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Courtney Hayes v. Elementary School District No. 159 et al

February 22, 2012

COURTNEY HAYES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 159 ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

In July 2008, Plaintiff Courtney Hayes (Hayes) was allegedly hired by Defendant Elementary School District No. 159 (District) as its Business Manager. Hayes allegedly entered into a one-year contract with the District. In April 2009, the District allegedly entered into a three-year contract with Hayes (2009 Contract). Hayes took leave due to a pregnancy, and on September 9, 2009, Ronald Wynn (Wynn), the District Superintendent, allegedly received a letter from Hayes' physician (First Physician Letter), stating that Hayes could not return to work until September 21, 2009 due to medical complications. On September 12, 2009, the members of Defendant Board of Education of Elementary School District No. 159 (Board) were informed of the contents of the First Physician Letter. Soon thereafter, Wynn allegedly hired someone to temporarily replace Hayes as the District's Business Manager during her absence.

On or about September 22, 2009, Wynn and the Board allegedly received another letter from Hayes' physician (Second Physician Letter), stating that Hayes could not return to work until after she had given birth because of pregnancy complications. Hayes also allegedly sent a letter to the District, requesting as an accommodation that her leave allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., be allowed to run after her disability leave, rather than concurrently. (Compl. Ex. 7). In response to the First Physician Letter, Second Physician Letter, and Hayes' request for an accommodation, the District allegedly gave Hayes the paperwork needed for requesting leave under the FMLA. Hayes contends that she completed the FMLA paperwork and signed it on October 2, 2009. On October 13, 2009, the District allegedly notified Hayes that her FMLA leave request was approved and that her FMLA leave would run concurrently with her accumulated paid leave beginning September 21, 2009. In late October or early November, the District also allegedly requested that Hayes propose reasonable accommodations that would allow her to return to work.

In early November 2009, Hayes allegedly submitted to the Board a proposal of reasonable accommodations for her return to work, including that she be allowed to work three days per week from the office and two days per week from home. Shortly thereafter, the District allegedly denied the requested accommodations, informed Hayes that she did not have a current employment contract with the District, and stated that Hayes therefore did not have a right to disability leave. The District allegedly sent Hayes a letter on December 17, 2009, claiming that she had not provided the District with the information the District had required relating to her accommodations. The District also allegedly informed Hayes that her FMLA leave expired on December 14, 2009, and that she would be subject to termination if she did not return to work. Hayes elected not to return to work as required. On January 15, 2010, the District allegedly terminated Hayes' employment.

Hayes includes in her complaint a claim alleging discrimination because of her pregnancy in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k)(Count I), a Title VII retaliation claim (Count II), claims alleging discrimination because of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. (Count III), an ADA retaliation claim (Count IV), a FMLAretaliation claim (Count V), a FMLA interference claim (Count VI), and a breach of contract claim (Count VII). Defendants previously moved to dismiss counts II, III, IV, VI, and VII and moved to strike the requests for exemplary damages in Counts I-IV. On March 21, 2011, the court denied Defendants' partial motion to dismiss and granted Defendants' motion to strike the requests for exemplary damages in Counts I-IV. Defendants now move for summary judgment on all claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). A "genuine issue" of material fact in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

I. Title VII Discrimination Claim (Count I)

Defendants move for summary judgment on the Title VII discrimination claim. The court notes at the outset that whether or not Hayes should have received certain leave for her pregnancy is not before this court in this case. According to Seventh Circuit precedent, Title VII and the PDA do not require an employer to give a pregnant employee certain amounts of leave. See Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011)(explaining that "an employer is not required to provide an accommodation to a pregnant employee unless it provides the same accommodation to its similarly situated non-pregnant employees"). The statutes require that an employer not discriminate against pregnant employees in an unlawful manner. Id. at 547 (stating that the PDA merely clarifies that under Title VII, "discrimination based on a woman's pregnancy is, on its face, discrimination because of her sex." Id. (internal quotations omitted)(quoting Hall v. Nalco Co., 534 F.3d 644, 646 (7th Cir. 2008)). The PDA requires only that "an employer ignore a female employee's pregnancy and treat that employee the same as it would have if she were not pregnant." Id. at 548.

A plaintiff who is bringing a Title VII discrimination claim and who is seeking to defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment can proceed under either the direct or indirect method of proof. Makowski v. SmithAmundsen LLC, 662 F.3d 818, 823-24 (7th Cir. 2011). To proceed under the indirect method of proof, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that: "(1) she was pregnant and her employer knew she was pregnant; (2) she was performing her job duties satisfactorily; (3) she was terminated; and (4) similarly situated, non-pregnant employees were treated more favorably." Serednyj, 656 F.3d at 550.If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to point to a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her," and if such a reason is provided, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the given reason was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Id. at 551.

To proceed under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff must show "through direct or circumstantial evidence, that the employer's decision to take the adverse job action against her was motivated by an impermissible purpose, such as sex." Id. at 548 (stating, in addition, that "[d]irect evidence is evidence that, if believed by the trier of fact, would prove discriminatory conduct on the part of the employer without reliance on inference or presumption"). To proceed under the direct method with circumstantial evidence, a plaintiff must show that there is "a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence from which a reasonable juror could infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker." Id.

A. Indirect Method of Proof

Defendants argue that Hayes cannot proceed under the indirect method of proof because Hayes has not pointed to similarly-situated employees outside the protected class, has not shown that she was performing her job duties satisfactorily, and has not shown that the given reason for Hayes' termination was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. In response to the instant motion, Hayes has not argued that she can proceed under the indirect method of proof or even addressed the elements for a prima facie case under the indirect method of proof. Hayes in fact appears to challenge whether the indirect method of proof is even applicable to her Title VII discrimination claim. For example, Hayes contends that Defendants improperly point to similarly-situated employees in their motion to show how Defendants "treated other people." (Ans. 7). Hayes argues that "such reverse cooperators do not entitle [Defendants] to summary judgment, because [Defendants] treating some persons legally does not immunize [them] from treating other persons illegally." (Ans. 7). While the general principal that simply because an employer treats some employees well does not mean that the employer can treat another employee unlawfully is correct, Hayes' contention that the treatment of similarly-situated employees is not relevant for the purposes of the instant motion is incorrect. ...


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