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Blackburn v. Genuine Parts Co.

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

April 10, 2017



          Virginia M. Kendall U.S. District Court Judge.

         On December 6, 2016, Plaintiff, Irvin Blackburn, filed a First Amended Complaint against his former employer, Defendant Genuine Parts Company, doing business as National Automotive Parts Association (“GPC”). Blackburn alleges that GPC failed to accommodate him under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (Count I), retaliated against him under the ADA (Count II), and that GPC interfered with his rights under both the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (Count III) and the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) (Count IV). GPC moves to dismiss Counts I, III, and IV. (Dkt. 46.) For the reasons stated herein GPC's Motion to Dismiss is denied.


         Blackburn was employed by GPC from 2001 through January 9, 2015. (Dkt. 45, FAC ¶ 5.) Over those fourteen years, Blackburn experienced three injuries. First, in October 2011, Blackburn had a total hip replacement requiring short term disability leave. (FAC ¶ 17.) Blackburn alleges that when he returned to work from this injury, his coworkers placed large objects in his path to make it difficult for him to physically navigate the work place. (FAC ¶ 17.) Second, Blackburn was injured in 2013 when he began to experience pain in both of his shoulders from repeatedly reaching over a tall counter to open a gate as part of his work duties. Specifically, Blackburn needed to open the gate to access supplies for other employees. (FAC ¶¶ 7-9.) In November 2013, he sought medical treatment for this pain. (FAC ¶ 9.) Based on his shoulder issues, he was disabled under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12102. (FAC ¶ 10.) He requested accommodation from his managers, direct manager John Whiteside, and his area manager, Dean Smith. (FAC ¶ 13.) He suggested simply moving the lock on the gate so that the employees could open the gate without his assistance, which was an inexpensive means of providing him the accommodation. (FAC ¶ 13.) GPC ignored the request for several months and during that time, Blackburn was reprimanded for alleged performance issues in retaliation for his request for accommodation. (FAC ¶ 15.) Based on his shoulder injuries and GPC's failure to accommodate, Blackburn filed a charge against GPC with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) and he received a notice of right to sue in August 2014. (FAC ¶ 23.) Blackburn did not file a lawsuit at that time, as he eventually was granted the accommodation he sought. (FAC ¶ 21).

         The third injury occurred on October 7, 2014, when Blackburn was injured in a motorcycle accident that resulted in a disability, as defined by the ADA. (FAC ¶ 26.) GPC granted Blackburn paid time off through October 15, 2014, then granted him Short Term Disability leave (“STD”) and leave under the FMLA. (FAC ¶ 27.) Blackburn provided the appropriate medical records to justify his STD and FMLA requests. (FAC ¶¶ 28-30.) However, Blackburn did not receive full compensation for the month of December 2014, to which he was entitled under GPC's STD policy. (FAC ¶ 31.) Blackburn exhausted his available leave on January 7, 2015 and GPC terminated him two days later, on January 9, 2015. (FAC ¶¶ 32-33.) GPC notified Blackburn on January 6, 2015 that he could submit an application for Long Term Disability leave (“LTD”), but that the company may have to replace him. (FAC ¶ 32.) Blackburn was terminated before he had the chance to submit an application for LTD and/or use any additional accrued paid time off. (FAC ¶ 34.)

         On June 23, 2015, Blackburn filed a charge against GPC with the EEOC alleging disability discrimination and retaliation. (FAC ¶ 41.) On November 5, 2015, the EEOC responded that it was unable to make a determination regarding GPC's alleged violation and issued Blackburn a notice of his right to sue. (MTD Ex.4 at 2; FAC ¶ 42.) Within ninety days of receiving the letter, Blackburn timely filed the current suit on February 1, 2016. (FAC at 12; Resp. at 4.) Blackburn's original complaint was filed pro se and alleged discrimination and retaliation under the ADA (Counts I and II) and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois state law (Count III). (Compl. at 14; MTD Memo at 2.) GPC moved to dismiss this complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on July 15, 2016. (MTD Memo at 2.) The Court then granted Blackburn leave to file an amended complaint on November 15, 2016. He subsequently filed his First Amended Complaint on December 6, 2016.[1](MTD Memo at 2-3.) GPC now moves to dismiss three of the claims in Blackburn's first amended complaint.


         To survive a 12(b)(6) challenge, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible on its face when the complaint contains factual content that supports a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the harm. Id. More specifically, a plaintiff's complaint need only provide as much detail as needed “to give the opposing party notice of what the case is all about and to show how, in the plaintiff's mind at least, the dots should be connected.” Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 405 (7th Cir. 2010). However, “legal conclusions[, or t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” are insufficient to meet this standard. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In making the plausibility determination, the Court relies on its “judicial experience and common sense.” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). The complaint should be dismissed only if the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Christensen v. Cty. of Boone, IL, 483 F.3d 454, 458 (7th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). The Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Yeftich v. Navistar, Inc., 722 F.3d 911, 915 (7th Cir. 2013).


         GPC moves to dismiss Counts I, III, and IV, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (MTD.) GPC argues first, Blackburn's ADA claim was not timely because his 2015 EEOC charge was simply a re-allegation of his 2014 EEOC charge; second, that Blackburn has not sufficiently alleged that reinstatement to his original position is a benefit that should be afforded him under the FMLA; and third, that Blackburn has not sufficiently alleged that his past or planned use of ERISA benefits was the motivating factor behind his termination. (MTD Memo; Reply Br.)

         1. COUNT I: Failure to Accommodate under the ADA

         a. Timeliness

         GPC argues that Blackburn's ADA claim is untimely based on Blackburn's 2013 injuries. (MTD Memo at 8-10.) While Blackburn references his earlier disability and injuries in the Amended Complaint (FAC ¶¶ 9-15, 19-23, 44), his cause of action is based on his disability resulting from his October 2014 accident and his subsequent 2015 EEOC charge and right to sue letter. “[E]ach discrete discriminatory act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act.” Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002). Although, “acts are not actionable if time barred, ” which the 2014 EEOC charge undisputedly is, employees may still file charges “about related discrete acts so long as the acts are independently discriminatory and charges addressing those acts are themselves timely filed, ” which the 2015 EEOC charge undisputedly is. Id. Furthermore, employees are not barred from “using the prior acts as background evidence in support of a timely claim.” Id.; see also Mathewson v. Nat'l Automatic Tool Co., 807 F.2d 87, 91 (7th Cir. 1986) (“[I]t is well settled that evidence of earlier discriminatory conduct by an employer that is time-barred is nevertheless entirely appropriate evidence to help prove a timely claim based on subsequent discriminatory conduct by the employer.”); Herrnreiter v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 315 F.3d 742, 747 (7th Cir. 2002) (same); see also, e.g., Sams v. City of Chicago, No. 13 CV 7625, 2014 WL 6685809, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 25, 2014) (“The question is not whether the [later] allegations ‘transform' the untimely [earlier] claim into a timely one; it is whether the [later] allegations themselves state a claim for discrimination.”).

         GPC argues that Blackburn's 2015 EEOC charge itself was not timely filed because it merely re-alleges the same claims as Blackburn's 2014 EEOC charge. But the 2015 charge is based on an October 2014 injury that occurred after he filed his 2014 charge[2]. Blackburn alleges retaliation for an injury that had not yet occurred as of the filling of his first EEOC charge. See e.g., Freeman v. Travelers Companies, Inc.,63 F.Supp.3d 867, 873 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (when second charge included facts that occurred after the first charge, the charge was not a “mere re-allegation”); c.f. Blalock v. Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Inc., 2002 WL 31833693 at *2 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 16, 2002) (dismissing the claim where plaintiff conceded that the second charge, based on the same dates of discrimination, was actually a modification of the first charge); Giovanni v. Megabus USA, LLC, No. 14 C 3195, 2015 WL 6449133, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 2015) (dismissing the claim “[b]ecause the Court finds that the Second EEOC Charge is based on the same facts and adverse employment event as her First EEOC Charge”). Because Blackburn filed his first ...

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