GARRETT v. COMMUNITY HEALTH NETWORK, INC.
ORDER denying Defendant's 12 Motion to Dismiss. SEE ORDER. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 3/7/2017. (JRB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
COMMUNITY HEALTH NETWORK,
Defendant Community Health Network, Inc. (“Community”) hired Plaintiff Julie Garrett
to work as a nurse. Before accepting the position, Ms. Garrett underwent hip surgery. After she
started working, she suffered an injury while at work and reported her injury to Community to
seek compensation under the Workers Compensation Act. Community subsequently terminated
Ms. Garrett initiated this litigation against Community, alleging that it
terminated her employment when it learned of her disability in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and in retaliation for reporting her injury to seek compensation under
the Workers Compensation Act. [Filing No. 1 at 1-2.] Community has filed a Motion to Dismiss
Ms. Garrett’s Complaint, [Filing No. 12], and Ms. Garrett opposes that motion, [Filing No. 14].
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007)
(quoting Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2)). “Specific facts are not necessary, the statement need only ‘give
the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Erickson,
551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
A motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] 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). In reviewing the sufficiency of a
complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in
favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal, Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir.
2011). The Court will not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state
a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual
allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative
level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is “a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense.” Id.
The relevant background is set forth from the allegations of Ms. Garret’s Complaint, [Filing
No. 1], which the Court must accept as true pursuant to the applicable standard of review at this
stage of the proceedings. The Court emphasizes that these allegations are considered to be true
only for purposes of deciding the pending motion.
Ms. Garrett began her employment as a nurse with Community on January 5, 2015. [Filing
No. 1 at 2.] Prior to accepting employment with Community, Ms. Garrett had hip surgery. [Filing
No. 1 at 2.] On August 22, 2015, Ms. Garrett injured her back on the job while assisting a patient.
[Filing No. 1 at 2.] She reported her injury to Community and “a claim for workers compensation
was opened.” [Filing No. 1 at 2.] On November 4, 2015, Community terminated Ms. Garrett’s
employment, “stating that she would have never been hired had [Community] known of her
previous hip condition.” [Filing No. 1 at 2.]
On March 2016, Ms. Garrett filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). [Filing No. 1 at 2.] The EEOC issued Ms. Garrett a RightTo-Sue letter on July 20, 2016. [Filing No. 1 at 2.] On December 5, 2016, Ms. Garrett filed the
underlying lawsuit alleging that Community terminated her employment when it learned of her
disability in violation of the ADA and in retaliation for reporting her injury to seek compensation
under the Workers Compensation Act. [Filing No. 1.] Community has filed a Motion to Dismiss
Ms. Garrett’s claims, [Filing No. 13], and Ms. Garrett opposes that motion, [Filing No. 14]. The
Court will now address the merits of the pending motion.
Community raises two issues: 1) whether Ms. Garrett failed to allege an ADA
discriminatory discharge claim, [Filing No. 13 at 9]; and 2) whether she failed to allege a retaliatory
discharge claim under Indiana common law. [Filing No. 13 at 10.] 1 The Court will address the
A. Discriminatory Discharge Claim
Community argues that Ms. Garrett failed to allege that she is disabled under either the
direct or indirect method of proof. [Filing No. 13 at 9.] It further claims that under the indirect
method of proof, she “fail[ed] to allege that she was meeting Community’s legitimate employment
expectations.” [Filing No. 13 at 9.]
In addition, Community also argued that Ms. Garret failed to exhaust her administrative remedies
with respect to her public accommodation claim. [Filing No. 13 at 4.] However, in response, Ms.
Garrett clarifies that she is not raising that claim in her Complaint. [Filing No. 14 at 3.] Thus, the
Court finds this issue is moot.
In response, Ms. Garrett argues that in “paragraph 14 of [her] Complaint, [she] states that
she suffers from a disability [and/or] perceived disability as defined by the Americans with
Disabilities Act, specifically hip damage.” [Filing No. 14 at 2 (original emphasis).] Ms. Garrett
claims that Seventh Circuit precedent indicates that “evidence of discrimination should be
evaluated as a whole and not pigeon-holed into direct evidence and indirect evidence,” and that
she has set forth facts necessary to place Community on notice regarding the her claim and the
grounds upon which it rests. [Filing No. 14 at 3.] She argues that she is “not required to allege
evidence which may or may not be revealed through discovery.” [Filing No. 14 at 3.]
In reply, Community contends that Ms. Garrett “simply regurgitated her conclusory
allegation in her Complaint that she is disabled,” and that she “has not come forward with any
additional authority supporting the proposition that the simple identification of a health issue in a
complaint, without anything else, constitutes a disability under the ADA.” [Filing No. 17 at 3.]
Community claims that Ms. Garrett has failed to allege that her “hip condition” substantially limits
her major life activity and that she was meeting Community’s legitimate employment expectations.
[Filing No. 17 at 4.] Lastly, Community argues that Ms. Garrett “picks and chooses portions of
the indirect method to attempt to state a disability discrimination claim.” [Filing No. 17 at 4-5.]
A pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader
is entitled to relief; and  a demand for the relief sought . . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). “In reviewing
the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard . . . , [the Court] accept[s] the wellpleaded facts in the complaint as true, but legal conclusions and conclusory allegations merely
reciting the elements of the claim are not entitled to this presumption of truth.” McCauley, 671
F.3d at 616 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1951). The Court must determine whether the factual
allegations are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” McCauley, 671 F.3d
at 616 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57). Thus, the allegations must plausibly suggest an
entitlement to relief. McCauley, 671 F.3d at 616 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57).
Seventh Circuit precedent has determined that at the pleading stage, “[a] plaintiff charging
[a] violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act must allege that [s]he is disabled within the
meaning of the Act, is nevertheless qualified to perform the essential functions of the job either
with or without reasonable accommodation, and has suffered an adverse employment action
because of [her] disability. Tate v. SCR Medical Transp., 809 F.3d 343, 344 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing
Gogos v. AMS Mechanical Systems, Inc., 737 F.3d 1170, 1172 (7th Cir. 2013)). The plaintiff must
also allege the specific disability pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A) in order to give the defendant
“fair notice.” Tate, 809 F.3d at 344. Here, Ms. Garrett alleges in her Complaint that Community
hired her as a nurse, and that prior to accepting employment, she underwent hip surgery. [Filing
No. 1 at 1-2.] She alleges that she was able to perform the essential functions of the job. [Filing
No. 1 at 2.] She then alleges that she suffered an on-the-job injury while assisting a patient and
that Community terminated her employment, “stating that she would have never been hired had
[Community] known of her previous hip condition.” [Filing No. 1 at 1-2.] At this stage of the
litigation, Ms. Garrett is not required to describe how her disability affects her livelihood; rather,
she is merely required to indicate what disability she has in order to place Community on notice.
Here, she has alleged that she has hip damage.
Moreover, to prove that he or she has suffered disability discrimination under the ADA, a
plaintiff may proceed under the direct or indirect method. Buie v. Quad/Graphics, Inc., 366 F.3d
496, 503 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation ommitted). However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has
indicated that in Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims, the direct and indirect methods of
proof are evidentiary standards that are not suitable at the motion to dismiss stage. See
v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1028 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that the pleading standard
is “different from the evidentiary burden a plaintiff must subsequently meet when using the method
of indirect proof . . . .”); see also Ryan v. Goldshield Fiberglass, Inc., 2016 WL 2643443, at *4
(N.D. Ind. May 9, 2016) (explaining that “the direct and indirect methods of proving retaliation
under Title VII are . . . evidentiary standards, which are appropriately applied at summary
judgment or trial; the direct and indirect methods of proving retaliation under Title VII are not
pleading standards that are controlling at the motion to dismiss stage of litigation.”). The same
applies here, given that the standards, elements of proof, and available remedies under the ADA
are similar to Title VII. See Majors v. Gen. Elec. Co., 714 F.3d 527, 536 (7th Cir. 2013) (stating
that the standards and elements of retaliation claims are similar under the ADA and Title VII).
Accordingly, the Court denies Community’s motion to dismiss Ms. Garret’s discrimination claim.
Retaliatory Discharge Claim
Community argues that Ms. Garrett failed to allege sufficient facts to make her retaliatory
discharge claim plausible under Indiana common law. [Filing No. 13 at 10.] It argues that Ms.
Garrett’s Complaint is devoid of any factual content that alleges the causation element of a claim
under Frampton v. Cent. Indiana Gas Co., 297 N.E.2d 425 (Ind. 1973). [Filing No. 13 at 11.]
Community further contends that Ms. Garrett “does not allege any facts that would make it
plausible that Community terminated her employment in retaliation for Ms. Garrett’s workers’
compensation claim.” [Filing No. 13 at 11.]
Ms. Garrett argues that her retaliatory discharge claim is straightforward. [Filing No. 14
at 4.] She points to paragraphs 8, 9, 10, 21, 22, and 23 of the Complaint where she claims that she
set forth the necessary facts to place Community on notice regarding the relief that she seeks, the
substance of her claim, and the grounds upon which it rests. [Filing No. 14 at 4-5.]
In reply, Community argues that “the Complaint is devoid of any factual content that
alleges the third element of the Frampton claim – causation [–] . . . that would make it plausible
that Community terminated [her] employment in retaliation of her workers’ compensation claim.”
[Filing No. 17 at 5.]
Indiana law provides that if there is no definite or ascertainable term of employment, then
the employment is at-will and may be terminated at any time, with or without cause. Markley
Enters., Inc. v. Grover, 716 N.E. 2d 559, 564 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999). However, the Indiana Supreme
Court recognizes exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. Orr v. Westminster Vill. N., Inc.,
689 N.E.2d 712, 718 (Ind. 1997). One of the exceptions is when the employee is discharged for
exercising a statutorily conferred right, for instance, filing a worker’s compensation claim.
Frampton, 297 N.E.2d at 428.
In the Complaint, Ms. Garrett alleged that she was injured on the job while assisting a
patient, that she notified Community of her injury, and that a worker’s compensation claim was
opened. [Filing No. 1 at 2-3.] She then alleged that Community terminated Ms. Garrett in
retaliation for exercising her statutory right to report a work-related injury. [Filing No. 1.] These
factual allegations are sufficient to place Community on notice regarding the type of claim and
relief that she seeks. Because the Court must accept these factual allegations as true at this stage
of litigation, Ms. Garrett has sufficiently pled a retaliatory discharge claim.
For the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES Community’s Motion to Dismiss. [Filing
March 7, 2017
Ebony Reid Douglas
David M. Henn
HENN HAWORTH CUMMINGS & PAGE
Paul J. Cummings
HENN HAWORTH CUMMINGS & PAGE
Brandon M. Shelton
OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART PC (Indianapolis)
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