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Phillips v. Continental Tire Americas, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 14, 2014

JEFF PHILLIPS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CONTINENTAL TIRE THE AMERICAS, LLC, Defendant-Appellee

Argued December 5, 2013.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No.3:12-cv-00307-JPG-SCW -- J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and SYKES and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 476

TINDER, Circuit Judge.

Continental Tire The Americas, LLC (CTA) terminated Jeff Phillips's employment after he refused to take a drug test upon his initiation of a workers' compensation claim. Phillips sued, alleging that CTA retaliated against him for seeking workers' compensation benefits in violation of Illinois law. The district court granted CTA's motion for summary judgment, and Phillips appealed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

I. Background

CTA has a tire manufacturing facility in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Phillips worked there as a passenger general trucker for twenty-two years until his discharge. The Mt. Vernon facility has a health services department that provides medical treatment to sick or injured employees. In April 2010, Phillips visited the health services department to report that his fingers went numb at work and to initiate a workers' compensation claim. At the time, CTA had a written substance abuse policy that required drug testing in certain situations: 1. Pre-employment testing; 2. Random testing for initial 12 months of employment; 3. For-cause testing; 4. OSHA recordable accident; 5. Transportable injury; 6. Serious equipment/property personal damage incident; and 7. Initiation of workers' compensation claim. The policy provided that " [r]efusal to submit to testing will be cause for immediate suspension pending termination." An injured employee could receive medical treatment in the health services department and return to work without being required to submit to a drug test if (a) the employee did not seek to initiate a workers' compensation claim; and (b) the situation did not fall into one of the other categories for which drug testing was required under company policy. But an employee who sought to initiate a workers' compensation claim was required to submit to drug testing or be immediately suspended pending termination, regardless of whether he received treatment or services at the health services department.

Phillips was informed that he had to submit to a drug test before he could initiate a workers' compensation claim and he was shown the CTA drug testing policy. He also was advised that if he didn't take the drug test, his employment would be terminated. Nonetheless, he refused to take the drug test because he didn't think that it should be a necessary consequence of filing a workers' compensation claim.

Phillips was terminated from his employment with CTA for refusing to submit to drug testing upon his initiation of a workers' compensation claim. CTA's discharge letter states: " As a result of your refusal to perform the required drug test on April 21, 2010, this letter is serving as notification that your employment is being

Page 477

terminated immediately for violation of Company policy," in particular a " violation of the company's substance abuse policy." When asked at his deposition why CTA terminated him, Phillips stated, " Because I didn't submit to a drug test." And when asked if he was contending that CTA fired him because he filed a workers' compensation claim, he answered, " They fired me because I didn't submit to a drug test." Phillips agreed that he had no evidence or information that there was a different reason for his discharge. It is his understanding that he would still be employed at CTA if he had taken the drug test. Even though he refused to submit to the test, Phillips did file a workers' compensation claim. At oral argument CTA's counsel advised the court that Phillips eventually received workers' compensation benefits.

II. Discussion

We review the district court's summary judgment ruling de novo, construing the evidence and drawing reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom the motion was made. Beatty v. Olin Corp., 693 F.3d 750, 752 (7th Cir. 2012). Illinois law recognizes a " cause of action for retaliatory discharge where an employee is terminated because of his actual or anticipated exercise of workers' compensation rights." Id. at 753. To establish a retaliatory discharge claim, a plaintiff must prove: " (1) that he was an employee before the injury; (2) that he exercised a right granted by the Workers' Compensation Act; and (3) that he was discharged and that the discharge was causally related to his [pursuit of] a claim under the Workers' ...


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