United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
BERKOWITZ OLIVER LLP Timothy S. Millman Timothy S. Millman
N.D. Nicholas L DiVita N.D. Grand Boulevard, Suite-and-Karen
Kies DeGrand, Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC
Attorneys for Defendant Ford Motor Co.
DEFENDANT FORD MOTOR COMPANY'S MOTION (WITH
SUPPORTING MEMORANDUM) FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
Virginia M. Kendall Judge.
Ford Motor Company moves for judgment as a matter of law
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). Plaintiff has
been fully heard at trial and the jury does not have a
legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for Plaintiff.
Specifically, (1) Plaintiff failed to present legally
sufficient evidence supporting his request for punitive
damages; (2) Plaintiff failed to present legally sufficient
evidence that he is entitled to lost-wages damages; (3)
Plaintiff failed to present legally sufficient evidence of
emotional-distress damages; and (4) Plaintiff failed to
present legally sufficient evidence that Ford terminated him
because he filed a workers' compensation claim.
James Baptist has been fully heard at trial, and the
evidence-construed in his favor-shows the
following. Baptist was hired as an entry-level
forklift operator at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant, and
began work on February 27, 2012. The terms of his employment
were governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement between
Ford and the United Auto Workers. One of those terms provided
that an employee with fewer than six months could be
terminated if he or she was absent without leave for three
April 10, 2012, while Baptist was driving his forklift at the
plant, he clipped a pillar with a crate he was carrying with
the forklift. Baptist testified at trial that there was no
damage to the forklift, and maybe a scratch or two on the
pillar. He was steering the forklift with his left hand open
and flat, with the steering wheel's knob under his palm,
not wrapped around the steering wheel. But he says that his
hand got caught up in the wheel and was injured. Baptist
testified that his hand did feel sore, but he was more shaken
up than anything. Baptist did not immediately report the
injury, and instead kept working, driving the forklift for
another 45 minutes until the end of his shift.
claims that he reported the injury to his supervisor by text
message and went to the medical department at the plant, but
there was no doctor or medical personnel present. He did not
submit a formal accident report until April 18, which
triggered a review by Ford's workers' compensation
administrator, Jennifer Nawracaj.
April 24, Baptist went to his personal orthopedic surgeon,
Dr. William Heller, who noted evidence of a ligament tear in
Baptist's left wrist. Dr. Heller issued Baptist a wrist
brace and concluded that Baptist could “continue to
perform his regular work duties within the brace.” For
the next two months, Baptist operated the forklift without
incident while wearing his wrist brace.
24, Baptist left work early, supposedly to seek additional
medical attention for his wrist. He did not actually see Dr.
Heller until two days later, on June 26. Dr. Heller
recommended surgery but cleared Baptist to return to work. In
a form letter faxed to Ford on June 29, Dr. Heller checked
boxes indicating that Baptist could “return to work
with the following restrictions as of 7-2-12”:
“no lifting over 5 lbs with left hand or
gripping.” Dr. Heller did not check boxes for the
restrictions “one handed work, R L, ”
“sedentary work only, ” or “temporarily
totally disabled.” Baptist, however, did not return to
work. On July 23, nearly a month later, Ford suspended
Baptist for a month for excessive absenteeism. When his
suspension ended on August 24, Baptist reported to the plant.
The plant physician, Dr. Patricia Lewis, cleared Baptist to
resume his forklift position. She concluded on July 5 that
Dr. Heller's five-pound lifting-or-gripping restriction
would not prevent Baptist from operating a forklift. Ford
informed Baptist that it did not have another work assignment
for him and instructed him to return to his forklift
refused and walked out of the plant. He never returned to
work at his forklift position. At the time Baptist walked
off, he had not worked a day at Ford since June 24, two
months earlier. After Baptist was absent without leave for
three more days, he was terminated. A labor representative at
Ford, Quandra Speights, processed Baptist's discharge
effective August 31, 2012, as a “Three-Day Quit”
pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Ms. Speights
relied only on Baptist's attendance records in making the
decision to terminate his employment. The UAW did not file a
grievance concerning Baptist's termination.
his last day of work on June 24 and his termination on August
31, Baptist never provided Ford with a medical opinion that
he was physically unable to operate a forklift or had any
work restrictions other than a five-pound
lifting-and-gripping limitation. Baptist knew not later than
July 9 of Dr. Lewis's conclusion that Dr. Heller's
work restrictions of June 29 did not interfere with
Baptist's ability to operate the forklift. Baptist did
not see Dr. Heller after June 26. Dr. Heller never issued any
different or additional work restrictions after June 29.
Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a)(1) provides:
(a) Judgment as a Matter of Law.
(1) In General. If a party has been fully heard on
an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a
reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient
evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against
the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling
law, can be maintained or defeated only with ...