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SURTI v. G.D. SEARLE & CO.

July 29, 1996

EUFREMIA SURTI, Plaintiff,
v.
G.D. SEARLE & CO., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

 Plaintiff Eufremia Surti brings this action against defendant G.D. Searle & Company, claiming that Searle discriminated against her on the basis of her age and national origin in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., by failing to promote her to the position of Cash Accountant in 1994. Presently before the Court is Searle's motion for summary judgment in its favor.

 RELEVANT FACTS

 The following facts are gleaned from the statements of material facts and accompanying exhibits, and the responses thereto, submitted by the parties pursuant to Rule 12(M) and 12(N) of the Local General Rules of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. They are undisputed unless otherwise noted. *fn1"

 Surti was born in the Republic of the Philippines, and is of Filipino national origin. She was hired by Searle in 1986, at the age of 43. The next year, after a one-month layoff because of a job elimination, she was re-hired by Searle as an accounting clerk in the accounting department.

 In a March 1988 performance appraisal, Surti's then supervisor Patty Cicero wrote that Surti "needs to concentrate on improving her communication skills," and that she should consider taking a "communication/speaking course, Toastmasters." On Surti's January 1990 performance review, her then supervisor Terri Ostberg identified "Improve communication skills" as a developmental need, and discussed this recommendation with Surti. In October 1988, January 1989 and May 1992, Surti applied for openings as a Cash Accountant, and was denied the position each time. In April 1990, Surti applied unsuccessfully for an opening as a senior financial clerk. None of these applications are at issue in this case, and there is no evidence in the record as to the reasons for any of these denials. In June 1993, Surti was promoted to the position of Senior Accounting Coordinator. In her current position, Surti communicates over the telephone with persons at Monsanto, Searle's parent company.

 In May 1994, the Cash Accountant position in the accounting department became vacant, and Searle posted the job opening. The "Qualifications" section of the posting stated:

 
Required : Undergraduate degree in accounting. 1-2 years previous cash and general ledger experience. Experience with computer systems, such as Lotus 123 and WordPerfect, general ledger software.

 The posting also referred readers to the Position Description for the position. Neither the job posting nor the Position Description listed good oral communications skills as "Required" or "Desired" for the job. The Position Description listed as a "major responsibility" of the position, "Work directly with Monsanto's Treasury Department, as well as Searle's Treasury Department when dealing with all cash related functions for all entities."

 There were four applicants for the position: Surti, who was of Filipino national origin and then 50 years old; Vanessa Lay, an African-American woman who was under 40; Katharine Koskinas, a non-minority woman in her 20s; and Elizabeth Wagner, a non-minority woman who was under 40. Surti and Lay were both accounting clerks with Searle; Koskinas worked for Lorex Pharmaceuticals, a company with which Searle was engaged in a joint venture; and Wagner was a contract employee with Searle.

 The decision makers for the initial screening of candidates were David Strube, Manager, Corporate Accounting, and Tom Kneller, Strube's direct supervisor. Some time after the job was posted, Kneller and Strube got together and drew up a list of qualifications for the position to be used during the interviewing process, entitled "Cash Accountant Factors." No similar list had been used in filling the Cash Accountant position in the past. The list included some skills identified in the Qualifications sections of the job posting and Position Description (e.g., undergraduate degree in accounting, Lotus 1-2-3 skills), and some which were not (e.g., "promotability"). One of the factors on the list they drew up that was not on the other forms was: "Good oral communication skills (contact w/St. Louis [Monsanto], Treasury, Payroll, A/P, others)." The Cash Accountant position required spending from 10% to 25% of the day on the telephone.

 All four candidates for the position were interviewed by Kneller, Strube, Human Resources Manager Donna Holley and Brian Cunningham, the Director of Financial Management and Reporting, who was Kneller's supervisor. Kneller made notes after the interviews of at least Surti and Lay. His notes on Surti comment, "Communication - tends to not answer question; difficult to understand at times." Kneller and Strube discussed the candidates after the interviews and decided not to pass Surti or Lay on to the next level of consideration for the position. The position was ultimately given to Koskinas. On June 24, 1994, Surti's application for the position was marked by Holley to indicate that Surti's qualifications met the basic job requirements for the Cash Accountant position, but that the "candidate selected had superior communication skills." Koskinas had less seniority at Searle and less accounting experience than Surti.

 Both Kneller and Strube testified that, outside of the interview itself, they had had difficulty in understanding Surti on at least one occasion in the past, although they had trouble describing the problems they had encountered with specificity. Kneller testified that on occasion Surti's tone of voice would get higher and faster if she were excited, and that she had what he believed to be a Filipino accent. Strube testified that he could not understand Surti "half the time." Kneller nevertheless testified that he had no recollection of Surti ever miscommunicating information from her department to others, and he believed her communications skills were adequate for the job she was holding.


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