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Barroeta v. Astellas Pharma Global Development, Inc.

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

September 7, 2017




         On August 8, 2016, Plaintiff Pastora Elena Barroeta (“Barroeta”) filed the present Complaint alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), and the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/2-101 et seq. (“IHRA”). Barroeta specifically alleges a failure to accommodate claim and a retaliation claim against her former employer Defendant Astellas Pharma Global Development, Inc. (“Astellas”). Before the Court is Astellas' motion for summary judgment brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). For the following reasons, the Court grants Astellas' motion and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.


         I. Introduction

         Astellas, headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, is a global pharmaceutical development company that employed Barroeta as its Director of Latin American Regulatory Affairs from October 2011 until January 2015. (R. 37, Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 1, 2.) Astellas' written job description for the Director of Latin American Regulatory Affairs highlighted the fundamental job duties of the position as developing and executing strategies, plans, and processes for products and therapeutic areas to ensure compliance with Latin American regulatory and business requirements. (Id. ¶ 8.) Barroeta's specific job duties included managing assigned projects, assessing available resources, establishing project priorities and timelines for assigned work, handling technical topics, interpreting regulations, overseeing submissions for new products and responses to regulators' deficiency letters pertaining to those submissions, and developing and leading her team. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         Barroeta's qualifications for the position of Director of Latin American Regulatory Affairs included her Bachelors of Pharmacy Degree from the Central University of Venezuela and her Master's Degree in Science and Technology from London University. (Id. ¶ 3.) Prior to working for Astellas, Barroeta worked at several prominent pharmaceutical companies in regulatory management jobs and these jobs included employee supervision. (Id. ¶ 4.) Starting in 2012, Barroeta reported to Robert Reed (“Reed”), Astellas' Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs. (Id. ¶ 5.) During the relevant time period, Reed reported to Astellas' Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Marcia Marconi (“Marconi”). (Id. ¶ 6.)

         II. Left Arm Injury

         On September 30, 2013, Barroeta fell at the Miami International Airport while on a work assignment and seriously injured her left arm. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 31.) As a result, Barroeta suffered partial paralysis to her left arm. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 11.) Barroeta did not return to work until sometime in December 2013. (Id. ¶ 16; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 32.) Her physician released her to work with the restrictions of no pushing, pulling, lifting, or gripping with the left arm. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 33.) After consulting with Lorraine Daly, who oversaw Barroeta's human resource concerns, Barroeta worked from home at least three days a week during the time period of December 2013 through March 2014, so she could attend occupational therapy near her home. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 35; Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 26.)

         When Barroeta returned to work after her accident, she met with her supervisor Robert Reed to discuss her condition. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 22.) After her return to work, Reed told Barroeta that “I'm always here. If you need something, let me know.” (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 37.) Also, Reed met with Barroeta on a weekly - if not daily - basis to talk about what would assist her in her job. (Id. ¶ 38.) Barroeta informed Reed that she was unable to type with her left hand, although she could type with her right hand. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 22; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 42.) Many of Barroeta's tasks involved using a computer and when asked if there was anything Astellas could do for her, Barroeta told Daly that voice-activated dictation equipment would help with her typing. (Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 34; Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 40.) Although Astellas did not provide Barroeta with a voice-activated device, when Reed learned that Barroeta could not type with her left hand, he talked to Daly about hiring a contractor to help with Barroeta's typing. (R. 42, Def.'s Resp. ¶ 24.) Thereafter, Astellas hired a contractor, Julia Rodriquez, who assumed some of Barroeta's typing duties. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 43.) Also, Barroeta's supervisor assisted in some of her duties, including working on databases and interviewing contractors. (Id. ¶ 44.) It is undisputed that Barroeta's left arm injury did not completely prevent her from typing or using a computer mouse because she could type with her dominant right hand. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         III. Performance Action Plan

         Based on Barroeta's prior performance reviews, in August 2014, Reed met with Lorraine Daly in human resources, after which Reed drafted a 90-day Performance Action Plan (“PAP”) addressing Barroeta's performance shortcomings. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27, 51.) Reed delivered Barroeta's PAP to her during an hour-long discussion on September 30, 2014. (Id. ¶ 52.) Barroeta's PAP identified multiple problem areas, including Barroeta's lack of proactive planning and coordination of team activities, lax supervision of staff, failure to achieve goals, and inappropriate communications with stakeholders. (Id. ¶ 53.) Her PAP also set forth specific tasks for Barroeta to be complete within 30 days, such as the preparation of a comprehensive submission planning tool, re-establishing monthly meetings with certain stakeholders, establishing weekly one-on-one meetings with staff, and holding development discussions. (Id. ¶ 54.) Furthermore, the PAP required Barroeta to complete additional tasks within 60 days, including: (1) working with the Regulatory Affairs Submissions team to prepare an archive for Latin American submissions; (2) identifying, hiring, and on-boarding contractors for submissions work; and (3) ensuring 100% compliance with Latin American change control assessments. (Id. ¶ 55.) The PAP set forth tasks to be completed within 90 days, including preparing lessons-learned presentation on specific recent submissions and submission templates for Mexico. (Id. ¶ 56.) These tasks were primarily review functions, either in hard copy or on the computer for which Barroeta could use a computer mouse. (Id. ¶ 57.) The plan cautioned Barroeta that failure to improve in these areas would result in Astellas terminating her employment. (Id. ¶ 58.)

         After their September 30, 2014 meeting, Reed and Barroeta met periodically to discuss her progress on the PAP, after which Reed would document these conversations in emails to Barroeta. (Id. ¶¶ 59, 60.) On November 14, 2014, the 45-day mark of her PAP, Barroeta met with Reed and Marconi to discuss her progress. (Id. ¶ 61.) In this meeting, Marconi and Reed explained to Barroeta that she was not showing the requisite progress and that her job was in serious jeopardy. (Id. ¶ 62.) Also during this meeting, Barroeta stated that she was overwhelmed by the work and lack of resources, but did not request any accommodation for her injured left arm. (Id. ¶ 63.) Instead, Barroeta believed that the Latin American Regulatory Affairs Department was understaffed and that Astellas should hire more employees for the department. (Id. ¶ 21.) In fact, it is undisputed that Barroeta never asked Reed for a specific accommodation or change that might have helped her perform her job, except for hiring more staff. (Id. ¶ 39.)

         It is undisputed that during this time period, Barroeta shifted her focus away from completing the PAP tasks to work on other matters that she considered more important. (Id. ¶ 64.) On January 13, 2015, Barroeta informed Reed that she had given other work matters a higher priority than the specific tasks highlighted by her PAP. (Id. ¶ 66.) The next day, on January 14, 2015, Reed sent Marconi a memorandum indicating that Barroeta had not completed ten of thirteen action items on her PAP. (Id. ¶ 68.) More specifically, Barroeta had failed to prepare a comprehensive submissions planning tool, re-establish monthly meetings with stakeholders, ensure 100% compliance with Latin American change control assessments, and prepare a submissions template for Mexico. (Id. ¶ 69.) Sometime in mid-January 2015, Reed told Barroeta to either resign or “we are going to terminate you.” (Id. ¶ 71.) On January 16, 2015, Plaintiff submitted her written resignation letter to Reed and Marconi, which stated the following:

Unfortunately, my health situation has deteriorated as a result of the fall I sustained on Sep. 30, 2013 with resultant left shoulder fracture, dislocation, nerve damage and development of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) with intense pain that has gotten worse rather than better over time. This situation requires my full attention ...

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