SPRINKLES v. WSG MANUFACTURING, LLC et al
ORDER granting WSG's 26 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Richard L. Young on 3/31/2017. (TMD)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
RODNEY F. SPRINKLES,
WSG MANUFACTURING, LLC, and
WEAVER POPCORN COMPANY, INC.,
ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff, Rodney F. Sprinkles, is a former employee of Defendants, WSG
Manufacturing, LLC and Weaver Popcorn Company, Inc. (collectively “WSG”).1 He
alleges his termination was the product of disability discrimination (Count I) and
retaliation (Count II), in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §
12101, et seq., as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”). He
further alleges his termination was in violation of Indiana public policy (Count III).
WSG now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, WSG’s
motion is GRANTED.
WSG is a subsidiary of Weaver Holdings, Inc., which also owns a separate subsidiary, Weaver
Popcorn Company, Inc. (“Weaver”), which processes raw popcorn and manufactures a variety of
popcorn products at its Van Buren, Indiana facility for both commercial and consumer use.
(Filing No. 28-2, Affidavit of Alvin Corbett ¶ 3). Defendants deny that Plaintiff was jointly
employed by WSG and Weaver, but acknowledge that this issue is immaterial to the outcome of
their Motion for Summary Judgment, as the arguments Weaver advances are duplicative of
WSG’s arguments. Therefore, for the purposes of this Entry, it is assumed Weaver was a joint
employer of Plaintiff.
WSG Manufacturing, LLC and Weaver Popcorn Company, Inc. and
Rodney Sprinkle’s Employment
WSG manufactures and packages “Ready to Eat” popcorn products at its facility
in Whitestown, Indiana. (Filing No. 28-1, Deposition of Rodney Sprinkles (“Plaintiff
Dep.”) at 4-5). On April 14, 2014, WSG hired Plaintiff as a Team Leader. (Id. at 4). In
June 2014, WSG promoted Plaintiff to Production Manager, and he became responsible
for all aspects of WSG production, supervising the entire production staff of about 50
employees at the facility. (Id. at 4-5).
On the morning of August 21, 2014, Plaintiff sustained a concussion when he fell
in the WSG facility. (Id. at 33). That evening Plaintiff was examined at Indiana
University Health Tipton Hospital where CT scans of his head and cervical spine
revealed no abnormalities. (Id. at 37-38). On Plaintiff’s behalf, WSG reported the
accident to its worker’s compensation third party administrator and arranged for him to
be seen by an approved physician through St. Vincent on August 25, 2014. (Id. at 14, 39,
Plaintiff asserts that immediately after the injury, he slept for fourteen (14) hours
per day and suffered from headaches, panic attacks, memory loss, and trouble controlling
his temper. (Id. at 77). Plaintiff continues to experience cognitive impairments due to
post-concussion disorder, and takes medication (Paxil) for anxiety and panic attacks. (Id.
at 8; Filing No. 30-28, Declaration of Rodney F. Sprinkles (“Plaintiff Decl.”) ¶ 4).
Strenuous physical and mental activities exacerbate his condition. (Plaintiff Decl. ¶ 6).
Plaintiff was off work from August 22 until September 2, 2014, following the
accident and then off and on for a few more days as he was evaluated by other providers
who issued temporary restrictions. (Plaintiff Dep. at 45, 49-51). On September 12, 2014,
Plaintiff’s medical record indicates a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome. (Filing No.
30-8, Medical Record at 6). From mid-September until mid-December of 2014, Plaintiff
was released to return to work full-time, without any restrictions. (Plaintiff Dep. at 5253).
On December 4, 2014, Plaintiff sent an email entitled “Concussion symptoms” to
Will Weaver, Weaver Popcorn Chief Operating Officer; Tom Mathews, Senior Leader;
Alvin Corbett, WSG Director of Operations; and Kellie Fisher, WSG’s safety
representative, which stated:
The doctor said I should see a neurologist and get my symptoms under
control before returning to work.
In the last 2 weeks my headaches have gotten worse. It’s a constant moderate
headache and gets much worse as the day goes on, [sic] by the time I get
home I have to lay down in a dark quite [sic] room. My wife and family have
said I’ve not been myself the last month, my demeanor has changed.
I really want to be a part of WSG going forward, . . . [b]ut at this time; [sic]
I have to get myself healthy for my family and myself.
(Filing No. 30-12, 12/4/2014 Email from Plaintiff). Fisher set-up an appointment for him
with Dr. Theodore A. Nukes of Heartland Neurology. (Plaintiff Dep. at 53-54, 101). On
December 15, 2014, Dr. Nukes saw Plaintiff for post-concussion syndrome and placed
him off work pending further evaluation. (Id. at 54-55; Filing No. 30-8, 12/17/14 Letter).
Plaintiff remained off work through December 29, 2014. (Plaintiff Dep. at 55).
On December 29, 2014, Dr. Nukes released Plaintiff to return to work with the
restriction that he work no more than four hours per day until January 12, 2015, at which
time Plaintiff could return to full duty with no restrictions. (Id.). Pursuant to Dr. Nukes’
orders, Plaintiff began working four-hour days. (Id).
WSG Fails an AIB Quality Audit and Fires Its Quality Manager
WSG’s Quality Department is tasked with maintaining and overseeing the quality
of its Ready to Eat popcorn products. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 4). The American Institute of
Baking International (“AIB”) conducts audit inspections of the facility. (Id.). Failed AIB
audits can lead to loss of certification and potential closure of the entire facility. (Id.).
On November 5 and 6, 2014, AIB conducted an audit of WSG. (Id. ¶ 5). Several
deficiencies were noted by AIB, resulting in an “unsatisfactory” rating. (Id.). As a result
of the failed AIB audit, WSG terminated the employment of its Quality Manager, James
LeFort, and concentrated on improving the process for the quality production of products.
(Id.; Plaintiff Dep. at 63). WSG knew that AIB would return in January 2015 for a reaudit, but did not know the specific date. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 5; Plaintiff Dep. at 64).
In preparation for AIB’s return visit, WSG conducted its own mock audits.
(Corbett Aff. ¶ 6; Plaintiff Dep. at 64). After the first day of the mock audit, January 6,
2015, Corbett sent an urgent e-mail message at 6:17 p.m. to several supervisory
employees, including Plaintiff, stating in part:
Gentlemen, our AIB audit is imminent! It could take place beginning
tomorrow, it will take place this month and we must pass. I understand we
have had some serious items identified during the first day of our mock audit
. . . These behaviors will cause us to fail which will ultimately shut this
operation down with the loss of all jobs associated with WSG. We do not
have the luxury of time following our mock audit to address failures like we
did in November. Each shift will be covering GMP related items during your
pre-shift meetings and I expect all of us to immediately address behaviors
and conditions on the floor.
(Plaintiff Dep. at 64-65; Plaintiff Dep. Ex. 19 at 19; Corbett Aff. ¶ 6).
WSG’s Daily Sanitation Inspections, Emails Regarding the Same, and
WSG conducts daily sanitation inspections at the beginning of each shift and
requests that a worksheet documenting the inspections be completed daily and submitted
to the Quality Department. (Plaintiff Dep. at 101-02; Corbett Aff. ¶ 7). On January 6,
2015, Angelina Boampong, a member of the Quality Department, sent an email to
various managers, including Plaintiff, regarding the absence of completed sanitation
checklists. (Plaintiff Dep. Ex. 20 at 20; Corbett Aff. at 3). Boampong’s email, sent at
5:47 p.m., approximately 30 minutes prior to Corbett’s email, above, stated:
We need to be filling out daily/weekly sanitation check lists!!! Why are we
missing days, [sic] weeks, and months of documentation??? This is really
sad that at this point we can’t complete such a simple task. If the AIB auditor
was here today we would have completely failed with our pathetic
documentation skills. This is unacceptable guys!!!
Daily sanitation inspection must be completed daily!...post op/pre op must
be completed during wet cleans.
From today 1/6/15, if production fail [sic] to complete their sanitation
checklist/startup sheet within the first 30 minutes of start-up production will
be shut down by QA.
(Plaintiff Dep., Ex. 20 at 20). At 7:41 p.m. that same evening, Plaintiff replied to all
recipients, and stated:
Thank you Angelina for your wonderful message, [sic] if production does
not fill out the sanitation list please have QA remind our associations or the
TL before shutting down production.
Is QA working on getting the forms transferred to the Control Panel in Plex
or should production take care of this? We as a TEAM will communicate
where the sanitation forms are.
We need to look constructively at any forms or checks required and have this
form electronically tied to a [sic] alert (reminder) to start or maintain
production. We’re not ways near there but this is our goal. From my
experience (way too long) manually filled out forms are never 100% and over
time get worse. Not making excuses for production but this is what happens.
We’re all in this together, [sic] let’s get the form in Plex, train the operators,
work on tying this form to production and an [sic] reminder screen or alarm.
Weaver learned of the email from an employee in the Quality Department.
(Weaver Dep. at 55). He thereafter called a meeting with Corbett and Mathews. (Id. at
56; Corbett Dep. at 29). They determined that Plaintiff’s response was an unacceptable
failure to take responsibility for insufficiencies in his department and a demonstration of
lack of concern for the quality of its products. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 8; Plaintiff Dep. at 66-67).
They found the email intolerable because it came from WSG’s Production Manager, who
was responsible for all production activity on the floor and supervision of the entire
production staff. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 8). Corbett testified:
He was terminated because the email that he sent in reply to a quality
technician’s email did not represent the view of the management team. We
felt it undermined the position that we had stated out with the employees on
the importance of quality, especially since we were facing an imminent audit
that, really, the fate of the facility was in jeopardy, basically everyone’s jobs
were at risk, and his email didn’t reflect support of that. And we thought
with a person at that level in the organization, we could not, you know,
maintain him as part of the business.
(Filing No. 28-3, Deposition of Alvin Corbett (“Corbett Dep”). at 28. Weaver testified
consistently with Corbett:
I think what happened is, you know there was an openly derisive email
coming as close as you could to making fun of the quality group’s, in my
opinion, valiant efforts to try and, you know, pass the quality audit, from
[Plaintiff]. And in my perspective, that was a really big deal, and I think for
most people at Weaver that was a really big deal. Because, again, we’re not
talking, you know, a minor situation. We’re talking, you know, the entire
plant will close if you flunk the audit and a hundred people or so would lose
(Filing No. 28-5, Deposition of William Weaver (“Weaver Dep.”) at 55; see also Filing
No. 28-4, Deposition of Thomas Mathews (“Mathews Dep.”) at 30) (testifying the
manner in which Plaintiff responds to Boampong’s email “displays a contempt for quality
and safety of the product”). Therefore, WSG terminated his employment effective
January 7, 2015. (Plaintiff Dep. at 13; Corbett Aff. ¶ 8). During his employment,
Plaintiff was never given a negative performance evaluation. (Corbett Dep. at 9).
Corbett and Mathews assert that at no time, prior to the decision to terminate
Plaintiff’s employment, was there any discussion of any medical condition he had or any
workers’ compensation claim related to him, nor did these matters factor into the decision
to terminate his employment. (Corbett Aff. at 4; Corbett Dep. at 41-42; Mathews Dep. at
All other facts necessary to a determination of this motion will be addressed in the
Discussion Section below.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual issue is material only if resolving it might change the
outcome of the case under the governing law. Clifton v. Schafer, 969 F.2d 278, 281 (7th
Cir. 1992). A factual issue is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable
jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence presented.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of designated evidence which
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986). After “a properly supported motion for summary judgment is
made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (quotation marks
and citation omitted).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court “may not ‘assess the
credibility of witnesses, choose between competing reasonable inferences, or balance the
relative weight of conflicting evidence.’” Bassett v. I.C. Sys., Inc., 715 F. Supp. 2d 803,
808 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (quoting Stokes v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chicago, 599 F.3d 617,
619 (7th Cir. 2010)). Instead, it must view all the evidence in the record in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all factual disputes in favor of that party.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
WSG moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims alleging: (1) disability
discrimination, (2) disability retaliation, and (3) wrongful termination in violation of
Indiana public policy. With respect to Plaintiff’s first two claims, the threshold issue is
whether he was disabled within the meaning of the ADAAA.
Disability Under Prong (1)
Title I of the ADAAA prohibits employers from discriminating “against a
qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the
hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training,
and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a)
(2009). Plaintiff alleges he was terminated because of his disability, namely symptoms
resulting from his workplace injury. A plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the
ADAAA if: (1) he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or
more major life activities; (2) he has a record of such an impairment; or (3) the employer
regarded him as having such an impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(4)(A). Plaintiff
contends his condition falls under prong (1). Whether an individual has a qualifying
disability under the ADAAA is an individualized inquiry. Sutton v. United Air Lines,
Inc., 527 U.S. 471, 483 (1999); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(iv) (“The determination of whether
an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized
Under the first prong, the court must evaluate whether the plaintiff’s condition
constitutes an impairment under the ADA, determine whether any major life activities are
affected by the impairment, and assess whether the impairment substantially limits the
performance of those major life activities. E.E.O.C. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (Sears),
417 F.3d 789, 797 (7th Cir. 2015); Knox v. Snider, No. 1:11-cv-00949-TWP-TAB, 2012
WL 592663, at *6 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 27, 2012). “Major life activities” include, but are not
limited to: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping,
walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating,
thinking, communicating, and working. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)
(additionally including sitting, reaching, and interacting with others). Furthermore, “a
major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but
not limited to, functions of . . . neurological [and] brain . . . functions.” 42 U.S.C. §
Whether a plaintiff’s condition “substantially limits” a major life activity is
construed broadly in favor of coverage; it is not an exacting standard. See 29 C.F.R. §
1630.2(j)(1)(i) (“[T]he term ‘substantially limits’ shall be construed broadly in favor of
expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.
‘Substantially limits’ is not meant to be a demanding standard.”). Under the regulations,
“[a]n impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially
limit major life activities when active.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(vii). The regulations also
provide that “[t]he effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six
months can be substantially limiting.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(ix).
WSG asserts that Plaintiff is not disabled because his condition was a short-term
impairment that had fully resolved. In fact, WSG likens his post-concussion syndrome to
a broken bone. The evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff reflects that
his injury had not fully resolved and that, unlike a broken bone, it did not completely heal
within a set period of time. Indeed, Plaintiff’s injury occurred on August 21, 2014, and
his symptoms remain to this day. Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, a rational jury could find that Plaintiff had a covered disability.
Count I, Disability Discrimination
Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating “against a qualified
individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring,
advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other
terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (2009). To
establish this claim, the plaintiff must establish his prima facie case of discrimination by
showing that: (1) he is disabled under the ADA; (2) he was meeting his employer’s
legitimate employment expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action
because of his disability; and (4) similarly situated employees without a disability were
treated more favorably. Dickerson v. Bd. of Trs. Of Comm. College Dist. No. 522, 657
F.3d 595, 601-02 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).2 If Plaintiff succeeds in making out
Plaintiff asserts Ortiz v. Wener Enterprises, Inc., 2016 WL 4411434 (7th Cir. Aug. 19, 2016)
abolished direct versus indirect methods of proof. To clarify, Ortiz abolished “the proposition
his prima facie case, the burden shifts to WSG to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff. Id. at 602. If WSG does so, the
burden then shifts to Plaintiff to establish that WSG’s reasons are a pretext for
Similarly Situated Individuals
WSG argues that Plaintiff cannot establish his prima facie case because he cannot
show that a similarly-situated individual outside the protected class was treated better
than he. The similarly situated analysis requires a context-based examination of all
relevant factors. South v. Ill. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 495 F.3d 747, 752 (7th Cir. 2007). The
inquiry generally requires the plaintiff to show that the comparator had the same
supervisor, was subject to the same employment standards, and had engaged in conduct
similar to that of the plaintiff. Id. This requirement “ought not be construed so rigidly or
inflexibly that it [becomes] a useless analytical tool.” Id. Nevertheless, “the comparators
must be similar enough that any differences in their treatment cannot be attributed to
other variables.” Silverman v. Bd. of Educ. Of Chi., 637 F.3d 729, 742 (7th Cir. 2011).
At bottom, “the inquiry simply asks whether there are sufficient commonalities on the
key variables between the plaintiff and the would-be comparator to allow the type of
comparison that, taken together with the other prima facie evidence, would allow a jury
that evidence must be sorted into different piles, labeled ‘direct’ and indirect,’ that are evaluated
differently. Instead, all evidence belongs in a single pile and must be evaluated as a whole.” Id.
at *5. The Ortiz decision “does not concern McDonnell Douglas or any other burden-shifting
framework, no matter what it is called as a shorthand.” Id.
to reach an inference of discrimination.” Humphries v. CBOCS West, Inc., 474 F.3d 387,
405 (7th Cir. 2007).
Here, Plaintiff argues that his direct line supervisors, Plant Manager Adam Allen
(later replaced by Matt Fox) and Alvin Corbett are proper comparators because they
engaged in quality violations by failing to complete daily sanitation checklists, but were
not terminated. There is no evidence to substantiate Plaintiff’s allegation, but even if
there was, Plaintiff was not terminated for failing to complete sanitation checklists.
According to WSG, Plaintiff was terminated for sending an email intentionally
dismissive of quality concerns once the lack of completed sanitation lists was brought up
as an area of needed improvement. Therefore, Allen, Fox, and Corbett are not proper
Next, Plaintiff argues Kyle Watson, a manager in the Quality Department, is a
proper comparator because he sent rude and inappropriate work emails but was not
terminated. The worst of the two emails at issue reads:
We just discussed this during our mock audit!! We have no traceability when
there are multiple items on a pallet. All of production is to shut down
immediately!! This shit has to stop!! If I have to shut the plant down every
10 minutes until this is corrected on a permanent basis, I will!
(Filing No. 30-19, Email from Watson at 3; see also id. at 2 (“Overall sense of urgency to
get cleaning completed is severely lacking. . . . The lady on the other rotation was 100%
correct when she said people are LAZY!!!”)). Watson’s email differs from Plaintiff’s in
one material respect—his emails demonstrate his concern over quality-related issues.
Plaintiff’s, on the other hand, is derisive of quality concerns. Therefore, Watson is not
similarly situated to Plaintiff.
Lastly, Plaintiff lists six additional lower level employees—Anthony Klowetter,
Darrell Lummer, Martin Martinez, Chad Shively, Luke Wilson, and Tony Lovatto—as
comparators, claiming that each of them received only disciplinary action for quality
violations. None of these individuals, however, are similarly situated to Plaintiff because
none of them held the same management position as he did. Plaintiff was the Production
Manager over the whole plant; a member of senior management is not similarly-situated
with subordinates. See Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 680 (7th Cir.
2002); Hoffman v. MCA, Inc., 144 F.3d 1117, 1124 (7th Cir. 1998) (same). Moreover,
none of the identified employees sent emails dismissive of quality concerns like Plaintiff
did. Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to identify a similarly situated non-disabled individual
who was treated more favorably than he. Therefore, he fails to establish his prima facie
case, and his disability discrimination claim must fail as a matter of law. Williams v.
Airborne Express, Inc., 521 F.3d 765, 768 (7th Cir. 2008) (“The failure to establish any
single element of the prima facie case dooms a discrimination claim.”).
Even if Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination,
WSG had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for terminating his employment.
Plaintiff admits that on January 6, 2015, he sent a sarcastic email response, copying
several managers, to Boampong from the Quality Department, who had notified the
group of deficiencies in missing months-worth of sanitation checklists. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 7;
Plaintiff Dep. at 69 (testifying he “intended” the email to sound sarcastic “because
[Boampong] never came and talked to me. Nobody mentioned anything of this.”)).
Plaintiff argues this asserted reason is a mere pretext for discrimination.
First, Plaintiff argues pretext is shown because WSG cannot identify an employee
who is willing to take ultimate responsibility for making the decision to terminate his
employment. As support for his argument, he cites this court’s decision in Lyons v. Long
Cooling Sys., 2000 WL 682658 (S.D. Ind. Feb. 22, 2000). There, the court found an
inference of discrimination based on the “inconsistencies in [the] employer’s account of
the reasons for firing [the] employee.” Id. at *2. Here, the deposition testimony of
Corbett, Mathews, and Weaver reflects that there was consensus among them that
termination was the appropriate action. (Mathews Dep. at 23; Corbett Dep. at 28;
Weaver Dep. at 59). The only discrepancy in their termination lies in their answers
regarding who the “ultimate” decision-maker was. (See Corbett Dep. at 28 (testifying the
three decision-makers were “Will Weaver, Tom Mathews, and myself,” but that the
ultimate decision-maker was “Will Weaver.”); Mathews Dep. at 23 (testifying the three
came to a consensus to terminate Plaintiff, but ultimately, “the owner of the company
could have said one way or the other.”); Weaver Dep. at 59 (testifying he would
“imagine” both Mathews and Corbett recommended termination, that he agreed with their
recommendation, but that the ultimate decision “is always the manager’s
responsibility”)). This is not the type of discrepancy which raises an inference of
discrimination, as there is no conflict in the evidence regarding the reasons for the
adverse action. See Bagew v. Sedgwick Claims Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 811 F.3d 866, 881-82
(7th Cir. 2016) (holding the decision-maker’s “explanations must actually be shifting and
inconsistent to permit an inference of mendacity”) (quoting Schuster v. Lucent Techs.,
Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 577 (7th Cir. 2003)).
Next, Plaintiff argues that WSG was aware, by virtue of his December 4
“Concussion symptoms” email, that the concussion he suffered had affected his
demeanor. He surmises that WSG should have taken that into account before terminating
his employment. “A reasonable jury may conclude,” he argues, “that Defendant would
not tolerate a disabled employee who fundamentally changed his demeanor and temper
after being concussed.” (Filing No. 29, Response at 31). Plaintiff’s argument rests on
pure speculation and conjecture. On summary judgment, the court may not make this
type of speculative leap. Collins v. Am. Red Cross, 715 F.3d 994, 997 (7th Cir. 2013)
(holding the court “will not draw inferences that are supported by only speculation or
In addition, Plaintiff argues that in December 2014, Carlton Stewart, his
subordinate, asked Plant Manager Adam Allen when he (Plaintiff) would be returning to
work. (Filing No. 30-5, Declaration of Carlton Stewart ¶ 4). Allen responded that “Tom
[Mathews] knew somebody that heard [Plaintiff] was looking for a lawyer to sue them
because of his injuries,” and “[Plaintiff] probably won’t be coming back.” (Id.).
Plaintiff, however, does not connect this alleged statement to the later decision to
terminate him after he sent the email derisive of quality. See Fuka v. Thomson Concumer
Elec., 82 F.3d 1397, 1403 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding a plaintiff must demonstrate that
seemingly stray workplace remarks were related to the employment decision in question;
otherwise, the remark fails to give rise to an inference of discrimination). In fact,
Mathews did not think that Plaintiff was going to sue Weaver or WSG (Mathews Dep. at
61); Corbett testified that he had not heard a rumor that Plaintiff spoke to a lawyer prior
to the termination decision (Corbett Dep. at 50); and Weaver similarly stated he had no
knowledge of Plaintiff speaking with an attorney (Weaver Dep. at 135). Moreover, the
attributed statement, “Rod probably won’t come back” fails to show pretext, as it could
easily have meant that Plaintiff might opt on his own not to return, not that WSG had
prevented him from doing so. Indeed, WSG did allow Plaintiff to return to work after the
alleged statement, thus negating any retaliatory interpretation.
Plaintiff further argues “the email at issue, on its face, does not justify the
termination of [him].” (Response at 28). Plaintiff’s opinion of the appropriate level of
discipline for his email is irrelevant, so long as the decision-makers honestly believed that
his termination was appropriate. Tyler v. Trs. of Purdue Univ., 834 F. Supp. 2d 830, 840
(N.D. Ind. 2011) (“The Court does not sit as a ‘super-personnel department,’ weighing
the wisdom of a company’s employment decisions; rather [it is] concerned only with
whether the employer’s proffered explanation was honest.”) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted)). Here, Plaintiff fails to raise a genuine issue of material fact with
respect to whether WSG honestly believed the asserted reason for his termination.
Indeed, WSG has terminated employees in the past who did not take quality seriously.
For example, WSG immediately fired its Quality Manager when it failed the November
2014 AIB audit. (Corbett Aff. ¶ 5). And last, but not least, Plaintiff admits that he would
have disciplined a subordinate for sending the same email. (Plaintiff Dep. at 67 (“I said I
wouldn’t allow one of my employees to write an email like that to them, that I would
And finally, although Plaintiff’s condition persists, at the time of his termination,
he had been released to return to work full time by January 12, 2015. Therefore, while he
was terminated during his two-week modified work schedule, there is no evidence that
WSG knew his condition was of a lengthy duration. Hedberg v. Ind. Bell Tel. Co., Inc.,
47 F.3d 928, 934 (7th Cir. 1995) (“The ADA does not require clairvoyance.”).
For these reasons, the court finds no reasonable jury would conclude Plaintiff was
terminated because of his disability. Therefore, the court must GRANT WSG’s Motion
for Summary Judgment on Count I of Plaintiff’s Complaint for disability discrimination.
Count II, Retaliation
The ADAAA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who assert
their right under the Act to be free from discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a). Here,
Plaintiff alleges that he engaged in protected activity3 under the ADAAA and was
terminated because of it. To prevail on this claim, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie
case of retaliation by showing that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) he was
performing his job satisfactorily; and (3) he was singled out for an adverse employment
action that similarly situated employees who did not engage in protected activity did not
suffer. Dickerson v. Bd. of Trs. of Comm. Coll. Dist. No. 522, 657 F.3d 595, 601-02 (7th
Plaintiff’s requests for reasonable accommodations constitute protected activity under the
ADAAA. Silk v. City of Chicago, 194 F.3d 788, 800 (7th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff engaged in
protected activity when he requested medical leave from work and a modified work schedule due
to his disability. Notably, Defendants do not contest this element.
Cir. 2011). Like a disability discrimination claim, once a plaintiff satisfies his initial
burden, the burden then shifts to the defendant to present a non-invidious reason for the
adverse employment action. If the defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff must then
demonstrate that the defendant’s proffered reason was pretextual. Id. at 602.
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim relies on the same comparators the court has just
rejected in its analysis of his disability discrimination claim. Therefore, the court must
find he cannot establish that he was singled out for an adverse employment action that
similarly situated employees who did not engage in protected activity did not suffer. Id.
Moreover, for the same reasons set forth above with respect to Plaintiff’s disability
discrimination claim, Plaintiff cannot rebut WSG’s legitimate reason for terminating his
employment. Furthermore, with specific regard to this claim, Plaintiff admitted in his
deposition that WSG fully accommodated him by initiating his workers’ compensation
claim, granting him his requests for medical leave and his request for a modified work
schedule (4-hour work days). (See Plaintiff Dep. at 47, 49, 50, 52, 55-56, 60). For these
reasons, the court finds no reasonable jury would find Plaintiff was terminated because he
engaged in protected activity. Therefore, the court must GRANT WSG’s Motion for
Summary Judgment on Count II of Plaintiff’s Complaint for retaliation.
Wrongful Termination in Violation of Indiana Public Policy—
Only one state law claim remains—Plaintiff’s retaliatory discharge claim.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), the court may hear all claims that “are so related to
claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case
or controversy.” In the present case, the court will exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over this claim as it arises from the same case or controversy.
Plaintiff’s common law retaliatory discharge action is commonly called a
“Frampton” claim. Frampton v. Central Indiana Gas Co., 260 Ind. 249 (1973). In the
case from which it derives its name, the Indiana Supreme Court held that an employer
may not discharge an employee in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
See Markley Enterprises, Inc. v. Grover, 716 N.E.2d 559, 565 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999). “To
maintain a Frampton claim, [plaintiff] must establish a causal connection between his
termination and the filing of his workers’ compensation claim.” Hudson v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 412 F.3d 781, 785 (7th Cir. 2005) (addressing Indiana law). His prima facie
case thus consists of three elements: (1) he filed a workers’ compensation claim; (2) he
was terminated from his employment; and (3) there is a causal connection between the
filing of his workers’ compensation claim and his termination. Mullins v. Lobdell Emery,
Inc., NA 01-3-C B/S, 2002 WL 459040, at *4 (S.D. Ind. March 21, 2002).
The evidence establishes that WSG filed a workers’ compensation claim on his
behalf. Nevertheless, Plaintiff attempts to establish the first element of his prima facie
case by arguing that his wife called Dudley Berthold, Defendants’ Safety and Health
Representative, and stated their intent to pursue workers’ compensation remedies.
However, the portions of the deposition cited by Plaintiff do not even discuss his
workers’ compensation claim, and to the extent they discuss his wife’s conversations and
actions, Plaintiff testified: “We’d have to ask Linda [his wife].” (Plaintiff Dep. at 37).
Furthermore, Plaintiff’s own testimony dooms his claim: “I don’t know, really, how [the
worker’s compensation claim] was filed. . . . I assumed that Dudley took care of it or that
WSG took care of it.” (Id. at 60). Plaintiff thus fails to satisfy his prima facie case.
Therefore, the court must GRANT WSG’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Count III
of Plaintiff’s Complaint for retaliatory discharge.
The court finds no genuine issue of material fact exists on Counts I-III of
Plaintiff’s Complaint and that judgment must be entered in favor of WSG. Accordingly,
WSG’s Motion for Summary Judgment of Plaintiff’s Complaint (Filing No. 26) is
SO ORDERED this 31st day of March 2017.
RICHARD L. YOUNG, JUDGE
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
Distributed Electronically to Registered Counsel of Record
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?