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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Staffmark Investment LLC

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

September 4, 2014


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff: Bradley S. Fiorito, LEAD ATTORNEY, Diane Ilene Smason, John C. Hendrickson, Ann M Henry, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chicago, IL; AUSA United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.

For Sony Electronics, Inc., Defendant: John Anthony Ybarra, LEAD ATTORNEY, Christina A. Andronache, Littler Mendelson, P.C., Chicago, IL.

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James B. Zagel, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) brought this lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Dorothy Shanks (" Shanks" ) against Defendants Staffmark Investment LLC (" Staffmark" ) and Sony Electronics (" Sony" ) for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ). Plaintiff reached a settlement with Staffmark. Currently before the court is Defendant

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Sony's motion for summary judgment.


Plaintiff Dorothy Shanks, as a result of an amputation of her right leg in May 2008, suffers a walking impairment and has used a prosthetic leg at all relevant times. On May 27, 2010, Shanks applied for a temporary job at the Naperville office of Staffmark staffing agency.

On October 8, 2010, a Staffmark recruiter called Shanks with a temporary job opportunity at OHL, a logistics company, and notified her that she would be performing work on Sony televisions. Sony had hired OHL, which had contracted with Staffmark, to complete a time-sensitive " Re-Work Project." The project, led by three Sony employees, Qui Huynh, Esteban Gutierrez, and Gerardo Reyes, predominantly involved general laborers manually checking individual television sets for stripped screws, repackaging the televisions into boxes, and labeling the boxes as either damaged or market ready. Huynh set up eight makeshift work tables for approximately five workers. Because the TVs were fragile, expensive, and heavy, the protocol dictated that two general laborers would pick up the TV out of the box and place it face down on the table, after which, a third laborer would unscrew and screw each screw to see if it was loose. In order to ensure the screw did not become stripped during the inspection process, the screws were to be inspected by placing the torque screwdriver perpendicular to the flat surface of the screw. Another two laborers would pick up the television, pack it, and label the box accordingly. The temporary employees were allowed to choose their own team and which of the tasks they performed on their team.

On October 9, 2010, Shanks arrived at the OHL building and reported to the Staffmark on-site supervisor, Ms. Tina Scott. At 3:00 p.m., Scott gathered the group, including Shanks, and escorted them through the security area and into the work area where two to three men were waiting. Huynh gave initial instructions regarding how to perform each task to the " original" crew of temporary workers and these workers then provided training to new temporary workers, including Shanks, on how to do their work. Plaintiff and Defendant dispute what direction was given to the laborers, in particular, whether the person checking screws needed to walk around the table to properly examine the screw. Each laborer, including Shanks, was entitled to three scheduled breaks per shift, which included two fifteen-minute breaks and a half-hour lunch.

Upon receiving instruction, the temporary employees chose their teams and tasks. Shanks was part of a team of six and was assigned to check screws. With a six-person team, two people were assigned to checking screws, one on each side of the television. Shanks performed her job without walking around the table. Thereafter, Plaintiff and Defendant have widely divergent descriptions of what followed.

Defendant Sony claims that, within a half hour, Huynh noticed performance-related issues. Huynh went to her table and instructed Shanks to apply the screwdriver at a 90-degree angle to the screws. Huynh testified that after about an hour, he again noticed Shanks leaning across the table to reach the screws, partially sitting on the table, and not applying the screwdriver to the screws at a 90-degree angle, resulting in a stripped screw. Huynh instructed Shanks to walk around the makeshift table and apply the screwdriver at a 90-degree angle. Defendant claims that, after everyone returned from lunch, Reyes observed that Shanks was again " sitting on the pallet, making jokes, talking, making

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jokes, talking," and informed Huynh. Around 6:30 p.m., Huynh informed Gutierrez that he was concerned Shanks was not inspecting the screws properly and could damage the TVs, but did not make any recommendation to anybody that she be removed from working on the television project. Huynh testified that he noticed that Shanks had difficulty walking, and Reyes testified that he noticed that she had a " funny walk," but both contend that they did not think Shanks had a disability or that it would affect her ability to do the assigned work.

Plaintiff, on the other hand, claims that Shanks was not instructed to walk around the table to inspect the screws, but reached the screws from a secure, standing position as she was trained to do. Shanks did not sit, partially sit, or lean on the table. Shanks claims that no one complained about her work or asked her to perform her tasks differently on the first day. She completed her first day of work and accepted the offer to continue working on the project. Shanks returned on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 2:30 p.m. for her second shift at the OHL building. Shanks and the group of workers followed Scott to the time clock so that they could " be on Sony's time" and were instructed to walk to the same work area from the previous day. At around 3:00 p.m., Shanks began work at the same station and rejoined her team, now consisting of five laborers. One of Shanks' team members was a woman named Tiffany Cole. Cole testified that she did not observe anyone criticize Shanks' job performance.

At approximately 4:30 p.m., Gutierrez spoke to Scott and requested Shanks' removal from the project. Cecilia Mota, described as a Hispanic woman from Staffmark, testified that she observed the interaction but was too far away to hear this conversation. Scott and Mota walked over to Shanks' table and informed her that she was removed from the Sony project but that Staffmark would place her on a different project. Shanks testified that only Mota approached her and asked Shanks to get her things. A co-worker inquired whether Shanks would be coming back. Mota responded that Shanks would not return because she was being taken off the line because of concerns that she would be bumped into or knocked down by someone. Shanks then said that she was fine and could perform the job. Shanks testified that Mota told her that Staffmark would find her a job where she could sit down and not get hurt, instructing Shanks to follow up with Tina Scott.

Shortly after being removed from the project, Shanks called Staffmark Account Manager Michelle Mugnaini at Staffmarks' Naperville office and requested show-up pay for Monday, October 11, 2010 and to be placed on another assignment. Staffmark compensated Shanks for four hours of " show-up" pay after she was released before completing a full day of work. An email sent shortly on October 25, 2010 indicates Mugnaini sent Vazquez an email requesting Shanks receive four hours of pay, ending the email to Vazquez with the following sentence: " [t]he next day they sent [Shanks] home due to her limping." On October 26, 2010, Vazquez sent an email to Jennifer Hart, a Staffmark employee, and copied Mugnaini, Scott, and Robin Pritchett, stating, " [Shanks] should have been paid a total of 4hrs for 10/11/10 but was only paid for .50. She was sent home per customer's request."

On November 23, 2010, Shanks met with Charles E. Kolliker, the EEOC investigator assigned to her case, at the Agency's office. On January 5, 2011, Kolliker spoke with Shanks again, this time by ...

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