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Jahmila Harrold v. Sygma Network

October 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY U.S. District Judge


Tuesday, 23 October, 2012 02:34:40 PM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD


This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#23) filed by Defendant, Sygma Network (Sygma). Following this court's careful consideration of the arguments of the parties, Sygma's Motion for Summary Judgment (#23) is GRANTED.


Plaintiff, Jahmila Harrold, who is African American, was hired by Sygma on April 24, 2006, as a warehouse selector. It is undisputed that the warehouse selector position is a physically demanding position which requires extensive walking and the ability "to safely lift 50 lbs. frequently and up to 75 lbs. occasionally" as is stated on the position's job description which Plaintiff signed. Specifically, the selectors are required to move about the warehouse picking products from industrial racking to build customer orders onto pallets. When a pallet is full, or the order complete, the pallet is then moved with a pallet jack to the loading dock for loading onto semitrailers which deliver the product to customers.

On July 27, 2006, Plaintiff was involved in a workplace accident with another employee, April Shutes,*fn2 who is white. Plaintiff injured her foot in the accident. Jerry Jacobsen, Sygma's safety officer, took Plaintiff to a medical clinic where she was treated by a physician for her injury and drug tested. Under Sygma's Drug and Alcohol Policy, an employee is required to take a drug or alcohol test after an accident that results in an injury. It is customary for the safety manager to escort an employee to the clinic for a drug test. According to Jacobsen's affidavit, by the time Plaintiff was returned to Sygma on the day of the accident, it was too late in the day to escort Shutes for testing before the clinic closed. Jacobsen escorted Shutes to the clinic to get drug tested the next morning. Both Plaintiff and Shutes lost their respective safety bonuses as a result of the accident. According to Plaintiff, she was not taken to the medical clinic until four hours after the accident occurred.

On August 18, 2006, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Plaintiff stated that she was involved in a workplace accident and was required to submit to drug testing. Plaintiff claimed that a "similarly-situated, non-Black co-worker also involved in the accident was not required to submit for drug testing until the following day." Plaintiff claimed that she was discriminated against because of her race.

Plaintiff admitted during her deposition taken on March 9, 2012, that Sygma's drug testing policy was applied uniformly to African American and non-African American employees. Plaintiff testified that the only "exception" of which she was aware was that Shutes was taken for testing the day after rather than the day of the accident.

Initially, Plaintiff's injury was described as a relatively minor sprained ankle and she was released to work with minor restrictions, which were accommodated. On August 21, 2006, Plaintiff's physician released her to full work without restrictions. However, in late September 2006, Plaintiff's restrictions were increased to require that she perform light duty seated work. For the next several months, Sygma provided Plaintiff light duty work that allowed her to spend most of her time sitting. Plaintiff worked both at Sygma's facility and, when those opportunities ran out, via placements at independent external non-profits such as the Red Cross and WorkSource. Plaintiff continued to be paid at her same hourly rate by Sygma when she was placed in these positions. Plaintiff has stated that she was not always able to work a 40 hour week and lost some pay for that reason.

During the first half of 2007, Plaintiff returned to work at the Sygma facility, again with light duty restrictions that limited her lifting to 20 lbs. or less, limited the amount of time she could stand or walk and required that she be allowed breaks as she deemed necessary. On May 30, 2007, Plaintiff refused to work on the cooler dock and was written up for insubordination. Plaintiff admitted during her deposition that the requested task was not outside of her restrictions. Plaintiff testified that she was afraid of slipping and falling with her fracture boot on. Plaintiff did not lose any monetary benefit as a result of the write-up.

On June 29, 2007, Plaintiff submitted a doctor's note which stated that her condition required that she be off work entirely until further notice. On August 21, 2007, Plaintiff filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in the Central District of Illinois. In her disclosure schedules, filed under penalty of perjury, Plaintiff did not disclose her EEOC charge or any other claims she believed she had against Sygma.

Plaintiff remained off work and did not communicate with Sygma until September 25, 2007. At that time she contacted Jacobsen by telephone to say that she had been released to return to restricted work. As of September 25, 2007, Plaintiff's restrictions were that she work light duty only, no lifting, limited weight bearing and limited walking. According to Plaintiff, she was fired by Jacobsen during this telephone call. Jacobsen stated in his affidavit that he instructed Plaintiff to contact her workers' compensation attorney who would discuss the matter with Sygma's counsel before any determination about a return to work would be made. Jacobsen stated that, at the time he received Plaintiff's telephone call, there was no light duty work available, nor were there any vacant positions for which Plaintiff was qualified or able to perform given her physical restrictions. Plaintiff started working at another company in November 2007.

Plaintiff's medical restrictions have not changed since September 25, 2007, and she never directly contacted Sygma again regarding a possible return to work or any change in her physical abilities. Plaintiff has admitted that she was unable to perform the duties of the warehouse selector position and remains unable to perform those duties. Plaintiff testified that the only accommodation she believed might have allowed her to return to work was assignment to what she described as the "small wares" warehouse selector position. This position was held by Kelly Barrett for the entire time Plaintiff was employed by Sygma. Bryan Boyd also worked in this position. Jacobsen stated in his affidavit that, while the small wares duties in part involved filling orders for lighter weight goods such as spice packets, plastic cutlery and the like, the position also required the same essential duty of selecting products and the ability to lift at least 50 lbs. Specifically, the small wares assignment included picking orders for chemical and irregularly shaped items, such as onions, that came in 50 lb. bags. In addition, cleaning supplies that came in five gallon buckets weighing 25-30 ...

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