Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order Signed by the Honorable John Robert Blakey on 10/17/2016. Mailed notice(gel, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Chicago Transit Authority,
Case No. 16-cv-3027
Judge John Robert Blakey
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Mark Richardson alleges that Defendant Chicago Transit Authority
terminated his employment as a bus operator in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112 et seq. (hereinafter the “ADA”).
Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim , and for the reasons explained
below, Defendant’s motion is denied.
Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a bus operator from August 15, 1999
through at least February 14, 2012.
 at 1.
In September of 2010, Plaintiff
attempted to return to his job from an extended medical leave. Id. at 2. On or
about September 13, 2010, a physician employed by Defendant determined that
Plaintiff was physically able to return to work as a bus operator. Id. Defendant
was also given a “safety assessment” on September 16, 2010, which “was different”
The facts in this section are based upon Plaintiff’s Complaint  and the exhibits appended thereto.
from the safety assessment that is normally required of bus operators returning
from extended leave. Id.
Defendant eventually rejected Plaintiff’s request to return to work.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant refused to allow him to return to work because
Defendant regarded him as disabled, due to his obesity. Id. On December 1, 2010
Plaintiff filed, with the assistance of his present counsel, a Charge of Discrimination
with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Id. Ex. A.
The substantive portion of that Charge of Discrimination reads as follows:
I have been employed by Respondent since August 15,
1999, as a Bus Operator.
I was given a Special
Assessment, which I passed and my doctor released me to
return to work. Respondent denied my return to work.
I believe I have been discriminated against because of my
disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990, as amended.
Id. Plaintiff’s EEOC Charge did not resolve the parties’ dispute, and Plaintiff was
issued a “right to sue” letter on December 15, 2015. Id. Ex. B.
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), this Court must construe the
Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, accept as true all well-pleaded
facts and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. Yeftich v. Navistar, Inc., 722
F.3d 911, 915 (7th Cir. 2013); Long v. Shorebank Dev. Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th
Cir. 1999). Statements of law, however, need not be accepted as true. Yeftich, 722
F.3d at 915. Rule 12(b)(6) limits this Court’s consideration to “allegations set forth
in the complaint itself, documents that are attached to the complaint, documents
that are central to the complaint and are referred to in it, and information that is
properly subject to judicial notice.” Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th
Cir. 2013). To survive Defendant’s motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the Complaint must
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Yeftich, 722 F.3d at 915. A
“claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id.
The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a “qualified
individual on the basis of disability” in employment decisions, including decisions to
discharge. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). An ADA plaintiff must, inter alia, “prove that she
has a ‘disability’ in order to prevail.” Knapp v. Evgeros, Inc., No. 15-cv-754, 2016
WL 4720026, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 9, 2016). In addition, a putative plaintiff under
the ADA must exhaust his administrative remedies through the EEOC.
Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1087 (7th Cir. 2008).
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim must be dismissed because he has:
(1) failed to sufficiently allege that he is “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA;
and (2) failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with the EEOC. The Court
addresses these arguments in turn.
Disability Under The ADA
Plaintiff was required to allege that he was “disabled” with the meaning of
the ADA. See Knapp, 2016 WL 4720026, at *5; see also Gogos v. AMS Mech. Sys.,
Inc., 737 F.3d 1170, 1172 (7th Cir. 2013) (“A claim for relief under Title I of the
ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), requires Gogos to allege facts showing that . . . he is
disabled.”) (internal quotations omitted). An individual can establish a “disability”
under the ADA by demonstrating:
“(A) a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record
of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42
U.S.C. § 12102(1). Plaintiff is proceeding “based solely” on this third prong.  at
No “Substantially Limited” Requirement
Defendant first argues that in order to sufficiently allege that he is “disabled”
pursuant to the “regarded as” prong, Plaintiff was required to claim that Defendant
believed that he: “(1) had an impairment (2) that substantially limited (3) one or
more major life activities.”
 at 3 (internal quotation omitted).
argument relies on outdated case law and is rejected.
On January 1, 2009, Congress enacted the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
(“ADAAA”). Pub. L. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553. That statue provides as follows:
An individual meets the requirement of ‘being regarded as
having such an impairment’ if the individual establishes
that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited
under this Act because of an actual or perceived physical
or mental impairment whether or not the impairment
limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.
42 U.S.C. § 12102(3)(A) (emphasis added). The implementing regulations similarly
An individual is ‘regarded as having such an impairment’
if the individual is subjected to a prohibited action
because of an actual or perceived physical or mental
impairment, whether or not that impairment substantially
limits, or is perceived to substantially limit, a major life
activity. Prohibited actions include but are not limited to
refusal to hire, demotion, placement on involuntary leave,
termination, exclusion for failure to meet a qualification
standard, harassment, or denial of any other term,
condition, or privilege of employment.
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(l)(1) (emphasis added). Indeed, “an individual is ‘regarded as
having such an impairment’ any time a covered entity takes a prohibited action
against the individual because of an actual or perceived impairment, even if the
entity asserts, or may or does ultimately establish, a defense to such action.” Id. at
In short, a plaintiff is “regarded as” “disabled” within the meaning of the
governing statutes when he is subjected to a prohibited action because of a
perceived impairment. It is not necessary for a putative plaintiff to allege that his
employer understood the perceived impairment to substantially limit a major life
activity. Defendant’s argument to the contrary is rejected.
Plaintiff’s Obesity May Be An “Impairment”
Defendant next argues that Plaintiff’s claim must fail because “obesity does
not qualify as an impairment, unless it both falls outside the normal range for
weight and occurs as the result of a physiological disorder.”  at 4 (internal
Defendant may be right—authority is currently split on the
question of whether a plaintiff alleging that he was discriminated against on the
basis of his obesity must demonstrate that his obesity results from a physiological
disorder. Compare EEOC v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., 463 F.3d 436, 443 (6th Cir.
2006) (“[T]o constitute an ADA impairment, a person’s obesity, even morbid obesity,
must be the result of a physiological condition.”) and Hargett v. Adams, No. 08-cv3133, 2010 WL 3834458, at *4 (C.D. Ill. Sept. 14, 2010) (“There is a substantial
question whether plaintiff’s morbid obesity, which is not the result of any
physiological disorder, alone amounted a disability under the ADA.”) with EEOC v.
Res. for Human Dev., Inc., 827 F. Supp. 2d 688, 693-695 (E.D. La. 2011) (“[S]evere
obesity qualifies as a disability under the ADA and . . . there is no requirement to
prove an underlying physiological basis.”) and Lowe v. Am. Eurocopter, LLC, No.
1:10-cv-24, 2010 WL 5232523, at *7-8 (N.D. Miss. Dec. 16, 2010) (“Thus, a plaintiff
now might be considered disabled due to obesity under the ADA if her employer
perceived her weight as an impairment . . . Based on the substantial expansion of
the ADA by the ADAAA, Defendant’s assertion that Plaintiff’s weight cannot be
considered a disability is misplaced.”) (emphasis in original) and EEOC Compl.
Man. § 902.2(c)(5)(ii), 2009 WL 4782107 (Nov. 21, 2009) (“Being overweight, in and
of itself, generally is not an impairment . . . On the other hand, severe obesity,
which has been defined as body weight more than 100% over the norm . . . is clearly
This Court, however, need not resolve this disputed question at this point in
the proceedings. Even if Plaintiff is ultimately required to prove that his obesity
was caused by a physiological disorder, he was not required to allege the same. See
Whittaker v. Am.’s Car-Mart, Inc., No. 1:130-cv-108, 2014 WL 1648816, at *7 (E.D.
Mo. Apr. 24, 2014) (denying defendant’s motion to dismiss, as plaintiff’s allegation
that defendant regarded him as having an impairment due to his obesity
constituted “a factual basis from which inferences supporting the legal conclusion
that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA may be drawn”); see also Lowe,
2010 WL 5232523, at *8 (“Whether or not Plaintiff can in fact prove that her weight
rises to the level of a disability under the ADA is not at issue here, as a motion to
dismiss is not the proper method for evaluating the merits of Plaintiff’s specific
assertions.”) (emphasis in original).
In the end, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant perceived him as disabled due to
his obesity.  at 2. The Court accepts this well-plead allegation as true, and
Defendant’s argument on this score is rejected.
Plaintiff Exhausted His Administrative Remedies
Defendant finally argues that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies, insofar as Plaintiff’s Charge of Discrimination did not contain an explicit
allegation that Defendant “regarded” him as disabled.  at 4-5. Defendant’s
overly formalistic approach remains inconsistent with governing precedent.
Under well-settled law, discrimination claims can be the subject of civil
lawsuits only if those claims were included in a Charge of Discrimination filed with
the EEOC or are “like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge and
[are] growing out of such allegations.” Swearnigen-El v. Cook Cnty. Sheriff’s Dep’t,
602 F.3d 852, 864 (7th Cir. 2010). The “reasonably related” standard is a “liberal
one in order to effectuate the remedial purposes of Title VII, which itself depends on
lay persons, often unschooled, to enforce its provisions.” Jordan v. Whelan Sec. of
Illinois, Inc., 30 F. Supp. 3d 746, 754 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (internal quotation omitted).
Ultimately, to satisfy the “reasonably related” standard, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that there is “a factual relationship” between the civil claim and the
Charge of Discrimination; indeed, “the EEOC charge and the complaint must, at a
minimum, describe the same conduct and implicate the same individuals.”
Whitaker v. Milwaukee Cty., 772 F.3d 802, 812-813 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal
Courts in this circuit have frequently found that “regarded as” disability
claims were “reasonably related” to “actual disability” claims made in preceding
EEOC filings. See Anderson v. The Foster Grp., 521 F. Supp. 2d 758, 786 (N.D. Ill.
2007) (“While Plaintiff’s EEOC charge does not mimic the language of the ADA and
state specifically that Defendant ‘regarded [him] as’ disabled, such relentless
specificity is not required.”) (internal quotation omitted); Pellack v. Thorek Hosp. &
Med. Ctr., 9 F. Supp. 2d 984, 989 (N.D. Ill. 1998) (“While it is true that both the
plaintiff’s EEOC charge and her complaint fail to assert a perceived disability
theory, such a theory is like or reasonably related to the discriminatory conduct
identified by the plaintiff in her EEOC charge.”); see also Smith v. Warren R.
Gregory & Sons, Inc., No. IP99-1490-C-B/S, 2001 WL 1691640, at *5 (S.D. Ind. Nov.
21, 2001) (allowing plaintiff to claim that that his employer “regarded [him] as
disabled” despite his “bare-bones” EEOC charge).
The above precedent applies here.
Plaintiff alleged in his Charge of
Discrimination that he was “discriminated against because of [his] disability.” 
Ex. A. Moreover, Plaintiff grounded this allegation in the same factual predicate as
his claim in this case. Id. (“I was given a Special Assessment, which I passed and
my doctor released me to return to work. Respondent [nevertheless] denied my
return to work.”). These allegations concern the same set of facts as the present
case, such that Plaintiff’s claim here is “reasonably related” to his EEOC charge.
Defendant’s argument to the contrary is rejected.
Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that he was “regarded as” disabled by
Defendant, and his claim here is “reasonably related” to his previous charge with
the EEOC. Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss  is denied.
Dated: October 17, 2016
John Robert Blakey
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?