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RILEY v. UOP LLC

February 13, 2003

SHIRLEY RILEY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
UOP LLC, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court are (1) plaintiff's motion in limine; (2) defendant's motions in limine; and (3) defendant's motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the following reasons, the court (1) denies as moot plaintiff's motion in limine; (2) denies defendant's motions in limine; and (3) grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff Shirley Riley ("Riley") brings this suit, claiming that defendant UOP LLC ("UOP") discriminated against her on the basis of her race, sex, and age. In order to understand the court's opinion, one must be aware of a number of facts. For the sake of clarity, a recitation of these facts is in six parts. Part A describes Riley's hiring at UOP and her supervisory structure. Part 13 outlines Riley's training. Part C discusses Riley's performance evaluations. Part D describes Riley's disciplinary history. Part E explains UOP's decision to reduce its workforce and Riley's termination. Part F outlines the current lawsuit.

A. Riley's Hiring and her Supervisory Structure

Riley is an African-American female and was born on April 27, 1948. She began working at UOP — a refining, petrochemical, and technology company — as an Operator Trainee at UOP's manufacturing facility in McCook, Illinois (the "McCook facility") on November 3, 1998. During the time Riley was employed by UOP, Cook facility consisted of several major manufacturing processing lines ("plants") and a few minor plants. As a newly-hired Operator Trainee, she was assigned to Plant 26 to begin her training, which was frequently used for operator training because it was the easiest of the plants to learn.

During the period of time at issue in this case, Aaron Beck ("Beck") was Operations Manager for the McCook facility. Terrance Brodin ("Brodin") was an Area Coach at UOP and his duties included training plant operators, as well as other tasks. Otis Dixon ("Dixon") was a Shift Supervisor. A Shift Supervisor's duties included ensuring that all operations at the facility ran smoothly and making sure that the operators working on the plant were performing acceptably and were properly trained. Steve Armstrong ("Armstrong") and Rod Ives ("Ives") were Shift Breaker Operators, whose duties included the initial training of new Operator Trainees. While she was working at UOP, Riley reported directly to Dixon, as well as other supervisors, depending on her shift. Dixon and Brodin reported directly to Beck.

B. Riley's Training

Newly-hired Operator Trainees usually spend two to four weeks in "hands on" training with a Shift Breaker Operator. Armstrong had primary responsibility for Riley's "hands on" training when she was first hired. He trained Riley for at least two weeks. According to Armstrong, Riley had trouble understanding and remembering some tasks that he showed her. Two or three days after Riley started, Armstrong met with Brodin to share his disappointment in her progress. Subsequently, Armstrong sent an email to Beck in which he described some of Riley's and another operator's problems with understanding the plant. Brodin asked Ives to give Riley additional training. When Beck asked Ives how Riley was doing, Ives replied that Riley was "having a hard time grasping how to make adjustments on [the belt]." (Ives Dep. at 26.) Additionally, Ives informed Beck via email of Riley's problems understanding her training.

After the initial training period, the training of an Operator Trainee is conducted primarily by a Shift Supervisor. Dixon also noted that Riley had trouble with the Plant 26 belt. Additionally, Brodin, at times, trained the plant operators, including Riley, on specific tasks. Particularly, he trained Riley on the alignment of the Plant 26 belt. Brodin told Beck that Riley's technical skills were questionable, and Brodin based his conclusion upon the fact that she continued to have problems with routine tasks that should not have been problems for operators who had worked at UOP as long as she had.

C. Riley's Performance Evaluations

Newly hired Operator Trainees are considered to be "in grade progression" ("IGP") and receive written performance evaluations every six months for two years. A standard UOP form was used for the IGP written performance evaluations. The operator trainee received a grade in each of thirteen categories as well as an overall grade. The assignment of an overall performance rating was subjective, and the supervisor had discretion to give weight to each category.

Beck participated in his employees' performance reviews. He would seek early feedback on the performance of Operator Trainees by asking Shift Breaker Operators and Shift Supervisors about the trainee's progress. Beck received input for Riley's performance evaluations from Armstrong, Ives, Brodin, and Dixon, and also referred to other performance evaluations and disciplinary write-ups.

Riley's first IGP written performance evaluation was dated May 3, 1999. On that evaluation, Dixon gave Riley an overall rating of "M," which meant that she was "meeting most expectations, plus." (Beck Dep. Ex. 47.) On that evaluation, Dixon wrote that Riley needed to ask more questions when she didn't understand the plant or experienced other problems. He also noted that she "was a little weak on the total operations" of the belt that carried product through the plant. (Id.) Beck did not participate in Riley's first performance evaluation.

Riley's second IGP written evaluation was dated October 22, 1999. Dixon initially prepared the October 22 evaluation. He gave Riley a score of "M-" in three of the thirteen performance categories. Beck reviewed the evaluation and questioned Dixon giving Riley a score of "M" in five other performance categories, because those scores conflicted with feedback that he had received from other supervisors. After hearing Beck's reaction to the evaluation, Dixon lowered Riley's score for productivity from an "M" to an "M," and her score for team work from an "C" or "M" to an "M." Also, Dixon changed Riley's overall score to an "M-."

Riley's third IGP written evaluation was dated April 21, 2000. Dixon gave her an overall score of "M-." Dixon based that score on his personal observation of Riley's work, as well as input from other Operators and emails from Brodin. After Dixon drafted the evaluation, he submitted it to Beck, who signed it and did not dispute any of the scores that Dixon had given Riley.

In conjunction with the April 21, 2000 evaluation, and because Riley had earned a score of "M-," Dixon at Beck's request — drafted a document entitled "UOP and My Expectations for the Next Six Months." (the "May Personal Improvement Plan") (Beck Dep. Ex. 50-51.) This document listed a series of goals that Dixon had for Riley. Dixon expected that someone with Riley's training and tenure at UOP should not have been having the types of problems that were listed on the May Personal Improvement Plan. When Dixon spoke with Riley about the written evaluation and May Personal Improvement Plan, he informed her that her performance needed to improve because she had been with UOP for a year and a half. Dixon submitted a copy of the May Personal Improvement Plan to Beck, but did not discuss it with him. Dixon placed Riley on a second Personal Improvement Plan for the period from May 3, 2000 through November 3, 2000. He gave her a score of "M," overall, on the two personal improvement plans, indicating that she was meeting most expectations with regard to Dixon's goals for her. However, at the time Dixon reviewed the second Personal Improvement Plan, in November 2000, it was his opinion that, although Riley had improved, she "still had a ways to go." (Dixon Dep. at 150.)

Dixon prepared Riley's fourth IGP written evaluation in November 2000. On November 13, he and Brodin exchanged email regarding Dixon's proposed scores for Riley. Dixon adopted Brodin's suggestion that Riley receive an "M" rather than an "M" in the categories of "Technical Skills" and "Planning and Organizing." Riley was terminated before this evaluation became final.

D. Riley's Disciplinary Record

According to UOP's Corrective Action Policy, "progressive corrective action may include such steps as 1) verbal warnings, 2) written warnings, 3) time off." (Beck Dep. Ex. 67.) Under the policy, there are supposed to be verbal warnings before a written warning is given, but in a case of a major infraction of safety, a written warning can be imposed without any prior verbal warning.

On August 11, 1999, Brodin issued Riley a written warning for violating a UOP safety policy. Riley had failed to complete all of the required information on a Line Breaking Permit. The permits indicate the status of a piece of broken equipment to an employee making repairs on the equipment. When Brodin discussed the Line Breaking Permit with Riley, he thought she seemed confused about what she had done wrong and did not understand that she was supposed to have filled out all the information.*fn2

On February 17, 2000, Dixon issued Riley a written warning for running a piece of equipment outside of its stated limits. Dixon drafted the warning and submitted it to Beck for his approval. However, Dixon did not check the proper box to indicate that it was a final warning for Riley. Thus, Beck wrote "final warning" on the warning document to indicate to Riley that her next written warning would result in a suspension.

On February 23, 2000, Riley was suspended for violating UOP safety rules. The documentation of her suspension stated that she had violated a safety practice by climbing onto the platform without the guard rail in place.*fn3. Riley took responsibility for the incident.

E. Riley's Termination

Later in 2000, UOP decided to reduce its workforce, including workers at the McCook facility. Part of this RIF was to eliminate authorizations to hire for vacant positions. However, the reduction also included the termination of some active employees. In October 2000, Vice President of Manufacturing Allen Arneson ("Arneson"), to whom Beck reported directly, directed Beck to identify three employees to be included in the workforce reduction. Arneson told Beck to base his recommendations upon employee performance.

Soon after receiving Arneson's telephone call, Beck identified Riley, Dixon, and Hristinski as his three worst performers. He also considered Willis a poor performer, but did not think that he should be included in the RIF because he had a clean disciplinary record. Beck reached his decision based upon his overall familiarity with employee performance and disciplinary records. He did not review any documents except possibly for a worksheet of employee ratings that he maintained. Beck testified that he had not seen the November 2000 IGP written evaluation that Dixon had prepared for Riley or either of Dixon's two personal improvement plans for Riley.

Subsequently, Jerome Caufield ("Caufield"), another employee, engaged in conduct that warranted his termination. Beck decided to include Caufield in the RIF, instead of one of the employees whom he had already selected. Beck decided to replace Hristinski and not Riley with Caufield even though Hristinski and Riley each had received "M-" ratings on their most recent performance evaluations. Beck made this decision because it was his recollection that Hristinski had higher performance ratings and a cleaner discipline record over the past two or three years. Arneson approved Beck's recommendations for employees to be terminated.

On December 5, 2000, Beck met with Riley to inform her that she was being terminated. He explained that she was being terminated as part of the RIF and due to her performance. No other Operator Trainees have been hired by UOP since Riley's termination.

F. Riley's EEOC Charge and the Current Lawsuit

On December 27, 2000, Riley filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She received a notice of her right to sue dated August 10, 2001, and she filed this lawsuit on November 1, 2001, within the required ninety days of receiving her right to sue letter. Count I of Riley's complaint alleges that she was discriminated against due to her lace, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("section 1981"). Count II of her complaint is a claim for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Count III of Riley's complaint contains a claim for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA").*fn4 Count [V of Riley's complaint alleges that she was discriminated against due to her sex, in violation of Title VII. Because all of Riley's claims arise under federal law, the court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. UOP now moves for summary judgment arguing that: (1) Riley cannot establish a prima facie case for discrimination; (2) UOP had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for firing Riley; and (3) Riley cannot prove that those reasons were pretextual.*fn5

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motions in ...


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