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Monroe v. Indiana Department of Transportation

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 18, 2017

Jeff Monroe, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Indiana Department of Transportation and Joe McGuinness, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued November 7, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. l:14-cv-00252 - Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook and Williams, Circuit Judges and Feinerman, District Judge.[*]

          Williams, Circuit Judge.

         Jeff Monroe worked for the Indiana Department of Transportation ("INDOT") for just over twenty-one years. In January 2013, after seven or eight of Monroe's subordinates went to Monroe's supervisor, Terry George, to complain about Monroe's treatment of them, INDOT conducted an investigation of Monroe's conduct. During the investigation, Monroe disclosed that recently he had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD"). After completing the investigation, INDOT discharged Monroe for creating a hostile and intimidating work environment. Monroe then sued INDOT and its Commissioner[1] alleging various claims, including that he was terminated "on the basis of" or "solely because of" his mental disability in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. Monroe now appeals, claiming that he provided sufficient evidence that INDOT's proffered reason for discharging him was pretextual and that INDOT treated similarly situated non-disabled employees more favorably than they treated him. Because we find there is not a genuine issue of material fact regarding either of Monroe's contentions, we affirm the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Monroe began working for INDOT on January 6, 1992 and continued his employment until he was terminated on February 4, 2013. The last position Monroe held with INDOT was unit foreman on the night shift, from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. Monroe supervised fourteen regular employees and four seasonal employees. As part of his job, Monroe had the difficult task of helping to clean up human remains after traffic accidents. He also witnessed a co-worker die after a work-related accident.

         Monroe faced challenging circumstances outside of his work for INDOT as well. He had served in combat in the Gulf War. In late 2012 Monroe's sister, who had lived with him, died of cancer. While employed at INDOT, Monroe also worked a second job as a stagehand. He testified that near the end of his employment with INDOT, he was not sleeping well and had become irritable and easily upset.

         In December 2012, Monroe spoke with his supervisor George and told him that he was stressed, burned out, could not sleep, and that he wanted to be transferred to a day shift position. In January 2013, after George did not get back to him, Monroe met with George and George's supervisor, J.D. Brooks. Monroe again requested to be transferred to the day shift, but was told that no position was available.

         On January 7, 2013, George completed a performance review for Monroe in which he gave Monroe an overall performance rating of "Exceeds Expectations" for 2012. Monroe had received the same rating from other supervisors for 2010 and 2011 as well.

         A. January 24, 2013 Incident

         On the evening of January 24, 2013, Monroe arrived for his usual 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. During a safety briefing, Monroe informed his subordinates that some of them would have to go to another unit to help prepare some equipment for a predicted overnight snowfall. According to Monroe, crew members Johnny Perkins and Josh McClung objected and complained about doing other peoples' work. Perkins told Monroe he did not respect the crew and Monroe responded that respect had to be earned. Monroe then dropped his clipboard on the desk, said, "f*** this, " and told his crew leader Danny Wise to take over.

         Monroe went into his office to calm down and then asked Perkins to meet him in the wash bay, which was an area with more privacy. Monroe contends that Perkins tried to fight him in the wash bay but that he would not fight and instead told Perkins to come to his house so they could discuss why Perkins wanted to fight all the time.

         The next day, January 25, after they had completed their shift, seven or eight of Monroe's subordinates went to speak to George about Monroe's treatment of them. When George heard the nature of the employees' complaints, he called in his supervisor, J.D. Brooks. Brooks in turn called in Jeff Neu-man, Human Resources Manager of the Greenfield District, to listen to the employees' concerns. The employees stated that Monroe screamed at them, treated them with no respect, threatened to terminate them, and publicly ridiculed one employee who had a hearing impairment. After listening to the employees' statements, it was decided that Neuman would conduct an investigation into their complaints.

         B. Investigation of Complaints Against Monroe

         On Sunday, January 27, 2013, George called Monroe at home to let him know that some complaints had been made and that he needed to attend a meeting in George's office the next day. During the conversation, Monroe told George that he had been given a preliminary diagnosis of PTSD.[2]

         On January 28, Monroe met with George, Brooks, and Neuman, although George left soon after the meeting began. Monroe was told that an investigation of complaints made about him would be conducted. He was offered the choice of either taking vacation or moving to a different location during the investigation. Monroe chose to take vacation. During the meeting, Monroe told Brooks and Neuman that he had spoken to a therapist who believed he had PTSD.

         Also on January 28, seven of the original employees who met with George, Brooks, and Neuman on January 25 each gave written statements about Monroe. Several said that at the January 24 safety briefing Monroe had cursed at the crew, called them names, yelled, and threatened to fight Perkins. Several also said that Monroe's yelling, threatening to fire employees, and belittling employees had been going on for quite some time. Edward (Eddie) Sellers, the employee with a hearing impairment, said that Monroe made him feel bad for asking Monroe to repeat an assignment when Sellers did not hear him initially, that Monroe told him he should wear a "bell-tone" referring to Sellers' "lack of hearing/' and that Monroe disciplined him like a child.

         On January 29, Monroe was interviewed about the allegations made against him. Monroe stated he had PTSD and depression that affected his sleep. He said not getting sleep caused him to get frustrated easily, although he denied using profanity or blowing up on January 24. He said, "I don't handle Eddie [Sellers] like I should - [I] talk[] real slow to him."

         As the investigation continued, a number of other employees and former employees were also interviewed regarding their experiences with Monroe. The eleven current crew members reporting to Monroe that had not already given written statements were interviewed and only three had primarily positive things to say about him. The rest had either mixed or mostly negative comments including that Monroe was testy, intimidating, volatile, demeaning, militaristic, and disrespectful. Some also reported that Monroe threatened their jobs and that he made fun of Sellers. Eight former employees were also interviewed. A few said they never had a ...


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