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TAFFE v. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY

October 23, 2002

MYRIA TAFFE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ian H. Levin, United States Magistrate Judge

    MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Myria Taffe ("Plaintiff") seeks recovery in a two-count Amended Complaint against Defendant Illinois Department of Employment Security ("Defendant") for retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and Illinois state law, Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Plaintiff is an African-American female. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 10.) In 1977, Plaintiff began working for Defendant in the position of Secretary I. (Id. ¶ 11.) Later, beginning in 1990, Plaintiff held the position of Methods and Procedure Advisor III. (Id.) As a Methods and Procedure Advisor III, Plaintiff was responsible for providing support services for the User Support Services division (i.e., User Support Subdivision Organization located in the Information Services Bureau) in the form of inventory control; data communication; and invoice, records and supply management. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 13, 26.)

Kenneth Piet was the Division Manager of the User Support Services division (Information Services Bureau) where Plaintiff worked. (Def.'s Ex. E, p. 16.) From May 1994 to April 1, 1996, Plaintiff reported directly to Paul Terrault, Manager of the User Support Subdivision Organization (Information Services Bureau). (Id. ¶ 28.) Beginning on April 1, 1996, however, Plaintiff reported directly to Alvin Greenspon, Senior Public Service Administrator (Information Services Bureau). (Id. ¶ 27.) Moreover, Terrault reported to Piet and Piet, in turn, reported to Dennis Devlin, Deputy Director of the Information Services Bureau. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.)

On June 6, 1996, Plaintiff sustained a work-related injury while working for Defendant. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 214.) Plaintiff cut her leg on a metal assembly part in Defendant's copying area when a Xerox repairman was repairing the copier. (Pl.'s Ex. 17, June 10, 1996 memo to Paul Terrault.) The repairman had placed the metal assembly part next to a waste-paper container and Plaintiff lacerated her leg when she walked by the waste-paper container because the metal assembly part projected into her pathway. (Id.)

On August 23, 1996, Piet served Plaintiff with a copy of a Central Management Services ("CMS") form which indicated that she was to serve a fifteen-day (based on work days) suspension beginning on August 26, 1996. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 33.) In response to the notice of suspension, Defendant states that Plaintiff expressed to Piet, "Now I understand why postal employees shoot their managers."*fn1 (Id.) On August 26, 1996, however, Plaintiff disregarded her fifteen-day suspension order and reported to work. (id. ¶ 36.) When Piet directed Plaintiff to go home, she argued with him and Piet told her he was just the messenger. (Id. ¶ 39.) In response, Defendant states that Plaintiff said, "You know what they do to the messenger don't you?"*fn2 (Id.)

Based on Plaintiffs comments, Piet decided to review her personnel records and became concerned when he learned that Plaintiff had threatened other employees in the past and had numerous disciplinary actions taken against her. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 42.) For instance, Plaintiff had received the following discipline: (1) a written reprimand on January 11, 1996 for calling a co-worker a "big slab of pork" and telling her that she would "bust a cap in her ass;" (2) a one-day suspension on February 15, 1996 for insubordination for refusing to obey a supervisory directive not to interact with a co-worker; (3) a ten-day suspension (based on work days) on July 18, 1996 for failing to obey a supervisory directive to report her absences to her supervisor and for playing games on her personal, work computer; and (4) a written reprimand on August 14, 1996 for returning late from lunch. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶¶ 58, 59, 72-74, 148, 160.) More recently, on August 26, 1996, Plaintiff was given the subject fifteen-day suspension for insubordination for refusing to obey a supervisory directive to submit an original spreadsheet and working notes. (Id. ¶¶ 170, 174, 175, 191, 192.) Thus, based on a review of Plaintiffs personnel file and from what Piet had learned in various educational seminars, he determined that she fit the profile (based on a list of warning signs) of a dangerous employee. (Id. ¶ 43.) At that time, Piet believed he was personally in danger, and considered Plaintiffs comments to be threats. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Carol Niccolai, Labor Relations Manager, considered and struggled with the degree of severity of the discipline that Plaintiff should receive as a result of the threatening remarks she made to Piet. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 45.) After discussing the situation with Delvin (Deputy Director of the Information Support Bureau), Niccolai recommended that Plaintiff be issued a forty-day suspension. (Id. ¶ 46.) Greg Newton (CMS attorney), however, contacted Niccolai and advised her that the discipline for an employee making threats in the workplace is termination. (Id. ¶ 47.) Newton further indicated that any threats of bodily harm were taken seriously as a result of the disturbing trend of workplace violence that has take place in recent years. (Id. ¶ 48.) Thus, given Plaintiffs prior history of discipline and the seriousness of her threats to Piet, Newton determined that termination was the only appropriate course of action. (Id. ¶ 49.)

As a result, on October 7, 1996, Plaintiff was terminated for violating Part III of the Code of Ethics as a result of threatening Piet, with bodily harm, on August 23 and 26, 1996. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶¶ 31, 32, 50.)

On March 20, 1997, Plaintiff filed a claim pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act for the work-related injury she sustained on June 6, 1996. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 215.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with 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). See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has produced evidence to show that it is entitled to summary judgment, the party seeking to avoid such judgment must affirmatively demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact remains for trial. LINC v. Fin. Corp. v. Onwuteaka, 129 F.3d 917, 920 (7th Cir. 1997).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must "review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Vanasco v. National-Louis Univ., 137 F.3d 962, 964 (7th Cir. 1998). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Nevertheless, the nonmovant may not rest upon mere allegations, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). See also Linc, 129 F.3d at 920. A genuine issue of material fact is not shown by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505 or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

ANALYSIS

I. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE

Plaintiff moves to strike various paragraphs and exhibits from Defendant's Statement of Facts. (See Defendant's LR56.1(a)(3) Statement.) For the following reasons, the Court grants, in part, and denies, in part, Plaintiffs Motion to Strike.

Plaintiff first moves to strike paragraphs 51-54 by asserting that they are not relevant to her retaliation claims and provide no credible evidence relating to the issues in this lawsuit. (Pl.'s Mot. to Strike at 2.) Moreover, Plaintiff asserts that the Illinois Civil Service Commission's determination has neither precedential value nor does the Commission possess authority by which res judicata can be established regarding Plaintiffs pending retaliation claims. (Id.)

The Court finds, however, that although these paragraphs are not essential to the Court's decision herein, paragraphs 51-53 are relevant and admissible to show that: (1) Plaintiff appealed her termination decision, (2) an evidentiary hearing was held to determine if her termination was appropriate; and (3) the Administrative Law Judge found that "[t]he totality of the circumstances indicates that, rather than any unfairness towards [Plaintiff] of which she makes numerous complaints, the evidence shows that Management has exercised great deliberation in fairness and caution in applying discipline and allow[ing] [Plaintiff] [the] full exercise of her rights in grieving all discipline. [Plaintiff] has not presented any credible evidence to the contrary." (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶¶ 51-53.) Although the Civil Service Commission's determination has no precedential or res judicata effect, it is relevant and probative to show the appropriateness of Plaintiffs termination which was affirmed after an evidentiary hearing was held. The Court, however, strikes paragraph 54 of Defendant's Statement of Facts because it is not relevant to the issues in this case.

Plaintiff next moves to strike paragraphs 217-224 and Defendant's Exhibit C (municipal record in the matter of Myria Taffe v. Xerox Corporation, 98 M1-301470) and Exhibit Q (Plaintiffs 1998 discovery deposition) asserting that they relate to her negligence claim (personal injury) against Xerox Corporation. (Pl.'s Mot. to Strike at 2.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant cannot assert either collateral estoppel or res judicata doctrines because the state court determinations regarding her negligence claim for her work-related injury are not relevant to this litigation and Defendant was not a party to that proceeding. (Id.)

The Court, however, finds again that although these paragraphs are not essential to the Court's decision herein, paragraphs 217-224 (and Exhibit Q) are relevant and admissible. See e.g., Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2). The June 6, 1996 work-related injury, while working for the Defendant, in which Plaintiff sued Xerox Corporation is the same type of injury that forms the basis of her state retaliatory discharge claim in this case. (Def.'s LR56.1(a)(3) St. ¶ 217.) For instance, when asked during her deposition in her suit against Xerox Corporation about the circumstances of Plaintiffs leaving Defendant's employment, she responded that she left "because of Xerox's negligence." (Id. ¶ 220.) In addition, Plaintiff provided other reasons for her termination which included: (1) the Xerox repairman's conduct; (2) "[b]ecause if I didn't have an accident on the job, I would still be working" and (3) "the June 6, 1996, Xerox incident was the central reason for [her] termination." (Id. ¶¶ 221, 223-24.) Further, Plaintiff stated that Xerox "set the stage for [Defendant] to question my integrity, my character. I was in turn suspended for that and then it led up to termination." (Id. ¶ 220.) Thus, these statements are admissible and relevant regarding Plaintiffs belief as to the reasons for her termination and to rebut her speculation that Defendant discharged her based on its anticipation that she would file a claim under the Workers' Compensation Act. The Court, however, strikes Exhibit C (municipal record) of Defendant's Statement of facts because it is not relevant.

Plaintiff contends that paragraphs 212 and 213 and Defendant's Exhibit B (pp. 1-2) should be stricken because they relate to a prior work-related injury she sustained on August 4, 1994, and the settlement agreement (workers' compensation claim) with the State of Illinois regarding this injury. (Pl.'s Mot. to Strike at 2-3.) Moreover, Plaintiff moves to strike paragraph 216 (and that portion of Exhibit B, pp. 3-5) which relate to ...


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