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CLAY v. INTERSTATE NATL. CORP.

September 15, 1995

GREGORY A. CLAY, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERSTATE NATIONAL CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RUBEN CASTILLO

 Plaintiff Gregory A. Clay ("Clay") sues defendant Interstate National Corporation ("Interstate") for race discrimination and retaliatory discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. Clay alleges that Interstate discriminated against him by giving him an unfavorable performance appraisal in September 1989, placing him on probation in February 1990, and terminating his employment in August 1990 on the basis of race. Clay also claims that Interstate violated Title VII by discharging him in retaliation for filing charges of discrimination with the State of Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR). Interstate's motion for summary judgment is presently before the Court. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 The following undisputed facts are gleaned from the parties' respective Local General Rule 12 statements of material facts and accompanying exhibits. *fn1"

 Clay's Performance at Interstate

 Clay began his employment with Interstate on August 31, 1987, as a Cash and Investment Supervisor in Interstate's accounting department. Def.'s Facts P 6. In this capacity, Clay's duties included cash management, wire transfers, vouchering transactions and compilation of investment asset data on a monthly basis for submission to upper management. Id. P 7. His initial supervisor was Bonnie Young, a black woman. Young left Interstate in March 1988 and was replaced by Linda Trandel, who is white. Id. PP 8-10. Young never gave Clay a performance evaluation; however, Clay's recollection was that Young never informed him of having any concerns regarding deficiencies in Clay's performance. Pl.'s Add'l Facts P 5.

 On August 24, 1988, after supervising Clay for approximately five months, Clay was given an annual performance appraisal by Trandel. Trandel gave Clay an overall rating of 3.3 (on a scale ranging from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest)), which was defined as follows: "Results achieved consistently meet requirements and objectives in most areas." Def.' Facts P 11; Def.'s Facts, Ex. 2, Performance Evaluation. Trandel also recommended a 6% merit salary increase for Clay. Id. Two "development needs" specifically targeted on the evaluation were Clay's need to develop his supervisory skills and his need to improve his working knowledge of the SMS computer system. *fn2" Def.'s Facts, Ex. 2. In the "employee response section, Clay rated his degree of agreement with the evaluation at 8 on a scale of 1 (completely disagree) to 10 (completely agree). Id.

 Clay's shortcomings with respect to the SMS system would become a recurring issue during the period between the August 1988 appraisal and Clay's next performance appraisal in September 1989. Trandel attested that in the fall of 1988, she noticed that Clay's work was sometimes late and inaccurate; so, she assigned a subordinate, Rochelle White, to work under him. Trandel Aff. P 5. On February 24, 1989, Trandel met with Clay and reiterated that he needed to learn data input procedures on the SMS system (as she had previously instructed him) and needed to identify and correct SMS system problems. Def.'s Facts P 14. Trandel also told Clay that he should better supervise his subordinate, Rochelle White, and should delegate work to another subordinate, Lupe Jaramillo, so that he could better manage his time. Id. See also Def.'s Ex. 3. On June 26, 1989, Interstate's Vice President and Controller, Mike Sullivan, and Trandel met with Clay and White. Clay's continuing failure to learn SMS input procedure and rectify SMS system problems was again discussed. Def.'s Facts P 15. *fn3" At this meeting, Trandel directed Clay to arrange training sessions to learn SMS input procedures by no later than July 5, so that he could input when White, who normally did the inputting, was on vacation. Id. at P 16. However, Clay failed to meet this deadline. On July 10, 1989, in a meeting with Trandel, Clay explained that he had been unable to learn input on the system because he had other projects from Mike Sullivan and could not concentrate on learning SMS. Pl.'s Facts P 18. When Trandel instructed Clay that he should work overtime in order to complete his work on SMS, Clay stated that he did not feel that he should have to put in extra time. Def.'s Facts P 18.

 Clay's performance was deficient in other aspects in addition to his SMS failures. On June 30, 1989, John Fleming, Interstate's Manager of Systems Development, gave Sullivan a memorandum regarding an error in a corporate financial report. Although the error cited was caused by misprogramming, Clay was responsible for the correct numbers and the error recurred for four days without Clay giving notice to the Management Information Services department to correct the error. Def.'s Facts P 17; Trandel Aff. P 12; Def.'s Ex. 6. On July 20, 1989, Trandel met with Clay to discuss an incident in which Clay disregarded a directive by removing cash from a bank account after he was told to leave it in the account to cover certified checks. Def.'s Facts P 19; Def.'s Ex. 7. *fn4"

 Sometime around September 13, 1989, Clay was given another performance appraisal by Trandel. This time Trandel gave Clay a rating of 2 ("Needs Improvement"), which is defined as "Performance is only marginally acceptable; it frequently falls below normally expected standards of performance. Must show significant improvement." Def.'s Facts P 20; Def.'s Ex. 12. The appraisal outlined several performance deficiencies. For example, although Clay had learned SMS input procedures, he had still failed to document and resolve SMS system problems. Def.'s Ex. 12. Also, Clay had failed to learn about accounts receivable clearing reconciliations in order to review his subordinates' work. Id.5

 The September 1989 appraisal directed Clay to complete the reconciliations by November 1. However, in spite of several reminders of this duty, Clay had still not started work on this assignment in early November. As a result, Trandel was required to work 16 hours on a weekend to complete Clay's work. Def.'s Facts P 24; Trandel Aff. P 27. Subsequent to this event, Trandel again specifically instructed Clay to familiarize himself with the reconciliation process by a memo dated November 16. Def.'s Facts P 25; Def.'s Ex. 15.

 On February 1, 1990, Clay was placed on probation. The stated reasons for the probation were Clay's failure to complete the monthly reconciliations and Clay's failure to document and correct errors regarding SMS input and processing. Def.'s Facts P 28; Def.'s Facts Ex. 18. Trandel's probation notice to Clay set out specific performance goals concerning the monthly reconciliations. The notice further provided: "Improvement and completion of the assignments outlined is mandatory and must be immediate and sustained throughout your tenure with Interstate. Failure to prepare the reconciliations and eliminate errors associated with the manual investment functions will result in your termination. Your progress will be reviewed on March 1, 1990, and a decision regarding your continued employment will be made at that time." Def.'s Facts, Ex. 18. Clay was removed from probation on March 16, 1990 because he finally completed the reconciliation goals, albeit only after Trandel had discovered errors in the work Clay had submitted, reviewed Clay's revisions, and accepted the work late. Def.'s Facts P 30; Trandel Aff. P 31-35.

 Clay's work performance did not improve after being removed from probation. In April 1990, he failed to insure that certain bank accounts were properly funded and failed to timely provide his performance goals to superiors. Def.'s Facts P 34. On June 19, he refused to review procedures for preparing an earned investment income report when requested to do so by Bruno Grela, a supervisor in the accounting department. Trandel Aff. P 41. *fn6" On June 21, he submitted transaction vouchers for June 7, 8, 13, 14, and 15 which were not only late, but were done out of order, contrary to Interstate's policy. Id. P 42.

 On July 2, 1990, Clay was given another performance appraisal with an overall rating of 2 ("Needs Improvement"). The appraisal discussed the same types of shortcomings addressed in the appraisal of September 1989. Def.'s Facts P 36; Def.'s Facts, Ex. 33. Also, on this date, Clay was again placed on probation. The stated reasons for the probation were Clay's failure to inform management of an extraordinary capital gain in excess of two million dollars, Clay's lack of cooperation with management and co-workers in preparing certain reports (Trandel specifically denounced Clay's refusal to follow the request of Bruno Grela), and Clay's failure to meet monthly deadlines for reporting investment figures. Def.'s Facts P 37; Def.'s Ex. 34. Clay was informed of his probation status in writing and further informed that his progress would be reviewed on August 3, 1990, and a determination concerning his continued employment would be made at that time. Def.'s Facts P 37. Clay contested the contents of the probation notice provided to him by Trandel. His signature on the notice is preceded by his remarks, among other things, that "The accusations contained in this memo are totally untrue. There is no evidence to substantiate the charges mentioned. I can prove conclusively that what is being alleged is not accurate." Def.'s Ex. 34.

 On July 30, 1990, Interstate received notice from the Illinois Department of Human Rights that Clay had filed a charge of discrimination. Def.'s Facts P 39. On August 3, 1990, Trandel extended Clay's probation so that Interstate's Assistant Vice President and Assistant General Counsel John Ricca could conduct an internal investigation of the discrimination charge. Def.'s Facts P 40. *fn7"

 Clay's Evidence of Racial Discrimination

 Clay contends that while employed at Interstate, he experienced several instances evidencing racial animus and discrimination. One such instance of racially motivated action took place on July 27, 1989, when Laura McDonald, a word processing supervisor, complained to Trandel that Clay had not responded in a timely fashion to a request for blank drafts. Pl.'s Add'l Facts P 22; Clay Dep. at 530-31. Clay states that he received a "reprimand" from Trandel as a result of the complaint by McDonald. Pl.'s Add'l Facts P 22. In his deposition, Clay stated that he believed the "only logical explanation is obviously race." He came to this conclusion because (1) he was not given the chance to state his position on the issue and (2) he was the only non-white employee who was involved and was not treated on an equal basis with ...


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