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Freelain v. Village of Oak Park

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 30, 2018

Rasul Freelain, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Village of Oak Park and Dina Vardal, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued December 6, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13-CV-3682 - Manish S. Shah, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.


         Plaintiff Rasul Freelain worked as a police officer in the Village of Oak Park, Illinois for five years before he claims another officer began harassing him. After an incident in 2012 prompted him to report the misconduct, Freelain began experiencing migraine headaches and other medical conditions that he has atributed to stress related to the harassment. To deal with these medical issues, Freelain took significant periods of time off work.

         As Freelain began taking time off, tensions rose between him and the police department. Freelain claims that as a result of his medical condition and use of leave time, the village retaliated against him in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the village on all claims. We affirm. The undisputed facts show that the acts that Freelain has identified as retaliation would not discourage a reasonable employee from exercising his or her rights under these statutes.

         I. Facts for Purposes of Summary Judgment

         Because Freelain appeals from a grant of summary judgment, we must view the evidence in the light reasonably most favorable to him, as the non-moving party, and we must give him the benefit of conflicts in the evidence. Greengrass v. Int'l Monetary Systems Ltd., 776 F.3d 481, 485 (7th Cir. 2015). That means we are not vouching for the objective truth of every fact that we must assume to be true for purposes of the appeal. KDC Foods, Inc. v. Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennet, P.A., 763 F.3d 743, 746 (7th Cir. 2014).

         Plaintiff Rasul Freelain began working as a police officer for the Village of Oak Park in 2002. In 2007, Sergeant Dina Vardal made what Freelain perceived as inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances toward him. According to Freelain, he was not the only person subjected to sexual harassment by Vardal. After Freelain rebuffed Vardal's invitations to parties at her house, he claims, she escalated a patern of harassment and hypercriticism of his performance.

         In April 2012, Freelain says, Vardal suggested giving him "one on one training" during her "personal time." This offer and a later call from Vardal to Freelain on his personal telephone prompted Freelain to file a sexual harassment complaint with the village against Vardal on May 9, 2012. Ten days after this initial report, Vardal shoved Freelain into the side of his squad car while shouting "look out! look out!" During this altercation, Freelain was on duty but Vardal was not. Freelain amended his harassment complaint to include this incident and sought the village's support (without success) to pursue criminal batery charges against Vardal.

         The village retained an outside agency to investigate Freelain's complaint. The investigator interviewed only Freelain and concluded the investigation in June 2012, finding that his claim was unsubstantiated. Despite the quick disposition of the investigation, Freelain did not know the outcome until September 2012 when he returned to work. In the interim, before learning the results of the investigation, Freelain had begun to suffer migraines, sleeplessness, and stress that he atributed to the ongoing investigation and the continued presence of Vardal. In late August 2012, he began taking days off because of his ailments. By the end of September, Freelain had used 20 days of leave to deal with his symptoms.

         Freelain's physician cleared him to return to work on September 28, 2012. Freelain then met with Police Chief Richard Tanksley, who told Freelain that the village would take no action against Vardal in response to Freelain's complaint. Tanks-ley also told Freelain he would need to pass a psychological examination before returning to duty. More than six weeks passed before the department cleared Freelain to return to work in November 2012.

         These extended absences drained Freelain's accumulated days of paid sick leave. Nevertheless, he received full paychecks for all pay periods except the very last pay period before the village cleared him to return to work. The village reduced Freelain's pay for that final period by a few hours that he remained absent after exhausting his paid sick leave. During his extended absence while awaiting clearance from the psychological test results, Freelain complained that the village should reclassify his absence as administrative leave and pay him without draining his sick leave. The village agreed, but a few months passed before it readjusted Freelain's sick leave balance and compensated him for unpaid hours during the administrative leave.

         Shortly after he returned to work in late 2012 but before his sick leave balance was adjusted, Freelain's wife was diagnosed with cancer. To care for her and his family during this time, Freelain requested and received additional FMLA leave. But with his sick leave balance depleted, Freelain faced a difficult choice-take unpaid time off work to help his family, or continue working while his wife and family dealt with her illness. Throughout that ordeal, we assume, Freelain struggled to balance his obligations by working full-time but taking time off when his wife had surgery or other urgent needs.

         The police department leadership, we must assume, did not always respond to Freelain's absences efficiently or with kind understanding. Freelain says that Chief Tanksley smirked at him when informing him that he could not return to work until he passed a psychological evaluation. Another supervisor reportedly told Freelain that Tanksley was "tired of" him. The police department often required Freelain to provide detailed documentation for his leave and misclassified portions of his leave. Efforts to approve his leave requests and to remedy misclassifications bordered on dilatory.

         Freelain filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging disability discrimination and retaliation in April 2013. He filed suit against the Village of Oak Park and Vardal the following month. In his second amended complaint, Freelain asserted various claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment for ...

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