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Walker v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.

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

June 26, 2017

YOLANDA WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
JP MORGAN CHASE BANK, N.A., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Yolanda Walker brings claims against her former employer, Defendant JP Morgan Chase Bank, under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (“FMLA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (“ADA”). Before the Court are Defendant's motion for summary judgment [34] and renewed motion for sanctions [28]. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment [34] and denies Defendant's renewed motion for sanctions [28]. The Court will enter a final judgment and close the case.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The Court takes the relevant facts from Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts [36] and supporting exhibits. Plaintiff failed to file a response to Defendant's motion or Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts. Therefore, pursuant to Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C), Defendant's fact statements are deemed admitted. N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) (“All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.”); see also Raymond v. Ameritech Corp., 442 F.3d 600, 608 (7th Cir. 2006) (affirming district court's decision to admit the facts set forth in moving party's Local Rule 56.1 submission where nonmovant failed to timely respond or submit its own Local Rule 56.1 statement); De v. City of Chicago, 912 F.Supp.2d 709, 712-13 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (“The Seventh Circuit has repeatedly held that a district court has broad discretion to require strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a bank teller on or about May 7, 2011. [36, at ¶ 9.] Plaintiff's employment was terminated on February 13, 2014. [Id. at ¶ 56.] Plaintiff was responsible for providing customer service and conducting financial transactions. [Id. at ¶¶ 14- 15.] Plaintiff testified that it was important to comply with and follow Defendant's rules, regulations, and Defendant's Branch Policies & Procedure Manual (“P&P”). [Id. at ¶ 15.] She was also a certified notary and was required to follow Defendant's notary P&P.

         The P&P set forth rules and procedures for Defendant's employees. Among other things, the P&P sets forth the Scanning Documents Policy, which requires employees to scan certain account documents such as signature cards; the Security Controls Policy and the Information Security Policy, both of which require employees to lock their computers when leaving their workstations; and the Notary Procedures Policy, which sets forth the steps necessary to ensure compliance with state and county law and requires notaries to complete their entries in their notary journals with all the required information, including the date and the location where the notarization occurred. [Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.]

         Defendant also maintains a Corrective Action Policy, which provides that employees' job performance must meet the requirements and objectives for his or her position. Managers are encouraged to provide guidance and feedback regarding expectations. Corrective action may be taken because of unsatisfactory performance and can be applied at Chase's discretion. Corrective action may include coaching, counseling, or written warnings. If an employee does not agree with a written warning, he or she may provide a rebuttal. [Id. at ¶ 8.]

         Defendant maintains an Accommodating Disabilities Policy, which instructs employees to contract Human Resources for any disability-related accommodation request. [Id. at ¶ 3.] Defendant also maintains an FMLA Policy, which provides for intermittent leave (“iFMLA”) for employees who suffer from serious episodic health conditions. As Plaintiff was aware, employees on approved iFMLA were required to report such absences by notifying their managers and calling a designated phone number to ensure the absence is protected. [Id. at ¶ 2.]

         Plaintiff testified that she was diagnosed with chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) at some point between 2009 and 2011. [Id. at ¶ 16.] Plaintiff further testified that as a result of her condition, she is weak, extremely tired, and has pain in the back of her neck. According to Plaintiff, these symptoms come and go. [Id. at ¶ 17.] Plaintiff explained that from 2012 through the end of her employment with Defendant in early 2014, her condition affected her daily living activities in that she struggled to get up in the morning because she was extremely tired and forgetful. [Id. at ¶ 18.] However, Plaintiff could not recall telling her last two direct supervisors, Thomas Kregul or Eva Braxton, that she had this condition or that she was disabled. Rather, she assumed that “everyone knew” that she was disabled because she had approval to take iFMLA. [Id. at ¶ 19.] Braxton states that she was unaware of Plaintiff's condition. [Id. at ¶ 56.]

         At the beginning of January 2012, Plaintiff requested iFMLA through July 5, 2012 for her health condition. Defendant approved this request. [Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.] On September 12, 2012, Plaintiff again requested iFMLA through March 24, 2013 for her illness. Defendant also approved this request. [Id. at ¶ 22.] On May 28, 2013, Plaintiff requested iFMLA beginning in April 2013, which was approved through October 15, 2013. [Id. at ¶ 23.] On October 18, 2013, Plaintiff's iFMLA was again approved through April 16, 1014. Plaintiff testified that she did not miss work continuously for several weeks at a time, but rather she was permitted to come in late, leave early, or miss a day “here and there” when she was not feeling well. [Id. at ¶ 30; 36 Exhibit A (Plaintiff's Deposition), at 84:8-85:7.] Plaintiff testified that she was never denied iFMLA approval and that all of the dates she had taken were protected. [Id. at ¶¶ 26, 30-31.]

         Despite having been notified of Defendant's Policy on Accommodating Disabilities, Plaintiff admittedly never contacted HR to request an accommodation. [36, at ¶ 32.] Plaintiff testified that at some point, she asked Kregul and the Assistant Branch Manager at the time to remove her notary duties and have someone else perform them. When asked “what aspect of the notary policies and procedures were you unable to perform as a result of your disability, ” Plaintiff responded that she was not “unable to perform” her notary duties, but rather she did not want to perform them because she did not feel comfortable with them. [Id. at ¶ 33.] She further testified that she did not “have the bandwith” to learn the new journal requirements for notaries and that she “didn't want to have to deal with words like pursuant and this and that.” [Id.; see also 36 Exhibit A, 285:13-24.] Plaintiff testified that when she requested to be relieved of her notary duties, she did not blame it on her illness. [36, at ¶ 34.] She further testified that she did not tell Braxton that she had an illness that prevented her from remembering the notary requirements. [36, Exhibit A, at 156:10-13.] Plaintiff testified that she let Braxton know that she was not feeling well and “this is making me not comfortable with being able to do my job because I'm not feeling well, ” but she could not recall when she had this conversation with Braxton. [Id. at 156:22-157:1.] Plaintiff claims that she also asked her managers not to make her go into the vault so that she would not have to follow dual control procedures. [36, at ¶ 33.] However, she testified that this had nothing to do with her disability. [Id.; 36 Exhibit A, at 2743:16-274:11.]

         On July 29, 2014, Plaintiff's branch manager at the time, Kregul, issued Plaintiff's midyear performance review for 2013. He rated Plaintiff a “low meets expectations, ” which is the second lowest rating within Defendant's performance evaluation scale. [36, at ¶ 36.] On August 23, 2016, Kregul issued a written warning to Plaintiff for overall unsatisfactory performance, including insensitively commenting upon the ethnicity of a customer, as well as other P&P violations such as failing to scan and file signature cards, giving confidential information to a customer without properly verifying the customer's identity, and closing an account that the customer had not requested be closed. [Id. at ¶¶ 37-40.] Plaintiff was instructed to review the P&P and warned that “[f]ailure to improve performance can result in further corrective action, up to and including termination.” [Id. at ¶ 40.] Plaintiff wrote a rebuttal, stating that she disagreed that she should be written up for giving confidential information to a non-authorized signer and arguing that the signer was not properly removed from the account. Plaintiff contended that she did not remember making a racially insensitive comment about a customer. She did not dispute the other conduct in the written warning, but stated that she thought she should have been coached for this conduct instead of written up. [Id. at ¶ 42.]

         In early November 2013, Kregul left his position with Defendant and Braxton assumed the position of branch manager. According to Braxton, she observed Plaintiff's performance failings. For example, in December, Braxton coached Plaintiff multiple times for failing to follow P&P for making entries in her notary journal. On January 7, 2014, Braxton issued a written warning for Plaintiff's failure to adhere to P&P regarding her notary journal, informing her that: “such controls are very important to safeguard clients and Chase, ” and that in the event of further unsatisfactory job performance, “further corrective action may occur, up to and including termination of employment.” [Id. at ¶ 47.] Plaintiff agreed that the written warning had nothing to do with her attendance. [Id.]

         In Plaintiff's 2013 year-end review, Plaintiff was rated “needs improvement, ” which is the lowest possible rating. Plaintiff chose not to comment or dispute her review. [Id. at ¶ 48.] On January 13, 2014, a customer complained to the branch that Plaintiff was rude and hung up on her when she called from overseas for assistance. [Id. at ¶ 49.] The following day, a customer complained that Plaintiff failed to link a debit card correctly, and Braxton observed Plaintiff leave her workstation unlocked, in violation of the P&P. [Id. at ¶¶ 49-50.] Later that month, Plaintiff failed to scan a customer's signature card and failed to initial the dual control log. [Id. at ¶¶ 51-52.] On February 12, 2014, Plaintiff wrote the incorrect amount on a deposit slip. [Id. at ¶ 53.]

         On February 12, 2014, Braxton submitted a recommendation for termination of Plaintiff's employment to her manager, Na'Ree Hankins, and Market Manager Jeffrey Papa. Braxton recommended Plaintiff's terminated due to unsatisfactory job performance and failure to improve after two written warnings and several coaching sessions. [Id. at ¶ 54.] Hankins and Papa approved Braxton's request, and on February 13, 2014, Hankins and Braxton informed Plaintiff that she was being terminated. [Id. at ¶¶ 55-56.] Later that day, Plaintiff complained to the HR hotline that she was terminated while on iFMLA. Jen Ellefson from HR investigated Plaintiff's complaint regarding her termination and concluded that Plaintiff's termination was based on her unsatisfactory job performance, not her attendance or iFMLA. Therefore, HR informed Plaintiff that the termination would stand. [Id. at ¶ 57.] In her deposition, Plaintiff was asked if she had any reason to believe that her termination was motivated by her use of iFMLA, to which Plaintiff responded, “I don't know.” [Id. at ¶ 58; 36 Exhibit A, at 162:2-4.]

         B. ...


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