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Coleman v. Caterpillar, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

September 1, 2017

CATERPILLAR, INC., a corporation Defendant.



         Before the Court are Defendant Caterpillar, Inc.'s (“Caterpillar”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 27, and Plaintiff Coleman's motion for extension of time to file an addendum, ECF No. 34. For the reasons that follow, the motions are GRANTED.


         Caterpillar manufactures construction and mining equipment, engines, turbines, and locomotives. 2017 Caterpillar Fact Sheet,, Caterpillar/CM20170623-48500-33391 (visited Aug. 22, 2017). Coleman worked as an IT analyst at a Caterpillar facility in East Peoria, Illinois from August 25, 2008 to December 1, 2011. In late 2011, Caterpillar eliminated Coleman's position but, pursuant to its policies, placed her in a pool of priority candidates for other jobs within the company. She applied for and got a job as an “advanced purchasing analyst” in Caterpillar's Global Purchasing department in Mossville, Illinois, where she worked from December 1, 2011, until the termination that elicited this lawsuit. She had a number of different supervisors at this position, the last of whom was Jonathan Hillman, who supervised her from August 2012 onward.

         Advanced purchasing analysts at Caterpillar are each responsible for a certain number of “buyer codes.” Hillman Dep. 21:12-21, App. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4, ECF No. 28-4. These codes correspond to the numbered parts of certain Caterpillar products, and are associated with those products on purchase orders and invoices. Id. 21:22-23. Analysts are responsible for dealing with communications to Caterpillar from buyers in such areas as “grief resolution” and price discrepancies. Id. 22:8-14. Analysts also communicate directly with the Caterpillar engineers who design these products when an engineer makes a change to a part's design. Id. 21:12-21. The analysts and the engineers work in the same building, and engineers frequently come by to communicate in person with analysts. Id. 22:21-24:5. Analysts are also responsible for speaking in person with customers about the products corresponding to their buyer codes. The analysts have team meetings once a week, and, according to Hillman, “heavily leverage each other in interaction.” Id. 36:2-3. Advanced purchasing analysts are also subject to “Learning Plans”-apparently, training-typically conducted both online and in person.

         Coleman suffers, and appears to have suffered at all times relevant to this litigation, from a galaxy of illnesses and symptoms: migraine headaches, dizziness, balance problems, ear problems, anxiety, gastroesophageal reflux disease, allergies, motion sickness, nausea, a brain cyst, depression, mitral valve prolapse, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, and vertigo. Beginning before July 2012 and continuing until the date of her termination, Coleman was not supposed to drive a car. She also states that beginning in May 2013 and running until the date of her termination, she was not able to work at her place of employment in Mossville because certain “triggers” caused her various conditions to “flare up.” These triggers included walking around the office, being near many people, bright lights, noise, and driving a long distance.

         In 2012, Coleman took disability leave from April 10 to April 18, and again from June 1 through July 10. After the July absence, Caterpillar allowed Coleman to resume work from home. At the beginning of this arrangement, on July 10, Caterpillar's Disability Case Coordinator sent Coleman an email stating: “Please understand that working from home is to be for a brief period of time.” On the same date, her supervisor sent her an email asking for weekly updates and explaining that these updates would no longer be required once she came back to the office. However, Coleman continued to work from home throughout that autumn and into the next year. Hillman became Coleman's supervisor in August 2012. He wanted Coleman to return to work at Mossville and communicated this wish to Megan Parsons, a human resources employee at Caterpillar, in early 2013. Parsons told Coleman. However, Coleman continued to work from home. While she was out, Hillman would assign in-person inquiries associated with Coleman's buyer code to other advanced purchasing analysts. He also established a weekly phone conference with Coleman. During this period, Coleman would occasionally take sick leave days pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), as she had done during her employment with Caterpillar as far back as 2009.

         On May 2, 2013, Coleman requested in a letter to Parsons that she be allowed to work from home all the time. As reasons, she cited not being able to drive long distances, and not being able to work in an office. Parsons conferred with Hillman, who opposed the idea, citing the importance of coworker interaction to Coleman's job, the need to interact with engineers face-to-face, and the need to meet in the same way with suppliers. On May 5, 2013, Coleman emailed Parsons again, repeating her request and seeking confirmation of their “ongoing discussions.” Parsons responded the next day, saying that Caterpillar would “continue to work with you on this, ” and granting Coleman's request to continue working from home while the parties discussed possible accommodations of Coleman's disabilities. Parsons inquired further about what Coleman's “triggers” were. Coleman responded the same day: bright lights and loud noise, “exposure to which [was] inevitable when physically present in the workplace, ” as well as large groups of people and having to walk places.

         Parsons responded on May 9, 2013, proposing a set of accommodations to begin on May 15. Coleman would be allowed to work at home some of the time, but would have to come in to the Mossville office up to three days a week for training purposes and for “understanding of her buyer code.” She would have to be at the office when suppliers visited the office and for important meetings. She would be given an office where she could turn off the lights, and would be given a medically restricted parking place to cut down on the distance between her car and the office. She would be provided with a wheelchair, and would be given a flexible start time so that she could use public transportation or some other means of transit to get herself to the office when she was able. Hillman seconded these offers in a separate email to Coleman.

         On May 16, 2013, Coleman rejected the offer by email, citing her doctors' orders, and again asking to be allowed to work from home all the time. She also explained that she could not be a passenger in a vehicle for long rides due to her vertigo, motion sickness, dizziness, nausea, and migraines. Parsons reiterated Caterpillar's offer, evidently unchanged, in a phone call to Coleman the next day. Coleman still said no. On June 3, 2013, Parsons called and emailed the details of the offer again. On June 10, Coleman's counsel responded to Parsons directly, again rejecting the offers.

         On July 12, 2013, Parsons made another proposal: Coleman could go to Mossville on “two individual days, ” and, in lieu of going to Mossville on other occasions to receive training, could get that training in person at Heartland Community College, which was near her home. Parsons Decl. ¶ 11, App. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 9, ECF No. 28-9. Parsons rented space and prepared a training schedule.[2] Coleman went to Mossville for the two required training days, but wasn't able to stay all day because of her illnesses. She missed many of the training sessions at Heartland, so Caterpillar rescheduled them, although she had not completed them at the time of her termination.[3] Parsons became suspicious when, on July 19, 2013, she was given emails by another Caterpillar employee from Coleman's stepmother expressing doubt about the real extent of Coleman's illness, and stating that she had been active on days that she had taken FMLA leave. See Ventimiglia Dep. Ex. 3, App. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 8, ECF No. 28-8 (“Example: too sick to go to work but Friday, June 29 not too sick to go to cheeks bar and dance and then to the windjammer, and other places…”). Parsons hired a private investigator to surveil Coleman.

         On August 1, 2013, Coleman left a training session at Heartland early, ostensibly because she had a physical therapy appointment that afternoon. However, the private investigator tailed her and discovered that instead she got ice cream and went to the DMV with her husband. On August 5, 2013, Parsons told Coleman to meet with Dr. Dea, a Caterpillar physician, to better determine the nature of her medical requirements and work limitations. On August 12, Coleman refused, arguing that she had given her personal physicians consent to speak with Caterpillar doctors, and that this should be sufficient. Parsons responded the next day demanding that Coleman meet with Dea, and telling her that she “risked insubordination” if she refused. Coleman responded on August 16, indicating that she would meet with Dea, although she never did.

         Around August 27, Parsons decided to fire Coleman, although she waited to do this until an in-person meeting at Mossville on September 4, 2013. Coleman's notes for this meeting, dated August 27, indicate that Parsons decided to fire Coleman because Coleman had been insubordinate in not meeting with Dea, and that as a consequence of this refusal, Caterpillar had been unable to determine what kind of accommodation would allow Coleman to continue working there. Parsons's notes also reiterate that Caterpillar was not willing to allow Coleman to work permanently from home, because “[t]hat would amount to creating a job that does not exist.” Parsons Memo, Parsons Dep. Ex. 1, App. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5, ECF No. 28-5. Although Parsons was aware that Coleman had been using FMLA leave intermittently, Parsons stated in her deposition that the termination was “for cause, ” and unrelated to Coleman's use of FMLA time. Parsons was not responsible for considering or approving use of FMLA leave.

         Coleman filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, which closed its file on the claim and issue a notice of right to sue on September 30, 2014. Compl. Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1. Suit followed in this Court on January 2, 2015. Compl., ECF No. 1. Coleman alleged (I) that Caterpillar violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-213, by discriminating against her in firing her because of her disability and by failing to reasonably accommodate her disabilities, Compl. 5-7; and (II) that Caterpillar violated the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-54, by refusing to allow her to exercise FMLA leave and terminating her for not meeting with Dea, and by refusing to consider rehiring her in a similar position, Compl. 7-10.

         She also alleged retaliation theories as to both the ADA and FMLA claims. The motion for summary judgment followed on April 24, 2017.


         I. Legal Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). At the summary judgment stage the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial-that is, whether there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Patel v. Allstate Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 365, 370 (7th Cir. 1997). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). “A genuine issue for trial exists only ...

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