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Greenslade v. Chicago Sun-Times

April 29, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 95 C 4643 Morton Denlow, Magistrate Judge.

Before MANION, KANNE, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.



Ralph Greenslade was an experienced editor of the sports section of a major newspaper. He befriended a new female co-worker as they worked together on the night shift. He offered her rides home and gave her workplace and personal advice, usually unsolicited. Soon she grew tired of his imposing attention and began to refuse to ride home with him unless someone else rode along. She also avoided face-to-face contact with him. This bothered him, and he brought the situation to the attention of the newspaper's management. She followed with her side of the story. The paper's management concluded he had not sexually harassed her, but transferred him anyway to a job he was scheduled to take within a year. He sued the newspaper under Title VII claiming sex discrimination, and made the same charge against his union which had decided not to pursue a grievance. He also sued the newspaper and the union for breach of the collective bargaining agreement between them, alleging his contract rights were violated and the union violated its duty of fair representation by not pursuing his grievance.

The magistrate judge concluded there was no sex discrimination nor a breach of contract, and granted summary judgment to the newspaper and the union. We affirm.


We begin by describing our examination of the record. Because the magistrate judge disposed of this case on summary judgment, we consider this appeal under the familiar Rule 56 standard applied in the district court. We examine the detailed facts de novo, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Sample v. Aldi, Inc., 61 F.3d 544, 546 (7th Cir. 1995). The court is not required to "draw every conceivable inference [in the non-movant's favor], but only those that are reasonable." Bartman v. Allis-Chalmers Corp., 799 F.2d 311, 312-13 (7th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1092 (1987). "Summary judgment is proper only if there is no genuine (in the sense of reasonably contestable) issue of material (that is, potentially outcome-determinative) fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)." Wallace v. SMC Pneumatics, Inc., 103 F.3d 1394, 1396 (7th Cir. 1997).

A. Factual Background *fn1

When he sued, Ralph Greenslade was a sports news editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was 41 years old and married. He worked at the sports copy desk with several others, including Laura Wagner, a recently hired copy editor. Greenslade began work there in 1980. Wagner, who was 24 years old and also married, started in the fall of 1994, and was the first woman hired to work in her position. As sports news editor, Greenslade and others were responsible for designing and laying out the Sun-Times' sports page. Greenslade and Wagner worked the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift together three times per week.

The "sports copy desk" is actually a number of desks pushed together in the newspaper's sports department. Greenslade and Wagner worked in close quarters, sometimes within 5 feet of each other. Notwithstanding this close physical proximity, editors at the sports desk frequently communicate with their co-workers about business and personal matters via an electronic mail (e-mail) system. Greenslade created an inventory of multi-colored "form" e-mail messages for business and personal reasons which could be sent quickly to one or more coworkers. Included among his "form e-mails" was one in which Greenslade offered rides home to co-workers who lived within a few miles of the Sun-Times building and who had not driven to work themselves.

Shortly after Wagner began work at the paper, Greenslade began offering her rides home. *fn2 She accepted some of these offers. Greenslade and Wagner also had some contact with each other when coworkers went out as a group after work. At some point during the fall of 1994, the quantity and content of e-mail messages Greenslade sent Wagner began to concern her. She was receiving more personal e-mails from Greenslade than from anyone else at the newspaper.

On November 6, 1994, Greenslade asked Wagner whether she had had any television experience while at the University of Missouri. Greenslade later testified that nothing in Wagner's reaction to this question led him to believe she had felt harassed by it. Still, Greenslade decided he needed to discuss the comment with Wagner or at least clarify what he meant by the comment. When Greenslade next worked with Wagner, he asked her to go to the cafeteria to privately ask her whether the comment had bothered her. She assured him she did not consider the comment inappropriate. That same day, Greenslade overheard Wagner discussing a "wild evening" she had had the previous night and morning while out with co-workers after work. She said her husband had been worried and drove around looking for her. Greenslade took this occasion to tell Wagner that when he was newly married, his wife once stayed out later than he had expected, and he had considered calling the police. Greenslade admits he "probably butted in" by telling this story, "putting in [his] two cents when it wasn't solicited." After November 6, for the first time, Wagner began refusing rides from Greenslade unless someone else was riding along.

Greenslade continually expressed concern over Wagner's safety. Greenslade recalls e-mailing Wagner that he would not want his wife or daughter leaving a job downtown late in the evening and taking a cab home. When Wagner received this message, she found it inappropriate because she was not his daughter or his wife. Greenslade admits he was overprotective of Wagner; she concurred, believing that he had an "unnatural sense of protectiveness" toward her. At least a few times Wagner's co-workers commented to her about Greenslade's overprotectiveness and attention toward her. Once, when the threat of a strike hung over the paper, Greenslade called only two people at home --his wife and Wagner -- to tell them that there would not be a strike. Wagner found it peculiar that Greenslade would call her at home because she was scheduled to work that day and would hear the news at the office that afternoon.

In early to mid-November 1994, Wagner began keeping a diary of Greenslade's e-mail messages to her, as well as her thoughts about the developing situation. In one of these notations, Wagner wrote that she felt uncomfortable around Greenslade because of his overprotectiveness and that she would avoid any one-on-one situations with him. On November 18, Greenslade e-mailed Wagner to ask her to talk to him alone for five minutes. She felt uncomfortable doing so, and did not respond. One night in late November, Greenslade was planning to take co-workers Bob Mazzoni and Wagner home after work. Mazzoni had to stay late at work that night, and at the last minute he alerted Greenslade that he would not need a ride. When Wagner heard this, she said she would take a cab and quickly left the room. Greenslade felt like Wagner was "portraying [him] as . . . some type of a pervert" for refusing to ride alone with him; he was upset and humiliated after this occurred. The next time Wagner accepted a ride with Greenslade and Mazzoni, Greenslade e-mailed her a message that stated: "Super! You made my night, believe me. . . ." Wagner refused Greenslade's ride offers on November 25th, 28th, and December 3rd.

Greenslade spoke to at least four of their co-workers concerning the situation with Wagner. Greenslade said it appeared to him that Wagner was trying to distance herself from him. The situation became a topic of discussion among some of the staffers, although Wagner preferred that it not be. Greenslade never saw any evidence that talk about the situation with Wagner ever disrupted the department's ability to perform its duties.

On December 5, 1994, Greenslade sent another e-mail to Wagner that said: "I know I'm getting to be a pain [in] the butt with these ride offers. I apologize. But, I can't help myself. If you'd like to save the cab fare, I'd be happy to drive you home." Wagner's response: "I appreciate the offer, but it's OK. I don't mind cabbing. Thanks though." The next day, Greenslade again e-mailed Wagner with a ride offer that said: "I sense I'm making you uncomfortable with my offers of a ride every night." The message went on to set forth an elaborate protocol for when and how Greenslade would ask Wagner whether she wanted a ride each night. Wagner's response: "I've said before that it's not that big a deal. There is no reason for you to feel obligated to offer, not offer, drive, not drive. Whatever. It's really not a big deal." Greenslade said he continued to offer Wagner rides because she never told him or clearly indicated to him that she did not want any more ride offers.

On December 6 or 7, 1994, Wagner returned a book Greenslade had lent to her to his mailbox. Greenslade became very upset that she did not return it to him in person. Because of this incident, Greenslade slept only one hour that night. Wagner became aware that Greenslade was communicating with co-workers about the situation because an e-mail Greenslade drafted to another co-worker about Wagner was mistakenly sent to her.

During the morning of December 8, 1994, while still at home, Greenslade telephoned their joint supervisor, Rick Jaffe, at work to discuss the "building problem" with Wagner. Up until this time, Jaffe was unaware of any tension between Greenslade and Wagner. In that telephone conversation and at a meeting the same day, Greenslade related to Jaffe how Wagner had returned his book in an impersonal manner, had quickly rejected a ride the night Mazzoni had to stay, and other incidents between them in which he perceived her to be distancing herself from him. Jaffe testified that Greenslade said he felt "mentally tortured, that he had befriended Laura; and, that it was making it difficult for him to do his job because of -- he perceived it to be a misunderstanding on her part. And it was -- he couldn't sleep at night. He was having trouble eating. I think he said something like he was having brain cramps about it." Jaffe's notes from that meeting reflect that Greenslade thought Wagner "was playing mind games with him," and that Greenslade considered himself old-fashioned, that his kindness was being misinterpreted, and that she was not accepting his apologies. As a result of these conversations, Jaffe and Greenslade agreed that Greenslade would stop e-mailing Wagner, except as needed for work, and that he would stop offering her rides home. Greenslade rejected Jaffe's suggestion to call Wagner into the meeting to clear things up, he says because Wagner had only been on the job for a few months and he was concerned that being called in for such a discussion would upset her. Afterwards, Greenslade e-mailed Jaffe that "they already had a nice spot reserved for me at the Elgin State Mental Hospital." He later said this was an attempt at humor. Greenslade told some of his co-workers about the meeting with Jaffe.

The next day Greenslade worked, December 11th, he experienced a great deal of anxiety from no longer communicating with Wagner on a personal level, sending her e-mails, or offering her rides home. Greenslade sent Jaffe an e-mail which expressed interest in obtaining psychiatric help or counseling regarding the situation with Wagner. Greenslade continued to communicate with her as necessary on work-related topics. Greenslade said it was difficult to keep his promise to Jaffe because it was awkward to sit 5 feet from Wagner and give her the "cold shoulder" while everybody else joked around. This anxiety in part caused Greenslade to leave the newspaper around midnight, an hour before his shift ended, and go to a local tavern. Later on, several coworkers, including Wagner, joined Greenslade there. Wagner and Greenslade talked for about 45 minutes about some of the things that bothered her at work, including the flashing "message pending" light on her terminal that bothered her when she received numerous e-mails. They discussed her rejection of his ride offers, and Greenslade apologized for being ...

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