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Paul v. Chicago Transit Authority

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

March 30, 2017

CHRISTOPHER PAUL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         Defendant Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) fired Plaintiff Christopher Paul, a bus operator who is bipolar. Paul then brought this lawsuit alleging that his firing and related employment actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. The CTA has moved to dismiss Paul's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 31.) In particular, the CTA contends that Paul's three ADA claims-failure to accommodate his disability, improper retaliation, and improper interference-all fail and that the exemplary and liquidated damages he seeks are barred by statute. For reasons explained below, the CTA's motion is granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the Court grants the CTA's motion to dismiss Paul's failure to accommodate claim and his prayer for exemplary and liquidated damages, but denies the CTA's motion to dismiss Paul's improper retaliation and improper interference claims.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Paul was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 29.) The CTA employed him as a part-time bus driver beginning in 2007. (Id. ¶ 7.) On multiple occasions during the course of his employment, Paul sought to have a schedule that would allow him a consistent amount of sleep. (Id. ¶ 11.) Paul's doctors maintained that consistent sleep would prevent his disease from worsening. (Id.)

         In 2011, the CTA agreed to schedule Paul's shifts to enable him to have at least 13 hours between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next. (Id. ¶ 17.) But the CTA never actually put that accommodation into practice. (Id. ¶ 19.) However, the CTA did hire Paul into a full-time position in August 2012. (Id. ¶ 24.) Shortly thereafter, the CTA took Paul off duty because of his lithium medication. (Id. ¶ 30.) After his doctor wrote to the CTA explaining how his lithium medication was not a concern to his work, especially if he was adequately accommodated, Paul was reinstated to work. (Id.) Then, three months later in December 2012, the CTA discharged Paul.

         Paul filed a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). This filing charged disability-based discrimination occurring as late as December 11, 2014. (Charge of Discrim., Dkt. No. 1 at 14 of 15.) Paul did not check the box to charge a claim of retaliation or interference, nor did he check the box indicating a continuing action. (Id.) The narrative of Paul's EEOC complaint stated as follows:

I was hired by the Respondent on or about January 1, 2007. My most recent position was Bus Operator. Respondent is aware of my disability. During my employment, I requested a reasonable accommodation, which was not provided. Subsequently, I was disciplined and discharged. I believe I have been discriminated against because of my disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.

(Id.) The EEOC issued Paul a right-to-sue letter in February 2014. (EEOC Dismissal and Notice of Rights, Dkt. No. 1 at 15 of 15.) Paul then filed the present suit. The now-operative Amended Complaint states three counts, each under the ADA: (1) failure to accommodate, (2) retaliation, and (3) interference, coercion, and intimidation.

         DISCUSSION

         A plaintiff's complaint must 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 complaint must “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (stating this plausibility requirement “‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' supporting the plaintiff's allegations” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” do not satisfy this standard. Aschroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         I. Paul's Failure to Accommodate Claim

         To prevail on a claim for failure to accommodate a disability under the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) his employer was aware of his disability; and (3) his employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability. Gratzl v. Office of Chief Judges of 12th, 18th, 19th, and 22nd Judicial Circuits, 601 F.3d 674, 678 (7th Cir. 2005). Paul's claim fails at the first step, for he has not sufficiently pleaded that he is “disabled” for purposes of the ADA.

         As relevant here, the ADA defines “disability” to mean “a[n] impairment that substantially limits [at least] one . . . major life activit[y] of [the allegedly disabled] individual . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). The statute directs the Court to interpret this “definition of disability . . . in favor of broad coverage of individuals . . . to the maximum extent permitted . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A). The EEOC regulations that implement the ADA define an “impairment” as “any physiological disorder or condition . . . affecting one or more of the body systems . . . .” Chicago Reg'l Council of Carpenters v. Thorne Assoc., Inc., 893 F.Supp.2d 952, 960 n.7 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (quoting 34 C.F.R. § 104.3(j)(2)(i)). An emotional or mental illness like bipolar disorder may constitute such an impairment. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(2); see also Roman Martinez v. Potter, 550 F.Supp.2d 270, 278 (D.P.R. 2008) (finding that bipolar disorder qualifies as an impairment under the ADA); Glowacki v. Bufalo Gen. Hosp., 2 F.Supp.2d 346, 251 (W.D.N.Y. 1998) (same).

         “However, not all impairments are disabilities for purposes of the ADA.” Krocka v. City of Chicago, 203 F.3d 507, 512 (7th Cir. 2000). Rather, an impairment is a disability only if it “substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ii). “[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A); see also Scheerer v. Porter, 443 F.3d 916, 919 (7th Cir. 2006) (observing that a plaintiff under the ADA “must be able to show that . . . he was either prevented or ...


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