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English v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 6, 2014

Cindy English, Plaintiff,
General Electric Company, Defendant.


Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

Plaintiff Cindy English brought the instant suit against her employer Defendant General Electric Company (“GE”) under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”). Presently pending before the Court is GE’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [Filing No. 33.] For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the motion.


Standard of Review

A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant’s factual assertion can result in the movant’s fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O’Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).



The following factual background is drawn from the admissible evidence submitted by the parties that is either undisputed or viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Ms. English.

Ms. English started working as an assembler at GE’s Bloomington, Indiana, refrigerator manufacturing plant in 1985. [Filing No. 34-1, at ECF p. 3.] A rotator cuff injury in 2007 led Ms. English to be given a permanent medical restriction that forbids her from reaching above her shoulders with either arm. [Filing No. 37-2, at ECF p. 1.] After missing several months of work, Ms. English returned to GE, performing work that did not violate her restriction. [Filing No. 37-2, at ECF p. 1.] In 2009, she bid on a position as a repair operator on the B19 line (the “B19 job”). [Filing No. 37-2, at ECF p. 2.] It is GE’s policy that open hourly positions such as this are generally awarded based on seniority. [Filing No. 34-3, at ECF p. 2.] Once a job has been awarded to an employee, GE’s medical staff reviews the employee’s medical file to determine whether any restrictions would prevent the employee from performing the essential functions of the new position. [Filing No. 34-3, at ECF p. 2.] If the medical staff determines that the employee is not medically qualified for the new position, they notify GE’s Human Resources Department, which then notifies the employee. [Filing No. 34-3, at ECF p. 2-3.]

GE has a formal ADA reasonable accommodation process, which requires the establishment of an Accommodation Review Committee (“ARC”). [Filing No. 34-5, at ECF p. 39.] The ARC must identify the essential functions of the desired job, verify the employee’s medical classification, consult with that employee, and identify possible accommodations. [Filing No. 34-5, at ECF p. 40-41.] Although Ms. English was initially awarded the vacant B19 job based on her seniority, GE’s medical staff found that her shoulder restriction prevented her from performing all essential functions of the job. [Filing No. 34-3, at ECF p. 3.] This determination triggered GE’s reasonable accommodation process for Ms. English and the establishment of an ARC. The ARC members may vary from case to case, but in Ms. English’s case, the ARC included Jim Strasler, GE’s Environmental Health and Safety Manager; Mike Duregger, the Plant Manager; Toni Kristoff, an on-site nurse; Julia Karr, the Human Resources Administrator; Sharon Crane, a nurse practitioner; and Ruth Whitt, an ergonomic specialist. [Filing No. 34-4, at ECF p. 19-20; Filing No. 34-5, at ECF p. 13-14.] Ms. Whitt was tasked with determining whether a reasonable accommodation was available that would allow Ms. English to perform the essential functions of the B19 job. [Filing No. 34-5, at ECF p. 11-12.] In Ms. Whitt’s opinion, a particular three-step stool could safely accommodate Ms. English’s shoulder restriction. [Filing No. 37-6, at ECF p. 10.] Ms. English is familiar with the requirements of the B19 job because her stepmother had the job for thirty-eight years and Ms. English frequently visited her and saw her perform the job. [Filing No. 37-2, at ECF p. 3.] Based on that knowledge, Ms. English believes the stool would allow her to perform all the duties of the B19 job without violating her restriction. [Filing No. 34-1, at ECF p. 13.]

At a subsequent ARC meeting, the committee members in attendance agreed to schedule a demonstration that would allow Ms. English to demonstrate her ability to work on the B19 line with a three-step stool. [Filing No. 37-3, at ECF p. 2.] However, on the morning of the demonstration, it was cancelled. [Filing No. 34-1, at ECF p. 21.] While the details of the cancellation are not entirely clear, the decision to do so was apparently made by Mr. Strasler. [Filing No. 34-7, at ECF p. 6; Filing No. 37-3, at ECF p. 3.] Mr. Strasler, in consultation with other members of the committee, determined that additional stools on the B19 line would constitute a safety hazard; among other things, there was a concern that the width of the required stool would put it too close to the tracks of ball bearings and pin rollers and would block ingress and egress. [Filing No. 34-4, at ECF p. 25-26; Filing No. 34-7, at ECF p. 5.] Because GE determined there was no reasonable accommodation for Ms. English’s restriction, the B19 job was awarded to another employee. [Filing No. 37-3, at ECF p. 3.]



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