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Sandefur v. Cook County

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

August 15, 2019

Brad Sandefur, Plaintiff,
v.
Cook county and Thomas Dart, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MANISH S. SHAH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Brad Sandefur was a corrections officer enrolled in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s Police Training Academy. Defendants dismissed him from the academy, saying that he lied about a disability parking placard. Sandefur brings suit against Cook County and Sheriff Thomas Dart, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623(a), as well as claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights to due process and equal protection. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if defendants show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). There is a genuine dispute over a material fact if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). As the movants, defendants bear the burden of establishing that the summary judgment standard is met, but Sandefur must show evidence to establish every element of his claim for which he will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986). I construe the facts in the light most favorable to Sandefur and draw reasonable inferences from them in his favor. Laborers’ Pension Fund v. W.R. Weis Co., Inc., 879 F.3d 760, 766 (7th Cir. 2018).

         II. Facts

         Sandefur is a deputy sheriff sergeant in the Cook County Department of Corrections. [72] ¶ 11.[1] He has disk desiccation in his back and osteoarthritis in his knees, which cause him intermittent pain for weeks at a time. [82] ¶¶ 3–4. When the conditions flare up, Sandefur suffers severe pain that affects his ability to walk short distances and weakness that requires him to exert effort to remain ambulatory, and he occasionally uses a cane. [72] ¶ 22; [82] ¶ 5. Sometimes sitting and lying down is painful for him too. [82] ¶ 7. Sandefur applied for and received a disability parking placard because of his knee condition, and he usually displayed the placard when parked at work. [72] ¶ 29; [82] ¶¶ 8–9. Sandefur’s wife had a placard too, but she and Sandefur never used each other’s. [72] ¶¶ 24–25, 27.

         Sandefur was chosen to be a recruit for the Police Training Academy. [72] ¶ 31. His doctor had signed a medical release for him to participate in the academy’s POWER test-a physical ability test that involved running and weightlifting. [72] ¶ 69; [82] ¶ 22. On the first day of the academy, instructors conducted an inspection of the recruits’ vehicles, equipment, and attire. [72] ¶ 36. That day, Sandefur had a disability parking placard hanging in his car. [72] ¶ 35. Investigator Lange asked Sandefur why he had the placard, and Sandefur responded that “it was there for his wife.” [82] ¶ 12. Investigator Lange yelled at Sandefur, telling him that was illegal, and Sandefur said that he had forgotten to take it down. [82] ¶ 12. Investigator Lange exclaimed to the surrounding group-“can you believe this, now they’re sending handicapped motherfuckers to the academy.” [82] ¶ 12. Sandefur explained that when he said the placard was “there for his wife,” he meant that he had put it up for his wife’s benefit because he and his wife had gone somewhere in his car the night before. [82] ¶ 13. Then another officer-Sergeant Cammack-walked over to Sandefur and saw the disability placard. [72] ¶ 38. Sergeant Cammack asked Sandefur if the placard was his, and Sandefur replied that it was his wife’s. [72] ¶ 40.[2]

         Sergeant Cammack reported news of the placard up the chain to Lieutenant Camer and suggested that they consider whether Sandefur had any limitations, considering the physical training on the schedule for the day. [82] ¶ 20. Lieutenant Camer contacted the Chief of the Human Resources Division to see if Sandefur had filed anything regarding special accommodations. [72] ¶ 43. The HR Chief said that if Sandefur was medically cleared and not asking for any special accommodations, there wouldn’t be any issues with his employment. [82] ¶ 21. Sandefur submitted a memorandum to Sergeant Cammack explaining that the parking placard was approved by his doctor for an arthritic knee condition and that he was not requesting any accommodations. [82] ¶ 23. That same day, Lieutenant Camer and Sergeant Cammack met with Sandefur, and Lieutenant Camer either asked or ordered Sandefur to sign a HIPAA release form. [72] ¶ 46. They told him that the release allowed them to have specific information about his medical conditions in case he got hurt. [82] ¶ 25. Defendants used the HIPAA release to investigate Sandefur’s disability parking placard. [82] ¶ 28.

         The next day, Deputy Inspector Goldsmith requested information about Sandefur’s placard from the Secretary of State. [82] ¶ 29. He later contacted someone from that office and expressed a concern that Sandefur had been issued a disability parking placard despite having submitted medical waivers that allowed him to perform as a recruit in the academy. [82] ¶ 58. The person he spoke to said they would conduct an investigation and contact the approving physician for an explanation. [82] ¶ 59.

         A few weeks later, a management inquiry was opened to investigate whether any misconduct had occurred. [82] ¶ 32. Sergeant Sullivan was assigned to the inquiry. [72] ¶ 55; [82] ¶ 36. During his investigation, Sergeant Sullivan received confirmation that Sandefur’s doctor had signed the application he submitted for the parking placard. [82] ¶ 37. In the meantime, Sandefur continued participating in the academy. Some of his instructors referred to his age and called him “Pops” or “Old Timer.” [82] ¶ 38. Investigator Lange also once said, “it’s alright, he’s handicapped, you know.” [82] ¶ 40.

         Eventually, Sergeant Sullivan concluded his investigation and determined that Sandefur had made multiple inconsistent statements and violated policies. [72] ¶¶ 56–57. He recommended that “the allegation … that Police Recruit Brad Sandefur was untruthful when applying for a State of Illinois Handicap Placard be sustained,” [82] ¶ 41, and that Sandefur be removed from the academy and sent back to his previous assignment. [72] ¶ 56. And so just shy of his graduation from the academy, Sandefur was reassigned back to the Department of Corrections [72] ¶ 59; [82] ¶¶ 43; 56.

         Sandefur later applied for other opportunities within the department- including a “C.O. to P.O.” class, promotions to a police officer position and an electronic monitoring sergeant position-but was denied because of disciplinary violations. [82] ¶¶ 46–47, 49–51

         III. Analysis

         A. Americans with ...


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