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Rowlands v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

United States District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

February 19, 2015



Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge United States District Court

Linda Rowlands brought suit against her former employer, United Parcel Service, under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and ERISA after her employment was terminated on July 19, 2012 and January 2, 2013. She alleges that UPS discriminated and/or retaliated against her and denied her benefits to which she would have been entitled in the future based on her sex, age, and/or disability (an unspecified knee injury), and that similarly situated male employee were treated more favorably with respect to the enforcement of the company’s policies and procedures and disciplinary issues. UPS moves to dismiss the ADA and ERISA claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[1] For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

I. Standard of Review

A court considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) accepts as true the factual allegations of the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain 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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The allegations of the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and give the defendant fair notice of the claims being asserted and the grounds upon which they rest. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

II. Discussion

A. ADA Disability Claim

Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against any qualified individual with a disability on the basis of that disability. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, 12111. To establish a prima facie claim under Title I of the ADA, an employee must establish (1) that she is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that she is qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform the essential functions of the job that she holds or seeks; and (3) that she has suffered an adverse employment decision because of her disability. See Winsley v. Cook County, 563 F.3d 598, 603 (7th Cir.2009). UPS challenges only the first requirement, contending that Ms. Rowlands hasn’t shown that she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA.

The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). “Major life activities” include “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), and are “substantially limited” if the person is either unable to perform such an activity or is “significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration” of that activity when compared to an average person. See Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 193 (2002); Torres v. American Automotive Parts, No. 07 C 3702, 2008 WL 2622835, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 30, 2008); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i) and (j).

The amended complaint is vague about the nature of Ms. Rowlands’s alleged disability, but the attached EEOC charges allege that she suffered three injuries to her right knee between February 2012 and March 2012, that those injuries “substantially interfered with her ability to walk, stand, squat, and kneel, ” and that surgery was required and scheduled before her July 2012 termination. Ms. Rowlands doesn’t have to submit evidence to prove her case at this stage of the proceedings. “[S]he need only allege facts that, if accepted as true, state a plausible ADA claim.” Vance v. Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Northern Indiana, No. 3:13 CV 652, 2014 WL 321692, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 29, 2014) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The facts asserted in the EEOC charges and incorporated by reference in Ms. Rowlands’ amended complaint satisfy that burden.

B. ERISA Claim

Section 510 of ERISA provides that:

It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline, or discriminate against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan ... or for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan.... The provisions of section 1132 of this title shall be applicable in the enforcement of this section.

29 U.S.C. § 1140. Section 510 “offers protection against two types of conduct: adverse action taken because a participant availed [herself] of an ERISA right (an ‘exercise’ or ‘retaliation’ violation), and interference with the attainment of a right under ERISA (an ‘interference’ violation).” Coomer v. Bethesda Hosp., Inc., 370 F.3d 499, 506 (6th Cir.2004). While the amended complaint alleges both a retaliation and an interference violation, it doesn’t contain factual allegations that would support a plausible claim under either theory. Ms. Rowlands doesn’t allege that UPS terminated her employment based on a previous exercise of an ERISA right, or provide any factual basis for believing that UPS stated reason for discharging her was actually a pretext to avoid paying the cost of benefits that Ms. Rowland might have been entitled to at some undisclosed point in the future.

To survive a motion to dismiss her ERISA claim, Ms. Rowlands must sufficiently plead that she was a member of an ERISA plan, she was qualified for the position she held, and she was “discharged under circumstances that provide some basis for believing that [the employer] intended to deprive [her] of benefits.” Kampmier v. Emeritus Corp., 472 F.3d 930, 943 (7th Cir. 2007). See also Lindemann v. Mobil Oil Corp., 141 F.3d 290, 295 ...

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