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Billings v. B&B Electronics Manufacturing Co., Inc.

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

October 10, 2014

JANET LYNN BILLINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
B&B ELECTRONICS MANUFACTURING COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge.

Janet Billings has sued B&B Electronics Manufacturing Company, Inc. for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a), 12203(a), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 42 U.S.C. § 2615, and the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), 775 ILCS 5/2-102, 5/6-101. Billings alleges that B&B discriminated against her based on her disability, retaliated against her for exercising her statutory rights, and failed to accommodate her disability. B&B has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants B&B's motion.

Background

B&B Electronics is a manufacturer of data communication products. In 1998, B&B hired Janet Billings as a full-time hourly employee, eventually promoting her to engineering technician in 2006. While working for the company, Billings was diagnosed with cancer. She received her first diagnosis in 2003; five years later, she learned that her cancer was terminal. Billings continued to work at B&B throughout this period. Over the course of her treatment, Billings would submit medical documentation to the company, though she was sometimes told that this practice was unnecessary. When Billings received her terminal diagnosis in 2008, she submitted additional documentation from her health care providers and informed B&B that she would require accommodations for her disability. Thereafter, B&B allowed Billings to use flex-time to attend her medical appointments and assigned her shorter projects so that she could take time off unexpectedly as needed. It is undisputed that Billings was capable of performing the essential functions of her job despite her disability.

Starting in 2009, Billings worked primarily on "telematics" in the "automotive field." Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 16. In 2011, however, B&B's management concluded that the company "could no longer be competitive with its telematics/automotive product line" and began to phase out this work. Id. ¶ 17. That same year, Sean Harrigan, the president and CEO of B&B, hired Paul Harrington to lead the company's engineering department. Harrington was tasked with doubling B&B's revenue in two years by "making improvements in the engineering department." Id. ¶ 13. Harrington initially tried to meet this objective by reorganizing the engineering department into functional groups and by identifying cost savings in travel and training. As a result of this reorganization, Billings was placed in the system test group, though she continued to focus on telematics and automotive work-too much so, in the management's view.

In 2012, B&B conducted two reductions in force (RIFs). B&B's decision to conduct these RIFs was driven, in part, by the acquisition of three technology companies earlier that year. The first RIF, implemented in February 2012, was intended to reduce personnel redundancies with the newly acquired companies. In that RIF, B&B terminated Julius Saroka, the only other technician in the system test group. By August 2012, B&B had determined that Harrington's initial cost-saving measures were insufficient and that it would need to conduct a second RIF "to meet the Company's financial covenants." Id. at ¶ 13. Harrigan instructed Harrington to propose six or seven employees for the second RIF. On August 22, Harrington e-mailed B&B's human resources director with a list of seven employees, one of whom was Billings. On November 1, 2012, Billings was terminated along with six other B&B employees. None of those employees were transferred, and Billings's position was not refilled.

Billings filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Illinois Human Rights Commission on January 17, 2013 and February 27, 2013 respectively. Billings filed the current lawsuit on May 14, 2013. She contends that her discharge was motivated by her disability, that she suffered retaliation, and that B&B failed to reasonably accommodate her disability.

Discussion

A party is entitled to summary judgment if it shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). On a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the record in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Kersting v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 250 F.3d 1109, 1114 (7th Cir. 2001). Summary judgment is inappropriate "if 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).

A. Discrimination claim

Billings contends that her discharge was motivated by her terminal cancer. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibits an employer from discharging an employee "on the basis of disability." 42 U.S.C.A. § 12112(a).[1] Discrimination under the ADA can be proved either directly or indirectly. See Timmons v. Gen. Motors Corp., 469 F.3d 1122, 1126 (7th Cir. 2006). Billings cannot succeed under either method.

1. Direct method

Under the direct method, a disabled plaintiff "can present either direct or circumstantial evidence to meet its burden." Dickerson v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 522, 657 F.3d 595, 601 (7th Cir. 2011). Direct evidence is typically "an admission by the decision-maker that his actions were based upon the prohibited animus." Id. (citing Buie v. Quad/Graphics, Inc., 366 F.3d 496, 503 (7th Cir. 2004)). Circumstantial evidence is "evidence that allows a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decision-maker." Buie, 366 F.3d at 503 (internal quotation marks omitted). This includes evidence of "(1) suspicious timing; (2) ambiguous statements or behavior towards other employees in the protected group; (3) evidence, statistical or otherwise, that similarly situated employees outside of the protected group systematically receive better treatment; and (4) evidence that the employer offered a pretextual reason for an adverse employment action." Dickerson, 657 F.3d at 601. For summary judgment purposes, of course, Billings need only show that a reasonable jury could find in her favor.

Billings does not cite an admission by B&B, and thus she must rely on circumstantial evidence to show that her discharge was motivated by her disability. As circumstantial evidence, Billings alleges that four "similarly situated" employees were not discharged in the November 2012 RIF. An employee is similarly situated if there are "sufficient commonalities on the key variables between the plaintiff and the would-be comparator[s] to allow the type of comparison that, taken together with the other prima facie evidence, would allow a jury to reach an inference of discrimination or retaliation." Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, ...


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