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Tyler v. Comprehensive Health Management Inc.

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

January 6, 2015

MARSHA A. TYLER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH MANAGEMENT, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

Marsha Tyler ("Tyler") has sued her former employer Comprehensive Health Management, Inc. ("Comprehensive") for assertedly (1) failing to accommodate her disability and (2) firing her because of her disability, both in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA, " 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.[1]). Comprehensive now moves for summary judgment on all counts under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56. Tyler opposes the motion.[2] For the reasons set out in this opinion, Comprehensive's motion is granted.

Factual Background

What follows is a summary of the relevant facts that are undisputed, except where noted otherwise. Tyler was an employee of Comprehensive from June 6, 2005 to July 11, 2008 (C. St. ¶ 8; P. St. ¶47). She started as a "benefits consultant, " a company euphemism for saleswoman (C. St. ¶ 9). Her job was to sell Medicare-backed health insurance policies to senior citizens (id.), and to keep her job she had to reach monthly sales goals (Johnson Dep. 100:13-100:16). On November 28, 2007 she was promoted to "senior benefits consultant, " a saleswoman with a higher monthly sales quota and presumably a higher earning potential (C. St. ¶¶ 18, 23; Tyler Dep. 29:2-29:6). But she quickly fell behind and was unable to meet her new sales numbers in December 2007 (T. Resp. St. ¶ 27), part of which month she spent on vacation (T. St. ¶¶ 14, 20). Signs of a personality conflict with her supervisor Debra Johnson ("Johnson") also appeared around that time, with Johnson writing up Tyler on December 27 for insubordination and a poor attitude after the two argued about Tyler's ability to take a vacation day (Tyler Dep. Ex. 10). Tyler attributed her growing personality conflict with Johnson to Johnson's jealousy over male co-worker Lynn Lodge ("Lodge") (Tyler Dep. 36:11-36:23).

Tyler then fell a whole 50% short of her January 2008 quota (C. St. ¶ 28[3]), although that appears to have been partially because she missed an entire week of work due to illness (T. St. Ex. I at 0065). Later, in February 2008, she went to the doctor for joint and back pain caused by work-related stress (Tyler Dep. 9:15-9:18). Then from March 17 to 31 she took two weeks of medical leave, this time for a flu-like virus (Tyler Dep. 43:1-43:7, 44:17-44:20). Comprehensive considered that leave to be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA, " 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq.) (C. St. ¶ 31). When Tyler returned from being sick with the flu, she was presented with a "performance improvement plan, " another company euphemism, this one signifying an employee's final chance to improve sales before being demoted or fired (see C. St. ¶ 34). Tyler's performance improvement plan was backdated to March 1 and required her to make 15 more sales by April 15 (T. Resp. St. ¶ 33). Thus Tyler had 13 days from when she received the "plan" in which to complete her 15 new sales. Tyler failed to meet her quota and was demoted back to the benefits consultant level on April 23, 2008, with an effective demotion date of April 16 (T. Resp. St. ¶¶ 28-32, 34-35).

That same day -- April 23 -- Tyler suffered a mental breakdown with symptoms of anxiety and depression (Tyler Decl. ¶ 33). She made one last request to have her supervisor changed (Tyler Dep. 116:15-116:21), then took leave under the FMLA (id. 49:17-49:19).[4] Tyler forwarded her doctor's notes to Comprehensive's human resources department throughout her medical leave (C. St. ¶¶ 41-45). Each of those notes, from a Dr. Wolf, consistently reflected an expected return-to-work date just a few weeks in the future (id.). Tyler exhausted her remaining FMLA leave time on July 2, 2008 (id. at ¶¶ 39-40, 46). When she did not return to work on July 2 she was fired, although she did not receive notice of her firing until July 11 (C. St. ¶ 50; T. St. ¶ 47). Dr. Wolf cleared Tyler to return to work on July 21 (C. St. ¶ 70; Tyler Dep. 68:17-68:19). Despite the fact that Tyler's termination letter invited her to reapply for work once she was medically cleared, she did not reapply (Tyler Dep. 68:6-68:10, 68:20-68:22).

Tyler filed a charge with the EEOC on July 29, 2008 (C. St. ¶ 1) and received permission to sue on September 30, 2011 (id. ¶ 2). She filed this suit on December 29, 2011.

Legal Standard

Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986)). For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to nonmovants (here Tyler) and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir.2002)). Courts “may not make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts” in resolving motions for summary judgment (Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir.2003)). But a nonmovant must produce more than “a mere scintilla of evidence” to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists, and “must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial” (Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir.2008)). Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

Disability

To defeat Comprehensive's motion, Tyler naturally must first show that there are sufficient facts to support a finding that she was disabled within the meaning of the ADA. As will be seen, Tyler cannot do so, and so Comprehensive is entitled to summary judgment.

"Disability" has three possible definitions under ADA Section 12102(2):
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life ...

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