United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
TERRY A. BAIER, Plaintiff,
ROHR-MONT MOTORS, INC., d/b/a Oakbrook Toyota in Westmont, an Illinois corporation, JOHN BARRETT, and ALEX SYED, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
AMY J. STEVE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Terry Baier ("Baier, " or "Plaintiff") filed a complaint against his former employer, Rohr-Mont Motors, Inc. d/b/a Oakbrook Toyota in Westmont ("Oakbrook Toyota"), and his former supervisors, John Barrett ("Barrett") and Alex Syed ("Syed") (collectively, "Defendants") alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (the "FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et. seq. (Count I); the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (Count II); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. (Count III). Baier also alleges common-law defamation (Count IV).
Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) on all four counts. For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.
I. Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1
Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 "is designed, in part, to aid the district court, which does not have the advantage of the parties' familiarity with the record and often cannot afford to spend the time combing the record to locate the relevant information, ' in determining whether a trial is necessary." Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 924 (7th Cir. 1994)). Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires the moving party to provide "a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue." Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting L.R. 56.1(a)(3)). The nonmoving party must file "a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon." Id. (quoting L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(B)). The nonmoving party also may submit a separate statement of additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment, including references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon to support those facts. See L.R. 56. 1(b)(3)(C); see also Ciomber v. Coop. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 635, 643-44 (7th Cir. 2008).
II. Relevant Facts
Oakbrook Toyota hired Baier as an automobile sales associate in August 2005. (Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Add'l Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 80.) After several promotions and transfers between dealerships owned by Bob Rohrman (and after Baier briefly left to work for an outside dealership), Oakbrook Toyota requested that Baier return to work as General Sales Manager ("GSM") in December 2007. ( Id. ) Plaintiff accepted, and remained in that position until the events giving rise to this action commenced. ( Id.; Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 17.)
On or about September 28, 2011, Baier suddenly began having chest pains. (Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Add'l Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 89.) He went to a physician who diagnosed him with a damaged aortic valve, and the hospital immediately admitted him in order to keep him stable. ( Id. ) On or about October 1, 2011, Plaintiff underwent open heart surgery, which was to be followed by approximately twelve weeks of rehabilitation. ( Id. ¶ 90.) Plaintiff requested leave from Oakbrook Toyota under the Family Medical Leave Act in order to recover and rehabilitate after his surgery. ( Id. ¶ 91.) On or about October 26, 2011, Plaintiff returned to work with a visible heart pack containing a defibrillator that his doctors required him to wear. ( Id. ¶¶ 96; 104.) From there, the parties dispute many of the relevant facts.
Plaintiff alleges the following: He returned to work with restrictions, including that he would work for only limited periods of time and that he would limit his total weekly hours and continue his rehabilitation. ( Id. ¶ 96.) He notified Oakbrook Toyota of his work restrictions-he provided it with letters from his physician, and verbally explained his limited work hours to his supervisor Alex Syed. ( Id. ¶¶ 97, 98; Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 9.) Nevertheless, Syed felt he had no obligation to make sure that Plaintiff did not work more than 40 hours per week, and Syed left Baier to run the store after hours. (Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Add'l Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 100-101.) He repeatedly asked Baier how long it would take until he was "100 percent, " and when Baier complained to Syed about having to work until midnight, Syed replied, "that's your job." (Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Add'l Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 103; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 44, 50.) When Syed went out of the country on vacation beginning November 4, 2011, John Barrett filled in as Baier's supervisor. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ ¶ 9-13.) Shortly afterwards Barrett told Baier, "don't die at the desk or I am going to drag you outside and throw you in the ditch next to the road." (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 71.)
Plaintiff further alleges that on November 8, 2011, Bob Rohrman came into the dealership and abruptly threatened to demote Plaintiff, knowing he had just returned from his medical absence. ( Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff was shocked. ( Id. ¶ 22.) Until then, he had never been reprimanded or otherwise disciplined. ( Id. ¶ 29; Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Add'l Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 105.) When Plaintiff arrived at work the next day, expecting to receive his demotion papers, Barrett abruptly fired him. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 60.) Plaintiff claims that Barrett fired him solely based on Barrett's false accusation that Baier used profanity with a new salesperson. ( Id. ¶¶ 59-60.)
Defendants dispute almost all of Plaintiff's factual account. They claim that Oakbrook Toyota welcomed Baier back following his medical leave and returned him to his General Sales Manager position. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶ 42.) Plaintiff scheduled his own hours and did not need anyone's permission to leave work for any personal or business reason. ( Id. ¶ 44.) At no point did Plaintiff ever express any difficulty in attending his medical appointments due to work-related commitments, nor did he lodge any complaints with Oakbrook Toyota that his supervisors harassed him due to his condition. ( Id. ¶¶ 48, 50.)
Defendants further argue that prior to Baier's medical absence, numerous employees complained to Oakbrook Toyota management about Baier's conduct in the workplace, including Baier's use of profanity and ethnic slurs. ( Id. ¶¶ 56-58.) Bob Rohrman, the owner of Oakbrook Toyota, took notice that Baier's sales were declining, and considered demoting him in September 2011 when Baier was unable to answer critical sales questions. ( Id. ¶¶ 31, 35, 37; Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Add'l Material Facts ¶ 79.) On November 8, 2011, unaware that Plaintiff had recently returned from FMLA leave, Rohrman made the decision to demote Plaintiff. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Material Facts ¶¶ 35, 38, 67-68.) That same week, Barrett witnessed Baier make unprofessional and profane statements to Frank Trout. ( Id. ¶ 59.) Based on Barrett's belief that Baier had a record of substandard behavior, including the use of profanity, Barrett made the decision to terminate Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶¶ 52-53, 59-60.)
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate "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). In determining summary judgment motions, "courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion.'" Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)); see Kvapil v. Chippewa County, Wis., 752 F.3d 708, 712 (7th Cir. 2014). "The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Kvapil v. Chippewa County, Wis., 752 F.3d at 712 (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). Once the moving party meets this burden, the opposing party "must establish some genuine issue for trial such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in [their] favor." United States v. King-Vassel, 728 F.3d 707, 711 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Gordon v. FedEx Freight, Inc., 674 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2012)).
I. Count I - FMLA Claims
"The FMLA entitles an employee to twelve weeks of leave every twelve-month period if [he] is afflicted with a serious health condition' which renders [him] unable to perform [his] job." Smith v. Hope Sch., 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir.2009) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D)). The FMLA further provides that employers "may not interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise' any FMLA rights." Nicholson v. Pulte Homes Corp., 690 F.3d 819, 825 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1)). Employers also may not retaliate against an employee for exercising his FMLA rights. Id. (citing 29 U.S.C. §§ 2615(a)(2), (b)). "An interference claim requires proof that the employer denied the employee FMLA rights to which [he] was ...