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Koty v. Zaruba

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

September 19, 2017

ERIC KOTY, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF JOHN ZARUBA, in his official capacity as Sheriff of DuPage County, and DUPAGE COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. VIRGINIA M. KENDALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Eric Koty, a DuPage County Sheriff's deputy, sued his employer, DuPage County, alleging that the County retaliated against him in violation of the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”).[1] Defendant moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff experienced no adverse employment actions and, even if he did, he cannot prove a causal connection between his protected activity and the adverse actions. For the reasons discussed herein, the County's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

         FACTS

         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements, are undisputed unless otherwise noted.[2] Eric Koty, a deputy employed by the DuPage County Sheriff's Office, [3] suffers from a genetic hip condition. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 3, 6.) As a result of his hip condition, Koty experiences pain when he drives a vehicle that does not allow him to stretch out his legs. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 17.) Beginning in 2011, Koty informed the Sheriff's Office of the hip pain he experienced but never provided documentation indicating that he needed a different vehicle. (Dkt. 58-3 11:15-13:12.)

         In January 2014, DuPage County Sheriff Chief James Kruse[4] asked Patrick Genovese, the Sheriff's Office's risk manager, to measure the Sheriff's Office's vehicles. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 27.) Genovese measured a Ford Crown Victoria (a sedan) and a Ford Interceptor (an SUV), both owned by the Sheriff's Office, to determine which vehicle had more legroom. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 28.) Genovese is not a certified ergonomist and had no training relating to Koty's alleged disability. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 20.) Genovese gave Kruse the following relevant measurements:

Measurement

Crown Victoria

Interceptor

1. Length of seat pan

21"

19.25"

2. Front edge of seat to pedals

21.5"

23"

(Def. 56.1 ¶ 28; Dkt. 58-14.)

         On February 12, 2014, Koty submitted a doctor's note to the Sheriff's Office that stated he could “perform all duties of an active, fully duty law enforcement official” but suggested that “if available, because of a hip condition, a squad car with more legroom, like an SUV, would be preferable.” (Def. 56.1 ¶ 11; Dkt. 58-7.) Nothing in the letter suggested that Koty could not drive his assigned vehicle, a Crown Victoria. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 12.)

         On April 7, 2014, Koty submitted a doctor's note and an unfiled EEOC complaint to the Sheriff's Office. (Def. 56.1¶¶ 7, 13.) The doctor's note stated that while Koty could still perform the full duties of a law enforcement officer, he must, due to his hip condition, drive a vehicle with more legroom than his Sheriff's Office-issued Crown Victoria. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 15.) The unfiled EEOC complaint alleged discrimination in violation of the ADA. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 9, 13.) Koty filed the EEOC complaint on April 9, 2014, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 9), and an amended EEOC complaint alleging retaliation on April 28, 2014. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 8.)

         A. Koty's Transfer from Law Enforcement to Court Security

         On April 8, 2014, the day after Koty submitted his doctor's note and unfiled EEOC complaint to the Sheriff's Office, Chief Alan Angus[5] notified Koty that the restriction in his doctor's note required a temporary reassignment to the Court Security Bureau. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 20-21; Dkt. 58-9.)

         Prior to submitting the letter and complaint, Koty understood that the doctor's note prevented him from using his Crown Victoria. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 19.) Further, he knew that a transfer to court security was one of several possible accommodations that the Sheriff's Office could make, even though it was not the accommodation that he preferred. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 14, 22.)

         The decision to transfer Koty occurred on either April 7 or April 8, 2014, and started with a meeting between Chief James Kruse of the Sheriff's Office and Assistant State's Attorney Paul Bruckner.[6] (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 23-24.) No one contacted Koty to discuss any accommodation. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 13.) By adding Genovese's measurements of the seat length and the distance between the front of the seat and the pedals, Kruse determined that Koty's Crown Victoria had one quarter inch more legroom than the Interceptor. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 28.) Kruse thus believed assigning Koty an Interceptor would not accommodate his hip condition. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 29.)

         Koty does not dispute the measurements, but disputes Kruse's conclusion that the Crown Victoria has more legroom than the Interceptor. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 24.) Koty argues that only the first measurement, from the front edge of the seat to the pedals, should be used to determine legroom. (Id.) Using those measurements, the Interceptor has 1.5 inches more legroom than the Crown Victoria. (Id.) Christopher Johnson was the Sheriff's Office's Quartermaster at the time (Def. 56.1 ¶ 54), and was responsible for assigning vehicles. (Pl. SOAF ¶¶ 6, 41.) At some point, Johnson was preparing to assign Koty an Interceptor, but Sheriff Zaruba, without explanation, told him not to assign Koty an Interceptor. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 8.) Johnson does not remember when this conversation took place. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 55.)

         During their April 7 or 8 meeting, Kruse and Bruckner determined that their only options to accommodate Koty's hip condition were to transfer him to the Court Security Bureau, where he would not be required to drive, or to send him home. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 25, 30.) Bruckner suggested the courthouse transfer because there Koty would do the work of a deputy but would not need to operate a vehicle. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 26.) Further, Koty's union contract allowed transfers from law enforcement to court security if the transfer was not “arbitrary and capricious.” (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5.) Knowing that Koty needed more legroom, Chief Angus agreed with the transfer decision. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 32, 34.) Sheriff Zaruba approved the transfer. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 35, 36.) Chief Angus then sent Koty a letter notifying him of his temporary assignment to courthouse duty, pending receipt of additional requested information.[7] (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 21-22.)

         Koty presents some testimony emphasizing the differences between court services and the law enforcement assignments. Deputy David Bilodeau, for example, noted that law enforcement requires driving a squad car and responding to calls, whereas courthouse duty involves monitoring hallways and courtrooms. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 5.) Koty also presents his own testimony, along with the testimony of Deputy Bilodeau and Quartermaster Johnson, that involuntary transfers to court security were generally considered punishment. (Pl. SOAF ¶¶ 3, 11, 12.)

         On November 10, 2014, after seven months of the temporary courthouse assignment, Koty was officially assigned to the Court Security Bureau. (Dkt. 63-3.) While assigned to court security, Koty did not lose his certification as a patrol officer and did not miss any patrol officer training. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 52.) Koty's base compensation was unaffected by the reassignment. However, because he no longer worked on holidays, he did not receive holiday pay. (Dkt. 63-10 111:7-113:4.) He also was ineligible for overtime hours in court security because he was not trained to use the court's X-ray machines or to work in a courtroom. (Id.) He also claims that his childcare expenses increased due to the different work schedule. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 19.)

         B. Koty's Removal from Active Status in the Special Operations Unit

         On April 9, 2014, the same day Koty was transferred to courthouse duty and two days after he submitted his doctor's note and unfiled EEOC complaint to the Sheriff's Office, Koty received a letter suspending him from the Special Operations Unit (“SWAT”). (Def. 56.1 ¶ 38; Dkt. 58-3 21:5-18.) The short letter stated: “Please be advised that since your work assignment has been temporarily transferred to the Courthouse you will be temporarily placed as inactive on the Special Operations Team (deployment & training). This decision was based on the advice of the State's Attorney's Office. This collateral assignment will be reevaluated after you supply the additional information requested regarding this matter.” (Dkt. 63-5.) Koty does not know who made the decision to place him on inactive status. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 39.) The doctor's note that he submitted regarding his request for a new vehicle did not indicate that he was physically restricted from being on SWAT. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 29.) Koty argues that being removed from SWAT caused him to miss training and affected his ability to take on more responsibility. (Dkt. 63-10 56:5-21.)

         C. Koty's Reactivation in the Special Operations Unit

         On August 14, 2014, Kruse notified Koty via letter that he could rejoin SWAT if he submitted an approved security plan for storing his SWAT weapons and equipment in his personal vehicle. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 41.) The letter stated: “While you have been medically cleared by your medical care provider, [8] there are some logistical issues which need to be addressed, specifically regarding the security of your SOU weapons and equipment, and your ability to respond to a call out while temporarily assigned to the courthouse.” (Dkt. 62-16.) Koty submitted a plan but received no response. (Dkt. 62-7 at 237:9-20.) He then sent an email approximately one month later. (Id.) On September 22, 2014, Kruse approved one of the options presented by Koty. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 44.) The plan required Koty to park his vehicle in a secure area at the courthouse and store his equipment in the trunk of his personal vehicle or in a locked case. (Id.) The Sheriff's Office reactivated Koty's status on SWAT in September or October 2014. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 38.)

         The Sheriff's Office does not have policies or procedures detailing how SWAT members must secure their weapons and equipment. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 35.) It also has no policy that prevents members from using personal vehicles, with or without modifications to the vehicle. (Id.) Koty is not aware of any other SWAT members who were required to submit plans to store their equipment and weapons and was aware of several SWAT members who stored their weapons and equipment in unmarked Sheriff's Office SUVs. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 30.)

         D. Koty's Assignment to Court Security after Medical Leave

         Koty was still assigned to court security when he had hip surgery in February 2015. (See Dkt. 63-3; Def. 56.1 ¶ 45.) Following his surgery, Koty went on medical leave. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 45.) While on leave, Koty asked the Sheriff's Office if he would be reassigned to law enforcement upon his return, anticipating that the surgery would likely obviate his doctor's requirement for a vehicle with more legroom. (Dkt. 63-10 32:1-4.) The Sheriff's Office told Koty that he needed to submit a transfer request because employees who return from medical leave are returned to their pre-leave assignment. (Pl. SOAF ¶ 36; Def. 56.1 ¶ 48.) Koty did so. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 48.) On March 23, 2015, Koty's doctor released him to full duty and removed the legroom restriction. (Dkt. 58-3 105:9-11.) Koty returned to work in court security the same day. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 46.)

         On March 24, 2015, one week after submitting the transfer request and shortly after restarting in court security, Koty asked Major Romanelli about his request to transfer to patrol. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 48; Pl. SOAF ¶ 36; Dkt. 63-10 33:5-11.) The same day, Chief Kruse notified Koty in a letter that Koty was being transferred ...


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