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Wilton v. Amedisys, Inc.

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

September 6, 2016

MARGARET WILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
AMEDISYS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Margaret Wilton has brought a three-count complaint against her former employer defendant Amedisys Holding, LLC alleging discrimination (Count I), failure to accommodate (Count II), and retaliation (Count III) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons discussed below, defendant's motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Defendant is a home health care company that provides health and hospice care to patients throughout the United States. Plaintiff, a registered nurse, began working for defendant in August 2009. In January 2010 defendant promoted plaintiff to Director of Operations (“DOO”) of its Naperville, Illinois Care Center (“NCC”). She held this position until she was fired on June 28, 2013. She was the NCC's highest-ranking day-to-day employee with responsibilities for the NCC's financial and overall performance and managing its clinical and administrative staff. In 2011 she was named her area's Director of the Year. In 2012 the NCC received defendant's Distinguished Care Center Award.

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with lupus in 2007.[2] Lupus is a “chronic autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks a person's tissues, causing inflammation, swelling, pain, and damage.” Symptoms include “profound fatigue, severe joint pain, muscle aches, arthritis, headaches, and mouth and scalp sores.” Plaintiff claims that in addition to substantially limiting her ability to drive and concentrate, these symptoms also “leave her so fatigued that at times she is unable to work.”

         In early 2013, at defendant's request, while maintaining her position as the NCC's DOO, plaintiff began traveling to and covering several Midwest care centers. Plaintiff eventually became the Interim DOO (“IDOO”) of the Indianapolis Care Center (“ICC”) in April 2013. Plaintiff claims that because of her lupus she needed to travel during normal business hours to ensure that she had enough time to rest in the evenings. This was an extension of permitting her to leave work early if her lupus flared up. Plaintiff worked half days on the days that she traveled between the care centers. According to plaintiff, her supervisor at the time, Regional Vice President Sheryl Holdren (“Holdren”), approved the accommodation. Holdren, however, claims that this was a common practice for DOOs covering multiple care centers.

         Plaintiffs problems began in May 2013 when Judith Miner (“Miner”) replaced Holdren as plaintiffs supervisor. After Miner's promotion, but before Holdren's departure, plaintiff met with Holdren, Miner, and Miner's supervisor, Interim Vice President of Operations Tammy Peebles-Forrest (“Forrest”). Plaintiff claims that she told the group that she had lupus and asked to keep her current travel schedule “so that she could rest at night.” According to plaintiff, they all agreed to her maintaining her schedule, but Miner and Forrest do not remember plaintiff mentioning lupus or requesting an accommodation. Plaintiff claims that Miner's body language showed that she was “hostil[e] toward the idea of accommodating [p]laintiff”

         In early June 2013 during plaintiffs first meeting with Miner as her supervisor, Miner ordered plaintiff to change her schedule so that each week she would work at the ICC two full days and NCC three full days. Plaintiff claims that she objected because her lupus physically prevented her from working the proposed schedule. Miner told plaintiff that she would discuss the matter with Forrest.

         Plaintiff did not have any further contact with Miner until Miner called plaintiff several days later while plaintiff was at the ICC to demand that plaintiff be at the NCC the following day at 8:00 AM. Plaintiff complained directly to Forrest about Miner and reiterated her need to maintain her travel schedule. Forrest, however, told plaintiff that she had to do what Miner said. This was too much for plaintiff, so she resigned as IDOO.

         On June 20, 2013, Miner received several complaints from Kathy Benco (“Benco”) and Emil Ballano (“Ballano”)[3] relating to the NCC. Defendant claims that the complaints, in part, alleged that plaintiff retaliated against NCC employees and set “summer hours” (8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., instead of 5:00 P.M.) for the NCC. Ballano does not remember telling Miner this and claims that he did not experience any retaliation. Miner reported these concerns to Forrest. According to Forrest, these complaints along with the resignation of Tammy Patterson (“Patterson”), a former NCC employee, on June 20, 2013, caused Forrest and Laura Eha (“Eha”), the Senior Vice President of Operations, to travel to and investigate the NCC.

         When Patterson resigned she submitted a letter explaining her frustration with “the lack of communication between the [NCC's] management and staff.” The letter mentioned Patterson's issues with Benco and Benco's scheduling practices. Defendant claims that plaintiff's superiors saw Patterson's complaints as indictments of plaintiff's leadership because plaintiff was ultimately responsible for the NCC's internal workings.

         Forrest and Eha conducted their one-day investigation at the NCC on June 26, 2013. They initially planned on interviewing nine specific employees, but once they arrived at the NCC, they decided to interview whomever was around. This led to interviews with Ballano, Tracey Elkins, and Benco.

         After completing their investigation Eha and Forrest created a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) with T. Terrill West's (“West”) assistance. At the time he was defendant's Diversity Officer and Manager of HR Governance, Compliance, and Diversity. The following day on June 27, 2013, defendant placed plaintiff on the PIP, and issued her a Final Written Warning. Although plaintiff claims that she had a spotless record, West claims that he investigated plaintiff in March 2013 for “harassment and retaliation, ” but found no evidence of it.[4] Plaintiff was issued a verbal warning that she does not remember receiving. Although defendant claims to have considered the investigation and verbal warning in issuing the PIP and terminating plaintiff, neither were mentioned in the PIP, West's conversations with plaintiff after her firing, defendant's initial position statement to the EEOC (“Position Statement”), or its interrogatory responses. They were mentioned for the first time during West's deposition.

         The PIP, in part, required plaintiff to “improve her responsiveness and accountability in responding to staff issues . . . not leav[e] work early (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) . . . [and] immediately [stop] speaking with clinical staff, referral sources, or other personnel on speaker phone unless all parties are aware and agree.” Plaintiff did not ask any questions when she signed the PIP, but the PIP's disclaimer stated “[signature on this document is an acknowledgment that this form has been provided to you, and does not necessarily imply agreement with the corrective action plan.”

         After this meeting plaintiff returned to her office and called West to complain about the manner in which the investigation was conducted. Plaintiff initially tried to use her speakerphone during the call because her headset was broken. West, however, asked to be taken off of speakerphone, and insisted on it even after plaintiff explained that her headset was broken. Plaintiff complied and proceeded to complain about being disciplined for requesting an accommodation and the inaccuracy of the counseling form. According to plaintiff, West was “dismissive” and “told her to put it in writing.” After the call, plaintiff asked Miner if she could leave early to attend a tasting for her daughter's wedding, but Miner rejected the request.

         Later that same day, plaintiff sent West a patient complaint that the NCC had received on June 25, 2013. The final reason given to plaintiff for her termination relates to this complaint, but the exact issues raised by the complaint have changed over the course of this litigation. Initially, plaintiff was accused of not investigating the complaint, and not being able to provide West any details about the complaint. In his deposition, West claimed, for the first time, that the real issue was that plaintiff had not read the complaint for over 24 hours. Defendant now claims that plaintiff's failure to respond to this complaint in a “timely fashion” was the third violation of the PIP in less than 24 hours. Neither Eha nor Forrest could point to a company policy on timeliness. Additionally, the first page of the complaint notes that the situation had been handled on June 25, 2013, the day that it was filed. Eha also testified that she believed that the PIP was not supposed to apply retroactively.

         Until West's deposition these were the only reasons given for plaintiff's termination. A new reason, however, was added during West's deposition when he claimed that his June 27, 2013, conversation with Patterson raised serious retaliation concerns. According to West, plaintiff had received a verbal warning earlier in 2013 for retaliating against certain subordinates. West stated that his conversation with Patterson was the final factor in defendant's decision to fire plaintiff. This contradicts defendant's previous statements to plaintiff, the EEOC, and its initial interrogatory responses when it stated that the three reasons stated above were the basis for plaintiff's termination. Further, when West updated Forrest and Eha on June 27, 2013, with plaintiff's alleged disregard of the PIP, he mentioned only the three previously stated reasons and nothing about retaliation or any other concern raised by his conversation with Patterson.

         After plaintiff was fired on June 28, 2013, West spoke with her again on July 3, 2013, and explained to her that she was fired for the three previously mentioned reasons. Defendant claims that the Patterson conversation and previous investigation were not mentioned earlier because of an “oversight.” Plaintiff filed her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Charge of Discrimination on or about January 24, 2014. Defendant submitted the Position Statement on March 11, 2014. When listing the reasons for plaintiffs firing, defendant listed the three reasons conveyed to plaintiff, and nothing about West's conversation with Patterson or retaliation. There was, however, a footnote that the responses were preliminary and that there was an ongoing investigation. On July 21, 2014, the EEOC provided plaintiff with her Right-to-Sue-Letter.

         DISCUSSION[5]

         I. ...


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