

The Seventh Circuit has stated that "[a] district court may reconsider a prior decision when there has been a significant change in the law or facts since the parties presented the issue to the court, when the court misunderstands a party's arguments, or when the court overreaches by deciding an issue not properly before it." United States v. Ligas, 549 F.3d 497, 501 (7th Cir. 2008). Motions to reconsider are meant to correct "'manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.'" Rothwell Cotton Co. v. Rosenthal & Co., 827 F.3d 246, 251 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Keene Corp. v. Int'l Fidelity Ins. Co., 561 F. Supp. 656, 665 (N.D. Ill. 1982)).

III.ANALYSIS

This court committed a manifest error of law in granting MWRD's summary judgment motion as to Ammons' ADA claim.*fn1 Specifically, the court misapplied Conner v. Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 413 F.3d 675 (7th Cir. 2005), to the ADA claim in this case. Ammons' ADA allegations did not pertain solely to discrete denials of transfers. At bottom, Ammons' ADA claim was about a failure to accommodate Ammons' disability. The ADA mandates that all employers engage in a flexible, interactive process to accommodate disabled employees, See Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 154 F.3d 685, 693 (7th Cir. 1998), and Ammons has alleged that the Defendant failed to participate in that process in good faith, resulting in MWRD's failure to offer any reasonable accommodation to Ammons. The "interactive process" is just that-a process-and is the sort of continuous activity that is not a discrete action under National Passenger Railroad Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002). Thus, the court reexamines its ADA ruling.

In applying Conner to Ammons' case, this court misapprehended Ammons' claim. It assumed that her claim was solely about two discrete acts-the denial of the Centrifuge and Storeroom transfers that occurred after Ammons had filed her EEOC charge. These denied transfers, however, were only a portion of Ammons' failure to accommodate claim.

Although MWRD has argued otherwise, Ammons has consistently maintained a failure to accommodate claim throughout this litigation. Ammons' initial EEOC charge in April 2007 stated:

I began employment with Respondent in July 1986. My current position is Laborer. I have a medical condition and Respondent is aware of my condition. I began a leave of absence in November 2006 to treat my medical condition with a protected return to work date of March 19, 2007. I was cleared to return to work on March 18, 2007 by both my doctor and Respondent's doctor, with restrictions. Respondent has refused to accommodate my medical restrictions and will not allow me to return to work as of this date. (Ammons' Charge of Discrimination) (emphasis added).

The failure to accommodate claim was reiterated once again in Ammons' complaint, filed on October 3, 2008, which stated that "Ammons was subjected to discrimination by [MWRD] because of her disability since she clearly was able to return to work and [MWRD] refused to accommodate her ...


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