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Eunice Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church

August 8, 2012


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:10-cv-00380--Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge.

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

ARGUED MAY 31, 2012

Before BAUER, SYKES, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Eunice Magnus brought suit alleging associational discrimination under the Amer- ican with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4), among other claims no longer at issue. She asserts that St. Mark United Methodist Church terminated her based on unfounded assumptions concerning her as- sociation with her mentally disabled daughter. On sum- mary judgment, the church presented evidence that it in fact terminated Magnus because of her unsatisfactory work performance and refusal to work weekends. Magnus responded that the church terminated her just two weeks after giving what she calls a "merit-based raise" and just one day after she arrived an hour late to work because of a medical situation with her disabled daughter. She contends that the timing of her termination, coupled with her just-received-merit- based raise, is sufficient to infer associational discrim- ination. We, like the district court, disagree.

Despite Magnus's contrary assertions, the evidence shows that she received an-across-the-board raise, the same as all other full-time employees, not one based on merit. Further, no evidence suggests that the church was dissatisfied with her one-hour late arrival or believed it would become a problem. And most impor- tantly, the evidence reveals that the church had decided to terminate her employment the weekend before her late arrival. As correctly observed by the district court, Magnus's true complaint is that the church, by mandating she work weekends, failed to accommodate her need to care for her disabled daughter. But unfortunately for Magnus, the ADA does not require employers to rea- sonably accommodate employees who do not them- selves have a disability. As such, Magnus's claim fails as a matter of law.


Magnus was initially employed by the church as a receptionist and secretary in 1997 but left in 1998.

Reverend Jon McCoy re-hired her in 2006 to work part- time on the weekends and evenings. Shortly after hiring her in 2006, McCoy became aware that Magnus had a daughter with a disability; Magnus discussed with McCoy problems she was having with her daughter and he consoled her. Magnus worked weekends for the church from 2006 to early 2008. Her daughter at the time was residing in an assisted-living facility. Magnus was allowed to take her daughter home on the weekends; Magnus's son cared for his sister while Magnus was working. Magnus testified that it was her under- standing that she could only take her daughter home on weekends.

Magnus accepted a full-time salaried secretary posi- tion in February 2008 with a new schedule of Monday through Friday. Her letter of employment stated that the Staff Parish Relations Personnel Committee intended "to establish a Performance Review program for lay staff that will enable the [committee] to recommend future compensation adjustments based on job performance." Nancy Branker, the only other paid secretary, was Magnus's supervisor. She worked Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday.

In the spring of 2008, Branker no longer wanted to work every weekend and proposed that she and Magnus alternate weekends. To try and accommodate Branker's request, McCoy asked Magnus on three different oc- casions if she would work weekend days, but Magnus refused each time, explaining that she took her disabled daughter home on the weekends. (Magnus's son was no longer available to look after his sister in Magnus's ab- sence.) Julian Valentine, volunteer chairman of the com- mittee, also asked Magnus to work weekends and sent this email to the other committee members after Magnus refused: "I pointed out that this was a non-nego- tiable request. She accused me of threatening her job security! I've asked Rev. McCoy to write a letter informing Ms. Magnus that she will be required to work a weekend schedule & if she's unable to comply, the church will have to make other arrangements! As much as I personally like Ms. Magnus, it is my opinion that the church will have to find a replacement for her!"

In response to Valentine's email, McCoy proposed a schedule to the committee whereby the secretaries would work an alternating schedule with eight straight days on and four days off. He explained that "while 8 days on and 4 days off may seem difficult, it is the best option for us if there are only two full-time secretaries who are available." He also stated that "[t]he conversation regarding Ms. Magnus' job being threatened is not the primary focus. It was never the intent to make her feel threatened. The larger concern is related to the impact upon Ms. Branker of having her to always have to work every weekend." Deborah Lindsey, a member of the committee, responded, "Not so sure you can work an employee 8 days in a row," and included an explanation of the One Day Rest In Seven Act found on the Illinois Department of Labor website.

McCoy emailed Valentine another proposed schedule to send to the committee members. He stated that "[a]fter much time and deliberation alone and with the assistance of Ms. Branker and Ms. Magnus the following schedule is proposed . . . [which] will allow two consecu- tive weekends off and two consecutive weekends 'on.' Unfortunately, it also requires that one set of off days will not be consecutive. Also, this schedule necessitates that the secretaries work seven consecutive days once per [month], if they agree. I realize that Ms. Lindsey noted this scheduling will require the consent of the secretaries (i.e., working seven consecutive days)." Magnus testified that she was never given any proposed schedule, but was instead asked to work weekends in addition to her regular week-day schedule, which she refused to do. Branker suggested to McCoy that the church use volunteers to cover weekends but he rejected this suggestion, explaining that the church has had trouble finding volunteers to work those days and noting security concerns with giving volunteers access to confidential information. Ths issue of weekend scheduling was not again raised with Magnus.

In November, Branker was off work for several weeks due to an illness, requiring Magnus to cover her work- load, including finding volunteers to cover shifts. Around this time, McCoy wrote a memo to the committee com- plaining about Magnus's clerical work deficiencies. McCoy pointed out that Magnus was not entering any information in the daily-report logs, which made it difficult to have a temporary employee help with tasks. He also noted that she needed to improve "(1) Scheduling/ coordinating staff needs for weekend events; (2) operation of the telephone answering machine; and (3) timely bulletin production." McCoy talked to Magnus about these deficiencies, including her poor phone etiquette. Magnus explained that she was doing the job of four secretaries (the church previously had three to four clerical employees) and was experiencing pressure due to her daughter's disability. McCoy testified that Magnus's unsatisfactory work performance was an on- going issue. Magnus, on the other hand, testified that this was the only time the church complained about her work and she otherwise received accolades for her excellent job performance from McCoy and numerous other church members. Magnus did testify, though, that she was sometimes distracted at work because of her daughter's disability; while at work, Magnus would often take calls from the assisted-living facility to resolve issues arising with her daughter. But she did not miss work because of her daughter and only once took a short time off to care for her ailing mother.

Magnus received a five percent raise at the beginning of January 2009 despite the fact that she never received a formal evaluation for her performance. The church pre- sented evidence that this was an across-the-board, five percent increase to all employees, with the exception of recently-hired part-time employees. McCoy testified that the church had given its employees across-the- board pay increases in previous years ...

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