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Riley v. City of Kokomo

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 20, 2018

Angela Riley, Plaintiff-Appellant,
City of Kokomo, Indiana Housing Authority, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued January 18, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. No. l:15-cv-00391-WTL-DML - William T. Lawrence, Judge.

          Before Sykes and Hamilton, Circuit Judges, and Lee, District Judge. [*]


         Angela Riley worked for the Kokomo Housing Authority for eight years before she was terminated in May 2014. During her employment, Riley suffered from seizures, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression, which required her to take various leaves of absence. She now claims that the housing authority improperly denied her requests for medical leave and retaliated against her for these requests by disciplining and terminating her, all in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. She also asserts that the housing authority failed to make reasonable accommodations and discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Finally, Riley claims that she was subjected to retaliation for engaging in protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3617.

         The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the housing authority on all claims. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Riley began working for the Kokomo Housing Authority ("KHA") as a front desk clerk in November 2008. KHA provides vouchers to low-income individuals and families to subsidize rent in privately owned rental properties throughout Kokomo, Indiana.

         Prior to working at KHA, Riley had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and frontal lobe seizures. Her physician's assistant certified that, due to these medical conditions, Riley required periodic breaks between one to eight hours per day, for up to two days per week. Beginning in March 2010, Riley requested, and KHA granted her, intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").

         KHA laterally transferred Riley to another position in April 2010, requiring her to split her time between two offices. When working in the second office, Riley was assigned to work in a closet. Riley felt that she was being punished for taking medical leave and repeatedly asked her superiors why she was being punished.

         Eight months later, in December 2010, KHA promoted Riley to the position of low-rent-application processing clerk. As a result, she received a pay raise and was moved to a different workspace. Her duties in the new position included processing applications for public housing, interviewing applicants, maintaining a wait list and applicant files, and communicating with approved applicants when units became available.

         Because her medical bills were mounting, Riley applied for social security disability benefits in 2011. Cheryl Morrow, KHA's Director of Human Resources, had suggested that Riley apply so that she would be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid benefits. But when a representative from the social security office informed Riley that she would have to quit her job to qualify for the benefits, Riley decided not to pursue it. As Riley sees it, Morrow's suggestion that Riley apply for benefits reveals an intent to discriminate against her on the basis of her disability.

         In 2012, Riley submitted written complaints about several of her coworkers to Debra Cook, KHA's Chief Operating Officer. In them, Riley complained that a male coworker had a habit of wearing jeans that exposed his upper buttocks, that another coworker was treating clients rudely and disrespectfully without receiving any correction or discipline, and that her female supervisor had poor personal hygiene and routinely hugged Riley and kissed her cheek. Cook addressed these concerns with the employees, and the issues were resolved.

         During this same period, other KHA employees regularly complained to Cook about Riley. In short, they reported numerous incidents when Riley had treated them in a negative and demeaning manner.

         In September and October 2013, Riley requested and received 43 days of FMLA leave from KHA. Riley sought additional medical leave for doctor appointments in February 2014. And, although she had exhausted her available leave time, KHA gave Riley time off to attend them.

         In March 2014, KHA issued Riley a written warning for insubordination for allowing a KHA tenant to transfer from one housing unit to another without obtaining the necessary approvals. What happened is not in dispute.

         When a KHA tenant wishes to transfer from one unit to another, KHA requires the tenant to submit a written transfer request. The request is reviewed by KHA, and if approved, the tenant's information is provided to someone in Riley's position so that arrangements can be made for the tenant to see the new unit.

         On March 6, 2014, Riley arranged for a friend, a KHA tenant who wanted to move to another housing unit, to visit a new unit. However, the friend had not submitted a transfer application to KHA, nor had the friend been approved for a transfer. That same day, Riley provided the tenant's name to Margaret King, a KHA leasing specialist, and explained that her friend would be transferring from one unit to another. King requested the tenant's file, and Riley assured her that the file would be forthcoming. Based on Riley's representations, King assumed that the transfer had already been approved and leased the new unit to Riley's friend.

         Because KHA had not approved the transfer, it issued a verbal warning to King and a written warning to Riley for intentionally circumventing the transfer policy and for insubordination. According to Riley, she was falsely blamed for the unapproved transfer because her only ...

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