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RHODES v. ILLINOIS DEPT. OF TRANSP.

February 5, 2003

DONNA M. RHODES, PLAINTIFF,
V.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT.



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

    MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RELEVANT FACTS*fn2

Rhodes was employed as a full-time, temporary Highway Maintainer for IDOT at the Arlington Heights maintenance yard ("Yard") for the three winter seasons spanning 1996 through 1999. (R. 30, Def.'s Facts, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 12.) During her first two years of employment, Rhodes was the only female worker in the Yard. (Id at 38.) Approximately 32 full-time and part-time employees worked at the Yard during this period. (Id., Ex. EE, Mara Dep. at 48.) The top two positions at the Yard are the Technician and the Lead Lead Worker. (Id, Ex. D, Poladian Aff at ¶¶ 2-3.) During Rhodes's first two seasons John Nicholas was the Technician and Michael Poladian was the Lead Lead Worker. (Id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 26-27.) In her last season Nicholas retired and was replaced by Maff Mara, (id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 26-27; Ex. BE, Mara Dep. at 13, 23); Poladian remained the Lead Lead Worker, (id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 27). All of the Yard workers reported to these two individuals, and Poladian and Mara were responsible for assembling crews and assigning tasks to Yard employees. Although Rhodes claims that the Technician or Lead Lead Worker assign less desirable job duties as a form of punishment, (R. 35, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 17). neither the Technician nor the Lead Lead Worker are authorized to hire, fire, transfer, demote or discipline employees,*fn3 (R. 30, Def.'s Facts, Ex. C, Fulgenzi Aff. ¶¶ 18-19).

Rhodes experienced few, if any, problems during her first two seasons at the Yard. She did not raise any complaints with respect to her coworkers, supervisors, pay or assignments, nor was she disciplined by IDOT. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 23-24.) Her reviews at the end of both seasons indicated that she was meeting IDOT's expectations. (Id, Ex. FE, Poladian Dep., Ex. 1.) During her second season, however, Poladian began receiving complaints from motorists that Rhodes's snow route was not plowed sufficiently or in a timely manner. (Id, Ex. FF, Poladian Dep. at 23.) During that season Rhodes was assigned to snow route 12, which encompassed 36.9 lane miles. (Id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 43; Ex. D, Poladian Aff. at ¶ 12.) It is customary for snowbirds to pitch in on others' routes when they have finished their own, (id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 50), but Poladian noticed that Rhodes required help finishing her route more frequently than other snowbirds, (Id., Ex. D, Poladian Aff. ¶ 15). Accordingly, at the beginning of the 1998-1999 season Poladian suggested to Mara that Rhodes be given a different, shorter snow route that was closer to the Yard. (Id., Ex. D, Poladian Aff. ¶ 16.) Mara agreed. (Id at ¶ 20.)

Rhodes, who did not like her new snow route, asked Poladian why it had been changed and if she could have her old route back. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 46.) Poladian initially told Rhodes that she could not have the route back and that the decision was final. (Id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 55.) When Rhodes asked Poladian if she could speak directly to Mara about it, Rhodes claims that Poladian threatened to "strangle" her if she did so. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 54-5 5.) Poladian denies ever making such a remark. (Id, Ex. FF, Poladian Dep. at 19.) Nevertheless, Rhodes did speak to Mara about her changed snow route and Poladian's alleged comments. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 63.) Mara asked Rhodes to put her allegation in writing so that he could investigate it but she refused, so Mara referred the problem to his superior, Les Aling. (Id, Ex. EE, Mara Dep. at 20.) Aling, who was an IDOT Operations Engineer, next spoke to Rhodes about her complaints but she did not get her old snow route back. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 63-65.) After Rhodes's meetings with Poladian, Mara and Aling, she claims that she was increasingly subjected to discrimination, harassment and retaliation. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 68-69.) For example, Rhodes claims that Poladian punished her by forcing her to wash a truck in sub-zero temperatures, (id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 103-04), assigning her to work in the Yard instead of on a road crew, (id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at Ex. 8), and ordering the Lead Worker not to allow her to drive the foreman's truck while others were patching potholes, (id., Ex. OG. Morrison Dep. at 20).

Rhodes also claims that Poladian began calling her names such as "bitch" and "cunt"; Rhodes did not complain about the alleged name-calling and Poladian denies that he ever used those words. (Id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 69-73; Ex. FF, Poladian Dep. at 50.) Around this same time Rhodes also began taking photographs of sexually related videos and magazines around the Yard, as well as taking notes of behavior that she considered discriminatory. (Id., Ex. M, Rhodes Notes.) DOT admits that from at least 1996 through 1998 there were pornographic magazines at the Yard. (Id, Ex. JJ, Franzone Dep. at 11.) Mara testified that whenever he saw pornographic magazines at the Yard he would confiscate them. (Id, Ex. EE, Mara Dep. at 13.) Additionally, during the same period Yard employees concealed a television in the mechanics' room of the Yard where they watched pornographic videos. (Id., Ex. JJ, Franzone Dep. at 13.) The parties dispute whether Poladian viewed the videos; Poladian denies having done so, (id., Ex. FF, Poladian Dep. at 5), while other IDOT employees testified in their depositions that Poladian was present when videos were shown, (id, Ex. JJ, Franzone Dep. at 13-14; Ex. II, Caruso Dep. at 64-66). Rhodes never complained about the pornographic magazines, nor did she complain about the pornographic videos. (R. 30, Def.'s Facts ¶ ¶¶ 33, 35.) She never looked at the magazines or videos, nor were they shown to her by other Yard employees. (Id at ¶¶ 36-38.) Sometimes cartoons of a sexual nature were posted on the employee bulletin board, which Rhodes would remove. (Id., Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 105-06.) On one occasion Rhodes found a pornographic picture taped to her locker. She took the photo to Mara and Poladian, who immediately held a meeting with Yard employees and told them that such conduct was not permitted. (Id., Ex. D, Poladian Aff. ¶ 40.)

IDOT has a "zero tolerance" policy regarding discrimination and harassment in the workplace. (Id., Ex. 1, Ransom Aff. ¶ 3.) IDOT employs civil rights officers who distribute and post employment and civil rights materials in the Yards. (Id., Ex. H, Brown Aff. ¶ 10.) These officers conduct yearly training sessions to "educate employees about their civil rights and IDOT's policies against discrimination, harassment and retaliation"; they also investigate any such claims as they arise. (Id at ¶¶ 3-4.) During Yard training sessions the officers inform the employees of IDOT's complaint process and how to contact them if the employee feels that he is being treated in a discriminatory manner. (Id at ¶ 5.) It is customary for IDOT to distribute its policy on sexual harassment to all female Highway Maintainers. (Id at ¶ 8.) It is also customary for the officers to post newsletters at the yards that outline current information on civil rights issues as well as the phone number of IDOT's civil rights officers. (Id at ¶ 10.) Similarly, Equal Employment Opportunity posters are prominently displayed in the yards. (Id at ¶ 11.) In October 1998 the officers held a meeting and training session at the Arlington Heights Yard. They distributed written materials and explained Title VII issues, including gender discrimination and sexual harassment. (Id, Ex. I, Ransom Aff. ¶ 5.)

On April 15, 1999, the last day of her employment for the season, Rhodes took the mandatory Highway Maintainer's test to maintain her eligibility for employment with DOT. (Id, Ex. C, Fulgenzi Aff. ¶ 25; Ex. X, Rhodes Application.) On that form Rhodes also requested employment for the following winter season at the Arlington Heights Yard. (Id) Because she was taking the test that morning she did not appear at the Yard at her scheduled time. (Id, Ex. B, Rhodes Dep. at 114.) According to IDOT policy, if a Yard employee does not appear at the start of a shift and does not call the Technician or Lead Lead Worker before 8:00 a.m., that employee will be marked absent for the day. (Id, Ex. Z, Attendance Policy; Ex. EE, Mara Dep. at 5 8-59.) Rhodes told Don Morrison, an acting Lead Worker (but not Lead Lead Worker), that she would be late to work because she was taking the Highway Maintainer's test. (Id, Ex. GG, Morrison Dep. at 46.) Morrison instructed her to inform Mara or Poladian as well, but Rhodes did not do so. (Id) Morrison did not have the authority to grant time off. (Id., Ex. EE, Mara Dep. at 58-. 59.) Accordingly Rhodes was marked absent without pay. Because it was her last day of work for the season, she did not return to the Yard after April 15, but Rhodes admits that she was not terminated. (Id, Def.'s Facts ¶ 80.) In fact, Rhodes was asked to return to IDOT as a snowbird for the 1999-2000 winter season and was asked to interview for a permanent Highway Maintainer position. (Id., Ex. CC, Rhodes Dep. at 14; Ex. C, Fulgenzi Aff. ¶ 22.) She declined the offer. Presently before the Court is IDOT's motion for summary judgment. Rhodes alleges that IDOT discriminated against her because of her gender, subjected her to sexual harassment and retahated against her.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). We view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A party opposing summary judgment must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. Indeed, where a party "fail[s] to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof," there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

ANALYSIS

I. Sex ...


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