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Perez v. Transformer Mfrs., Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 24, 2014

JOSE L. PEREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANSFORMER MANUFACTURERS, INC., Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Jose L. Perez, Plaintiff: Christopher Paul Lyons, Peters & Lyons, Ltd., Burr Ridge, IL.

For Transformer Manufactures Inc., Defendant: David L. Miller, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC, Chicago, IL.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.

In 2009, Jose Perez was injured at his job as a " hand winder" at Transformer Manufacturers, Inc. (" TMI" ) in Norridge, Illinois. Several months later, he was terminated. Perez now brings this action against TMI, alleging disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (ADA), age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (ADEA), and retaliatory discharge under Illinois common law. TMI has moved for summary judgment and, for the

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reasons set forth below, TMI's motion is granted in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND [1]

TMI is an Illinois corporation located at 7051 W. Wilson Avenue in Norridge, Illinois. TMI's Facts ¶ 4. The company is a manufacturer and assembler of appliance-type electrical transformers and magnetic products used by original equipment manufacturers in various products. Id. ¶ ¶ 4, 6. TMI had 26 employees in 2009 and 2010; 10 employees worked in management, sales, or engineering, and 16 employees, Perez included, worked in production. Id. ¶ 5. In June of 2009, Perez was a " hand winder" for TMI. Id. ¶ 9. A hand winder's work is arduous. It includes winding wire from a spool that weighs between 10 and 450 pounds onto a tube through a winding machine and then manually hammering the wire into place. Id. ¶ 13.[2] The hammering is no small task; Perez estimates that he used a heavy hammer approximately 480 times to shape one transformer, and that he made between 7 and 10 transformers every day. Id. ¶ 14. The hand winder is also required to constantly pull the wire he is winding to prevent the transformer from unraveling; this task involves holding six copper wires together for up to half an hour at a time. Id. ¶ 15.

On June 23, 2009, Perez suffered an injury to his right hand while working as a hand winder. Id. ¶ 10. He was 60 years old at the time. Id. ¶ 11. Perez returned to work the same day, but with restrictions imposed by his physician. Id. ¶ 12. Perez could not lift more than five pounds with his right hand, and was warned against using his right hand to grip. Id. ¶ 12. Perez stated at his deposition that because of the restrictions, " practically, I couldn't do any winding at all anymore." Id. ¶ 16. When Perez presented the restrictions to his supervisor, Sergio Ortiz, Perez alleges that Ortiz looked at him " bad or ugly." Id. ¶ 48. TMI assigned Perez some minor tasks during the first few days after he returned to work. Id. ¶ 18. Perez then left for vacation for four weeks between July 3 and August 3, 2009. Id. ¶ ¶ 20, 23.[3]

Over time, Perez's physicians adjusted the restrictions. On July 27, 2009, Perez was released to return to work subject to

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the restriction that he could not lift more than 20 pounds. Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ ¶ 17, 21. Perez further states that on September 1, 2009 he had a " maximum lift" restriction of 7.5 pounds for his right hand, but the treating physician also discharged him after concluding that his June 23 injury was resolved and that any continuing symptoms were unrelated to that injury. TMI's Facts ¶ 25; Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 17.

TMI continued to pay Perez his full salary, even though he was no longer performing the duties of a hand winder. TMI's Facts ¶ ¶ 19, 23, 30. When Perez returned on August 3, 2009, he did not believe that he was capable of resuming his job as a hand winder and was still restricted to lifting no more than 20 pounds. Id. ¶ ¶ 21, 23; Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 23; Perez Dep. at 56:8-10. Perez alleges that when he showed Ortiz the work restriction, Ortiz responded by telling him to go to the stockroom and that he might as well just " pull on it" while he was there. Perez Dep. at 57:5 -- 58:13. For the next few weeks, Perez alleges, he asked Ortiz for work and Ortiz responded that his job was winding and that if he was too old or too injured, " the door is over there." TMI's Facts ¶ 49.

The day Perez returned from vacation, he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission. Id. ¶ 22. The Commission sent a notice of the filing to TMI two days later. Id. On September 24, 2009, TMI's workers' compensation carrier informed TMI that Perez's claim was denied based on the findings of a specialist that Perez's continuing symptoms were due to a chronic condition and not to a work injury. Id. ¶ 26.

Five days later, on September 29, 2009, Ortiz sent Perez home. Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27; TMI's Facts ¶ 27. At this point, Perez was still physically unable to perform the duties of a hand winder. Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 29. Perez alleges that Ortiz--who was himself at least 61 years old at the time [4]--told him that he would no longer be permitted to work for TMI because he was " old," " useless," and " only getting in the way." First Am. Compl. (Dkt. 19) ¶ 9; Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27; Perez's Facts ¶ 50. Perez further alleges that Ortiz told him that he would no longer be permitted to work at TMI unless and until he was 100% recovered and had no restrictions, even if he brought in a note signed by the President of the United States. Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27. TMI counters that Ortiz informed Perez that he was sending Perez home because TMI had no more work for him, and that Perez could return if he had a doctor's note stating that he could perform his job. TMI's Facts ¶ 27. Ortiz testified that he was doing Perez a favor by paying him for doing no work because he believed Perez had been unable to work due to the injury he sustained in June, but sent Perez home on disability at the end of September when he learned that Perez's continuing restrictions were not related to the injury he had sustained at work. Ortiz Dep. at 51:16 -- 54:10.

Perez filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on October 13, 2009, alleging that TMI terminated his employment on September 29, 2009, because of his age and disability. TMI's Facts ¶ 31. Meanwhile, TMI made short term disability payments to Perez from October 23, 2009 until January 15, 2010. Id. ¶ 32. On December 14, 2009, TMI sent Perez a letter stating, " If it looks as if you are going to succeed [sic] your 13 weeks of short term disability, you

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might be able to qualify for long term disability." Perez's Facts ¶ 52. On January 25, 2010, TMI sent a letter to Perez notifying him that he was terminated effective that day. TMI's Facts ¶ 33. TMI asserts that it terminated Perez because Ortiz believed that Perez had an obligation to either return to work after receiving short term disability leave or provide a doctor's note stating that he remained disabled. Id. ¶ 34. Perez alleges that TMI terminated him due to his disability and age and in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination and a claim for workers' compensation. First Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 13-25. Perez admits that no one told him that TMI was terminating his employment because he filed a charge of discrimination; rather, he believes TMI fired him in retaliation " because I think so" and because it is " natural" that TMI would not appreciate an employee filing a discrimination charge. TMI's Facts ¶ ¶ 39-41; Perez Dep. at 103:16-17; 104:9-15.

From June 23, 2009 to the present, Perez has been physically unable to perform all of the duties of a hand winder. TMI's Facts ¶ ¶ 17, 21, 23, 29, 35; Perez's 56.1 Resp. ¶ ¶ 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 29, 35, 37. On July 28, 2010, Perez's physician stated that Perez is permanently unable to lift more than 10 pounds or to use his right hand to grip, grasp, and pinch. TMI's Facts ¶ 37. ...


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