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Torzewski v. Cosco Shipping Lines North America, Inc.

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

September 27, 2019




         In May 2017, Torzewski went on medical leave from work to obtain treatment for alcoholism. When he tried to come back to work after his leave, his employer, COSCO Shipping Lines North America, told him that his position had been relocated to a different state, and that he had to accept the relocation or else resign. Torzewski refused both options and was eventually fired. He then filed this lawsuit, alleging violations of the American With Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Illinois Human Rights Act. R. 27, First Am. Compl.[1] COSCO has moved to dismiss all of the claims. R. 34, Def.’s Mot. Dismiss. For the reasons explained below, COSCO’s motion is granted as to the retaliation claims but otherwise is denied.

         I. Background

         Torzewski started working for COSCO in August 2012. First Am. Compl. ¶ 6. While working there, Torzewski consistently met or exceeded performance expectations, and, by 2017, he was promoted to serve as a Director of Sales for North America. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. In this position, Torzewski worked remotely from a home office in Chicago, Illinois. Id. So far, so good.

         But then, in April 2017, things took a turn for the worse. Torzewski showed up drunk to a sales conference in Houston, Texas and was sent back to Chicago. First Am. Compl. ¶ 9. A few days later, he was hospitalized for eight days and underwent alcohol detoxification treatment. Id. ¶ 10. He later went on a medical leave of absence, pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), while receiving treatment. Id. ¶ 11. During this time, he was approved for short-term disability benefits. Id. After being discharged from the hospital, Torzewski began in-patient treatment for alcohol dependence at a different facility. Id. ¶ 12.

         When he was done with his in-patient treatment, Torzewski contacted COSCO’s Human Resources Manager, David Marcano, letting him know that Torzewski was ready to return to work. First Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Marcano did not reply. Id. So three days later, Torzewski followed up with another email. Id. ¶ 15. This time, Marcano replied asking Torzewski to send a release to return to work without any restriction from his doctor. Id. ¶ 16. Torzewski complied. Id. ¶ 17.

         Then on June 20, 2017, Mr. Marcano called Torzewski and told him that he could return to work but that his position had been relocated to COSCO’s corporate offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, and that the company would not provide him with any relocation assistance. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19. And if Torzewski did not agree to the relocation, Marcano told him that his employment would end. Id. ¶ 20. Marcano also asked Torzewski to send him a letter of resignation, but Torzewski refused. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. During this phone call, Torzewski also learned that no other sales director had been relocated to New Jersey. Id. ¶¶ 23-24.

         During another phone call on July 7, 2017, Marcano again told Torzewski that Torzewski would have to move to New Jersey if he wanted to keep his job. First Am. Compl. ¶ 24. This time, Torzewski asked for a reason for the relocation, but Marcano’s response was that “this is our company and we can do what we want, you don’t need a reason.” Id. ¶ 25. Torzewski explained that he could not just pick up and move to a new state because he had just signed a new apartment lease and because his healthcare providers and support group were in Chicago. Id. ¶ 26. In response, Marcano told Torzewski that he would have to find new healthcare providers and a support group in New Jersey if he wanted to keep his job. Id. ¶ 27. Again, Marcano asked Torzewski to resign, and again Torzewski refused. Id. ¶ 28.

         Then, around one month after the July phone call, Marcano sent Torzewski a letter explaining that during Torzewski’s time on FMLA leave, COSCO had undergone a business restructuring that required Torzewski to be present in the New Jersey office on a regular basis. First Am. Compl. ¶ 29. The letter further stated that if Torzewski did not report to work in New Jersey by August 14, 2017, then the company would accept the no-show as Torzewski’s voluntary resignation. Id. Torzewski responded to Marcano’s letter, acknowledging receipt and complaining that the relocation was a violation of his FMLA rights. Id. ¶ 30. Needless to say, Torzewski did not show up to work on August 14. In mid-September, COSCO retroactively terminated Torzewski’s employment, effective August 14. Id. ¶ 31.

         In this lawsuit, Torzewski alleges that COSCO violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) by failing to accommodate his disability, failing to reinstate him, wrongfully terminating him, and then retaliating against him when he complained. First. Am. Compl.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule “reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to ‘focus litigation on the merits of a claim’ rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court.” Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

         “A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         III. Analysis

         A. ...

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