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WILLIAMS v. GENERAL MILLS

June 3, 1996

ALVIN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL MILLS, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONLON

 Alvin Williams sues General Mills, Inc. ("General Mills") for terminating his employment because of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). General Mills moves for summary judgment.

 BACKGROUND

 The following facts are uncontested unless otherwise noted. Williams, an African American male, resides in Chicago, Illinois. Defendant's Local Rule 12(M) Statement ("Def. 12(M)") and Plaintiff's Local Rule 12(N) Statement (Pl. 12(N)") P 1. General Mills is a corporation doing business in West Chicago, Illinois. Id. at P 2. General Mills hired Williams in 1979 in the West Chicago plant's packaging department. In 1984, Williams transferred to the cereal processing department. Id. at P 5.

 I. 1986 SEXUAL HARASSMENT CHARGE

 In June 1986, a General Mills female hourly employee, April Love, reported to her supervisor that Williams made lewd remarks to her and forcibly kissed her. Def. 12(M) P 6; Def. Ex. E, Bate stamp documents D053, D061. *fn1" General Mills' human resources department was informed and immediately began an investigation in accordance with its sexual harassment policy. Def. 12(M) P 6; D049-50, D053, D077. Williams, represented by his union, met with the human resources manager investigating the matter and denied harassing Love. Def. 12(M) P 6; D049-50. Williams does not contest Def. 12(M) P 6. See Pl. 12(N) P 6. Rather, Williams' statement addresses the merit of Love's allegations: Williams admits having conversations with Love, but denies that he was lewd or that he kissed her. Id.; Deposition of Alvin Williams ("Williams Dep.") at 88-89.

 Love reported that over a period of time, Williams said "dirty things" to her. Def. 12(M) P 7; D061. On one occasion, she claims Williams grabbed her arms and hands, held her, and started kissing her. Def. 12(M) P 7; D061-63. On other occasions, he allegedly hugged her and said "ugly" things like, "I want to get down your pants." Def. 12(M) P 7; D072. Williams purportedly threatened to follow Love home. Def. 12(M) P 7; D063. Love stated she was frightened of Williams. Id. Williams does not contest that Def. 12(M) P 7 reflects statements made to the human resources department during its investigation. Pl. 12(N) P 7. Williams denies hugging or threatening Love or saying he wanted to get down her pants, and was unaware Love was frightened of him. Id.; Williams Dep. at 88-89.

 A second female hourly employee, Willie Robinson, told the human resources investigator that Williams assaulted her in the women's bathroom at the plant. Def. 12(M) P 8; D067-71. Robinson stated that Williams indicated he wished to enter the women's bathroom to clean it while she was combing her hair. Def. 12(M) P 8; D067-68. Robinson claimed Williams ignored her request that he wait until she finished, walked into the bathroom, approached her and grabbed her breasts. Def. 12(M) P 8; D068. As she attempted to push him away, she fell to the floor. Id. As they struggled, Williams allegedly called Robinson a "bitch" and a "whore." Def. 12(M) P 8; D069. Williams admits Def. 12(M) P 8 reflects Robinson's version of the event as reported to the human resources investigator, but denies the incident occurred in the manner reported. Pl. 12(N) P 8; Williams Dep. at 68-74.

 After Robinson discussed the bathroom incident with other female employees, the female employees began warning each other about Williams. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 9; D052. General Mills contends Robinson told the investigator that in the course of Williams' regular duties in the plant, he would routinely make obscene comments to women employees, such as, "you have a nice ass." Def. 12(M) P 9; D071. Williams denies he made routine obscene comments and denies General Mills' characterization of Robinson's statement on D071. Pl. 12(N) P 9. The company document reflects that Robinson said that Williams had a "foul mouth," elaborating that, "you know how guys are . . . you know, 'You've got a nice ass' -- 'You have a nice . . . this.'" D071.

 General Mills contends that another female employee, Jan Hayse, told the investigator that Williams had twice brushed up against her breasts. Def. 12(M) P 10; D051-52. Williams denies this statement because the cited document states no contact occurred. Pl. 12(N) P 10; D051. Williams does not contest that Hayse reported that Williams tried to brush against her chest, although he denies attempting to do so. Id. Hayse told the investigator that she raised her knee, pushed Williams away, and told him that if he ever tried to brush against her chest again, she would, "bash in [his] teeth." Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 10; D051. Hayse previously told a supervisor that she did not want to work with Williams and she wanted him to leave her alone. Id.

 A fourth female employee, Christine Kleinwachter, reported that Williams was, "very, very persistent" in asking her out, to the point where she almost threw a shovel at him. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 11; D055-57. Kleinwachter said Williams finally stopped asking her out when he lost interest in her and began asking out another female employee. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 11; D056. Williams contends Kleinwachter reported that other than his persistence, Williams' conduct was similar to other men in the plant. Pl. 12(N) P 11; D055-57. Kleinwachter told the investigator that Williams, "would come around all the time and he would say, 'Hey, baby' and all this stuff. Now, other men in the plant, they do it all the time, but not the way [Williams] did . . . he meant business." D055.

 A fifth General Mills female employee, Kathy Garrison, reported to the investigator that Williams was very persistent in asking her for dates, despite her consistent and firm refusals. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 12; D058-60. Garrison stated that she said to Williams, "Alvin, you don't quit, do you," to which he purportedly responded, "No, not until I get what I want," and, "I bet you're hot in bed." Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 12; D058. Garrison claimed she told a supervisor that Williams was bothering her to go on a date with him. Id. The supervisor instructed Williams to stop his advances. Id.

 A sixth female employee, Woodsonette Alley, reported to the investigator that Williams asked her out often and that she finally complained to a union representative. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 13; D064-66. Alley stated that she asked her supervisor not to put her in Williams' area. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 13; D065. When the investigator asked her if other women knew about Williams' behavior, Alley responded, "Every lady in this whole factory knows about [Williams'] behavior." Id.

 After completing its investigation, General Mills met with Williams and his union representatives to discuss its findings. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 15. General Mills informed Williams of the sexual harassment charges made against him and asked his response. Id. The company advised Williams that it had concluded that there was substance to the allegations and that he violated company policy and possibly federal civil rights laws as well. Id. The company informed him that discipline was required and that termination was a definite possibility. Id. Williams and the union acknowledged that General Mills' findings constituted just cause for termination, but requested less severe punishment. Id.

 Based on Williams' expressions of remorse and his public apology to the victims, General Mills agreed not to terminate him provided he met certain conditions: (i) accept and not grieve through his union a two-month unpaid suspension; (ii) submit to psychological counseling; and (iii) receive indefinite probation, which would be reviewed in February 1987 for any further instances of sexual harassment. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 16. Williams agreed to the conditions, as reflected in a memorandum of understanding signed by Williams and the union representative. Id.; D079-80. Williams attended seven psychiatric counseling sessions over the next two months. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 17.

 II. 1990 SEXUAL HARASSMENT2

 In September 1990, a General Mills female hourly employee, Kim Thurmond, told her supervisor that Williams harassed her all summer and threatened to follow her home. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 18; D129. Thurmond stated that she was terrified. Id. Two supervisors met with Thurmond to discuss the harassment and quickly determined that, "this situation was far too serious to be handled at [their] level." Id. The supervisors advised the human resources manager that the circumstances "needed immediate attention and some in-depth investigation." Id.

 Pursuant to its policy and practice of immediately investigating sexual harassment complaints, General Mills commenced a thorough review of the situation. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 20; D134. The company advised Williams and his union representatives that he was suspended pending an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 20. The company informed Williams that he would be given the opportunity to explain his side of the story, and if the company concluded the allegations were unfounded, he would be paid for his time off. Id. Williams responded that he just liked to talk to everyone, but denied harassing anyone. Id.

 General Mills contends that company officials spoke to eight employees during the investigation, revealing that Williams engaged in a pattern of conduct involving verbal harassment of the complaining parties as well as other female employees. Def. 12(M) P 21; D115. Williams denies the implication that each of the eight employees established or confirmed an alleged "pattern of conduct." Pl. 12(N) P 21.

 Thurmond told the investigators she was frightened of Williams. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 21. She said she did not know what Williams was capable of doing and she was concerned driving home alone because of his threats to follow her. Id. Thurmond asserted Williams made the following comments to her: (i) "I'd like to caress your body;" (ii) "Why don't you take your sweatshirt off? I guess you don't have breasts to show;" (iii) "I see you got them tight jeans on again. Do you wear those to show off your butt?"; (iv) "I love women with big breasts. I love to lay my head on them;" (v) "You need a nice man like me to caress your body;" (vi) "Let me come over. I'll pay your rent;" (vii) "I need a woman;" (viii) "Why don't you take your jeans off;" and (ix) in response to her refusing his request for a date, "I don't want to take no for an answer." Id.; D116-19.

 Cheryl Ann Reynolds complained that Williams frequently asked her out and that this made her very uncomfortable. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 22; D123. She explained that Williams said, "Want to go to the Bears game? I'll be your blanket." Id. Tammy Bolton reported that Williams followed women around, including an employee who had since quit. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 22; D115, D121. Beverly Talley stated that Williams appeared to be waiting for Thurmond the day he threatened to follow Thurmond home. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 22; D122. Tally reported that Williams said things to Thurmond that "weren't called for" in the cafeteria. Id. Lynette Erserg stated she could not understand why Williams would not leave Thurmond alone. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 22; D125.

 After interviewing the witnesses, General Mills held a meeting with Williams and union representatives. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 23. Williams was informed what Thurmond and others reported, and was provided the opportunity to explain his side of the story. Id. Williams contended that he did nothing wrong and was simply "paying compliments to an attractive woman." Id.3 He maintained that he just liked to "talk to everybody." Id.

 General Mills told Williams that his conduct and prior record warranted termination. Def. 12(M) and Pl. 12(N) P 24; D109. At the union's urging, General Mills agreed to give Williams one final chance, reducing his discipline to a one-week suspension. Id. Williams, the union and the company agreed that Williams would be placed on indefinite probation and that ...


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