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Isbell v. John Crane, Inc.

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

November 21, 2014

ANNA B. ISBELL, Plaintiff,
JOHN CRANE, INC., Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Anna B Isbell, Plaintiff: Jonathan D. Rosen, Marissa Beth Saltzman, Spencer J. Marks, Pokorny & Marks, LLC, Chicago, IL.

For John Crane, Inc., Defendant: Joshua David Holleb, LEAD ATTORNEY, Klein, Dub & Holleb, Limited, Highland Park, IL; Brian Scott Schwartz, Klein Dub & Holleb, Ltd., Highland Park, IL.

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Milton I. Shadur, Senior United States District Judge.

On September 2, 2014 this Court signed the litigants' jointly submitted proposed Final Pretrial Order (" FPTO" ) asserting disability-based claims, and in accordance with its customary practice it also set a timetable for the parties' anticipated motions in limine. Both sides have tendered their respective motions and their responses to those motions -- a single motion advanced by plaintiff Anna Isbell (" Isbell" ) and ten motions tendered by defendant John Crane, Inc. (" Crane" ) -- so that the motions are ripe for resolution. This memorandum opinion and order undertakes that task.


Isbell sued her former employer Crane on multiple grounds, including its failure to accommodate disabilities that according to Isbell and her doctors interfered with her ability to arrive at work at the usual start time (see Amended Complaint Counts I, II, VI and VII and see, e.g., Joint St. ¶ ¶ 16, 23, 51-52; I. Exs. 10, 21, 27, 30).[1] Although Crane had accommodated Isbell's scheduling needs for some 2-1/2 years, Crane suddenly revoked those accommodations after a change in management (Joint St. ¶ ¶ 22, 31). According to Crane, the continued accommodation of Isbell's later start time imposed an undue hardship because a significant component

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of her job comprised providing internal customer service and performing other time-bound tasks (see C. Mem. 17-18, and see, e.g., C. Ex. 16). Because this Court has already granted summary judgment in favor of Isbell on her failure-to-accommodate claims, the sole issue for trial is damages.


District courts " have broad discretion in ruling on . . . motions in limine" (Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002)). Such motions serve " a gatekeeping function" and permit a court to eliminate evidence that " clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose" (Jonasson v. Lutheran Child and Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997)).

Isbell's Motion

Isbell's sole motion, which seeks to exclude all evidence and testimony as to claimed " undue hardship," is denied. Such evidence is relevant for a limited purpose under Fed.R.Evid. (" Rule" ) 401 and, with an appropriate limiting jury instruction, would be neither unduly prejudicial nor confusing so as to warrant exclusion under Rule 403.

As Isbell argues correctly, this Court has already ruled as a matter of law that Crane failed to provide sufficient evidence that accommodating Isbell would impose an undue hardship on Crane. But that is not the end of the story, for evidence that Crane believed it would suffer undue hardship is nevertheless relevant to the possible award of punitive damages. To make out a case for punitive damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA," 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a)), Isbell must prove that (1) Crane acted with " malice" or " reckless indifference" toward her rights under federal law and (2) for that purpose Crane can properly be held liable under agency principles (EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., 707 F.3d 824, 835 (7th Cir. 2013), citing to and quoting from Kolstad v. Am. Dental Ass'n, 527 U.S. 526, 119 S.Ct. 2118, 144 L.Ed.2d 494 (1999)). Even if Isbell establishes those first two elements, Crane can avoid being mulcted in punitive damages for its managers' actions by proving that it engaged in good faith efforts to implement an anti-discrimination policy (Kolstad, 527 U.S. at 544-46).

Evidence that Crane believed that accommodating Isbell posed an undue hardship for the Company is relevant to the first element of the punitive damages analysis: whether it acted with " malice" or " reckless indifference" toward Isbell's federally protected rights. Under the ADA an employer has a duty to give " qualified individual[s]" with disabilities " reasonable accommodations" for their " known physical or mental limitations" unless doing so imposes an " undue hardship" on the employer (42 U.S.C. § § 12112(a) and 12112(b)(5)(A)). To the extent that Crane is found to have believed that accommodating Isbell's later start time entailed " undue hardship," even if the company was capable of accommodating her as a factual matter, a jury could conclude that Crane ...

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