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Carris James v. Hyatt Regency Chicago

December 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge


Carris James ("James") has sued his employer, Hyatt Regency Chicago ("Hyatt"), advancing charges (1) of retaliation and interference with his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA," 29 U.S.C. §§2601 to 2654) and (2) of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA," 42 U.S.C. §§12101 to 12117).*fn1 Hyatt has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, and the parties have proceeded in accordance with this District Court's LR 56.1.*fn2 For the reasons stated here, Hyatt's Rule 56 motion is granted and this action is dismissed.

Summary Judgment Standard

Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322--23 (1986)).*fn3 For that purpose courts consider the entire evidentiary record and must view all of the evidence and draw all inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to nonmovants (Egan Marine Corp. v. Great Am. Ins. Co. of N.Y., -- F.3d --, 2001 WL 5924425, at *9 (7th Cir. Nov. 23)). But a non-movant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists and "must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial" (Carmichael v. Vill. of Palatine, Ill., 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. 2010), quoting Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008)). As Hall v. Bodine Elec. Co., 276 F.3d 345, 354 (7th Cir. 2002) has explained in confirming the appropriateness of a summary judgment:

It is well settled that conclusory allegations and self-serving affidavits, without support in the record, do not create a triable issue of fact.

Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-movant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). What follows is a summary of the relevant facts, viewed of course in the light most favorable to non-movant James.

Factual Background*fn4

Hyatt, a hotel located in Chicago, Illinois, has continuously employed James as a steward since 1985 (H. St. ¶¶3, 8). Throughout his employment with Hyatt, James has been a member of Local 1 UNITE HERE ("Union"), and his pay, benefits and other terms of employment are governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") negotiated between Hyatt and Union (id. ¶¶14-15).

Stewards are responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of Hyatt's food service areas and ballrooms and transporting food items and equipment (H. St. ¶11; Complaint ¶27). Most of James' job responsibilities require him to lift heavy objects or bend over or both (id. ¶12).*fn5 One of James' supervisors testified that he did not know of any other jobs at Hyatt that James--who has an eighth grade education--is qualified to perform (H. Resp. ¶95; J. St. ¶72).

James was born with very poor vision (J. St. ¶72; H. Resp. ¶72).*fn6 On his Hyatt job application James described himself as having a "vision problem that is corrected with eyeglasses and magnifying glass," but his vision did not limit or affect his ability to perform his job and was never mentioned in any performance review (H. St. ¶¶13, 16-17). None of James' supervisors or members of Hyatt's human resources team viewed James as having any significant impairment in that respect or knew that he claims to be legally blind, although Hyatt was aware that James was nearsighted and accommodated him by increasing the print size on his work assignments and schedules (id. ¶69; J. Resp. ¶69). James regularly received positive performance reviews, was treated fairly by his supervisors and was described by Cook as "an extremely valuable employee" (J. Resp. ¶17; H. St. ¶¶17-18).

In March or April 2007*fn7 James was punched in the face during a fight (which did not occur at Hyatt), resulting in an injury to his left eye (H. St. ¶19). James missed one day of work due to the incident but worked for several weeks thereafter until he developed a retinal detachment in that eye (id. ¶¶20-21). James sought treatment from Drs. Lance Scott and James Green among others, and he underwent corrective surgery on April 20 (id. ¶¶22, 24). His vision was ultimately restored to its pre-surgery state (id. ¶25).

After his surgery James was understandably absent from work (H. St. ¶28). When Hyatt's Assistant Human Resources Director Lea Nissen ("Nissen") and Human Resources Coordinator Zikkiyyia Perez ("Perez") learned that James' absence was attributable to a medical issue, they provided him with information regarding FMLA leave, including an FMLA medical certification form (id. ¶29). James returned to Perez a completed form requesting FMLA leave on April 25, five days after surgery (id. ¶30). Perez immediately granted the request and applied the FMLA leave retroactively to cover James' absences beginning on April 19 (id. ¶31). James testified that he was treated fairly during the FMLA application process (id. ¶33).

Under the FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to 12 weeks of leave during any 12 month period if they suffer "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee" (Section 2612(a)(1)(D)). Although James exhausted his FMLA 12-week entitlement on or about July 13, the CBA entitled him to remain on leave with job protection for up to one year from his original absence (or until April 19, 2008) (H. St. ¶¶42-43).*fn8

On or about April 24 James gave Perez a note from Dr. Scott (the "April 24 Note") stating that James could return to "light duty" on May 10 (H. St. ¶34). That April 24 Note did not list any specific restrictions, but in light of James' more demanding job responsibilities it was clearly not a release to full duty (id. ¶35). James testified that Perez told him that the "restriction" to "light duty" needed to be "removed," but he did not provide any explanation of the April 24 Note, what restrictions he may have had, what type of light duty he was capable of performing or how long he needed light duty (id. ¶36). Perez did not ask what "light duty" meant (J. St. ¶74), but Dr. Scott testified it was intended to restrict James from "lifting anything heavy" (Scott Dep. 47). Hyatt does not have a policy that pertains to assigning "light duty" to employees returning from medical leave (J. St. ¶98).

Between April 24 and August James submitted a substantial amount of disability benefit paperwork to Hyatt and its short-term disability provider, representing that he was unable to work in any capacity, and he received disability benefits based on those representations (H. St. ΒΆΒΆ38-39). Forms provided by Dr. Scott stated that he was "not sure" when James could return to work (May 11 and June 14 forms), that James would be disabled until August 20 (June 1 form) and that James would be disabled until August 5 (August 2 ...

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