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Dwight Ryan v. Pace Suburban Bus Division of the Regional Transportation Authority

October 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge:


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Pace Suburban Bus Division of the Regional Transportation Authority's ("Pace") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and motion for sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. For the reasons set forth below, Pace's motions are denied.


This case arises out of Pace's adverse employment actions which Plaintiff Dwight Ryan ("Ryan") maintains were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615 et seq.

Ryan worked as an Inspector Technician at Pace since the late 1990s. In January 2008, Ryan suffered an on-the-job injury and informed his supervisor that he was experiencing back pain. Ryan was placed on medical leave as a result of the injury. On April 24, 2008, Ryan's physician indicated that he was fit to resume his employment. Before Pace allowed Ryan to return to work, Pace required him to submit to an Independent Medical Exam ("IME"), to gauge Ryan's physical ability. After performing the IME on May 13, 2008, the administering physician recommended that Ryan return to work with light-duty restrictions.

Pace's Benefits Coordinator Marlene Wenzel ("Wenzel") contacted the IME administering physician to obtain more specific information regarding Ryan's physical restrictions. The physician indicated that Ryan could sit for twenty minutes at a time before having to stand or walk. The IME physician concluded that Ryan could perform his job if accommodations were made for him.

Despite the evaluation, Pace required Ryan to undergo a Functional Capacity Evaluation*fn1 ("FCE") to test Ryan's ability to perform the essential components of the Inspection Technician position. Wenzel provided the physician administering the FCE with a job description of tasks typically executed by an Inspection Technician, to aid in the accuracy of the FCE. The results of the June 2008 FCE ("June 2008 FCE") indicated that Ryan was only qualified to perform physical work activities at a sedentary Physical Demands Characteristics*fn2 ("PDC") level, whereas Ryan's position as an Inspection Technician was categorized in the job description provided by Pace as light PDC.

After Ryan's June 2008 FCE, Pace assigned him to a position in customer service. The position allowed Ryan to sit at a desk and move around every 15 to 20 minutes. Pace maintains that they only intended for Ryan to temporarily fill the position until a permanent employee could be hired, with the hope that Ryan's condition would improve enough to resume his duties as an Inspection Technician. At the end of October 2008, Pace told Ryan that he was being placed back on short-term disability because it had filled the customer service position with a permanent employee. In early December 2008, Ryan's physician released Ryan to return to work. Around the same time, Pace contacted Ryan's workers compensation attorney and conveyed that they were not going to let Ryan return to work and instructed Ryan to look for other employment.

In January 2009, Pace informed Ryan that he would be required to submit to another FCE in February ("February 2009 FCE") with Pace again providing the FCE physician a job description report. This report differed from the one offered for the June 2008 FCE, in that it increased the physical demand rating of Inspection Technician from light PDC to medium PDC. During the February 2009 FCE, Ryan maintains that he was required to perform tasks that he never had to perform as an Inspection Technician, such as lifting a heavy box and walking with it, running on a treadmill, and going up and down stairs. During the course of the evaluation, Ryan complained to the physician about the physical requirements of the exam. Pace received the February 2009 FCE results on February 19, 2009. The results indicated that Ryan was unfit to perform the requirements of the Inspection Technician position. As Ryan had exhausted his short-term disability benefits, Pace terminated Ryan's employment on February 20, 2009.

After Ryan was terminated he began looking for other employment. Following a prolonged period of unemployment, Ryan applied for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on December 21, 2011. In Ryan's SSA application for disability benefits ("SSA application"), he stated that because of his condition, he was only able to lift four or five pounds, stand for one or two minutes, walk for periods up to fifteen minutes with assistance, and sit for between ten and twenty minutes at a time. Ryan went on to report that he seldom knelt or bent over and could not climb stairs. He also showed increased cognitive difficulties, such as poor memory, inability to complete tasks, and difficulty concentrating. On February 12, 2012 the SSA granted Ryan's disability benefits request. This determination was based on the finding that Ryan's injury occurred on October 31, 2008, his last day of work.

Ryan filed an amended complaint on May 19, 2012 alleging that Pace discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of the ADA and the FMLA. On May 8, 2012, prior to the close of discovery, Pace moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and for sanctions to be levied against Ryan's counsel under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Both motions are ripe for disposition.


Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery, disclosures, and affidavits establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Winsley v. Cook Cnty., 563 F.3d 598, 602-03 (7th Cir. 2009). A genuine issue of material fact exists when, based on the evidence, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Trinity Homes LLC v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 629 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2010). The moving party must identify the specific portions of the record which it believes establishes the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A genuine issue 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 non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court construes all facts and draws all reasonable ...

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