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Hendrix v. White

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

July 11, 2018

TOM HENDRIX, Plaintiff,
v.
JESSE WHITE, STATE OF ILLINOIS SECRETARY OF STATE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN ROBERT BLAKEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tom Hendrix sued his employer, Secretary of State Jesse White, alleging that White violated the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. See [1]. In his complaint, Plaintiff sought backpay, lost benefits, liquidated damages, costs, attorney's fees, and a permanent injunction that Defendant abide by the FMLA. Id. Defendant moved for summary judgment [18]. For the reasons explained below, this Court grants the motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff started working for the Secretary of State's office in December 2009 as a Senior Facility Manager (Senior Manager) in the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Ex. 1 ¶ 6.[1] Plaintiff was assigned to Defendant's Schaumburg facility. Id. ¶ 7. All Senior Managers at all DMV locations have the same duties and responsibilities and all report to Tom Benigno, the Deputy Secretary of State. Ex. 1 ¶ 5; Ex. 2 ¶¶2-4.

         Before the summer of 2015, Benigno had, on occasion, received complaints about Plaintiff's behavior. Ex. 2 ¶ 6. That summer, Benigno also received a letter signed by multiple employees working under Plaintiff at the Schaumburg facility. Ex. 2 ¶ 7. The letter raised various concerns, including complaints that Plaintiff's conduct created a hostile work environment. Id. The Schaumburg employees asked Benigno to address the situation with Hendrix or, alternatively, to transfer Plaintiff out of the Schaumburg facility. Id.

         On August 4, 2015, Benigno met with several members of the management team to discuss the Schaumburg employees' letter and complaints. Ex. 1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff, who (unbeknownst to Benigno or anyone at the Secretary of State's office) had just begun a period of FMLA leave, was out of the office that day, but participated by telephone. Ex. 2 ¶ 9; Ex. 4 ¶ 4. At the meeting, Benigno told Plaintiff about the specific complaints in the letter and advised the group that he was troubled by both the content of the letter and the fact that so many Schaumburg employees appeared to have issues with Plaintiff. Ex. 2 ¶ 10; Ex. 4 ¶ 6. After a discussion about the complaints, Benigno informed Plaintiff that things at the Schaumburg facility needed to change. Id. Benigno determined after the meeting that the best course of action was to transfer Plaintiff to a new location, though he did not tell Plaintiff about the transfer at that time. Ex. 2 ¶¶ 11-12.

         Some weeks after Benigno's meeting, Stephen Roth, Director of the Department of Personnel for the Secretary of State, learned that Plaintiff was requesting FMLA leave for the period beginning August 3, 2015 through September 9, 2015. Ex. 1 ¶ 8. Roth approved Plaintiff's FMLA request on September 9, 2015, and notified Plaintiff of that approval. Ex. 1 ¶ 9. Plaintiff returned to work that same day, providing a Return to Work Certification (RTW) from his physician stating that he was cleared to return to work with “no restrictions.” Ex. 1 ¶ 10.

         Despite Benigno's decision to transfer Plaintiff, when Plaintiff returned to work on September 9, he resumed his job as Senior Manager at the Schaumburg DMV facility; he kept the same responsibilities and received the same pay and benefits as before his leave. Ex. 1 ¶ 11; Ex. 2 ¶ 14.

         On September 15, Benigno informed Plaintiff of the decision to transfer him from the Schaumburg facility to the Naperville facility, and that the transfer would be effective September 22, 2015. Ex. 1 ¶ 12; Ex. 2 ¶ 15; Ex. 3 at SoS1313. Although Plaintiff would have received the same pay and benefits at the Naperville facility, Ex. 1 ¶ 13; Ex.2 ¶ 14; Grp. Ex. 3 at SoS920-21, the transfer would have inconvenienced Plaintiff, as the Naperville facility was almost 20 miles farther from his home than the Schaumburg facility. Ex. 5.

         Plaintiff never actually transferred to the Naperville facility, however. Ex. 1 ¶ 14; Ex. 2 ¶ 18. Instead, Hendrix stopped coming to work after September 17, 2015, and, on September 24, 2015 (two days after the scheduled transfer), he requested a second FMLA leave, retroactive to September 18, 2015. Ex. 1 ¶ 14; Ex. 2 ¶ 18; Grp. Ex. 3 at SoS446-50. His request was again approved. Ex. 1 ¶ 14; Ex. 2 ¶ 18; Group Ex. 3 at SoS446. Plaintiff remained out on leave from September 18, 2015 until September 6, 2017, when his physician cleared him to return to work with certain permanent restrictions. Ex. 1 ¶ 15. When Plaintiff returned to work, he resumed his job as Senior Manager and was transferred to the DMV facility in Elk Grove Village, a facility closer to his home than either the Naperville or the Schaumburg facilities. Ex. 1 ¶ 16; Ex. 2 ¶ 19; Grp. Ex. 3 at SoS482.

         The day after returning to work, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, alleging that Defendant violated his rights under the FMLA. See [1]. In an initial status report, Plaintiff clarified that his FMLA claim is based upon allegations that Defendant failed to return him to the same position or a substantially equivalent position when he came back from FMLA leave. See [7] ¶ 1(d). Defendant moved for summary judgment [18], arguing that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and fail as a matter of law because, after his periods of leave, Plaintiff returned to the same or an equivalent position. Plaintiff did not respond to the motion.

         II. Legal Standard

         Courts should grant summary judgment when the moving party shows that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact and the evidence weighs so heavily in the moving party's favor that the moving party “must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists when, based upon the evidence, a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. To show a genuine dispute as to a material fact, the non-moving party must point to “particular materials in the record, ” and cannot rely upon the pleadings or speculation. Olendzki v. Rossi, 765 F.3d 742, 746 (7th Cir. 2014). At summary judgment, courts evaluate evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and must refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing evidence. ...


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