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Larosa v. Walgreen Co.

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

March 25, 2014

JANICE LAROSA, on Behalf of NOEL LAROSA, a Minor, Plaintiff,
v.
WALGREEN CO. and TAKE CARE HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Janice LaRosa (hereinafter, the "Plaintiff" or "Janice") brings this disability discrimination action on behalf of her minor son, Noel LaRosa ("Noel"). Defendants have moved for summary judgment. The facts that follow are undisputed except where noted.

Before getting to the alleged discrimination, some background on Noel is pertinent. Noel was born with amniotic band syndrome, a congenital disorder that resulted for him in birth defects. Many of Noel's fingers and toes are missing, deformed, or weakened. Noel's surgery to repair a cleft palate left him with scars on his face. Because he has deformities in his nasal passage, his speech is difficult to understand. Noel spent the first seven years of his life in a Chinese orphanage, until Janice and her husband brought him to the United States as their adopted son. Now a teenager, Noel maintains an active, social lifestyle despite his limitations. Janice testified that Noel is very good at hiding his hands by folding them or putting them in his pockets; even friends who have known Noel for years do not realize the extent of his deformities. Noel concentrates his athletic efforts on soccer, a sport that does not require much manual dexterity and allows Noel to develop and use his lower-body strength and agility.

The alleged discrimination took place on August 10, 2011, the first day of tryouts for the soccer team at New Trier High School. Noel, a freshman at this point, had been looking forward to and preparing for this day for some time. When they arrived at the tryout that morning, Janice and Noel were surprised to learn that Noel could participate only if he had completed a sports physical (apparently, a poorly-worded letter from the school led them to believe that the physical was necessary only if Noel made the team). The coach agreed to let Noel join the tryout the next morning if he completed the physical by then. Understandably, Janice and Noel were taken by an urgent need to complete the physical that day - otherwise Noel would miss his chance to try out for the school team his freshman year, all but guaranteeing that he would never play for the school in subsequent years as well.

Noel's primary physician was out of the office, so Janice took him to the Take Care Clinic in the Northfield Walgreens ("the Clinic"). Once there, Janice filled out and turned in a "preparticipation form" that detailed Noel's medical history. Because relevant details about Noel's birth family remain a mystery, Janice was unable to answer some of the questions about Noel's family medical history. Clinic staff uses the questions about a patient's family history to screen for latent heart or other conditions that could pose a risk if the child engages in rigorous exercise. If a patient does not have his complete family medical history, the Clinic will not clear him for sports without first referring the patient to his primary physician for more involved tests (which the Clinic is not equipped to conduct on-site).

A medical assistant named Jennifer Ayala took the form and began Noel's exam by checking his "vitals, " such as his blood pressure, pulse, vision, and height. Toward what appeared to be the end of this part of the examination, Ayala realized that she needed to weigh Noel, so she asked him to take off his shoes and step on the scale. What happened next forms one of the central factual disputes in this case: both Noel and Janice testified in their depositions that Ayala looked at Noel's feet and appeared shocked by what she saw. Ayala testified that she typically does not look at a patient's feet and does not recall seeing Noel's feet. Either way, Ayala left the room and returned a few minutes later to take Janice and Noel to see Leigh Anne Harmon, the nurse practitioner who conducts the actual examination.

Harmon asked Janice why portions of the medical history form were incomplete, and Janice explained that, because Noel was adopted, she lacked the information necessary to answer the questions. The parties agree that Harmon then terminated the physical, but they disagree on the reason given. Both Noel and Janice testified that Harmon said repeatedly that the Clinic does not perform physicals on adopted children. Harmon denies giving that reason and says that she explained to Janice the importance of family medical history. Harmon also indicated that she cancelled the examination because she realized that she was not going to be able to clear Noel to participate in sports, and she did not want Ms. LaRosa to be charged for an examination in which she would not be able to clear Noel. Harmon Decl. ¶ 13. Janice and Noel left the room, and Harmon called her supervisor, Audrey Collins, who supported Harmon's judgment. With the examination cancelled, and with insufficient time left in the day to complete another physical, Noel was left with no medical clearance and no chance to make the team.

Plaintiff understands that the Clinic may not have been able to clear Noel to play sports without first understanding his family medical history. What Plaintiff protests, however, is the Clinic's "wholesale refusal to provide him with accommodation." ECF No. 94 at 8.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court construes all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009).

III. DISCUSSION

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that "[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability... be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). For the purposes of this ...


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