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Ushman v. Horace Mann Service Corporation

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

September 23, 2014

CLARA J. USHMAN, Plaintiff,


RICHARD MILLS, District Judge.

Horace Mann's Motion for Summary Judgment is Allowed.

Plaintiff Clara J. Ushman filed a Complaint alleging that Defendants violated her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). Her employer, Horace Mann Service Corporation, was covered under the FMLA, and Plaintiff was entitled to leave under the FMLA.

Defendants Horace Mann Service Corporation, Jason Shrum and Melinda Lawson deny that they violated any of the Plaintiff's rights and assert that she was terminated for cause based on egregious and unexplained errors found in her work product.


A. Plaintiff's background at Horace Mann

Plaintiff Clara Ushman began working at Horace Mann in August of 2010. She first worked as an accounts payable assistant. As an accounts payable assistant, the Plaintiff worked under the supervision of Rick Harvill until January of 2012.

In January of 2012, the Plaintiff became a billing account technician. A billing account technician is responsible for processing payments received from schools. The Plaintiff was responsible for processing payments of annuity, life, and auto insurance for participants in her assigned states. One of the states assigned to the Plaintiff was Delaware. The Plaintiff had other states as well, including California. The Plaintiff's direct supervisor as a billing account technician was Jason Shrum, one of the Defendants. Melinda Lawson, another Defendant, was and is Jason Shrum's supervisor. The Plaintiff had very little contact with Ms. Lawson. The Plaintiff recalls speaking with her only once regarding the processing of an outgoing payment and never spoke with Ms. Lawson again.

The Plaintiff understood her duties to include checking the database of each state she was assigned every day to see whether or not a check had been received. The Plaintiff would then review the master list of all the participants and the amounts of money to be applied for each participant. She understood that her job was to enter into the computer the correct amounts of money submitted by the client for each participant identified.

When new participants were identified on the master list, the Plaintiff understood that she was to add them as a participant if they did not already have an established account. In order to add a new participant, the Plaintiff would have to take extra steps to check the database to make sure that the person on the right hand side was not mistakenly included with the information she received. This process may require her to check the mainframe database. She could search by name or by social security number to see what existing policy may already be in place and to verify personal information of a participant, including the school employing them. If there were a significant number of extra participants who had to be added to the bill, that would take extra time because she would have to look up their particular policies. If there were not many discrepancies between the master list and the new one, payments could go rather quickly. However if not, it could take quite a bit of time.

The Plaintiff received her first assignment in March of 2012. The payments on the Delaware account usually came in every other Friday around 3:00 p.m. or later. The Plaintiff did not make any complaints to Horace Mann about having to stay over to finish the Delaware account.

It is likely the Plaintiff was notified of the audit around August 2, 2012. Cyndy Crain informed the Plaintiff by email that an audit was conducted. Ms. Crain advised the Plaintiff that she wanted to meet with her concerning the Delaware account. The Plaintiff met with Ms. Crain and her assistant, Cathy. At the time, the Plaintiff was shown a master list on her computer of the Delaware payment and was told they had found various mistakes relating to the account. The Plaintiff recalls Cathy identifying individual names and amounts that were different from what the master list had shown and asking her to explain why the amounts were different. The Plaintiff responded that she could not provide an answer without seeing the list that had been sent from the school. The Plaintiff knew that Horace Mann believed there were errors with the Delaware account at the time of this meeting. She was aware from Cathy's statements that the amounts associated with the participants did not match up with the master list. Before this meeting, the Plaintiff had never met or seen Ms. Crain or Cathy. The Plaintiff is aware that they worked in the internal audit department of Horace Mann.

After her meeting with Ms. Crain and Cathy, the Plaintiff spoke with Jason Shrum. The conversation took place at his desk. The Plaintiff states she informed Mr. Shrum of the previous meeting and the reported discrepancies with the Delaware payment. Mr. Shrum was not aware of these discrepancies until the Plaintiff advised him.

The next day, on August 3, 2012, the Plaintiff received an email from Ms. Crain and Cathy. The email included an attached list. Although the email requested that the Plaintiff review the documents, the Plaintiff did not open the attachment. The Plaintiff forwarded the information to Mr. Shrum without reading it but believes the information contained a copy of what Cathy had shown her the day before. However, the Plaintiff could not verify what the attachment contained because she did not open it.

The Plaintiff claims she is not familiar with the exact errors that were made relating to the Delaware account. On August 16, 2012, the Plaintiff was told she was being terminated for being an unfit processor. The Plaintiff acknowledges that Melinda Lawson contacted her after her termination and explained to her that her termination resulted from discrepancies in the Delaware account which cost the company money in back pricing. Ms. Lawson told her it was going to take a long time for those errors to be corrected and reassigned.

B. Plaintiff's medical issues

Several weeks before she was terminated, on June 21, 2012, the Plaintiff advised Jason Shrum, her supervisor, that she was speaking with Deona Kuntzman about her upcoming need for back surgery. The Plaintiff had previously mentioned to Mr. Shrum that she had problems with her back. She also had stated prior to June 21, 2012, that she knew she would be needing surgery in the future.

Rick Harvill, the Plaintiff's boss prior to Jason Shrum, also was aware that Plaintiff had problems with her back. The Plaintiff had back surgery in August of 2011, while employed at Horace Mann. The Plaintiff states Mr. Harvill was aware of her back surgery in August of 2011. He accommodated the Plaintiff's request to wear tennis shoes at work following the surgery.

The Plaintiff has had problems with her back for over fifteen years. Although she did not have physical restrictions placed on her permanently when she returned to work, the Plaintiff did have some lifting restrictions during her recovery period. The Plaintiff's job at Horace Mann did not require significant lifting or bending.

After her 2011 surgery, the Plaintiff continued to have pain. The Plaintiff does not recall complaining to anyone at Horace Mann about having problems with her back following the surgery. She did not request other ...

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