United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
William C. Lee, Judge U.S. District Court
matter is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment
and memorandum in support filed by Defendant Lincoln
Financial Group on January 22, 2018 (DE 27 and 28). Plaintiff
Latissha Williams filed a response in opposition on April 26,
2018 (DE 34) and Lincoln fled a reply on May 10 (DE
For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.
Williams filed this lawsuit against Lincoln, her former
employer, on February 7, 2018. Complaint (DE 1). Williams
claims that Lincoln discriminated against her in violation of
the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101
et seq., by failing to provide her with an
accommodation-in this case working from home or a remote
location instead of at the office-due to her environmental
allergies. Complaint, p. 2. Williams filed this lawsuit
pro se, but eventually was able to obtain counsel,
who entered appearances on Williams' behalf on March 15
and April 26 (DE 32, Notice of Appearance by Jon J. Olinger;
DE 33, Notice of Appearance by James A. Hanson). Williams
asserts that she suffered from environmental allergies, of an
unknown etiology, while working in her office at Lincoln. She
requested an accommodation to permit her to work from home or
another remote location. Williams submitted documents from
her physician stating that she suffered from this ailment and
needed to work from home or some other location outside of
Lincoln's offices. Lincoln considered Williams'
request but denied it on the basis that the essential duties
of her job had to be performed onsite. Williams ended up
leaving her employment, claiming she was forced to resign
when Lincoln refused to accommodate her by granting her
request to work from home. Complaint, p. 2.
tenure at Lincoln began when she “was initially placed
with Lincoln by a temporary employment agency in 2010.”
Defendant's Memorandum, p. 2 (citing Williams Depo., p.
“In October 2013, Lincoln hired Plaintiff as a
full-time employee in the Marketing Department in the
position of Senior Service Representative. Id.
(citing Williams Depo., pp. 16-17, 23-24). Williams' job
duties “entered on preparing enrollment kits for
employer retirement plans.” Id. (citing
Williams Depo., pp. 30-34). These enrollment kits contained
various information about specific retirement plans, such as
“when a customer's employee was able to enroll in
the retirement plan, the percentage for matching
contributions made by the employer, the amount the employee
could invest in the plan, and contact information for the
retirement plan.” Id., p. 3. According to
Lincoln, the process for compiling these enrollment kits, and
Williams' role in that process as a Senior Service
Representative, went like this:
[Williams] received information to include in the enrollment
kits from Lincoln Account Managers, who in turn received the
information from the Lincoln customers for whom Plaintiff was
preparing enrollment kits. . . . Prior to sending the final
version of the enrollment kit to customers, Plaintiff would
provide the enrollment kit to another Senior Service
Representative . . . for proofreading. . . . Similarly,
Plaintiff proofread enrollment kits prepared by other [SSRs].
. . . Depending on the circumstances, Plaintiff either sent
the enrollment kit to her co-worker via [e-mail] or printed a
hard copy of the kit to provide to her co-worker for
proofreading. Plaintiff provided a printed copy of the kit to
her co-worker for proofreading where there was a significant
amount of customization for the kit or when there were
specific concerns about ensuring the kit was properly
prepared for the customer. . . . Plaintiff was unable to
estimate how often she delivered printed copies of enrollment
kits to co-workers for proofreading versus sending copies via
e-mail. . . . Rather, she made that determination based upon
the individual customer's requirements. . . . There was
no standard turnaround time in which the enrollment kits were
required to be completed for delivery to the customer. . . .
The turnaround time was simply dependent upon the
customer's needs. . . . However, customers routinely
required enrollment kits to be completed on an expedited
basis. . . . [Williams] regularly interacted with her
supervisor in order to complete her job duties. . . . The
amount of interaction with her supervisor varied depending
upon the customer and its specific needs. . . . Plaintiff
also worked with other [SSRs] to jointly prepare enrollment
kits. . . . [SSRs] also filled in for each other as needed,
often under circumstances dealing with rush jobs for
Id., pp. 3-6 (citing Williams Depo., pp. 31-51).
Lincoln' argues that Williams could not perform her job
duties remotely, whether from home or some other location,
given that she had to interact with coworkers to complete her
tasks. While Williams does not dispute that she interacted
with colleagues to prepare enrollment kits, she insists that
Lincoln exaggerates the degree of interaction required or
that it had to be accomplished in person. Williams
writes as follows:
In her deposition, Plaintiff indicates that she worked with
twenty (20) or more account managers on a regular basis. . .
. Plaintiff states that some account managers worked
“in Lincoln, various floors, various buildings.”
. . . Plaintiff also states that some account managers
“worked from home.” . . . With respect to
how Plaintiff interacted with these account
managers, Plaintiff answered, “Via e-mail.” . . .
Plaintiff described her job function during the deposition as
I would make sure that information was entered into the
system correctly, proofread it for aesthetics, grammar. And
then once my portion was done, I would send the pdf over to
the vendor so the vendor could print the enrollment kit so
the enrollment kits can be delivered on time for the
employer's seminars or conferences that they were having
for the employees or for the new employees.
Response, pp. 6-7 (citing and quoting Williams Depo., pp.
33-34). In other words, “Plaintiff contends that the
job consisted of processing information that was rarely
reduced to hard copy. . . . Plaintiff's deposition as
noted above, reinforces her contention that the job was
primarily performed on a computer processing information
available to any computer with access to Defendant's
system located virtually anywhere. . . . In fact,
Plaintiff's deposition points out that some of the
account managers with whom Plaintiff interacted ‘worked
from home.'” Id., pp. 7-8. Williams argues
that she could have performed her job duties from home and
Lincoln's refusal to allow her to do so therefore
violated the ADA.
argues that it is entitled to summary judgment for two
reasons. First, Lincoln contends that Williams' claims
are “barred by the applicable limitations period . . .
[because] Plaintiff's request to work from home was
denied in excess of 300 days prior to the filing of
Plaintiff's Charge of Discrimination with the
[EEOC].” Defendant's Memorandum in Support, p. 1.
Second, Lincoln argues that “the essential functions of
Plaintiff's position could not be performed from home.
Rather, the job functions required Plaintiff to work from
Lincoln's office, just like every other Lincoln employee
in the same position. As a result, Plaintiff's
accommodation request was not reasonable under the
ADA.” Id., pp. 1-2.
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., 477 U.S. 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 Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir.
judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits nor is
it a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v.
Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994).
Therefore, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the
facts in favor of the non-movant, if genuine doubts remain
and a reasonable fact-finder could find for the party
opposing the motion, summary judgment is inappropriate.
See Shields Enterprises, Inc. v. First Chicago
Corp., 975 F.2d 1290, 1294 (7th Cir. 1992); Wolf v.
City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989).
If it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the
legal requirements necessary to establish his or her case,
summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated.
See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Ziliak v.
AstraZeneca LP, 324 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2003). Under
Rule 56, the movant has the initial burden of establishing
that a trial is not necessary. Sterk v. Redbox Automated
Retail, LLC, 770 F.3d 618, 627 (7th Cir. 2014).
“That burden may be discharged by showing . . . that
there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving
party's case.” Id. (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). The nonmovant “must go beyond
the pleadings (e.g., produce affidavits, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, or admissions on file) to demonstrate
that there is evidence upon which a jury could properly
proceed to find a verdict in [its] favor.” Id.
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “The
existence of a mere scintilla of evidence, however, is
insufficient to fulfill this requirement.” Wheeler
v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008).
“[S]peculation and conjecture” also cannot defeat
a motion for summary judgment. Cooney v. Casady, 735
F.3d 514, 519 (7th Cir. 2013). In addition, not all factual
disputes will preclude the entry of summary judgment, only
those that “could affect the outcome of the suit under
governing law.” Outlaw v. Newkirk, 259 F.3d
833, 837 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).
filed her Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on February
29, 2016. Complaint, p. 4 (copy of EEOC charge). Lincoln
notes that “300 days before that date is May 5, 2015.
Thus, any failure to accommodate claim that accrued before
May 5, 2015, is untimely.” Defendant's Memorandum,
p. 12. Lincoln contends that Williams' claims
are barred from the get-go because her “request that
she be permitted to work from home as an accommodation was
denied by Lincoln on March 17, 2015, or more than 300 days
before she filed her EEOC charge, making her claim
untimely.” Defendant's Memorandum, p. 10 (citations
omitted). Williams contends her claim was timely because even
after her request was denied, she continued to pursue the
matter until she resigned (or was constructively discharged)
on June 18. Plaintiff's Response, pp. 8-9. In other
words, Williams argues that the interactive process was
ongoing even after March 17, 2015, but Lincoln continued to
deny her requested accommodation, which she contends extends
the filing deadline to 300 days from the date she was
constructively discharged. Lincoln retorts by arguing that
“[t]he Seventh Circuit has stated that, for purposes of
the 300-day limitations period, the employer's
discriminatory act occurs ‘when the defendant has
taken the action that injures the plaintiff and when the
plaintiff knows she has been injured.'”
Defendant's Reply (DE 35), p. 11 (quoting Sharp v.
United Airlines, Inc., 236 F.3d 368, 372 (7th Cir. 2001)
(italics in original)). Lincoln insists that the company
“informed Plaintiff of its decision to deny her request
to work from home in March 2015. Lincoln took no further
alleged discriminatory action after this date.
Although Plaintiff reiterated her request to work from home
one day before her resignation-on June 17, 2015-she did not
wait for a response from Lincoln before resigning on June 18,
2015.” Id., p. 11. Lincoln insists that
Williams cannot claim that an ongoing interactive process (or
more specifically, a breakdown in that process as a result of
Lincoln's alleged intransigence) constituted a continuing
violation that served to extend the deadline for filing a
charge, and also that she “cannot use her
‘constructive discharge' claim to make her charge
timely.” Id. Lincoln insists that even
“assuming her alleged constructive discharge makes her
charge timely, Plaintiff has set forth absolutely no evidence
to support such a claim. Her mere assertion that she was
constructively discharged is not enough to survive summary
judgment.” Id., p. 12 (citations omitted).
cites numerous cases that support its position that
Williams' EEOC charge was untimely, including Dooley
v. Abbott Labs., 2009 WL 1033600, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Apr.
17, 2009) (plaintiff's failure to accommodate claims were
time-barred because plaintiff could “pinpoint the exact
date” the employer refused her accommodation request);
Fox v. Lear Corp., 327 F.Supp.2d 946, 952 (S.D. Ind.
July 28, 2004) (statute of limitations begins to run when
employer rejects employee's request); and Mendez v.
City of Chicago, 2004 WL 29805982004, *4 (N.D. Ill.Dec.
22, 2004) (employer's denial of employee's repeat
request for previously deniedaccommodations does
not constitute a new discriminatory act or make the previous
denial part of a continuing violation). Id.,
pp. 10-11 (italics added). Williams argues that the date of
her alleged constructive discharge is the ...