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Latham v. Donahue

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

May 9, 2014

PATRICK R. DONAHUE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant

Page 1024

For Charmaine Latham, Plaintiff: Arthur R. Ehrlich, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jonathan C. Goldman, Josiah Richard Jenkins, Goldman & Ehrlich, Chicago, IL.

For John Potter, as Postmaster General United States Postal Service, Patrick R Donahoe, Defendants: Eric S Pruitt, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.

Page 1025


James B. Zagel, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Charmaine Latham (" Latham" ) filed this employment discrimination claim against her employer, the United Service Postal Service (" USPS" ). She seeks damages for discrimination and creation of a hostile work environment in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq (" Rehabilitation Act" ), as well as for retaliation for engaging in protective activity under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq (" Title VII" ). Defendant moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted.

Page 1026


Plaintiff Latham began her employment at the USPS in 1974. Latham alleges that she was subject to several incidents of disparate treatment based on her bipolar disorder. She claims that this disparate treatment constituted both discrimination because of a mental disability and retaliation for her earlier complaints to Defendant's Equal Employment Opportunity office (" EEO" ). In addition, Latham alleges that certain actions and statements of her supervisors and co-worker Beatrice Howard (" Howard" ) created a hostile work environment.

Defendant has moved for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) Latham was not disabled within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act because her mental impairment did not prohibit her from carrying out a major life function; (2) Latham suffered no adverse employment action because transferring her to a different route does not amount to materially altering her employment conditions; and (3) Latham's allegations regarding the hostile work environment claim fail to establish a connection between her mental disability and her co-worker's hostile treatment.


I. Summary Judgment Standard

A motion for summary judgment will be granted only if no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of triable fact exists only if " the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Pugh v. City of Attica, Ind., 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Once the moving party has set forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The nonmoving party must offer more than " [c]onclusory allegations, unsupported by specific facts" in order to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990)). A party will be successful in opposing summary judgment only if it presents " definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion." EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2000).

I consider the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Bennington v. Caterpillar, Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 819, 123 S.Ct. 96, 154 L.Ed.2d 27 (2002). I will accept the non-moving party's version of any disputed fact, however, only if it is supported by relevant, admissible evidence. Bombard v. Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc., 92 F.3d 560, 562 (7th Cir. 1996).

II. Rehabilitation Act Claims

The Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to accommodate disabled employees and prohibits discrimination based on disability. Mannie v. Potter, 394 F.3d 977, 982 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 791(b)). The standards applicable to claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) also apply to Rehabilitation Act claims. Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 496 (7th Cir. 1996). A plaintiff seeking to prove discrimination against a federal employer under the Rehabilitation Act must establish a prima facie case for discrimination. Just

Page 1027

as with cases brought under the ADA, Plaintiff must show that: (1) she is disabled or regarded as disabled under the definition of the Act; (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her position; and (3) she suffered an adverse employment decision because of her disability. Dvorak v. Mostardi Platt Assocs., Inc., 289 F.3d 479, 483 (7th Cir. 2002).

A. Latham's Claimed Disability

To establish a prima facie case under the Rehabilitation Act, Latham must prove, among other things, that she falls within the ADA's statutory definition of " disabled." Garg v. Potter, 521 F.3d 731, 736 (7th Cir. 2008). In its motion for summary judgment, Defendant argues that Latham's claims fail because she is not disabled within the meaning of the statute.

For purposes of the Rehabilitation Act, a person is " disabled" if he or she " has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities." Id. at 736; 29 U.S.C. § 706(8)(B). Major life activities are defined as " functions, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working." Roth v. Lutheran General Hospital, 57 F.3d 1446, 1454 (7th Cir. 1995); 42 U.S.C. ยง 12102(2)(A). " 'Substantially limits' is not meant to be a demanding standard," and " an impairment need not prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the individual from ...

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