can bring a disability harassment claim, at least two Northern District of Illinois courts have allowed the claim, adopting the harassment analysis from Title VII cases. Gray v. Ameritech Corp., 937 F. Supp. 762, 771 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (Shadur, J.); Chua v. St. Paul Fed. Bank for Sav., 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7874, 1996 WL 34458, *4 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (Conlon, J.). Harassment "encompasses all forms of conduct that unreasonably interfere with an individual's work performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. . . . For the harassment to be actionable, it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and to create an abusive working atmosphere." McKenzie v. Illinois Dep't of Transp., 92 F.3d 473, 479 (7th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).
Mr. Christou identified six incidents that he believed were harassing and that allegedly occurred in the last six months of his employment. First, one of Hyatt's banquet captains, Harvey Segawa, called Mr. Christou "hawkeye." Second, banquet manager Dean Koretos told Mr. Christou at a Hyatt meeting, with 45 other people present, to "shine your glasses so you can serve." Third, Mr. Koretos suggested that Mr. Christou should change his prescription glasses. Fourth, Mr. Koretos said to Mr. Christou that "You always fall down because you cannot see." Fifth, Mr. Koretos stated: "Since you cannot see so well, why did you accept this job." Finally, Stone Pilkenton, the Assistant Food and Beverage Director, saw a dirty glass and "he didn't talk to [Mr. Christou] well." When Mr. Christou attempted to explain that he had a problem with his eyes, Mr. Pilkenton told him "if you can drive coming here, you are able to see; if you cannot see, then you have got no business being here." He further said "if you are driving and you cannot see, then you shouldn't be driving either."
To determine whether the above conduct is harassing, the court should "consider the alleged harassment from an objective perspective and ask whether a reasonable person would perceive his or her environment to be hostile or abusive." Id. at 480. The factors to consider include the frequency, severity, and disruptive effect of the offensive behavior. Id. In this case, there were six incidents/comments over a six month period. Although some of the comments could be considered offensive, others, such as suggesting you change your eyeglass prescription are innocuous. Thus, their frequency and severity do not rise to the level of unreasonably interfering with Mr. Christou's working environment.
The McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting test applies to retaliation claims. Hunt-Golliday v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation Dist. of Greater Chicago, 104 F.3d 1004, 1014 (7th Cir. 1997). To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, Mr. Christou must show (1) that he engaged in statutorily protected expression, (2) that he suffered an adverse action by his employer, and (3) that there is a causal link between the protected expression and the adverse action. Id. In this case, it is undisputed that Mr. Christou filed an EEOC claim alleging disability harassment on June 16, 1994 and was fired from his position as banquet waiter three months later on September 23, 1994. The only question is whether those two acts were connected.
"Suspicious timing does constitute circumstantial, or indirect, evidence to support a claim of [retaliation]." Id. The three month period between the filing of the EEOC claim and Mr. Christou's termination appears suspicious, especially in light of the reason why he was fired (for violating a policy that was not enforced for years) and the comments that were directed towards him at work. Thus, Mr. Christou has stated a prima facie case of retaliation.
The burden shifts to Hyatt under McDonnell-Douglas to articulate a non-retaliatory reason for discharging Mr. Christou. For the reasons outlined in Part D, supra, I find that Hyatt has articulated a legitimate reason, and that Mr. Christou has sufficiently identified facts to show that the reason is pretextual. Thus, there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not Hyatt terminated Mr. Christou in retaliation for filing an EEOC claim.
For the foregoing reasons, Hyatt's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Judgment on the disability harassment claim is entered for Hyatt. Mr. Christou's relief on his other claims is limited as outlined in this opinion.
Elaine E. Bucklo
United States District Judge
Dated: March 2, 1998