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Harris v. Allen County Board of Commissioners

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 18, 2018

Carleton Harris, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Allen County Board of Commissioners, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued February 16, 2018

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:15-CV-217-TLS - Theresa L. Springmann, Chief Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Kanne and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          Kanne, Circuit Judge.

         Carleton Harris was injured while working at the Allen County Juvenile Center. After he reached maximum medical improvement, both his disability benefits and his employment were terminated. Harris subsequently sued the Allen County Board of Commissioners and the Allen Superior Court for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("the ADA"). The only question on appeal is whether the Board of Commissioners was Harris's employer for the purpose of this suit. Because Harris failed to present adequate evidence to show that it was, the Board of Commissioners was entitled to summary judgment. Accordingly, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Indiana law generally authorizes juvenile courts to "establish juvenile detention and shelter care facilities for children." Ind. Code § 31-31-8-3(a) (2009); see also § 31-31-8-2 (detailing the criteria for juvenile detention facilities). If the court chooses to establish the juvenile facility, the judge must appoint staff and determine budgets. § 31-31-8-3(c). The county must pay all expenses for the detention facility from the county's general funds. § 31-31-8-3(d). Additionally, Indiana law specifically authorizes the Allen Superior Court to hire the juvenile facility personnel it believes necessary, and requires that personnel "perform duties as are prescribed by the court" and "serve at the pleasure of the court." Ind. Code § 33-33-2-14(a), (c) (2008).

         Under this statutory regime, the Allen Superior Court's Family Relations Division established the Allen County Juvenile Center (first named the Wood Youth Center). Carleton Harris began working at the facility in 1995. His offer of employment included the seal of the "Allen Superior Court, " and he signed the Superior Court's Employee Handbook, acknowledging that he entered into an employment relationship with the Superior Court. On the other hand, the job description for his position bore the seal of the Allen County Board of Commissioners, and his medical records authorization identified the "Allen County Board of Commissioners" as his employer and the "Wood Youth Center" as his department. During his employment, Harris's discipline was handed down by the Superior Court, and his job performance evaluations listed the "Allen County Juvenile Center" as his department with the title "Allen County Employee Performance Appraisal."

         Harris was promoted to the position of a Youth Care Specialist in 2003. It was in this position that he injured his back in September 2013 after being "kicked by a large inmate." Allen County's workers' compensation insurance covered Harris as a Juvenile Center employee, and it included medical treatment, temporary total disability benefits, and permanent partial impairment benefits for his injury. Shortly after he was injured, Harris was contacted by a county employee, Risk Manager/Attorney Charity Murphy, who sent him a form listing the "Allen County Government" as his employer so that he could start collecting workers' compensation benefits.

         In May 2014, Harris saw Dr. Kevin Rahn. Dr. Rahn determined that Harris had reached maximum medical improvement and gave Harris work restrictions. Shortly after, Murphy told Harris that his work restrictions prevented him from returning to his Youth Care Specialist position at the Juvenile Center. Murphy began working with Harris to help him find another job. Harris applied for a full-time judicial assistant position at the Superior Court. When he told Murphy that he applied to that position, she told him that she was unaware of the full-time opening. But-she told Harris-she could offer him a part-time judicial assistant position with more money per hour to offset the fact that the position did not come with benefits. Harris turned the job down.

          In the meantime, the Indiana Workers' Compensation Board granted Harris's request for an independent medical examination, which was conducted by Dr. Robert Gregori on August 14, 2014. Dr. Gregori reached the same conclusion as Dr. Rahn: that Harris had reached maximum medical improvement and that he needed permanent work restrictions.

         After this second diagnosis, Murphy informed Harris by an October 17 letter that the diagnosis terminated his workers' compensation benefits and that his permanent work restrictions prevented him from "perform[ing] the essential functions" of his position at the Juvenile Center, "with or without a reasonable accommodation." (R. 52-1, Murphy Letter, at 43.) He could not return to his position as a Youth Care Specialist. She advised Harris that it was her "responsibility as the [ADA] Coordinator to determine if there [we]re any other job vacancies within Allen County Government that [Harris] could transfer into or apply." (Id.) She included a link to currently available jobs and told him to let her know if he wanted to pursue any of the vacancies because she could contact the hiring official to help him get preference for any position for which he qualified. The letter also stated that Harris's "unpaid leave of absence w[ould] end on Monday, October 27, 2014, " if he chose not to apply for any vacant positions. (Id.) Harris applied to several jobs, but he did not obtain employment.

         On October 31, 2014, Harris received a letter from Allen County's insurance manager, informing him that he had not paid his October insurance premium. He had made the payment, so he called the insurance manager. She informed Harris that he didn't need to make any further insurance payments because he had been terminated. Shortly thereafter, Murphy called Harris and informed him that he "did not qualify for any of the jobs [he] applied for" and "was no longer employed because there were no jobs within [his] restrictions." (R. 52-1, Harris Aff., at 4.)

         Harris subsequently filed two charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2015. The Commission issued Harris a right-to-sue letter, and he brought this ADA suit against the Allen Superior Court and the Allen County Board of Commissioners. The Board moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted it, concluding that the Board was not Harris's employer so it could not have violated the ...

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