WILLOUGHBY v. PRI-PAK
ORDER granting 25 Motion for Summary Judgment. Final Judgment shall enter accordingly. See Order for details. Signed by Judge Sarah Evans Barker on 1/27/2017 (copy mailed to plaintiff). (LBT)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
NEW ALBANY DIVISION
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
This cause is before the Court on Defendant Pri-Pak, Inc.’s Motion for Summary
Judgment [Docket No. 25], filed on May 27, 2016. For the reasons detailed below,
Defendant’s motion is GRANTED.
Pri-Pak, Inc., is an Indiana corporation that provides beverage bottling, packaging,
warehouse, and warehouse distribution services. Plaintiff Kathleen Willoughby began
working for Pri-Pak in March 2001. At the commencement of her employment with PriPak, Willoughby received, read, and signed an employee handbook containing company
policies, with which she agreed to comply. The handbook delineates several “Specific
The facts below are taken largely from Defendant Pri-Pak’s “Statement of Material Facts Not in
Dispute,” filed pursuant to the Court’s Local Rules on May 27, 2016. See Dkt. 26. Though Plaintiff
submitted a letter to the Court on June 28, 2016, she has not disputed these facts as they were presented
Work Rules” which “are regarded as serious in nature and will normally result in
immediate suspension pending discharge of employment.” Def.’s Ex. 2 at 20. The list of
Specific Work Rules includes, inter alia, “Theft or dishonesty” and “Falsification of
company records, including but not limited to, punch cards and time cards.” Id.
Willoughby’s employment with Pri-Pak apparently proceeded without incident or
interruption until August 2, 2009, when Willoughby was involved in a non-work-related
motorcycle accident resulting in the amputation of her left leg. Following the accident,
Willoughby was unable to return to work for nearly two years, until July 4, 2011, at
which time she assumed her duties and functions, which she was able to perform without
limitation or required accommodation.
Slightly more than a year after her return, on August 29, 2012, Willoughby was
observed standing idly near the company’s time clock for seventeen minutes before
eventually “punching out.” In response to this incident, Willoughby received a training
session regarding the company’s time-card policies and was required to modify her
“punch out” time to accurately reflect her completion of work time. She apparently did
not dispute or challenge this sanction or the need for it.
In July of the following year, Willoughby was transferred from the third shift to
the second shift. After being moved to the earlier shift, Willoughby regularly arrived at
work early, often reporting and clocking in more than ten minutes before her shift was
scheduled to begin. On October 1, 2013, Willoughby received a verbal warning and a
“write-up” for her practice of clocking in more than ten minutes prior to her shift
beginning. Def.’s Ex. 10. In response to the discipline, Willoughby admitted that she had
been clocking in early, but disputed the need for a “write-up” in addition to her verbal
warning; however, she did not file any formal grievance with Pri-Pak to dispute these
relatively minor disciplinary actions.
On August 25, 2014, Willoughby was suspended by Pri-Pak pending a discharge
determination. The Disciplinary Report provided as follows:
Description of the Incident:
Over the course of 5 scheduled work weeks, Kathy Willoughby
was caught on camera stealing 6 hours and 5 minutes of
company time. During this time, Kathy punched in at the
employee time clock and proceeded to the break room prior to
actually going to her work station as required or reporting to
her supervisor for assignment. Per Handbook, under 7.3
Specific Work Rules, it was noted that theft will normally
result in termination of employment. Kathy will receive a 5 day
suspension pending the results of the investigation and possible
I would like to keep my job and dock me the 6 hrs 5 min pay
out of my check.
Def.’s Ex. 13 at 60. A meeting was scheduled for September 2, 2014, and on September
9, 2014, Pri-Pak terminated Willoughby, stating in the subsequent Disciplinary Report
[Willoughby] was made aware of the seriousness of the
violation of specific work rules when she received and signed
for her employee handbook on 06/27/2002. Under 7.3 Specific
Work Rules, it was noted that, theft will normally result in
termination of employment. Due to the seriousness of this
infraction, [Willoughby] will be terminated from Pri-Pak.
Def.’s Ex. 13 at 58.
Willoughby has testified that she understood Pri-Pak’s purpose for disciplining her
and has admitted to stealing company time. Willoughby Dep. at 59:18–60:1. Nonetheless,
she filed a grievance under her union’s collective bargaining agreement, which was
eventually withdrawn by the union for lack of merit. See Def.’s Ex. 15. Thereafter,
Willoughby filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Indiana Department of
Workforce Development, which was also dismissed “due to a violation of the employer’s
policy [that] was known, reasonable, and uniformly enforced.” Defs.’ Ex 16 at 50. In her
appeal of the discharge, Willoughby again admitted that she had stolen company time and
that she knew that time theft was a violation of company rules. Willoughby Dep. 60:2–
Having struck out on her prior challenges to her termination, on February 19,
2015, Willoughby filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”) claiming that she was unlawfully terminated by Pri-Pak because
of her alleged disability. Def.’s Ex. 19. For the first time, Willoughby claimed that two
non-disabled Pri-Pak employees, who were also caught stealing company time, were not
terminated. Id. Following its investigation, the EEOC dismissed Willoughby’s charge
because it was unable to conclude that the information it had obtained established a
violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Def.’s Ex. 22. Willoughby
was issued a right to sue notice on March 17, 2015. Id. On May 18, 2015, Willoughby
filed her pro se Complaint in this action against Defendant Pri-Pak, alleging that the
company had wrongfully terminated her employment in violation of the ADA. Dkt. 1. On
May 27, 2016, Defendant Pri-Pak moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims.
Dkt. 25. We have this motion before us here for resolution.
Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows that there is “no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material
fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party
and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See id. at 255.
However, neither the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the
parties,” id. at 247, nor the existence of “some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts,” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), will
defeat a motion for summary judgment. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Illinois, Inc.,
209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir.2000).
The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.
The party seeking summary judgment on a claim on which the non-moving party bears
the burden of proof at trial may discharge its burden by showing an absence of evidence
to support the non-moving party's case. Id. at 325. A failure to prove one essential
element “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.
The ADA prohibits discrimination “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). To prove a claim of discriminatory
discharge under the ADA, a Plaintiff must show that she (1) was disabled within the
meaning of the ADA, (2) was qualified to perform the essential job functions of the job
with or without accommodation, and (3) was terminated because of her disability.
Dickerson v. Bd. of Trustees of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 522, 657 F.3d 595, 600 (7th Cir.
For purposes of its motion for summary judgment, Defendant Pri-Pak has not
disputed either of the first two elements. Pri-Pak contends instead that Willoughby’s
claim fails because she lacks evidence to establish that her termination was the result of
her disability. Pri-Pak has put forth an array of evidence to show that Willoughby’s
employment was terminated, not because of her disability, but because of her violations
of the Specific Work Rules, of which she not only had notice based on the company’s
employee handbook, but which she acknowledged on prior occasions in discussions with
her supervisors. Her violations are detailed in the Disciplinary Reports attached to the
motion, including information as to her history of time theft and falsification of company
time cards. See Def.’s Ex. 13 at 58–60. Moreover, as Pri-Pak points out, Willoughby has
repeatedly admitted to having committed these violations. Willoughby Dep. at 59:18–
Once a moving party has shown that it is entitled to summary judgment based on
its version of the facts, the nonmoving party must respond by setting forth specific facts
that show that a genuine dispute exists which requires a trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e);
Becker v. Tenenbaum–Hill Assoc., Inc., 914 F.2d 107, 110 (7th Cir. 1990). Indeed, where
the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, summary judgment
must be entered if that party fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence
of an element essential to [its] case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
There are multiple methods of proof available to a plaintiff seeking to prevail on a
claim of discrimination, all of which culminate in the central question: “whether the
evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's [disability]
caused the discharge....” Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir.
Here, Plaintiff’s efforts to make any such showing have fallen well short of the
mark. In responding to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Willoughby has
expressed her frustration and disagreement with the decision to terminate her for
violating the Specific Work Rules. She contends that, contrary to her supervisors’
assessments, she was clearly working on “paperwork” (as opposed to Crossword Puzzles)
in the break room prior to beginning her shifts. See Dkt. 29. In addition, she contends
that pursuant to her union’s collective bargaining agreement, she was entitled to a oneday suspension followed by a three-day suspension prior to receiving a five-day
suspension, all of which precede her being subject to a termination. Id.
Whether Pri-Pak misjudged her record and prematurely subjected her to
termination as punishment for her violation(s) is irrelevant to the issues before us in the
absence of some evidence that Pri-Pak’s decision was based on her physical disability. As
the Seventh Circuit has often ruled, courts “do not sit as a kind of ‘super-personnel
department’ weighing the prudence of employment decisions made by firms charged with
employment discrimination.” Wollenburg v. Comtech Mfg. Co., 201 F.3d 973, 976 (7th
Cir. 2000) (quoting Giannopoulos v. Brach & Brock Confections, Inc., 109 F.3d 406, 410
(7th Cir.1997)). In a disability discrimination case under the ADA, the only issue before
the Court is whether Pri-Pak’s explanation that Willoughby was discharged for stealing
company time was an honest statement of its reason(s) or whether that decision was
simply a pretext for its underlying discriminatory motivations. Willoughby has failed to
provide any evidence contradicting Pri-Pak’s honest belief she had violated the
company’s Specific Work Rules. Pri-Pak is thus entitled summary judgment on
Willoughby’s claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
For the reasons detailed above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment
[Docket No. 25] is hereby GRANTED. Final Judgment shall enter accordingly.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
505 1/2 3rd Street
Aurora, IN 47001
David L. Swider
BOSE MCKINNEY & EVANS, LLP
BOSE MCKINNEY & EVANS, LLP
Philip R. Zimmerly
BOSE MCKINNEY & EVANS, LLP
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