The opinion of the court was delivered by: ALESIA
Plaintiff Raymond Williams, who is black, worked as an economist in the Economic and Marketing Analysis Section ("EMAS") of HUD's Chicago regional office from July 31, 1989, until he was fired on May 11, 1990. Williams was hired by HUD on the recommendation of Joseph P. McDonnell, Regional Economist for EMAS and Williams' immediate supervisor, who had reviewed Williams' application and interviewed Williams. After he was hired, Williams was put on a one-year probationary period, the purpose of which was to allow HUD to determine the quality of his actual performance. It appears that all new employees were put on such a probationary period.
Three other economists also worked in EMAS, but Williams was the only economist at his particular grade level and the only probationary employee under McDonnell. Williams did not go through a formal training program but received on-the-job training. McDonnell supervised and assigned work to Williams. Most of the work involved written assignments; therefore, McDonnell viewed the ability to communicate effectively in writing as necessary for successful performance. However, Williams' written work was of a lower quality than his pre-hire writing sample had indicated. McDonnell had to make extensive revisions to correct grammar, spelling, and statistical inaccuracies in Williams' work, even in less complex assignments.
On December 8, 1989, McDonnell gave Williams a blank copy of the form that McDonnell would use in February 1990 to review Williams' performance so that Williams would know the applicable performance standards and areas of review. On February 27, 1990, McDonnell gave Williams a written review setting forth the unacceptable areas of his performance. The review stated that Williams' written work was unacceptable because it contained punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure errors, incoherent content, unclear sentences, inaccurate comments, and inappropriate statements. The review also stated that Williams' performance was unacceptable because his analyses contained unsupported recommendations, technical inaccuracies, insufficient detail, and grammatical errors. Finally, the review stated that McDonnell was concerned about the timeliness in which Williams completed his assignments because of the extensive revisions that had to be made of Williams' work.
Although McDonnell rated Williams' performance unacceptable, he did not fire Williams. Instead, he gave him a Notice of Opportunity to Improve. In the notice, McDonnell specified the areas that Williams needed to improve and suggested regular meetings between McDonnell and Williams to discuss Williams' progress. McDonnell, with the Office of Personnel Management, also developed a performance improvement plan for Williams. McDonnell was not required to take either of these steps to help Williams.
McDonnell enrolled Williams in a HUD writing course and recommended that Williams meet with him on a regular basis to discuss Williams' assignments and progress. Williams attended the writing course and met regularly with McDonnell to discuss his work. However, McDonnell did not feel that Williams was making any progress despite these efforts to help Williams improve his performance. Rather, Williams' performance actually deteriorated. His written work continued to require extensive revisions and corrections. Moreover, on several occasions, Williams sent correspondence that contained errors to individuals outside EMAS in McDonnell's name without McDonnell's approval or knowledge.
On April 5, 1990, in a probationary period report that McDonnell was required to complete about Williams, McDonnell recommended that Williams be fired because of his unacceptable performance. On May 1, 1990, McDonnell issued a formal notice firing Williams effective May 11, 1990. The person that Williams eventually hired to fill Williams' position also was black.
On April 20, 1990, after McDonnell recommended his termination but before he was fired, Williams contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor to bring an informal complaint of discrimination. On May 11, 1990, the counselor held a final interview with Williams and told him of his right to file a formal complaint. On May 24, 1990, Williams filed a formal complaint of race discrimination with HUD. On June 28, 1990, HUD accepted for investigation whether Williams was fired during his probationary period because of his race and color. On May 19, 1991, HUD issued a Notice of Proposed Disposition finding no discrimination.
On June 8 and June 25, 1991, Williams requested a hearing before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). On February 26, 1993, Williams temporarily withdrew his request for a hearing, and three months later, when he did not reinstate his request for a hearing, the EEOC remanded the case for a final agency decision. On June 20, 1994, HUD issued its final agency decision concluding that Williams was terminated because of his unacceptable performance and not because of his race or color.
On June 25, 1994, Williams received his right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. On September 23, 1994, he filed a lawsuit against HUD alleging race discrimination by HUD in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. HUD now moves for summary judgment against Williams on his Title VII claim.
A. Standard for deciding a motion for summary judgment
A motion for summary judgment must be granted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The burden is on the moving party to show that no genuine issues of material fact exist. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).
Once the moving party presents a prima facie showing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the party opposing the motion may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials in its pleadings but must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue for trial exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57, 106 S. Ct. at 2514; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553; Schroeder v. Lufthansa German Airlines, 875 F.2d 613, 620 (7th Cir. 1989). All reasonable factual inferences must ...