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November 5, 2001


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


Plaintiffs Robbin Johnson-Carter ("Johnson-Carter"), Sandra E. Carter ("Carter"), Kendra Aguirre and Elizabeth Coy sue B.D.O. Seidman, LLP ("BDO") for race and national origin discrimination*fn1 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn2 Three of the four plaintiffs, Johnson-Carter, Aguirre and Coy, allege that BDO discriminated against them in terminating their positions. In addition, Plaintiffs Johnson-Carter and Carter each allege harassment and discrimination in the terms and conditions of their employment. Carter also alleges that she was forced to resign her position because of the alleged discriminatory treatment and harassment. Currently before the Court are BDO's motions for summary judgment against all four Plaintiffs on all claims. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motions for summary judgment are granted. (R. 18-1, Johnson-Carter; R. 23-1, Coy; R. 10-1, Aguirre; R. 26-1, Carter.)


I. Robbin Johnson-Carter

A. Background

In April 1998, BDO, a national accounting and consulting firm, hired Plaintiff Robbin Johnson-Carter as a Performance Development Manager in BDO's Center for Performance Development ("CPD"). (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 1, 6.) As a Performance Development Manager at the CPD, Johnson-Carter designed programs and materials for training BDO partners and employees. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9.)

In July 1999, BDO hired Rod Mebane to head the CPD. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Shortly after arriving at BDO, Mebane asked Johnson-Carter, Farias and Steele to submit progress reports on their current projects. (Id. at ¶ 36.) At the time, Johnson-Carter was working on four different auditing training courses. (Id. at ¶ 37.) After reviewing Johnson-Carter's project report, Mebane determined that she was experiencing difficulty keeping projects on schedule, what he termed "schedule slippage." (Id. at ¶ 38 (citing Mebane Dep. at 27-28).) In addition, BDO alleges that at that time Mebane did not observe any "schedule slippage" in Farias or Steele's projects. (Id. at ¶ 39.) In light of the submitted project reports, Mebane reevaluated each manager's workload and in an August 6, 1999 memorandum, reassigned two of Johnson-Carter's auditing projects to Farias and another two projects to the program delivery subgroup. (Id. at ¶¶ 42, 43.) In the same memorandum, Mebane stated that the reassignment would allow Johnson-Carter to commit more time to the first level of the auditing training courses, Audit Level I. (Id. at ¶ 44.) BDO also alleges that the remaining auditing projects were back on schedule after reassignment. (Id. at ¶ 45.)

B. Evaluations of Plaintiff's Performance

Around July 27, 1999, Mike Ross, an outside consultant, met with Johnson-Carter to review her performance and provide feedback, which he summarized in a memorandum. (Id. at ¶¶ 23, 24.) In the memorandum, Ross encouraged Johnson-Carter to continue designing practical programs and speaking her mind, but he also made a number of critical comments regarding work style and productivity, noting that Johnson-Carter's approach was not structured enough and that she was not as productive as she could be. (R. 21, App. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Tab E, Performance Feedback Memorandum.) Johnson-Carter does not dispute that Ross honestly believed she was not as productive as she could or should be. (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 26 (citing Johnson-Carter Dep. at 75-76).)

Around August 2, 1999, Johnson-Carter's performance was again reviewed, on this occasion by Harter. (Id. at ¶ 33.) Among other observations, Harter's evaluation stated: "Sometimes it seems as though you are hesitant to take the initiative on projects or processes. Given our limited resources, it is vital that you step up to the plate as much as possible and provide leadership." (R. 21, App. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Tab F, Performance Review.) Again, Johnson-Carter does not doubt that Harter honestly believed she was lacking initiative on projects. (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 35 (citing Johnson-Carter Dep. at 85-86).)

At an unspecified point prior to Mebane's hire, Johnson-Carter received a bonus recommended by an unidentified former head of the CPD. (R. 36-3, Johnson-Carter Add'l Facts ¶ 2.) Johnson-Carter also alleges that she received an above average performance review. (Id.)

In mid-August 1999, Mebane requested that each member of the CPD complete a self and team evaluation. (Id. at ¶ 40.) Johnson-Carter completed the evaluation, rating herself as "needs improvement" in some areas, but as better than the team in other areas. (R. 21, Def.'s App. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Tab G, CPD Team Evaluation.)

Johnson-Carter's performance was next evaluated on October 19, 1999, when Mebane met with her to discuss the Audit Level I project. (Id. at ¶¶ 46, 47.) BDO alleges that when Mebane met with Johnson-Carter, he was dissatisfied with her performance because of schedule slippage, lack of organization and a clear work plan and failure to communicate when she was experiencing problems. (Id. at ¶ 48, 49.) Mebane, however, failed to communicate these concerns at the meeting and addressed them in a later memorandum. (R. 36-3, Johnson-Carter Add'l Facts ¶ 6.) Johnson-Carter does not dispute that during the meeting she agreed with Mebane that her contribution to the Audit Level I project was not adding value commensurate with the time she was spending on it. (R. 36-2, Johnson-Carter Statement of Facts ¶¶ 50, 51.) Johnson-Carter told Mebane that she was simply fulfilling the role that had been defined for her by a BDO partner working on the project and could offer limited value since she lacked an auditing background. (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 51, 52.) Mebane responded by arguing that an instructional designer*fn4, with the help of a subject matter expert, should be able to add value to a project without having expertise in the subject matter. (Id. at ¶ 53.)

Mebane concluded the October 19, 1999 meeting by assigning Johnson-Carter a new management development project to focus on during the month of November. (Id. at ¶ 57.) Mebane told her she should use the new project to prove that she could be a valuable member of the CPD team, which Johnson-Carter considered to be a fair arrangement. (Id. at ¶¶ 58, 59.) As agreed, Johnson-Carter submitted a plan on leadership development within a few days. (Id. at ¶ 61.) BDO alleges, however, that Mebane was not satisfied with the plan and did not consider it implementable. (Id. at ¶ 62.) The plan focused on leadership development, rather than management development, which Mebane considered to be a different subject. (Id. at ¶ 63.)

C. Johnson-Carter's Allegations of Harassment and Discriminatory Treatment

In her Amended Complaint, Johnson-Carter alleges various instances of discriminatory treatment at BDO. First, Johnson-Carter alleges that she was denied training opportunities that were given to non-African-Americans. (R. 10-1, Johnson-Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 10A.) On three occasions in November 1999, Johnson-Carter asked Mebane if she could attend an outside leadership training program in December 1999. (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 111.) Mebane knew that Johnson-Carter already had expertise in leadership development training and told her he would think about her request. (Id. at ¶ 112.) Johnson-Carter never received Mebane's approval to attend the training program. (Id. at ¶ 113.) According to Johnson-Carter, co-workers Farias and Steele were allowed to attend outside training on one occasion. (Id. at ¶ 110.)

Second, Johnson-Carter alleges that she was subject to verbal attacks by co-workers. (R. 10-1, Johnson-Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 10B.) On an unspecified date, co-worker Brenda Huddleston yelled at Johnson-Carter that she was not doing her job. (R. 20, Def's Statement of Facts ¶ 89.) Johnson-Carter complained to Mebane, who agreed to talk to Huddleston. (Id. at ¶¶ 90-91.) Although Johnson-Carter does not know if Mebane spoke with Huddleston about the incident, Huddleston subsequently refrained from making any other comments that Johnson-Carter considered inappropriate. (Id. at ¶ 92.)

Third, Johnson-Carter alleges that she was not invited to attend staff meetings. (R. 10-1, Johnson-Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 10C.) Although on some occasions Johnson-Carter attended meetings with Mebane, Farias, Huddleston and Steele, on approximately three occasions, she observed Mebane meeting only with Farias, Huddleston and Steele. (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 104, 107.) Johnson-Carter was not invited to attend these three meetings and does not know what was discussed in them. (Id. at ¶¶ 105-106.)

Fourth, Johnson-Carter alleges that co-workers made negative comments to her about her "people" and her neighborhood. (R. 10-1, Johnson-Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 10D.) On one occasion, around July 1999, co-worker Darren Nieman, upon seeing Johnson-Carter's daughter's braided hairstyle with multi-colored barrettes, asked Johnson-Carter, "Why do you people decorate yourselves?" (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 84 (citing Johnson-Carter Dep. at 91).) Approximately two weeks after the incident, Johnson-Carter reported the incident to Harter. Although Johnson-Carter does not know if Harter spoke with Nieman regarding the inappropriate comment, Nieman thereafter refrained from making other offensive comments. (Id. at ¶¶ 87, 88.)

On another occasion, Harter herself made a comment that Johnson-Carter considered to be racially discriminatory. While a group of BDO employees discussed Chicago neighborhoods, Harter commented that Johnson-Carter's neighborhood, East Rogers Park, was a "very bad neighborhood." (Id. at ¶¶ 97, 99 (citing Johnson-Carter Dep. at 224).) Johnson-Carter considered the comment to be racial because each of the neighborhoods identified in the conversation, Pilsen, Englewood and the South Side of Chicago, have a high percentage of minorities. (Id. at ¶ 100.)

In addition to the instances of discriminatory treatment alleged in her Amended Complaint, Johnson-Carter also alleges that she was: (1) the only instructional designer required to work outside her area of expertise, (R. 36-3, Johnson-Carter Add'l Facts ¶ 7); (2) denied her request for two compensatory days off, (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 108, 109); and (3) denied performance feedback, (R. 21, App. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Tab A, Johnson-Carter Dep. at 179-185).

D. Reorganization of BDO and Termination of Johnson-Carter's Employment

The heart of Johnson-Carter's suit is her claim that BDO discriminated against her in terminating her employment.*fn5 In December 1999, Johnson-Carter began hearing rumors that BDO was going to reorganize. (R. 20, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 68.) BDO argues that by early December 1999, Mebane had decided that the company should outsource its instructional design work to cut costs. (Id. ¶ 70.) In mid-January 2000, Mebane formally recommended that the instructional design work be outsourced and that the positions of Johnson-Carter and Steele be eliminated.*fn6 (Id. at ¶ 71.) Mebane's recommendation was approved and on February 17, 2000, he informed Johnson-Carter that her position was being eliminated. (Id. at ¶ 72.) When Mebane informed Johnson-Carter of her position elimination, he also gave her a job description for a trainer position in BDO's New York office, which she did not pursue because she wanted to remain in Chicago. (Id. at ¶¶ 73, 74.) Mebane also told Johnson-Carter that her termination was not performance related. (R. 36-3, Johnson-Carter Add'l Facts ¶ 9.)

The position of Carol Steele, the other instructional designer, was also eliminated, although she received an offer to work with BTS. (Id. at ¶¶ 77, 79.) As part of its reorganization, BDO decided to "spin off" BTS, the information technology business for which Steele designed training. (Id. at ¶ 78.) BDO alleges that BTS invited Steele to join it, and that Mebane had no part in BTS's decision to offer Steele a position. (Id. at ¶¶ 79, 80.)

In addition to Johnson-Carter and Steele, the positions of the following BDO employees were also eliminated due to the reorganization: Kendra Aguirre, Elizabeth Coy, Jessica Gutierrez, Julie Harter, Warren Holmes, Craig Johnston, Anna Montez, Karen Schmidt, and Samuel Vitkoski. (Id. at ¶ 81.) Johnson-Carter alleges that on February 17, 2000, the day of her termination, only Hispanic and African-American employees (Gutierrez, Montez and Aguirre) of the CPD were let go. (R. 36-3, Johnson-Carter Add'l Facts ¶ 8.) BDO responds that only Montez worked in the CPD. (R. 40, Def.'s Resp. to Johnson-Carter.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 8.) From the record, it is clear that Montez worked in the CPD, (R. 21, App. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Tab A, Johnson-Carter Dep. at 46), and Aguirre worked in Human Resources (R. 21, App. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Tab D, Forgue Aff.), but it is unclear in which department Gutierrez worked, (id.).

On September 4, 2000, Johnson-Carter filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (R. 10-1, Johnson-Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 3.) The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on September 29, 2000, which Johnson-Carter received on October 3, 2000. (Id.) On December 21, 2000, Johnson-Carter filed a complaint with this Court.

II. Sandra Carter

A. Background

B. Carter's Allegations of Discriminatory Treatment

Carter alleges several instances of discriminatory treatment. First, Carter alleges that, unlike her Caucasian co-workers, she was required to do personal business for executives. (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 11B.) On two unspecified dates, Carter faxed and sent by messenger personal documents for O'Neill. (R. 27, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 61, 62.) Second, Carter alleges that she was told not to discuss work-related problems with anyone outside her department. (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 11C.)

Third, Carter alleges that her whereabouts during the workday were monitored. (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 11D.) After Univer moved floors, Grimmer and O'Neill required Carter to check in with them when she arrived in the morning and before she left in the afternoon, and also when leaving and returning from lunch. (R. 27, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 54-55.) Fourth, Carter alleges that she was ignored by "certain Human Resources attorneys." (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 11E.)

Fifth, Carter alleges that, unlike her Caucasian co-workers, she was required to stay later than 5:00 p.m. and to cancel plans at the last minute. (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 11F.) On two occasions in approximately February or March 1999, Grimmer asked Carter to stay past 5:00 p.m. to prepare letters for overnight delivery. (R. 27, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 30, 32.) Although Carter stayed and did the work on both occasions, she complained to Grimmer and O'Neill about the lack of notice. (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 34, 35.) Grimmer responded that she would try to give more notice in the future. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Finally, Carter alleges that she was yelled at and berated by attorneys Grimmer and O'Neill. (R. 27, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 25-29, 64.)

C. Carter's Resignation

Carter's final two discrimination claims arise out of the events surrounding her resignation in March 2000. Carter claims that she was discriminated against when her position was changed from executive assistant to administrative assistant/clerk, and when Grimmer told her she was required to affirmatively commit to the newly-defined job. (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11A, 11G; R. 37-2, Carter Statement of Facts ¶ 70 (citing Carter Dep. at 162-163).) On March 21, 2000, Grimmer and O'Neill met with Carter to discuss her job duties in light of Univer's relocation, and they provided her with a job description. (R. 27, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 66, 67.) Although BDO alleges that the duties in the job description were substantially the same as Carter's existing duties, Carter responds that the new job description contained another page of additional responsibilities. (Id. at ¶ 69; R. 37-2, Carter Statement of Facts ¶ 69.) During the meeting, Carter voiced concerns about staying past 5:00 p.m. and the effect of overtime work on her train schedule. (R. 37-2, Carter Statement of Facts ¶ 73 (citing Carter Dep. at 152, 160).) Carter requested some time to look over the job description, to which Grimmer and O'Neill agreed. (R. 27, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 77.)

The next day, March 22, 2000, Grimmer and O'Neill met with Carter at her request to further discuss the job description. (Id. at ¶ 79.) Carter again raised concerns about having to stay later than 5:00 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 79.) Grimmer and O'Neill responded that they needed someone who was available to work overtime and was enthusiastic about the job. (Id. at ¶¶ 79, 80.) They also told Carter that she needed to think about whether she really wanted to do the job. (Id. at ¶ 80.) Both Grimmer and O'Neill denied, when asked by Carter, that they were trying to get rid of her or fire her. (Id. at ¶ 81.) Carter again requested more time to think about the job description, which Grimmer and O'Neill agreed to, provided that she make a decision by Friday, March 24, 2000. (Id. at ¶ 82.) The parties dispute what happened at the end of the work day on March 24. BDO alleges that Carter left work at 5:00 p.m. without telling Grimmer or O'Neill if she wanted the job. (Id. at ¶ 83.) Carter alleges that she went to Grimmer's office at 5:00 p.m., but that Grimmer was on the telephone and signaled to Carter that she could leave. (R. 37-2, Carter Statement of Facts ¶ 83.)

On March 27, 2000, Grimmer arranged a meeting with Carter and Office Manager Kevin Roberts. (Id. at ¶ 84.) Grimmer reminded Carter of the March 24 deadline and again asked Carter if she wanted the job. (Id. at ¶ 85.) When Carter stated that she was doing everything Grimmer and O'Neill asked of her, Grimmer responded, "I want you to say that you want the job and quit playing with words." (Id. at ¶ 88 (citing Carter Dep. 212).) Carter refused to say that she wanted the job, and asked if Grimmer was firing her. (Id. at ¶¶ 89, 90.) Grimmer denied that she was firing Carter, and Roberts also reiterated that Carter was not being fired. (Id. at ¶¶ 90, 91.) After the meeting, Carter worked the rest of the day without incident. (Id. at ¶ 92.)

The following day, March 28, 2000, Carter gave Grimmer and Roberts a memorandum stating that she was resigning effective immediately. (Id. at ¶ 93.) Carter considered her working conditions intolerable because Grimmer and O'Neill required her to check in when she arrived at and left her desk, yelled at and berated her, gave her additional responsibilities along with a less distinguished job title and required Carter to affirmatively commit to the newly-described position. (R. 37-1, Carter.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 9-10.)

On July 24, 2000, Carter filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (R. 10-2, Carter Am. Compl. ¶ 3.) The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on September 29, 2000, which Carter received on October 3, 2000. (Id.) On December 21, 2000, Carter filed a complaint with this Court.

III. Kendra Aguirre

A. Background

In March 1998, Plaintiff Kendra Aguirre began her employment as an administrative assistant/receptionist in BDO's national office in Chicago. (R. 24-B, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 2, 11.) As an administrative assistant/receptionist, Aguirre performed receptionist duties and secretarial work for supervisor Toni Lawrence (Id. at ¶ 13.) Aguirre had a clean work record at BDO. (R. 33-2, Aguirre Add'l Facts ¶ 1.) She was never reprimanded and never written up. (Id.) Before Aguirre began her employment with BDO, she had approximately seven years of experience in retail sales positions, approximately one year of experience as a telephone interviewer and approximately eight years experience as a receptionist/area coordinator with customer service responsibilities. (R. 24-B, Def.'s Statement of Facts ¶¶ 6-9, 11, 13.) Aguirre has an associate's degree in retail management. (Id. at ¶ 5.)

Three to four months after Aguirre began her employment at BDO, Lawrence offered and Aguirre accepted a promotion to the position of Human Resources Coordinator. (Id. at ¶ 14). Aguirre's responsibilities as a Human Resources Coordinator included interacting with outside staffing sources to fill BDO administrative positions, handling new hire orientations, distributing paychecks and other administrative human resources duties. (Id. at ¶ 23.) During the last six months of her employment, Aguirre devoted forty percent of her time to payroll responsibilities. (Id. at ¶ 25.)

BDO argues that Aguirre had no prior human resources experience. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Aguirre, however, asserts that although she had no human resources experience in a corporate environment, she did have "some human resources responsibilities when she worked in retail." (R. 33-1, Aguirre Statement of Facts ¶ 15 (citing Aguirre Dep. at 40).) BDO responds that this experience was minimal — i.e. sitting in on job interviews. (R. 47, Def.'s Reply to Aguirre Statement of Facts ¶ 15.) BDO also argues that Aguirre has no educational background in human resources although Aguirre asserts ...

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