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Brenda Myers v. Wickes Furniture Co.

February 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang


Plaintiff Brenda Myers brought this suit against Defendant Wickes Furniture Co., Inc. for alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. R. 34.*fn1 Before the Court is Wickes's motion for summary judgment. R. 75. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted in part but largely denied in part.


Myers was an Administrative Manager, Office Manager, and Office Administrator for Wickes Furniture at its Bedford Park and North Riverside locations.

R. 77 ¶ 5.*fn2 Myers was hired in 1998 as an Administrative Manager in Training for the Bedford Park location. Id. ¶ 7. In December 1998, she was transferred to the North

Riverside location in the same position. Id. ¶ 8. She returned to the Bedford location as an Administrative Manager in July 1999. Id. ¶ 8. In June 2003, Myers's job title changed to Office Manager, and in February 2004, it again changed, this time to Office Administrator. Id. The title changes were not promotions, but part of company-wide changes in titles. Id. Myers was terminated on January 8, 2005, while she was working as Office Administrator at the Bedford Park location. Id. ¶ 9. Myers's responsibilities included coordinating and training office personnel, coordinating payroll, resolving customer and store issues, and assisting the store manager. Id.

Brenda Green was store manager of the Bedford location from October 2003 through Myers's firing. Id. ¶ 10. Green's boss from June 2003 through Myers's firing was Dave Mattea. Id. ¶ 11. The decision to fire Myers was made by Green and Mattea and approved by the Vice President of Human Resources, Dick Petersen. Id. ¶ 12. Wickes justifies Myers's termination by alleging that Myers had "poor attitude and behavior." Id. Not surprisingly, Myers contests this and alleges that the termination was retaliatory. R. 86, Response to ¶ 12.

A. Myers's Workplace Injury

Myers's job as an Office Administrator did not require her to move furniture from the warehouse to the showroom floor, but she took on that job duty (in addition to her office duties) because she thought her help was needed. R. 77 ¶ 33. On July 24, 2003, Myers hurt her back while helping warehousemen move furniture into the store. Id. ¶ 35. The following day, a day Myers was already scheduled to be off work, Myers went to an urgent-care clinic to have her injury assessed. Id.

On July 25, 2003, Myers's doctor imposed work restrictions prohibiting her from moving furniture or lifting heavy objects for six weeks. Id. ¶ 36. Myers worked for the next six weeks, but continued to be in pain, and while she was able to perform everyday tasks (e.g., grocery shopping and cleaning), Myers did not go to church or go out socially after her injury. Id. Upon learning of the injury, Wickes sent Myers to physical therapy for a total of 30, twice-a-week sessions. Id. ¶ 37. Through this period of physical therapy and the six-week restriction period, Myers admits that Wickes honored all of the work restrictions. Id. ¶ 38.*fn3 After completing physical therapy, in December 2003 Wickes sent Myers to a physician for an independent medical examination. Id. ¶ 38. Myers did not pick the physician for the independent examination. Id. ¶ 38. The independent examination report stated that Myers had reached "maximum improvement" and that no restrictions were necessary. Id. ¶ 39.

Because Myers had been cleared for work by the independent examination, Wickes's policy required her to bring in a doctor's note for absences. Id. ¶ 39. Although Wickes's Local Rule 56.1 statement says a note would be due for any absence, id., Alisa Schueneman, a human resources officer for Wickes testified that a doctor's note would be needed for an absence of three days or more. R. 87-2, Schueneman Dep. at 46:5-10. On December 12, 2003, Myers brought a note from her treating doctor that said Myers could work a six-hour shift so long as there was no prolonged standing, repetitive movement, or heavy lifting; the restrictions were to last for 8 weeks. R. 86 ¶ 12; R. 87-1, Exh. C at 2.

On January 10, 2004, Myers was hospitalized due to severe pain in her back. R. 86 ¶ 14. The following day, in an email to store manager Brenda Green, Dave Mattea (Green's supervisor) responded to the news by writing, "She went from 6 hours a day[] to apparently zero and in the hospital." Id. Upon returning to work, Myers was required to work more than six hours per day, and Wickes also refused to honor the lifting and standing restrictions. Id. ¶ 15. In an email on February 7, 2004, Mattea wrote an email to his supervisor stating: "Brenda Green received a call from Brenda Myers today stating that she was told NOT to work due to her back injury. Sigh." Id. ¶ 16 (capitalization in original). On February 18, Myers received updated restrictions from her physician that imposed the same limitations for six weeks following that date. Id. ¶ 18. In a response dated February 19, Wickes took the position that it would not abide by the restrictions imposed by Myers's physician because the independent examination called for no further treatment or restriction. R. 87-1, Exh. D at 6.

On February 25, Myers saw a third physician who disagreed with the independent examination's conclusions, and stated that Myers should not be doing any lifting, twisting, or turning while at work. R. 87-1, Exh. C at 4. On June 6, 2004, Myers received further treatment from her treating physician, and he ordered Myers not to work from June 6 to June 10. R. 86 ¶ 21.

On July 26, 2004, Myers requested July 29 off from work for a medical appointment. R. 86 ¶ 22. Mattea approved the request on July 26, but then on July 27 told Myers she would have to reschedule the appointment. Id. Myers objected to Human Resources, and Mattea perceived this objection as "threatening." Id. ¶ 23. Due to the missed day of treatment, Myers's condition worsened, and she was required to miss work from July 30 to August 5. Id. ¶ 24. Mattea responded to the news with an email to human resources stating: "Amazing .... how is she being paid for last week[']s missed days?" R. 86 ¶ 25 (ellipses in original); R. 87-1, Exh. D at 12. Wickes charged these days against Myers's FMLA entitlement. R. 87-1, Exh. D at 11.

On October 1, 2004, Myers told Green that she would need to leave early on October 5 for an appointment. R. 86 ¶ 26. Green told Myers she would have to come in on a scheduled day off to make up for the time. Id. Myers did so on October 3. Id. Myers took off additional time under doctor's orders from October 8 to 11 and November 15 to 22. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. In response to Myers's final request for work off, Wickes's short-term disability administrator processed an application for benefits for Wickes. R. 87 ¶ 31. In an email regarding the application, the administrator wrote "I have NO documentation to support this claim .... She should be informed that no documentation is a[n] 'absence without approval.' She will be linking this all back to the [workers' compensation] issue anyway. I really can't help that." Id.; R. 87-1, Exh. D at 15.

B. Myers's Job Performance and Behavior

During her employment with Wickes, Myers's work performance, as memorialized in several reviews and other correspondence, was checkered. In March 2000, Myers received the worst rating on a performance review, namely, a 4 on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 equaling the worst performance, and she was placed on a 90-day Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). R. 77 ¶ 16; R. 77, Exh. M at 1-2. In February 2001, Myers received a 1 on her performance review (by this time, the scale had changed to a range of 1 to 5, with 1 still equaling the best score). R. 77-16, Exh. F at 8.*fn4 Accompanying that positive evaluation was a recommendation that Myers receive a 5% increase in pay (this highest raise permitted by the form). Id.

In March 2002, Myers received a "3" on the 5-point scale. R. 77 ¶ 17; R. 77-25, Exh. N at 1. In October 2003, she received a "2.5" on the 5-point scale. R. 77-27, Exh. P at 3. This review was performed by Derrick Asante, who was temporarily filling the manager position while Wickes sought a replacement store manager. R. 77 ¶ 19. Brenda Green filled the role of store manager in October 2003 (presumably shortly after Asante's review of Myers). R. 77 ¶ 20.

In March 2004, in a review performed by Brenda Green, Myers received an overall score of 4 on the 5-point scale. R. 77 ¶ 21; R. 77-28, Exh. Q at 2-3. In July 2004, Myers was named "Employee of the Quarter" at the store. R. 87-1, Exh. E at 2. Although Green had no hand in selecting Myers for the award-the award is based on a vote by the store workers, R. 86 ¶ 38-Green sent an email on July 15, 2004 memorializing the award, in which she wrote that "Myers has excelled in solving critical[] problems, [and] looks upon them as exciting and challenging. . ...

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