Mary Inman, 56, served as a librarian in the children’s program at Lemont Library in the Chicago area for more than 30 years.
Then she required a knee replacement.
Thereafter, Inman was subjected to what many would consider to be shocking treatment by the library director, Sandra Pointon, who fired Inman on August 6, 2018.
And now a federal judge has dismissed Inman’s lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment in violation of the American with Disabilities Act and a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras, 82, who is a senior or semi-retired judge, cited insufficiencies in the drafting of the complaint and then refused to allow Inman to file an amended complaint.
According Judge Kocoras’ ruling, here’s what Inman alleges she endured:
- Lemont Library Director Pointon acted “annoyed and impatient” when she learned in 2017 that Inman would need left and right knee replacement surgeries.
- Inman tried to accommodate her condition by using a red library book cart, upon which she placed books, to get around the library. Pointon initially suggested Inman, who also used a cane, “get a scooter” and then directed a maintenance worker to move the red cart from the library altogether.
- Pointon told Inman “not to seek help” from her co-workers and sent an email to library staff telling them not to move Inman’s car in the parking lot, bring Inman coffee and tea and to “observe her and record” Inman’s actions. She said she didn’t invite Inman to a conference because “I didn’t think that you would be able to get around.”
- In April 2018, Pointon gave Inman a “written disciplinary action” for not keeping track of her time. Though Inman was a manager, she required Inman to use a punch time clock. She also told Inman to meet with her on a weekly basis to review her work performance.
- Pointon then installed a surveillance security camera near the Children’s Activity Center, where Inman worked, and refused to replace Inman’s broken desk chair.
- Pointon hired a younger person and assigned her some of Inman’s work responsibilities even though Inman was still working.
- Without consulting Inman, Pointon submitted a temporary disability application on Inman’s behalf. Inman had intended to use vacation and sick days to account for her absences from work.
- After her first knee surgery, Inman returned to work and told Pointon she needed an accommodation for another surgery on her other knee. Pointon responded: “We’ll see.”
- Pointon “would yell criticisms of Inman across the library which caused library patrons to privately express concern to Inman.”
- After Inman was fired, she was replaced by a significantly younger person.
How could the above account fail to be the basis of a legal claim strong enough to proceed past the initial filing stage?
Technically, a complaint must only be a “short and plain statement … showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Attorneys for Lemont Library argued that Inman did not show she suffered harassme that was “severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of her employment and create a hostile or abusive working environment.” Judge Kocaras agreed.
Not Severe Enough?
Judge Kocaras ruled the allegation that “Pointon would berate or yell at Inman across the library …does not specify how these criticisms are linked to her disability.”
He said the red book cart is intended to transport books, not people, and Pointon’s suggestion that Inman use a scooter “if anything, is a sign of respect for Inman’s mobility issues.”
Judge Kocaras said the installation of a security camera to watch Inman was reasonable because failure to install the “camera could have exposed Lemont library to greater legal liability for failing to use a reasonable tool which can prevent employee harassment.”
He said Pointon’s failure to replace Inman’s broken chair is not “imbued with any non-speculative discriminatory character.”
Judge Kocara was dismissive about the requirement that Inman punch a time clock, noting the law does not protect persons who have erratic, unexplained absences. (Of course, Inman is not charged with unexplained absences and it is not relevant to the sufficiency of her complaint.)
Judge Kocaras contends Inman was not relegated to “pariah” status. “Pointon’s instructions to library staff to not help Inman move her personal vehicle and to not bring Inman coffee and tea are more consistent with a managerial decision about potential legal liability rather than actions borne from discriminatory character or purpose,” writes Judge Kocaras.
He said Pointon’s filing of a temporary disability application on Inman’s behalf was reasonable because “Inman sought to take several weeks off from work and it is reasonable to assume the normal accrual of vacation and sick days would not cover that absence.”
Judge Kocaras concluded Inman’s complaint “falls short of the ‘high bar’” necessary to show she was subjected to a hostile work environment due to her disability and age.
So after 30 years, Inman is out of a job because her knees failed her, possibly due to 30 years of working in the children’s room of Lemont Library. And that’s not the only thing that failed her.
The case is Inman v. Lemont Public Library District, No. 19 C 5282 (Sept. 1, 2020).