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Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company

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

January 27, 2017

RONALD SHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sharon Johnson Coleman Judge.

         The plaintiff, Ronald Shell, brought this action against the defendant, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (“BNSF”), alleging that BNSF discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”). BNSF now moves this Court for partial judgment on the pleadings based on Shell's alleged failure to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to two of his three ADA claims. For the reasons set forth herein, BNSF's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings [29] is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         The following facts are taken from the complaint and are accepted as true for the purpose of ruling on the present motion. In 1977, the Santa Fe Railway, a predecessor company to BNSF, hired Shell as a driver in its Corwith yard. Plaintiff was employed by Santa Fe, and subsequently by BNSF, until 2000, when BNSF subcontracted the operation of the yard to Midwest Terminal Service and Rail Terminal Services (“RTS”). Shell was employed by RTS from 2000 until 2010. In 2010, BNSF informed RTS's employees that it would be taking over all operations in the yard in January 2011, and that RTS employees would need to reapply to BNSF in order to retain their jobs. Shell timely submitted an application for the position of Intermodal Equipment Operator, the job he had been performing for the previous thirty-four years.

         Following the submission of his application, Shell took a pre-employment aptitude test and a drug test and successfully interviewed for his position (with one interviewer commenting that Shell “could teach them a thing or two about the job.”). Shell was extended a conditional offer of employment, premised in pertinent part on his successful completion of a physical examination. Following a physical capabilities test, Shell was informed that he did not meet the minimum physical demands of the essential functions of the Intermodal Equipment Operator. Shell met with BNSF's Director of Medical Support Services, who informed Shell that his BMI indicated that he likely suffered from sleep apnea, and that he would need to undergo a sleep study at his own expense. Shell was subsequently retested, and was informed that he had passed his physical capabilities test. Nonetheless, he was informed that BNSF was requiring him to undergo tests for sleep apnea and that it would require his medical records for the past seven years. BNSF subsequently rescinded its conditional offer of employment on November 9, 2010, stating that Shell was not qualified for his “safety sensitive” position in light of the “significant health and safety risks associated with Class 3 Obesity (Body Mass. Index above 40)”.

         Although not contained in the complaint, this Court takes notice of Shell's EEOC charge of discrimination, [1] which read:

I.A. ISSUE/BASIS
FAILURE TO HIRE-NOVEMBER 9, 2010, BASED ON A PERCIEVED PHYTSICAL DISABILITY, OBESITY B. PRIMA FACIE ALLEGATIONS
1. In July 2010, I applied for an intermodal equipment operator position with Respondent.
2. I was qualified to be hired by Respondent.
3. I have objective reason to believe that Respondent erroneously perceives me to have a disability within the meaning of the Act.
4. On November 9, 2010, Respondent's comprehensive health services department informed me that I was not medically qualified for the safety sensitive intermodal equipment operator position due to significant health and safety risks associated with Class III obesity, because my body mass index was above 40.

         (Dkt. 30-2). The EEOC issued Shell a notice of right to sue, and Shell subsequently initiated the present action.

         Legal ...


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