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Romeo v. Dart

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

November 18, 2016

DANNY ROMEO, Plaintiff,
THOMAS DART, et al, Defendants.


          CHARLES RONALD NORGL, Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Danny Romeo ("Plaintiff) sues Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart and Cook County (collectively, "Defendants") alleging that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his disability and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court concludes that no genuine issue of material fact exists and, as a matter of law, Plaintiff cannot establish an ADA claim. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted in favor of Defendants.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not in dispute. Defendants employ Plaintiff in the Department of Community Service and Intervention as the Chief of Operations. Plaintiff s job responsibilities entail administrative tasks. Specifically, Plaintiffs vocational duties include providing statistical information for meetings; coordinating lunches, facility and safety protocols, and paperwork between the courts and the facility; and providing daily transportation information. Plaintiff originally worked at Defendants' facility located at 3026 S. California Avenue ("31st Street" or "South Campus"). Plaintiff suffers from Multiple Sclerosis ("MS"), and in 2011, Plaintiffs MS deteriorated to the point that Plaintiff could not walk greater than 50 yards without a cane. By February 2012, Plaintiff could not move his arms and legs. Plaintiff took medical leave several months thereafter and has been on leave ever since, while also receiving disability benefits from the Cook County Pension Board.

         After rehabilitation, Plaintiff regained limited use of his right arm and leg and could again walk up to 50 yards with the use of a cane. In December 2013, Plaintiff formally sought to return to work by sending a letter requesting that the Sheriff "accommodate [Plaintiff] by assigning [Plaintiff] to the Sheriffs Training Academy, located at the South Suburban College, University and College Center, in Oak Forest" because this "would enable [Plaintiff] to drive an extremely short distance to work, and provide [Plaintiff] with a reasonable amount of walking distance at [a] fully handicap accessible location." Pl.'s Res. to Defs.' Statement of Facts at ¶ 17 ("PRDSF"). Between December 20, 2013 and January 10, 2014, Plaintiff and Helen Burke ("Burke"), Chief of Administration, exchanged emails regarding Plaintiffs request. Plaintiff, Burke, and Nancy Bourque ("Bourque"), Chief of the Bureau of Human Resources, met at South Suburban College on January 17, 2014 to discuss Plaintiffs accommodation request. Subsequent to the meeting, Plaintiff mailed a Cook County Sheriffs Office ADA Reasonable Accommodation Form to Defendants. The form explained his difficulty walking and inability to write or type. Plaintiff also stated in his form that the exclusive accommodation he believed he needed to enable his performance of the essential functions of his job was a "fully handicappable [sic] facility." Def.'s Ex. B at 49. On January 24, 2014, Bourque notified Plaintiff that she needed to speak with Scott Kurtivich ("Kurtivich"), the Executive Director of the Training Academy, regarding the minimum requirements to become a Training Instructor. Plaintiff responded to clarify that he would accept a job as a research and development coordinator or curriculum advisor or another similar job. Defendants then inquired with Kurtivich and also researched whether Moraine Valley or Oak Forest Hospital-locations closer than South Campus to Plaintiffs residence-had vacant positions available to Plaintiff. Defendants concluded that no vacant positions existed for which Plaintiff was qualified at any of the aforementioned locations.

         After a follow up email exchange, on February 4, 2014, Bourque and Plaintiff spoke by phone. Bourque informed Plaintiff, and Plaintiff agreed, that he did not qualify for a Training Instructor position. Plaintiff again expressed his desire to become a research and development coordinator or curriculum advisor, but Bourque ultimately informed Plaintiff that Defendants did not have any positions available. During the conversation, Bourque offered Plaintiff the alternative options of returning to 31st Street or transferring to the Daley Center, which the parties agree is fully handicap accessible.[1] Plaintiff rejected the proposed alternatives because "the Daley Center was too long of a drive from his home with traffic and, regarding the South Campus location, he reminded Chief Bourque that it was not handicap accessible." Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts at ¶ 19 ("PSAF"); PSAF, Ex. 1, Romeo Deck at ¶ 11; see also PRDSF at ¶ 36.

         Following their call, Plaintiff emailed Burke, explaining the conversation with Bourque and reiterating his desire for an accommodation at the previously discussed locations near his home. On February 20, 2014, Bourque sent a letter to Plaintiff again explaining that Plaintiff was not qualified for any positions that met Plaintiffs desired criteria. Bourque noted that she had suggested that Plaintiff return to 31st Street or transfer to the fully handicap accessible Daley Center location.

         Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on April 28, 2014.[2] However, "[a]t no point did Plaintiff advise Chief Bourque or Chief Burke of a maximum distance in which [sic] he could drive." PSAF at ¶ 26. Defendants never terminated or demoted Plaintiff. Plaintiff also testified at his deposition that "he would have tried to work at the South Campus if [the facility] was fully handicapped accessible and that was the only accommodation. ..." Id. at ¶ 13.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment on the following bases: (1) Plaintiff failed to show a vacancy existed at the particular locations at which Plaintiff desired to work; (2) Defendants provided reasonable accommodations by granting Plaintiff a lengthy medical leave of absence and offering Plaintiff positions at South Campus or the Daley Center; (3) Defendant had no obligation under the ADA to provide an accommodation at the specifically requested locations closer to Plaintiffs home because Plaintiff did not need such an accommodation to perform the essential functions of his job; and (4) Plaintiffs medical leave of absence removed him from the class of qualified individuals as defined by the ADA.


          A. Standard of Review

         "Summary judgment is appropriate when 'the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Northfield Ins. Co. v. City of Waukegan. 701 F.3d 1124, 1128 (7th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Wells v. Coker, 707 F.3d 756, 760 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "On summary judgment a court may not make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts; these are jobs for a factfinder." Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). The Court must view "the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and [avoid] the temptation to decide which party's version of the facts is more likely true." Id.

         B. Plaintiff s ADA Claim

          "Under the [ADA], 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., an employer unlawfully discriminates against a 'qualified individual with a disability' when it fails to make 'reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations' of the disabled employee, unless to do so would impose an 'undue hardship' on the employer." E.E.O.C. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 417 F.3d 789, 792 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a), (b)(5)(A)). Here, Plaintiff claims that Defendants failed to accommodate his need to drive a short distance to work, his walking distance restrictions, and his compromised limb usage.[3] To oppose Defendants' motion, Plaintiff claims that his requests for reassignment at a location near his home or to be provided ...

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