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HARRIS v. FRANKLIN-WILLIAMSON HUMAN SERVICES

May 11, 2000

MARCIA HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
FRANKLIN-WILLIAMSON HUMAN SERVICES, INC., LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS LABORERS' DISTRICT COUNCIL, RANDALL J. MAYHEW, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge.

      MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Pending before the Court are Defendants' three motions for summary judgment and Defendants' three motions for sanctions pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 11 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927 against Marcia Harris and her attorneys (Docket Entry Nos. 88, 98, 105, 62, 120, and 124, respectively). As to the motions for summary judgment, Defendants maintain that they are entitled to summary judgment on all counts of Harris' First Amended Complaint. Specifically, they maintain that Harris has not established a prima facie case under any of the counts.

As to the sanctions, Defendants assert that Harris filed this lawsuit for the sole purpose of harassing Defendants, causing undue delay, and needlessly increasing the costs of litigation. Specifically, they maintain that many of the allegations in her First Amended Complaint are not supported by the evidence and that Harris and her attorneys knew that some of the allegations were not supported by evidence when they filed the First Amended Complaint. Harris objects to Defendants' request for sanctions arguing that she and her attorneys have acted in good faith throughout the litigation. Furthermore, Harris contends that Defendants' failure to recognize the twenty-one day "safe harbor" rule contained in Rule 11 merits denial of their motions for sanctions. Having reviewed the pleadings and the applicable case law, the Court rules as follows.

II. Procedural Background

Initially, Marcia Harris filed suit against Franklin-Williamson Human Services, Inc. ("FWHS"), Laborers' International Union of North America ("LIUNA"), Southern Illinois Laborers' District Council ("SILDC"), and Randall Mayhew ("Mayhew") on September 16, 1998 (Docket Entry No. 1). Subsequently, Harris filed a five-count amended complaint against Defendants (Docket Entry No. 3). The First Amended Complaint alleges: (a) sexual discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count I); (b) sexual harassment and retaliation pursuant to Title VII (Count II); (c) age discrimination pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA") (Count III); (d) violations of the Violence Against Women Act, 42 U.S.C. § 13981 et seq. ("VAWA") (Count IV); and (e) tortious interference of contract (Count V). Counts I, II and IV are against all Defendants; Count III is against FWHS and Count V is against LIUNA, SILDC and Mayhew.

On February 17, 1999, the Court heard oral argument on several of Defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment and took the matters under advisement. In March of 1999, the Court denied FWHS' motion for partial summary judgment; Mayhew, LIUNA and SILDC's motion to dismiss and/or summary judgment; and FWHS' motion to dismiss, to strike or for more definite statement (Docket Entry Nos. 40, 41 and 42, respectively).

The parties proceeded with discovery and in April 1999, Harris' deposition was taken. In all, the parties deposed nineteen people from May 1999 to June 1999. After reviewing the depositions, Defendants Mayhew, LIUNA and SILDC served Harris' attorneys with their Rule 11 sanctions on May 25, 1999. In response to the sanctions, Harris filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint on June 15, 1999 (Docket Entry No. 56). On June 16, 1999, Mayhew, LIUNA and SILDC filed Rule 11 sanctions with the Court (Docket Entry No. 62). Subsequently, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all counts of the First Amended Complaint (Docket Entry Nos. 88, 98 and 105).

On August 16, 1999, the Court held a hearing on Harris' motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. The Court orally denied the motion for to leave file a second amended complaint finding:

I've seen a lot of cases where individuals, such as the plaintiff in this case, come to me or the magistrates and complain about all of the fishing expeditions that defense wants to take and how they want to go into discovery, that they shouldn't be allowed, because the standard argument is that the plaintiff's lawyer is not getting paid by the hour and the defendant's lawyer is. But this case is extraordinarily different because here we have the plaintiff coming in, an individual who says they should have gone on a fishing expedition because they should have known that I would have gone from specific allegations to general allegations and try to open this thing up simply because I couldn't prove it against one guy. I now want to see who else is out there and open this thing wide open, so they should have contemplated that and given me and done the discovery in advance. I think it's a disingenuous argument.
I think that it is clear in this case that the defendants, the employer and the other defendants would be extraordinarily prejudiced by the amendment of this complaint because they, at the very least, would have to come in and ask for an extension of time for discovery. If I didn't grant it, they would be stuck. If I granted it, they would be delayed. The motion is simply denied.

(August 16, 1999 hearing on motion for leave to file second amended complaint, pages 44-45, lines 24-23).

III. Facts

Harris began working for FWHS in 1978. In 1989, she was promoted to the position of Director of Rehabilitation Services. In September of 1994, the employees of FWHS elected to become members of SILDC. Mayhew was the Director of Organizing in charge of the union organization and campaign at FWHS. Harris alleges that Mayhew committed numerous offensive acts against her and that she made repeated complaints to FWHS during her employment about Mayhew.

Specifically, Harris alleges that on September 20, 1994, Mayhew assaulted, intimidated and harassed her while she was working at the Rehabilitation Center and that after the September 20, 1994 incident, Mayhew threatened, assaulted, intimidated, sexually harassed and/or stalked Harris on more than one occasion on the premises of FWHS' Rehabilitation Center. Harris' complaint further alleges that on or about September 20, 1994, Mayhew contacted Kenneth Bleyer, an attorney for FWHS, and told Bleyer that he controlled the County Boards in Franklin and Williamson Counties and that unless Harris was fired, Mayhew would make things difficult for FWHS with respect to its position with the union, and after that Mayhew threatened FWHS with adverse union actions, including strikes, if FWHS did not discipline, discharge, demote or otherwise make things difficult for Harris.

She further asserts that agents and/or employees of Defendants, including Mayhew, did the following: (1) assaulted, intimidated, stalked and harassed her; (2) circulated a letter falsely implying that she had been tested for herpes; (3) circulated a flyer depicting her as a witch; (4) circulated a picture of a nude female with "call Marcia 618-996-3082" written on it; and (5) circulated a document entitled "The Great American Bitch Award" which named Harris as the recipient and stated the award was given to her for "being a c____t." Harris also claims that in January 1996, she informed First Amended Complaint Markley, then acting administrator of FWHS, that Mayhew made or caused to be made threatening comments to her and threatened to shoot her. She claims that right after she and Markley talked, Markley issued her two written reprimands regarding her handling of a union grievance.

At the end of June 1997, Harris initiated contact with an individual named Jimmy Fulks.*fn1 Harris had read news articles about Fulks' problems with Defendants. Feeling that they had something in common, Harris and Fulks developed a relationship. Eventually, Harris met with Fulks and his partner, corporate counsel, Paul Schoen. Fulks is paying for Harris' legal bills in connection with this suit.*fn2

Subsequently, in July of 1997, FWHS transferred Harris from her position of Director of Rehabilitation Services and assigned her to the position of Director of Development and Marketing. At this time, Harris was 49 years old and replaced (in the interim) by Karen Freitag, age 44.*fn3 Ultimately, the position was filled by Robert G. Ford, age 44. Harris maintains that she was transferred from her position as Director of Rehabilitation Services because of her sex, her age and in retaliation. Harris alleges that this transfer was an adverse employment action. She also alleges that her new office was infested with roaches.

IV. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings and affidavits, if any, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). The movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of fact issues and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Yorger v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 733 F.2d 1215, 1218 (7th Cir. 1984).*fn4 The Court must consider the entire record, drawing reasonable inferences and resolving factual disputes in favor of the non-movant. Tregenza v. Great American Communications Co., 823 F. Supp. 1409, 1411 (N.D.Ill. 1993), aff'd, 12 F.3d 717 (7th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1085, 114 S.Ct. 1837, 128 L.Ed.2d 465 (1994).

In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court does not determine the truth of asserted matters, but rather decides whether there is a genuine factual issue for trial. Harms v. Godinez, 829 F. Supp. 259, 261 (N.D.Ill. 1993). No issue remains for trial "unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not sufficiently probative, summary judgment may be granted. . . ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Accord Brownell v. Figel, 950 F.2d 1285, 1289 (7th Cir. 1991).

In a 1995 case, the Seventh Circuit noted that this standard should be applied "with added rigor" in employment discrimination cases, in which intent and credibility are crucial issues. See, e.g., DeLuca v. Winer Industries, Inc., 53 F.3d 793, 797 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Robinson v. PPG Industries, Inc., 23 F.3d 1159, 1162 (7th Cir. 1994) and Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993)). DeLuca affirmed prior Seventh Circuit pronouncements that in employment discrimination cases, which often involve issues of motive and intent, summary judgment must be approached with caution. Huhn v. Koehring Co., 718 F.2d 239, 242 (7th Cir. 1983) Huhn relied on an earlier case which recognized that, although summary judgment is improper in employment discrimination cases which involve "weighing of conflicting indications of motive and intent," where a plaintiff has no evidence of discriminatory motive to "put on the scales for weighing," summary judgment is appropriate. Id.

V. Analysis

A. Count I — Sex Discrimination

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of the employee's race or sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The plaintiff must prove that she was a victim of intentional discrimination. St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993). A plaintiff can satisfy her burden of proof in a sex discrimination case in two ways: through direct evidence of discriminatory intent or through indirect evidence demonstrated by the burden-shifting method presented in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Pasqua v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 101 F.3d 514, 516 (7th Cir. 1996); Von Zuckerstein v. Argonne Nat'l Lab., 984 F.2d 1467, 1472 (7th Cir. 1993). Here, Harris has not presented direct evidence of discrimination, and thus the Court turns to the burden-shifting method of McDonnell Douglas.

The first step for Harris under the McDonnell Douglas method is to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination. Gonzalez v. Ingersoll Milling Machine Co., 133 F.3d 1025, 1032 (7th Cir. 1998); Pasqua, 101 F.3d at 516. To establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination, Harris must show: (1) she is in a protected class; (2) she is qualified for her position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that others, similarly situated but not of the protected class, were treated more favorably. Morrow v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 152 F.3d 559, 561 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Geier v. Medtronic, Inc., 99 F.3d 238, 241 (7th Cir. 1996)).

Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action. Cowan v. Glenbrook Sec. Servs., Inc., 123 F.3d 438, 445 (7th Cir. 1997). Then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show the defendant's reason is in fact pretext for discrimination. Bahl v. Royal Indemnity Co., 115 F.3d 1283, 1290 (7th Cir. 1997). The ultimate burden of proof remains with the plaintiff at all times. See Kirk v. Federal Property Management Corp., 22 F.3d 135, 138 (7th Cir. 1994).

First, the Court must determine whether Harris has established a prima facie case of sex discrimination.*fn5 Defendants maintain that Harris cannot set forth a prima facie case of sex discrimination. Harris responds that she was moved out of her position as Director of Rehabilitation and replaced by a man because she is a woman. She further argues that there is a genuine issue of fact as to whether she was meeting FWHS' legitimate expectations and whether FWHS' reason for transfer was pretextual. Based on the following, the Court concludes that Harris has failed to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination.

The Court finds that Harris cannot establish that she suffered an adverse employment action. The Seventh Circuit has defined an adverse action as follows:

[A] materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment must be more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities. A materially adverse change might be indicated by a termination of employment, a demotion, evidenced by a decrease in salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, significantly diminished ...

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