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ROWAN v. CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY

May 15, 2001

THOMAS ROWAN, THOMAS RIZZI, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Class action Plaintiffs Thomas Rowan and Thomas Rizzi, police officers formerly employed by Defendant Chicago Housing Authority ("CHA"), sued the CHA to recover damages they suffered when the CHA terminated their employment as part of a reduction in force in September 1998. Plaintiffs allege that the CHA violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification ("WARN") Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2101, by terminating their employment without adequate notice. Defendant CHA seeks summary judgment on the grounds that it is not an "employer" subject to the notice requirements of the WARN Act, and even if the WARN Act applies to the CHA, its reduction in force is not a "mass layoff" or "plant closing" sufficient to trigger the WARN Act's notice requirements. Because we agree that the CHA's reduction in force in this case is not actionable under the WARN Act, we decline to address whether the WARN Act would apply to the CHA in other circumstances. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

RELEVANT FACTS

Rowan and Rizzi were police officers employed by the CHA to provide police and security services to public housing residents. The CHA terminated Plaintiffs' employment on September 11, 1998, as part of a planned reduction in force which eliminated 69 out of 394 police officer positions. Plaintiffs received written notice of their layoffs from the CHA on August 28, 1998. In addition, Plaintiffs' union representatives, the Fraternal Order of Police ("FOP"), received definitive notice of the layoffs from the CHA on August 24, 1998, after having received earlier notice from the CHA on July 24, 1998, that the CHA intended to implement a reduction in force.

LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists only when "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Crim v. Bd. of Educ. of Cairo Sch. Dist. No. 1, 147 F.3d 535, 540 (7th Cir. 1998). However, if the evidence is merely colorable, or is not sufficiently probative, summary judgment may be granted. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50. Moreover, in considering a motion for summary judgment, we need not assume the truth of a nonmovant's conclusory allegations on faith or scour the record to unearth material factual disputes. Carter v. Am. Oil Co., 139 F.3d 1158 (7th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Ultimately, this Court must decide "whether the state of the evidence is such that, if the case were tried tomorrow, the plaintiff would have a fair chance of obtaining a verdict." Palucki v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 879 F.2d 1568, 1573 (7th Cir. 1989).

II. WARN Act

The WARN Act requires employers to provide sixty day's advance notice to employees and local communities in the event of plant closings and mass layoffs. 29 U.S.C. § 2102(a). Under the Act, an "employer" means "any business enterprise" that employs 100 or more full time equivalent employees. Id. at § 2101(a)(1). The WARN Act is intended to provide workers, their families and communities with some warning about the sudden loss of employment. See 20 C.F.R. § 639.1 (Department of Labor regulations defining the purpose of the WARN Act). An employer who violates the WARN Act is liable for back pay, lost benefits, civil penalties and attorney's fees. 29 U.S.C. § 2104(a)(1).

The Act is only triggered, however, if an employer conducts a plant closing or mass layoff. The WARN Act defines a plant closing as "the permanent or temporary shutdown of a single site of employment, or one or more facilities or operating units within a single site of employment, if the shutdown results in an employment loss at the single site of employment during any 30-day period for 50 or more employees excluding any part-time employees." Id. at § 2101(a)(2). Furthermore, mass layoff under the Act is defined as a loss of employment for "at least 33 percent of the employees" and "at least 50 employees" at a "single site of employment." Id. at § 2101(a)(3).

ANALYSIS

In its motion for summary judgment, Defendant CHA argues that it is not an "employer" within the meaning of the WARN Act and that it has not committed a reduction in force sufficient to trigger the Act. Because we agree with Defendant that its reduction in force does not meet the Act's requirements of a "mass layoff" or "plant closing," the Act is not triggered, and we need not address at this time whether the CHA is an employer subject to the notice requirements of the WARN Act.

Plaintiffs in this case do not present a triable legal issue under the WARN Act. As a threshold matter, in order for Plaintiffs to sustain a claim for damages under the Act, they must demonstrate that Defendant conducted a "mass layoff" or "plant closing." Id. at § 2102. Thus, Plaintiffs must produce specific facts showing that Defendant's reduction in force affected at least 33 percent and at least 50 of its employees at a single site of employment, see id. at § 2101(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. § 639.3(c), or showing that Defendant shut down a single site of employment or one or more facilities or operating units within a single site of employment. See 29 U.S.C. § ...


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