Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc., No. 19-3356 (7th Cir. 2020)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Pierri began working for Medline in 2011. In 2015, Pierri’s grandfather fell ill. Pierri's supervisor, Tyler, allowed Pierri to work 10‐hour shifts four days a week in order to take his grandfather on weekly hospital trips. Six months later, Tyler told Pierri to return to five‐day, eight-hour shifts. Tyler offered to let Pierri work Tuesday through Saturday, but Pierri wanted to attend school on Saturdays. Pierri began using one day per week of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Tyler harassed him and refused to assign him research and development work, on which Pierri’s bonus depended. Pierri complained to Medline’s HR department; the harassment continued. Citing stress, Pierri started full‐time FMLA leave in March 2016. In September, Medline then approved him for disability leave. In March 2017, Medline contacted Pierri’s attorney to find out whether he planned on returning. Pierri did not respond. Medline terminated his employment.

Pierri had filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and then filed suit, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(4), for his association with his ailing grandfather, and retaliation 42 U.S.C. 12203. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Medline. Pierri failed to present material facts in dispute that would show that Medline discriminated against him for his association with his grandfather or that he suffered an adverse employment action. Pierri’s failure to respond about returning to work caused his termination, not retaliation for his complaints.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 19 3356 FRANK PIERRI, Plaintiff Appellant, v. MEDLINE INDUSTRIES, INC., Defendant Appellee. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 17 C 9037 — Robert W. Gettleman, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED MAY 18, 2020 — DECIDED AUGUST 6, 2020 ____________________ Before WOOD, BARRETT, and SCUDDER, Circuit Judges. WOOD, Circuit Judge. Frank Pierri was a chemist for Med line Industries. Initially, he did well at the company, but prob lems arose after he asked for accommodations to enable him to take care of his ailing grandfather. Medline was receptive, and it ultimately gave him limited time off for this purpose under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Pierri as serts that his supervisor then became so hostile to him that he needed personal time off because of the stress. He left on 2 No. 19 3356 FMLA leave and never returned. Medline eventually termi nated his employment, causing Pierri to sue the company. The district court granted summary judgment for Medline, and we affirm. I Because we are reviewing a ruling on summary judgment, we take the facts in the light most favorable to Pierri, without vouching further for them. Our account should be under stood in this light. See Knopick v. Jayco, Inc., 895 F.3d 525, 527 (7th Cir. 2018). Pierri began working for Medline in 2011. During the first four years of his tenure at the company, Pierri earned several promotions and received consistently positive performance evaluations. Everything went well until 2015, when Pierri’s grandfather fell ill with liver cancer. Pierri asked Rich Tyler, his supervisor, if he could work ten hour shifts four days a week instead of the eight hour shifts five days a week that he had been covering. Pierri explained that he needed the altered schedule in order to care for his ailing grandfather. Tyler agreed and made the change. Six months later, however, Ty ler told Pierri that his work performance had suffered and that he would have to return to the normal five day, eight hour shifts. Pierri protested that he needed at least one week day off to take his grandfather on his weekly trips to the hos pital. Tyler offered to let Pierri work Tuesday through Satur day, but Pierri declined this accommodation because he wanted to attend school on Saturdays. Pierri then discussed his options with Medline’s Human Resources (HR) Depart ment and learned that he could care for his grandfather using leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Med line approved Pierri for one day of leave each week. No. 19 3356 3 After Pierri began working under the new schedule, Tyler began harassing him. Tyler belittled him in front of co work ers, demanded to know minutiae of Pierri’s day to day sched ule, and refused to assign him research and development work, on which Pierri’s bonus primarily depended. Pierri filed several complaints with Medline’s HR depart ment, but the harassment continued and began to take a toll on him. Citing stress and anxiety, Pierri asked for full time FMLA leave. Medline granted his request e ective March 30, 2016 and kept him on that status through the end of Septem ber 2016. It then approved him for short term, and then long term, disability leave. Nearly a year after his leave had begun, on March 28, 2017, Medline contacted Pierri’s attorney to find out whether he planned on returning; it warned the attorney that if it did not hear from Pierri by the end of the week, he would lose his job. Pierri did not contact the company, and so at the end of two weeks, Medline terminated his employment. Meanwhile, on March 28, 2016, Pierri filed a charge of dis crimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Com mission (EEOC), alleging that Medline had discriminated against him based on his grandfather’s disability and had re taliated against him for complaining to HR. He received a right to sue letter on September 27, 2017, and he filed a pro se complaint with the court on December 15, 2017. He later filed an amended complaint through counsel. Pierri raised two counts against Medline. First, he con tended that Medline had discriminated against him in viola tion of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), see 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4), for his association with his ailing grandfather. Second, he argued that Tyler retaliated against him for complaining to HR and for filing a complaint with the 4 No. 19 3356 EEOC, see 42 U.S.C. § 12203. The district court granted sum mary judgment to Medline on both counts. Pierri appeals, and we now a rm. II The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee “because of the known disability of an individual with whom [the employee] is known to have a re lationship or association.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). Pierri as serts that Medline, through Tyler, discriminated against him because of his association with his grandfather. In Larimer v. Int’l Bus. Mach. Corp., 370 F.3d 698 (7th Cir. 2004), we identified three situations in which a plainti may bring a claim of associational discrimination. The “expense” variant arises when an employee’s “[relative] has a disability that is costly to the employer because the [relative] is covered by the company’s health plan.” Id. at 700; see also Dewitt v. Proctor Hosp., 517 F.3d 944, 947−49 (7th Cir. 2008) (denying summary judgment to an employer on a claim that plainti was fired in order to avoid continuing to pay for her hus band’s medical expenses under its health insurance plan). The second, “disability by association,” occurs when an employer fears that the employee may have become infected with a dis ease because of the known disease of an associate of the em ployee. Larimer, 370 F.3d at 700. The third, “distraction,” arises when “the employee is somewhat inattentive at work because his spouse or child has a disability that requires his attention, yet not so inattentive that to perform to his employer’s satis faction he would need an accommodation.” Id. Pierri cursorily argues that his is a “distraction” situation. But there is no evidence in the record to support this. Pierri No. 19 3356 5 has not argued or presented any evidence that he was dis tracted at work. Indeed, the evidence indicates that Pierri put forward a strong performance on the job until he was switched to a four day schedule to accommodate his need to care for his grandfather. Pierri has not pointed to any evi dence that he was distracted, that Medline regarded him as distracted, or that Medline took any action against him in re taliation for any real or imagined distraction. We should note at this juncture that the three situations we identified in Larimer were not meant to be exhaustive. That said, Pierri has no theory of associational discrimination that he has supported with any evidence. The record shows that Medline made ample e orts to accommodate Pierri’s need to care for his grandfather. It first permitted him to work a four day workweek, asking him to return to a five day schedule only after his performance deteriorated. Even then, it o ered him the opportunity to work Tuesday through Saturday so that he could take his grandfather to the hospital on Mondays, an o er which Pierri declined for reasons unrelated to his need to care for his grandfather. Thus, Pierri has failed to put forward a prima facie case of associational discrimination un der the ADA. Cf. Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church, 688 F.3d 331, 336 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[A]n employee who cannot meet the attendance requirements of [his] job is not protected by § 12112(b)(4).”). Even if Pierri could show some form of associational dis crimination, summary judgment in Medline’s favor would still be warranted because Pierri failed to show that he suf fered any adverse employment action. Most of Pierri’s com plaints concern Tyler’s general rudeness toward him. He al leges, for instance, that Tyler brusquely told him not to 6 No. 19 3356 interrupt while Tyler was having a conversation with another employee and that Tyler threatened to report him when he asked to leave work. Pierri also complains that Tyler gave him an “average” rating on his performance evaluation when he should have received a rating of “above average.” None of these complaints describes an adverse employment action. Hilt Dyson v. City of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 466 (7th Cir. 2002) (“Negative evaluations, standing alone, do not constitute ad verse employment actions.”); Jones v. Res Care, Inc., 613 F.3d 665, 671 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[U]nfair reprimands or negative per formance evaluations, unaccompanied by some tangible job consequence, do not constitute adverse employment ac tions.”). While Pierri’s bonus was a ected by these events, that too did not amount to an adverse employment action. Pierri ad mits that he received his bonus for the first quarter of 2016, although he alleges that he had to complain to get it. He re ceived $750 for his R&D work that quarter. Medline capped R&D bonuses at $3,000 per year, and so Pierri was right on track, receiving one quarter of the maximum annual bonus for the one quarter of the year he worked. Pierri would have had the opportunity to earn the maximum R&D bonus for the remaining three quarters of 2016 had he continued to work. He did not earn the bonus for the simple reason that he com pletely stopped working, not because of any e ort by Tyler (or anyone else at Medline) to deprive him of R&D work. See Rabinovitz v. Pena, 89 F.3d 482, 488–89 (7th Cir. 1996) (“[L]oss of a bonus is not an adverse employment action in a case … where the employee is not automatically entitled to the bo nus.”). Although Tyler’s actions may have had the potential to cost Pierri his bonus at some later time, they did not cost him anything during the period he actually worked. This No. 19 3356 7 hypothetical loss of potential future bonuses does not consti tute an adverse employment action. Pierri also points to a change in his mix of work assign ments as evidence of discrimination. The record shows, he contends, that Tyler systematically assigned him less and less R&D work and more work conducting fiber testing. This was a demeaning shift, Pierri says, because fiber testing was typi cally done by less qualified junior technicians. Cases such as Collins v. State of Illinois, 830 F.2d 692, 702–04 (7th Cir. 1987), Dahm v. Flynn, 60 F.3d 253, 257 (7th Cir. 1994), and Tart v. Illi nois Power Co., 366 F.3d 461, 473–74 (7th Cir. 2004), all demon strate that such a de facto demotion can be an adverse employ ment action for purposes of the ADA. That is indeed what those cases hold, but they each in volved a wholesale change in duties, not a simple shift in the balance of job responsibilities. Although we accept that Pierri was doing more fiber testing and less R&D, the facts show that he remained in the same job position, in the same depart ment, and at the same desk. Moreover, the fiber testing work was not performed exclusively by the lower level junior tech nicians; Pierri himself had performed just such work before he asked for the accommodations to help him care for his grandfather, and fiber testing was one quality control meas ure the company took. Finally, although Pierri states that R&D was 95% of a chemist’s work and that fiber testing did not require a degree in chemistry, he does not support that assertion with any evidence in the record. The district court thus correctly granted summary judg ment in favor of Medline on Pierri’s associational discrimina tion claim. Pierri failed to present material facts in dispute that would show that Medline discriminated against him for 8 No. 19 3356 his association with his grandfather or that he su ered an ad verse employment action. III Pierri’s retaliation claim fares no better. A plainti may show retaliation either directly or indirectly. In order to make out a case of retaliation a plainti must show that: 1) he en gaged in statutorily protected activity; 2) he su ered an ad verse action; and 3) there was a causal link between the two. Brown v. Advocate S. Suburban Hosp., 700 F.3d 1101, 1106 (7th Cir. 2012). One way to show that causal link is through evi dence that “a similarly situated employee who did not engage in the statutorily protected activity received better treatment.” Id. That is not essential, however; the critical point is to o er evidence that would allow the factfinder to conclude that the employer took the adverse action because of the protected ac tivity. For the reasons discussed above, Pierri has not shown that he su ered an adverse employment action as a result of his internal complaints to Medline. In this court, he also argues that Medline fired him in retaliation for his complaint to the EEOC. The latter theory, however, is unavailable to him at this point, because he failed to include it in his original complaint to the EEOC, he made no e ort ever to amend his EEOC charge, and he never filed a new charge after he lost his job. His failure to include this allegation in his charge to the EEOC forecloses his ability to pursue it in the courts. We add that his failure properly to exhaust his remedies before the EEOC is not his only problem with this theory. On the record assembled at the summary judgment stage, no rea sonable jury could find that Medline ended his employment No. 19 3356 9 in retaliation for his complaints, whether to HR or to the EEOC. It is undisputed that after Pierri had taken a full year of leave and a year after the EEOC complaint, Medline con tacted him and informed him that he would be fired if he did not provide notice of his intention to return to work within two weeks. Pierri never responded. The only possible conclu sion is that it was his failure to respond that led to his termi nation, not retaliation for his complaints. The district court thus was also correct to grant summary judgment to Medline on Pierri’s retaliation theory. IV We AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.
Primary Holding
Seventh Circuit rejects an Americans with Disabilities Act claim that alleged discrimination based on association with a disabled person and retaliation.

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