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Rodney Simms v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad

February 28, 2012

RODNEY SIMMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORTHEAST ILLINOIS REGIONAL COMMUTER RAILROAD, D/B/A METRA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Rodney Simms has sued his employer, Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad d/b/a Metra (Metra). He asserts claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Declaratory Judgment Act. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Metra's motion and denies Simms's motion.

Background

Simms works for Metra as a coach cleaner and is a member of the Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division of the Transportation Communications International Union. He is covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Metra and the union.

Simms experiences edema in his legs that periodically requires him to take short amounts of time off from work, usually one to three days. On August 6, 2007, Metra allowed Simms to take intermittent leave under the FMLA as necessary when he was unable to work due to his edema. He took leave frequently; between August 6, 2007 and July 17, 2008, he missed forty-eight days of work. Metra has continuously renewed Simms's approval for intermittent leave to the present day. It is undisputed that Metra never denied Simms the FMLA leave he requested and that Metra always reinstated him after he returned from FMLA leave.

In October 2007, Simms began working the third shift at Metra's facility in Richton Park, Illinois. He was one of only two coach cleaners assigned to Richton Park on the third shift. The two were responsible for cleaning about sixty train cars every day. Simms took leave frequently because of his edema, and when he did so the remaining coach cleaner was unable to fully clean all of the cars. Specifically, when Simms was absent, the other coach cleaner was able to clean only the bottom level of the cars, leaving the top level uncleaned. Metra could have another employee fill Simms's shift only if it paid that employee overtime wages. Even then, Metra had trouble finding employees willing to cover Simms's shift. Between August 6, 2007 and July 17, 2008, Metra had replacement workers on only three of the forty-eight days Simms was absent.

On the Metra line on which Simms worked, no Metra facility had more than three or four coach cleaners working third shift. Consequently, none of the third shift locations had enough other coach cleaners to accommodate Simms's frequent absences. By contrast, Metra's 18th Street facility had between ten and fifteen coach cleaners working on the first shift. Some of the first shift workers were "floaters," assigned to cover the work responsibilities of anyone who was absent. Metra therefore wished to have Simms work on the 18th Street day shift instead of on third shift at any of its facilities.

On May 12, 2008, Metra abolished Simms's third shift position at Richton Park. Under the terms of the CBA, Simms was allowed to "bump" other employees with less seniority by taking one of their positions as his own. He first attempted to bump another employee with a third shift position at a different Metra station. Metra then abolished that position. Simms next attempted to bid on his own third shift position at Richton Park, which had been reestablished. Metra instead awarded the Richton Park position to an employee with less seniority. Simms attempted to obtain two other third shift positions, but Metra denied his request each time. Finally, Metra informed Simms that he would not be allowed to take any third shift position because his frequent absences rendered him unqualified for those positions. On July 7, 2008, Simms took a first shift position at Metra's 18th Street station and currently works there. His rate of pay remained the same.

In June 2008, a union representative filed a grievance for Simms stating that he was not being allowed to exercise his seniority and bid on third shift positions. Richard Soukup, Metra's chief mechanical officer, responded in August 2008 and explained that Metra did not consider Simms qualified for the third shift because of his frequent absences. Pl. Ex. 4. Soukup also stated that FMLA regulations allowed Metra to temporarily transfer an employee who was using FMLA intermittent leave but that he could regain his third shift job if his FMLA leave situation changed. Simms did not pursue the grievance any further. Soukup testified at his deposition in this case that he thought that abolishing Simms's Richton Park position was the proper way under the CBA to accommodate Simms's intermittent FMLA leave and move him to another position. Pl. Ex. 5 at 81.

Discussion

On a motion for summary judgment, the Court "view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Trinity Homes LLC v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 629 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In other words, a court may grant summary judgment "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Simms argues that Metra's termination of his Richton Park position and refusal to allow him to take any other third shift position violated the FMLA, Metra's FMLA policies, the CBA, and the Railway Labor Act (RLA), and he requests declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory damages and attorney's fees. Specifically, he claims that Metra's actions amount to both FMLA interference and FMLA retaliation.

A. FMLA interference claim

"To prevail on an FMLA interference claim . . . the employee ...


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