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McNeal v. Presence Chicago Hospitals Network

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

August 28, 2019



          Ronald A. Guzmán, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Thomas McNeal, brought this employment-discrimination action against his former employer, Presence Chicago Hospitals Network (“Presence”). McNeal alleges that Presence terminated his employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.


         Plaintiff admits the majority of defendant's statements of material fact. Many of plaintiff's denials of defendant's properly-supported statements of material fact are not responsive to their substance, and/or the denial is not supported by the evidence cited. (ECF No. 50, Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 11, 23, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 58, 61, 62, 64, 66, 67.) Accordingly, the Court deems plaintiff to have admitted those facts. See Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir. 2015) (when a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by the local rule, those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the motion); Dapkus v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 15 CV 6395, 2017 WL 36448, at *1 n.1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 4, 2017) (“The requirements for responses are not satisfied by evasive denials that do not fairly meet the substance of the material facts asserted.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         As for plaintiff's statement of additional material facts, plaintiff has in several instances imprope rly dist orted or exaggerated testimonial evidence. (E.g., ECF No. 49, Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 3 (stating that Margaret Graham “recommended McNeal's termination” when the witness's testimony was that the recommendation was made to Graham and she agreed); ¶ 4 (stating that plaintiff “sincerely apologized” when neither witness in the cited testimony used that phrase); ¶ 13 (stating that Graham was aware that plaintiff “had complaints about pain in his legs that affected his mobility” when there is no mention in the cited testimony of pain that specifically affected his mobility); ¶ 16 (characterizing plaintiff as having “witnessed Ms. Graham arguing with Mr. Hassell and [having] tried to get Hassell to change his opinion” when plaintiff's testimony was that he was listening to Hassell's end of a telephone call with Graham, not on speakerphone, and that plaintiff could not hear what Graham was saying).) Plaintiff's counsel is reminded that Local Rule 56.1 statements are not the province of argument or spin. The Court has disregarded statements that are not supported by the evidence cited.


         Most of the material facts are undisputed. Presence, which operates an acute-care medical center on the northwest side of Chicago, hired McNeal as Mental Health Counselor in January 2009. He was hired and supervised by Margaret Graham, a Nurse Manager in the Behavioral Health unit, who reported directly to Daniel Rakoski, Operations Director. McNeal regularly worked the night shift, while Graham worked the day shift. Prior to 2017, Graham and McNeal typically encountered each other a couple of times per week, and their day-to-day interactions were relatively limited.

         Mental Health Counselors assist in providing care and treatment to inpatient adult psychiatric patients with various mental-health conditions, including major depression, psychosis, mood and personality disorders, and dementia. These patients often experience symptoms like suicidal tendencies, hallucinations, delusions, and hearing voices. They are vulnerable and often need significant care and treatment from mental-health providers, who must be calm, compassionate, professional, and patient in their interactions with patients. Mental Health Counselors at Presence are responsible for performing patient rounds to assess patients' status and the overall safety of the unit, monitoring patients with special precautions (e.g., risk of suicide or falling), and anticipating risk to the medical center or an individual and taking action to prevent, correct, or minimize the risk.

         Mental Health Counselors play a vital role in creating a plan of care for patients in the Behavioral Health Unit. They are expected to regularly update a patient's medical record with information about the patient's treatment and progress, and the record is used to determine whether the patient is improving. Mental Health Counselors receive training on how to prepare appropriate notes in a patient's medical record; the training encompasses how to note objective assessments of a patient's current condition and their response to, and cooperation with, treatment.

         Due to the volatility of the patient population and the danger patients may pose to themselves and others, Mental Health Counselors must be agile, flexible, and able to physically restrain patients and respond quickly to their behavior. They must be able to lift objects weighing 35-50 pounds, stand for two or more hours at a time, stoop, bend, and reach. As a precondition of employment, Mental Health Counselors must undergo a health screening to determine whether they are capable of safely performing the essential functions of their position with or without a reasonable accommodation. At the outset of his employment in 2009, McNeal reported that he had no back or neck problems and no problems with his arms or legs, and that he was cleared to work and deemed physically able to safely perform the essential functions of the job.

         McNeal and other Mental Health Counselors often worked with patients who were volatile, unpredictable, and aggressive, both verbally and physically, and who often had to be physically restrained. During his employment with Presence, McNeal was physically attacked by patients approximately twelve times, and he saw patients attack each other on a weekly basis. On one occasion, a patient kicked over a chair and started swinging at McNeal, who injured his shoulder while trying to defend himself and was then out of work for several days while recovering. On another occasion, McNeal was attacked by a patient who kicked over a Dynamap (a machine used to take vital signs) and struck McNeal before he was able to physically restrain the patient.

         In March 2017, McNeal began to have problems walking; he felt like he was “walking on a ball” on one leg. He initially did not seek treatment for the condition, but ultimately decided to seek medical help. That month, McNeal was diagnosed with bilateral osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, which caused him to experience pain when walking, standing, or otherwise using his legs. McNeal's condition is degenerative, and as it progressed, it became more painful for McNeal to perform his daily routine and essential job functions. He was slower, less agile, and less flexible, and it was more difficult for him to rise and stand from a sitting position. While his condition generally made it harder to do his job, he did not have any difficulty walking or standing for long periods of time. On April 27, 2017, a team leader in the Behavioral Health unit sent Graham, McNeal's supervisor, an email stating that the night-shift staff was complaining that McNeal was having a very hard time walking; he needed a Dynamap or an umbrella to get around; and he was only doing one to two rounds an hour when he should have been doing four. Graham never saw the email and therefore did not take any action to follow up on it.

         On June 13, 2017, McNeal began a medical leave of absence in order to seek treatment for his osteoarthritis. He requested his medical leave through AbsenceOne, Presence's third-party leave coordinator. He did not discuss his condition or need for leave with Graham. Although Graham had observed McNeal walking with difficulty and with his pants leg rolled up, and had heard him say that it was painful to have the material touch his leg, she was not aware of his particular condition or the underlying reason for his need for leave. Through AbsenceOne, McNeal requested and received multiple extensions of medical leave. He returned to work, without restrictions, on October 23, 2017. At his deposition, McNeal testified that following his return to work, he felt that he was able to stand without assistance during his entire shift as needed and was able to do his job “without issue.” (ECF No. 32-3, Dep. of Thomas McNeal 276.) He never requested an accommodation for his medical condition or reported any issues performing the essential functions of his position due to his medical condition.

         On November 1, 2017, the team leader who had emailed Graham in April about McNeal reported to Graham that she and several other staff members had safety concerns because McNeal was using a Dynamap to help him walk around during the night shift. Graham then reviewed surveillance video from the shift and saw that McNeal had been leaning on the Dynamap and appeared to be using it as an assistive device for the majority of his shift. Graham was concerned that this use of the Dynamap presented a risk of harm to McNeal and others in that patients might be able to throw McNeal off balance by taking the machine and using it against him or others. Graham consulted her supervisor, Rakoski, to discuss the matter. Rakoski watched the surveillance video, agreed with Graham's assessment, and suggested that McNeal be evaluated by someone in Presence's Associate Health department for whether he was able to perform the essential functions of his position, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

         Thereafter, Graham directed McNeal to report to Brian Hassell, an Associate Health Nurse, for an evaluation. Hassell asked Graham to describe her concerns in writing so that he could better understand the ...

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