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Marion Gordon v. Fedexfreight

March 22, 2012

MARION GORDON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
FEDEXFREIGHT, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 09-4065-Joe Billy McDade, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 9, 2012

Before FLAUM and KANNE, Circuit Judges, and CHANG, District Judge.*fn1

Marion Gordon suffered an onthe-job injury at one of FedEx's service centers on October 14, 2008. The following day, two FedEx managers made the decision to terminate Gordon's position as part of a national reduction in force. Gordon was informed of this decision upon her return from medical leave on November 11, 2008. Following her termination, Gordon filed a workers' compensation claim on December 15, 2008. In July 2009, Gordon sued FedEx for terminating her in retaliation for exercising her workers' compensation rights. Finding no genuine issue of material fact, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of FedEx. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Gordon worked as an Over, Short, and Damaged ("OS&D") clerk at FedEx's East Moline, Illinois, service center from September 4, 2006, through her termination on November 11, 2008. On October 14, 2008, Gordon tripped and fell at the facility, injuring her wrist. She reported her injury to FedEx regional manager, Jeff First. A FedEx employee transported Gordon to the hospital, where hospital staff diagnosed Gordon's injury as a "bruise" and discharged her with her arm in a sling. Jeff Mallonee, manager of the East Moline facility, picked Gordon up from the hospital to take her back to the service center. According to Gordon's deposition testimony, Mallonee told her "you're going to be off for a long time." Although Gordon agreed that she probably would not be at work the next day, she told Mallonee that she doubted she would be off a long time. That same day, Mallonee directed Carolyn McDaniel, an operations supervisor, to complete an accident report on Gordon's injury.

The following morning, Gordon called Mallonee at the service center and informed him she would be seeking additional treatment from her family doctor because her wrist was not improving. That afternoon, Mallonee met with First and FedEx managing director, Butch Davis, to discuss downsizing at the East Moline center. At the time, FedEx was implementing a nationwide reduction in force which resulted in the elimination of multiple positions across the country. Davis directed First and Mallonee to develop a plan for eliminating one full-time position in East Moline.

Three employees worked full-time at the East Moline service center: two operations supervisors (McDaniel and Jason Clark) and one OS&D clerk (Gordon). Mallonee served as the service center manager at both the East Moline and Bloomington facilities, which are approximately 120 miles apart. First and Mallonee decided it was necessary to have two other supervisors at the East Moline facility, which was open from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., on days when Mallonee was absent. "[W]e wanted to have a supervisor on site to open the facility in the morning and to close the facility at night and, due to the long hours the facility was open, one supervisor could not perform both these tasks." (First Decl. at 2.) First and Mallonee believed McDaniel, who had previously performed OS&D duties, could carry out Gordon's duties in conjunction with her supervisory responsibilities. Accordingly, First and Mallonee determined that the OS&D clerk position was the most appropriate position for elimination because this move would preserve the number of supervisors at the facility.

Shortly after her injury, Gordon's family doctor determined that her wrist was broken in two or three places and required surgery. Thus, the decision to eliminate the OS&D clerk position was not implemented until Gordon returned from medical leave. When Gordon returned to work on November 11, 2008, she met with Mallonee and the human resources manager to discuss her termination, effective that day. Gordon's duties were absorbed by McDaniel until McDaniel resigned in July 2009, at which time a former part-time employee took over the OS&D duties.

Gordon filed her workers' compensation claim on December 15, 2008. She did not take any steps toward filing a workers' compensation claim prior to this date and never discussed filing a workers' compensation claim with anyone at FedEx. On July 23, 2009, Gordon filed suit for wrongful termination in state court, alleging that FedEx retaliated against her because she exercised her rights under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act ("IWCA"). FedEx removed the case to *fn2 federal court. On July 20, 2011, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of FedEx.

II. ANALYSIS

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, drawing all reasonable inferences and viewing all facts in favor of the non-moving party. Marr v. Bank of Am., N.A., 662 F.3d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 2011). Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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). To survive summary judgment, the non-moving party must establish some genuine issue for trial such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in her favor. Makowski v. SmithAmundsen LLC, 662 F.3d 818, 822 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

"Generally, an at-will employee may be discharged for any reason or for no reason at all." Roger v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 21 F.3d 146, 149 (7th Cir. 1994). In Illinois, however, it is unlawful to terminate an employee in retaliation for exercising her rights under the IWCA. See Palmateer v. Int'l Harvester Co., 421 N.E.2d 876, 878-79 (Ill. 1981) (citing Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc., 384 N.E.2d 353 (Ill. 1978)). To maintain a claim for retaliatory discharge, an employee must prove: "(1) his status as an employee of the defendant before injury; (2) his exercise of a right granted by the Workers' Compensation Act; and (3) a causal relationship between his discharge and the exercise of his right." Roger, 21 F.3d at 149. FedEx does not dispute that it terminated Gordon's employment and that she was an employee before ...


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