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Seeman v. PJMP, LLC

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

August 3, 2017

PJMP, LLC and RENDEL'S INC., Defendants.



         Plaintiff William R. Seeman sued Defendants PJMP, LLC (“PJMP”) and Rendel's Inc. (“Rendel's”) for disability discrimination, alleging that they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by firing him because of his depression. Both Defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that they are not “employers” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5) and thus cannot be held liable. For the reasons to follow, the Court grants Defendant PJMP's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 46] but denies Defendant Rendel's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 42].

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed except as otherwise noted. (Although Defendants have filed separate statements of undisputed fact, they are identical except for one additional paragraph in PJMP's. For convenience, the Court will cite to this more inclusive set of materials and attribute it to both Defendants.)

         Rendel's is a vehicle dealership that also provides repair and body shop services out of two locations: 119 Republic Avenue and 40 Mills Road, both in Joliet, Illinois. (ECF No. 48 (“Defs.' SUF”) ¶ 4; accord, ECF No. 58 (“Pl.'s Resp.”) ¶ 4.) Rendel's filed its articles of incorporation with the Illinois Secretary of State on May 28, 1965. (Id. ¶ 9.) For many years, Rendel's included a towing operation, but it was informed in 2012 that it could no longer secure workers' compensation insurance while still operating a towing and recovery business. (Id. ¶ 5.) Rendel's solution was to form a separate limited liability company, PJMP, to house its towing and recovery operation. (Id. ¶ 6; see also, ECF Nos. 84, 85 (“Defs.' Resp.”) ¶¶ 1-2.) In May 2012, PJMP filed Articles of Organization with the Illinois Secretary of State and executed an operating agreement. (Defs.' SUF ¶ 7; accord, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 7.)

         PJMP conducts its business out of Rendel's 40 Mills Road location, and it pays monthly rent to Rendel's to the tune of $5, 000. (Defs.' SUF ¶¶ 3, 11; accord, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 3; cf., Id. ¶ 11.) PJMP has a separate office on the premises with a separate cashier. (See, Defs.' SUF at Ex. D (“Mazor Tr.”) at 30:18-34:9.) Both companies have separate bank accounts. (Defs.' SUF ¶ 10; accord, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 10.) All the vehicles PJMP uses for towing and recovery services are Rendel's trucks, and it leases these vehicles from Rendel's for $40, 000 a month. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) PJMP “internally allocate[s]” certain of its expenses to Rendel's but it is unclear whether money is accordingly transferred between accounts. (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 12.) There is a collective bargaining agreement in place between Rendel's and Teamsters Local Union No. 179, and it includes classifications of workers such as tow truck drivers. (ECF No. 56 (“Pl.'s SAUF”) ¶ 36; Defs.' Resp. ¶ 36.)

         PJMP does business under the assumed name “Rendel's Towing.” (Pl.'s Resp. at Ex. 10; Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 25-31.) The two entities are presented as one to the public on the Rendel's website, on the trucks PJMP operates, and on the uniforms its tow truck drivers wear - all of which include only the Rendel's name and logo. (See, Pl.'s SAUF ¶¶ 23-27, 40; accord, Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 23-27, 40.) Rendel's has one phone number for all services, including towing and recovery; PJMP does not have a separate phone book listing; and customers seeking either repair or towing services call the Rendel's number, are thanked for calling “Rendel's, ” and are transferred to the PJMP tow dispatcher if they need towing or recovery services. (Id. ¶¶ 28- 29.) PJMP uses “Rendel's”-inscribed letterhead and, although PJMP issues invoices bearing the PJMP name to customers who receive only towing or recovery services, customers who also receive repair services are generally invoiced on one form bearing the Rendel's name (unless the customer requests separate invoices). (Id. ¶ 31.) Such customers usually pay with one check or one credit card payment; the funds get deposited into a Rendel's account and “a ticket for the tow amount is posted to PJMP's account so that an adjustment can be made on the books at the end of the year.” (Id. ¶ 32.) PJMP tow truck drivers do not have a separate health insurance plan but instead are members of Rendel's group plan, and they also fill out vacation requisition forms bearing Rendel's logo. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.)

         Members of the Polcyn family own and operate Rendel's and PJMP. Patrick J. Polcyn (“PJ”) owns and is President of both entities. (Defs.' SUF ¶¶ 17-18; accord, Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 17-18.) PJ was not paid a salary or wages by PJMP during the relevant timeframe but did earn commissions and bonuses from PJMP. (See, Pl.'s SAUF ¶ 12; accord, Defs.' Resp. ¶ 12.) Patrick R. Polcyn (“PR”) was Rendel's body shop manager in 2015 and 2016 but at that time “began getting involved in the towing operation.” (Id. ¶ 11.) From January 1 through August 21, 2015, PJMP paid PR hourly wages approximately every fourth pay period on a “straight time” basis; from August 21, 2015 through the end of 2016, PJMP paid PR overtime hourly wages approximately three out of four pay periods. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) During 2015 and 2016, Michael Polcyn (“Michael”) served as the general manager for each of PJMP, Rendel's, and H&J Truck Leasing, Inc., all of which operated out of the 40 Mills Road location. (Id. ¶ 10.) PJMP paid Michael minimal hourly wages on a “straight time” basis during approximately the first half of 2015; however, PJMP paid Michael significantly more hourly compensation on an “overtime” basis approximately every other pay period from June 6, 2015 through the end of 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) The hourly compensation PJMP paid PR and Michael related to their work incident to after-hours towing and recovery jobs. (Compare, Pl.'s SAUF ¶ 21; with, Defs.' Resp. ¶ 21.) Rendel's paid all the Polcyns' weekly salaries throughout 2015 and 2016. (Pl.'s SAUF ¶¶ 17-19; accord, Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 17-19.) To the extent they performed work for PJMP (or, in Michael's case, for H&J Trucking), their salaries were proportionally allocated to the pertinent business in end-of-year accounting adjustments. (Id. ¶ 22.) However, their W-2 forms did not reflect this adjustment, and it is unclear whether money was transferred on a routine or consistent basis between Rendel's and PJMP's bank accounts. (See, Pl.'s SAUF at Ex. 2; Defs.' Resp. ¶ 22.)

         Another player in the drama is Tammy Mazor (“Mazor”), who is currently the office manager of Rendel's and PJMP. She is in charge of payroll, accounts receivable, and accounts payable for both companies. (Pl's SAUF ¶ 6; Defs.' Resp. ¶ 6.) In 2015, she was the “tow manager, ” performed scheduling and dispatching for PJMP tow truck drivers, and had supervisory control over PJMP employees. (Ibid.) Mazor's salary was paid by Rendel's but, as with the Polcyns', was allocated between Rendel's and PJMP in proportion to the time she spent performing work for each. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         In January 2014, the Polcyns hired Plaintiff William R. Seeman (“Seeman”) as a tow truck operator. (See, Defs.' SUF ¶ 20; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 20.) The Polcyns and Mazor supervised Seeman, providing him with day-to-day towing assignments. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Each of Seeman's paychecks was issued by PJMP. (Id. ¶ 24.) All Seeman's duties involved towing and recovery, with the exception that about once every other week he was asked to pick up auto parts from various stores for Rendel's repair services and parts department. (Pl.'s SAUF ¶ 33; Defs.' Resp. ¶ 33.) On these occasions, Seeman claims that he was often provided with a PJMP check to pay for the parts; Mazor disputes this, submitting documentary evidence showing checks that PJMP issued to parts suppliers and averring that these were strictly for PJMP necessities. (Compare, Pl.'s SAUF ¶ 34; with, Defs.' Resp. ¶ 34.) Occasionally, Seeman would have out-of-pocket expenses, such as fuel costs; while he avers that reimbursement often took the form of a Rendel's check, Mazor swears that he was reimbursed with petty cash allocated to PJMP. (Id. ¶ 35.)

         Michael disciplined Seeman on April 28, 2015 and June 16, 2015. (Defs.' SUF ¶ 27; accord, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 27.) In 2016, Seeman's employment ended after he took some time off work for a few days and was then rushed to the hospital following an incident at work. (See, ECF No. 37 (“PJMP's Ans.”) ¶¶ 16-18.) The parties dispute whether he resigned or was fired. (Compare, Defs.' SUF ¶ 28; with, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 28.) On Rendel's letterhead, the “Rendel's Management” acknowledged Seeman's “resignation on January 14th, 2016.” (Pl.'s Resp. at Ex. 9.)


         Title VII prohibits unlawful employment practices, including discrimination “against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Some employers, however, are exempt from Title VII liability. Title VII defines an “employer” as a “person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or proceeding calendar year.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b).

         The posture of the case does not implicate the merits of Seeman's ADA claim. There is no dispute that, whereas Rendel's had approximately 40 employees in 2015, the most individuals PJMP ever employed during the relevant timeframe for any two-week period was “five or six.” (See, e.g., Defs.' SUF ¶ 15; accord, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 15; Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 8-9.) The sole issues sub judice are therefore, first, whether grounds exist to aggregate Rendel's employees with PJMP's such that Title VII ...

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