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Lee v. Chicago Transit Authority

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

November 14, 2016

GREGORY LEE, Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANDREA R. WOOD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gregory Lee, appearing pro se, claims that his former employer, Defendant Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”), violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by terminating him on account of his disability rather than providing him with a reasonable accommodation. Before the Court is the CTA's motion to dismiss Lee's third amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 73.) For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted. As Lee now has failed multiple times to state a valid claim, his complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         The complaint currently before the Court constitutes Lee's fourth attempt to plead a claim for disability discrimination. Lee's initial complaint in this matter alleged violations of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and sought relief not just for Lee but also on behalf of a putative class of disabled CTA employees who had been unlawfully disciplined or terminated because of their disabilities. (See Dkt. No. 10.) The CTA's motion to dismiss that complaint was granted and the complaint was dismissed without prejudice in an oral ruling during the parties' initial status hearing. (See Dkt. Nos. 17, 22.) Lee then filed his first amended complaint, again alleging violations of the ADA and Title VII, but this time also suggesting a claim for age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (See Dkt. No. 23.) After the CTA filed a second motion to dismiss along with its answer and affirmative defenses, Lee was granted leave to file a second amended complaint to remove the reference to age discrimination, which he asserted had been made in error. Like his original complaint, Lee's second amended complaint alleged violations of the ADA and Title VII. (See Dkt. No. 36.) The CTA once again filed a motion to dismiss, which was fully briefed by the parties. The Court granted the motion and again dismissed the complaint without prejudice, providing Lee one final opportunity to state a viable claim. (See Dkt. No. 65.) In its memorandum opinion and order, the Court provided a detailed explanation of the second amended complaint's pleading deficiencies along with clear guidance as to what Lee must allege to state a claim for disability discrimination. (See Dkt. No. 66.) Lee has now filed a third amended complaint in which he alleges the following.[1]

         When the events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred, Lee was employed as a Transportation Manager for the CTA. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 68.) In February 2010, Lee became ill while at work and was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. (Id. ¶ 10.) He subsequently requested and was approved for short-term disability leave. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 25.) While on leave, Lee received a letter from the CTA instructing him to report to the office of CTA General Manager Carlton Rutherford on August 16, 2010 to discuss “[his] continued inability to perform the essential functions of [his] position.” (Id. ¶ 12 & Ex. 4.) Lee met with Rutherford as instructed and informed Rutherford that he would not be released from medical treatment and able to report to work until late October or early November of 2010. (Id. ¶ 13.) According to Lee, that statement constituted a request for a reasonable accommodation for his disability. (Id.) Approximately two weeks after his meeting with Rutherford, Lee received a letter from the CTA stating that he was being administratively separated because he had exhausted his Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave. (Id. ¶ 14 & Ex. 5.) Following his release from medical treatment in November 2010, however, the CTA reinstated Lee to the position of Transportation Manager. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Starting in April 2011, Lee again began to experience health issues. (Id. ¶ 16.) He alleges that he was instructed to contact “Ann Cobb at CTA's central office” to discuss reasonable accommodations for those issues. (Id.) Over the next several weeks, he left a number of messages for Cobb but received no response. (Id. ¶ 17.) In August or September of 2011, Lee spoke with Cobb directly. (Id.) She instructed him to file a form and told him that he would receive a response once the form had been reviewed by a committee. (Id.) In addition to those communications with Cobb, Lee also alleges that during a November 2011 meeting, he attempted to discuss “his ADA issue” with CTA Acting General Manager Sonnetta Luckey. (Id. ¶ 18.) According to Lee, Luckey responded by threatening to have him drug tested and taken out of service. (Id.)

         Then, on November 11, 2011, Lee once again became ill at work and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, after which he again requested and was approved for short-term disability leave. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 26.) The CTA instructed Lee to contact Luckey on a weekly basis during his leave to provide “notification of [his] ability/status to return to work.” (Id. ¶ 21 & Ex. 6.) Lee claims that he did as instructed from December 2011 through April 2012. (Id. ¶ 22.) He further claims that during one of his weekly calls with Luckey, he attempted to discuss reasonable accommodations to no avail. (Id. ¶ 23.) Lee also sent a letter to Cobb while on leave in an attempt to discuss reasonable accommodations but he never received a response (Id. ¶ 20.) In a letter dated April 3, 2012, the CTA provided Lee with a second notice of administrative separation. (Id. ¶ 24 & Ex. 7.) The letter states in relevant part:

You have been unable to perform your duties as Transportation Manager . . . since November 12, 2011. You exhausted your [FMLA] entitlement on February 3, 2012. In order to sustain its operations, [the] CTA must proceed to fill your position. Therefore, because you are not available to fill this essential position, you are administratively separated[.]

(Id. Ex. 7.) In response, Lee filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. ¶¶ 9, 27.)

         In bringing the present ADA claim, Lee claims that, in both 2010 and 2012, the CTA terminated his employment rather than accommodate his disability by extending his leave or providing other reasonable accommodations. (Id. ¶ 27.) According to Lee, at no point during his first or second disability leave did the CTA attempt to engage in the interactive process of determining an appropriate accommodation for his disability. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Lee further asserts that the CTA discriminated against him by maintaining “an inflexible sick/disability policy and attendance disciplinary policy, which [] provided[] for termination of his employment, [] in violation of the ADA.” (Id. at 1.)[2] With the present motion, the CTA seeks to dismiss, with prejudice, the third amended complaint in its entirety.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the short and plain statement must meet two threshold requirements. First, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Second, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, there “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Rather, “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         Pro se complaints are construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers. Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013) (“[T]he pleading standards for pro se plaintiffs are considerably relaxed[.]”). However, pro se plaintiffs are not excused from meeting the basic requirements of Rule 8(a). See Pearle Vision, Inc. v. Romm, 541 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2008). A pro se complaint still must provide fair notice of the plaintiff's claims and at least suggest a plausible right to relief. See Killebrew v. St. Vincent Health, Inc., 295 F. App'x 808, 810 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that even with liberal construction, the pro se plaintiff's complaint did not even hint at a plausible right to relief and thus failed to satisfy the lenient notice pleading requirement of Rule 8(a)); see also Srivastava v. Daniels, 409 F. App'x 953, 955 (7th Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal of pro se plaintiff's complaint that did not comply with Rule 8, where the complaint's length and disjointed nature made it impossible for the district court to identify the specific allegations against each defendant and therefore impossible to determine whether any claims had potential merit).

         I. Qualified Individual ...


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