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Sansone v. Donahoe

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

April 14, 2015

ANTHONY SANSONE, ANTHONY SANSONE,
v.
PATRICK DONAHOE, Postmaster General, [1] Defendant

Page 947

For Anthony Sansone, Plaintiff: Paul Strauss, Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Chicago, IL; Stephen G. Seliger, Attorney at Law, Chicago, IL.

For Patrick R Donahue, Postmaster General, Defendant: AUSA, United States Attorney's Office (NDIL), Chicago, IL.

Page 948

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Milton I. Shadur, Senior United States District Judge.

Anthony Sansone (" Sansone" ) has charged Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe with a failure to accommodate and with constructive discharge, both in asserted violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq.[2] Now before this Court are the parties' Fed.R.Civ.P. (" Rule" ) 56 cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set out more fully below, Sansone's motion for summary judgment is denied, while the Postmaster General's motion is denied as to Sansone's failure-to-accommodate contention and is granted as to his claim of constructive discharge.

Standard of Review

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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)).[3] For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to nonmovants and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). But a nonmovant must produce more than " a mere scintilla of evidence" to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists (Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008)) and " must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial" (id.). 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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

As with any summary judgment motion, this Court must regard the nonmovant's version of any disputed facts as true, but only so long as it is supported by record evidence.[4] Where as here cross-motions

Page 949

for summary judgment are involved, the principles of Rule 56 call for a dual perspective that this Court has sometimes described as Janus-like: As to each motion the nonmovant's version of any disputed facts must be credited, an arrangement that sometimes causes the denial of both motions.

Facts[5]

Sansone suffers from multiple sclerosis that caused him to lose virtually all use of his legs in 1999, rendering him wheelchair-bound (S. St. ¶ ¶ 7-8). Sansone contends that the Postal Service failed to accommodate him in 2011when it revoked the parking accommodation he had held for over a decade and failed to replace that accommodation with a parking spot that ensured his access to his workplace (SAC ¶ ¶ 8-9, 12).

At the time of the events at issue Sansone had worked for over 30 years at the Postal Service's Bulk Mail Center (" BMC" ) in Forest Park, Illinois and had been the supervisor of maintenance there since 1997 (P.G. St. ¶ ¶ 1-2). In his entire time with the Postal Service Sansone never received any kind of warning or reprimand about his job performance (S. St. ¶ 22).

After he lost the use of his legs, Sansone drove to work each morning in a specially equipped van that he could operate entirely with his hands (id. ¶ 10) and that had a ramp that deployed from the passenger side to enable Sansone to enter and leave the van in his wheelchair (id.). To accommodate the van and ensure that Sansone could easily enter and leave the BMC, the Postal Service permitted him to park in a specific space on the western side of the BMC between dock doors 29 and 30 (P.G. Resp. ¶ 12). That space was special because it was next to a marked crosswalk, leaving sufficient space to deploy the wheelchair ramp (id.).[6] It was also adjacent to a loading ramp that extended from ground level to an automated doorway, permitting Sansone to come into and go out of the building with ease (id. ¶ ¶ 12-13). Once in the building Sansone switched from his wheelchair to a motorized scooter, which facilitated his ability to move around

Page 950

the BMC and to operate manual doors (P.G. St. ¶ 16).

In response the Postmaster General contends that the parking spot was unsafe. It was located in an area that was used daily by other vehicles, including spotter trucks (like semitrailer trucks), pickup trucks and maintenance vehicles (P.G. St. ¶ 14). As for the ramp that Sansone used to enter the building each day, it was itself shared with forklifts, scooters, flatbed trucks and maintenance vehicles (id.). In June 2011, moreover, OSHA fined the Postal Service citing a number of hazards, including the facts that semitrailer truck drivers were pulling away from the loading docks without green lights and that managers were permitting inexperienced drivers to operate forklift trucks without proper training and certification (Branch Dep. Ex. 29).[7] To go from his parking space into the BMC Sansone had to travel along the loading docks in a region where semitrailer trucks pulled in and out in a hurry (P.G. St. ¶ 16). Moreover, even apart from the OSHA fine, an employee had been hit by a truck near the docks in 2006 (S. Resp. ¶ 19). Plant Manager Ruby Branch (" Branch" ) had also noticed an increase in vehicle traffic in the area (id.).

Shortly after OSHA fined the BMC, Branch -- who had worked there only since 2010 --noticed that a van was parked on the west side of the building and, on discovering it was Sansone's, decided that he should not park there any longer (S. Resp. ¶ ¶ 6, 19). Sansone learned of Branch's decision via a message from his direct manager Chuck von Rhein (" von Rhein" ), who had in turn learned of Branch's decision through his manager LaShawn Jacobs (" Jacobs" ) (S. St. ¶ 29; P.G. St. ¶ 5). Sansone contends that when he first learned that his spot was revoked the Postal Service did not offer him any alternate accommodation, but Branch testified that she instructed Jacobs that Sansone should either park in a general handicap space in front of the BMC or in Branch's own reserved space on the western side of the BMC, near the Motor Vehicle Office (hereafter " MV Office" ) (S. Resp. ¶ 20; Branch Dep. 53:10-54:2).

On learning that his parking accommodation had been revoked, Sansone wrote to Jacobs and articulated two needs. First he explained that he needed a handicap parking space with enough space on the side for him to let his ramp down (S. St. ¶ 30), and second he explained that he has difficulty in opening doors manually while in his wheelchair without damaging the doors or his chair, so he asked that the entrance be made handicap-accessible (id.). Jacobs wrote this back to Sansone (id. ¶ 31):

After discussing this with Plant Manager Branch, there is handicap parking available in the front of the building and parking by Motor Vehicle both with ramp access. If you ...

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