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SPENCER v. CORN PRODUCTS INTERNATIONAL INC.

April 4, 2003

SAXON SPENCER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORN PRODUCTS INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Saxon Spencer claims that Corn Products fired him on the basis of his race and retaliated against him because of his activity as a union steward. Corn Products International, Inc. ("Corn Products") moves for summary judgment. As detailed below, the undisputed facts show that Corn Products is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, its motion for summary judgment is granted.

UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

I. Parties

Plaintiff Saxon Spencer is an African-American male. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 3.) Corn Products is a corporation doing business in Illinois that mainly manufactures various forms of fructose for human consumption. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

II. Specifications and Certifications

While Spencer worked for Corn Products, some of its processing units were certified for quality and safety standards by the International Standards Organization ("ISO"). (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 7.) Because certain customers mandated that its units were ISO certified, a loss of certification would directly result in a loss of business. (Id.) Inspectors periodically performed audits of these units to ensure that Corn Products was meeting ISO standards. (Id.) included in some of these audits was a review of the unit's adherence to record-keeping requirements. (Id.)

Along with mandating certification, Corn Products' customers also had very strict specifications for its manufacture of fructose. (Id. ¶ 6.) In order to meet those specifications, each employee has to fulfill his or her responsibilities without error. (Id.)

III. Spencer's Employment

A. Orientation

Corn Products hired Spencer as a mechanical operator for its refinery in June of 1990. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 4, 9.) When Spencer began work at Corn Products, the company's human resources personnel and a supervisor gave him an orientation. (Id. ¶ 8.) During this orientation, Corn Products told Spencer its expectations in terms of his behavior and attendance. (Id.) Its attendance policy in particular had been ratified by Spencer's union. (Id.)

B. Duties

As a mechanical operator, Spencer was responsible for monitoring the sugar-making process by taking readings and keeping the products that had readings within certain specifications for sweetness. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 4, 9.) If he found that the products were reading outside of the specifications, Spencer was expected to make adjustments to the manufacturing process to bring the product in line with the specifications. (Id. ¶ 9.)

In October 1996, Spencer transferred to a position as a customer service agent. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 10.) In this role, Spencer was to answer telephones, take orders, and prepare those orders for processing. (Id.) A year or two later, Spencer moved back into a unionized position in Corn Products' plant. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 11.) Instead of working in the refinery as he did before, Spencer moved to the dextrose unit. (Id.)

During his employment with Corn Products, Spencer served as a union steward. (R. 24-1, Pl.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts ¶ 7.) As a union steward, Spencer brought employment issues to the attention of management and attempted to work with management to resolve these issues. (Id.)

C. Attendance Problems

During his employment with Corn Products, Spencer violated its attendance policy on several occasions and suffered disciplinary action. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 13.) Corn Products issued disciplinary notices to Spencer for these violations on: (1) May 2, 1991 for three absences in four months; (2) May 9, 1991 for four absences in five months; (3) September 11, 1992 for five absences in twelve months; (4) October 5, 1992 for eight absences in twelve months; (5) April 19, 1999 for six absences in eighteen months; (6) October 29, 1999 for eight absences within eighteen months; and (7) June 16, 2000 for three absences over an undisclosed period of time. (Id.) On each of those occasions, Corn Products either suspended Spencer or issued a written warning. (Id. ¶ 14.) Each of these disciplinary notices stated that future incidents would result in increased discipline, up to and including suspension preliminary to discharge. (Id.) After being disciplined on April 19, 1999, Spencer filed a union grievance related to the company's attendance policy. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 15.) That grievance was denied. (Id.)

D. Unsatisfactory Work Performance

Corn Products disciplined Spencer for unsatisfactory work performance on several occasions. (R. 10-3, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ΒΆ 17.) Corn Products issued disciplinary notices to Spencer for these violations on: (1) April 3, 1992 for shipment of an order that did not comply with the specifications and for failing to send a certificate of analysis to the customer; (2) October 5, 1992 for failing to follow written instructions; (3) April 3, 1994 for failure to adjust process to correct manufacture of product that was outside of the specification; (4) September 16, 1999 for failure to check for open water valves that caused certain belts being burned off; and (5) October 8, 1999 for poor quality of analysis and duplication of product. (Id.) Spencer himself reported his mistake with respect to the September 16, 1999 ...


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