Paula McAllister v. Innovation Ventures, LLC

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 20-1779 PAULA MCALLISTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. INNOVATION VENTURES, LLC, doing business as Living Essen- tial Defendant-Appellee. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 17-CV-00867 — Jon E. DeGuilio, Chief Judge. ____________________ ARGUED NOVEMBER 13, 2020 — DECIDED DECEMBER 30, 2020 ____________________ Before FLAUM, ROVNER, and BRENNAN, Circuit Judges. FLAUM, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff Paula McAllister suffered serious injuries in a car accident in June 2016. In the following months, her treating physicians repeatedly concluded she could not yet return to work for her employer, defendant In- novation Ventures, LLC. Innovation provided her with medi- cal leave and short-term disability benefits while she sought treatment. Once it became clear that McAllister likely could 2 No. 20-1779 not return to work until at least February 2017, Innovation ter- minated McAllister. McAllister sued Innovation. As relevant on appeal, she claimed Innovation failed to accommodate her during the summer of 2016 in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Because we agree with the district court that McAllister was not a “quali- fied individual” under the ADA, we affirm. I. Background McAllister worked for Innovation, the producer of the popular liquid dietary supplement 5-hour ENERGY. Through a staffing agency, McAllister began working as an assembly worker in October 2014. She soon directly applied to and was hired by Innovation as an assembly worker, which sometimes entailed “rework,”1 and she later became a machine operator. On June 10, 2016, an unfortunate automobile accident left McAllister with serious head and back injuries. At the hospi- tal, spinal surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Kachmann performed spinal surgery on McAllister and treated her for several injuries: a herniated disc, spinal cord compression, central cord syn- drome (which often weakens motor and sensory functioning), a closed-head injury, and a “complex,” “multi-direction lac- eration.” Shortly after her injury, McAllister sought short-term dis- ability benefits and medical leave under the Family and Med- ical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Dr. Kachmann s office submitted an FMLA certification indicat- 1 “Rework,” also known as “reprocessing,” was a periodic duty that Inno- vation assigned its employees, but it was not an independent job. McAl- lister s rework required her to conduct quality checks on certain products. No. 20-1779 3 ing that McAllister had “central cord syndrome” and a “sig- nificant head injury” with “some posttraumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage and some possible posttraumatic superficial brain contusion.” On the certification, where asked what job functions McAllister “[was] unable to perform,” Dr. Kachmann wrote she could not perform “any & all” func- tions. He estimated that McAllister could not return to work until September 8, 2016. McAllister also sought short-term disability benefits. Guardian, Innovation s benefits provider, granted these benefits partially based on Dr. Kachmann s view that she was “totally disabled (unable to work)” and his estimate of a September return. McAllister asked …

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