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NEWELL v. MICRO CENTER SALES GROUP

April 8, 2003

DENISE NEWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICRO CENTER SALES GROUP D/B/A MICRO CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry D. Leinenweber, United States District Court.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Denise Newell has two basic complaints against Micro Center. First, she complains that she was harassed because of her race (African-American) by her former supervisor, Adam Mandel (white male), and, second, because of her complaint she was retaliated against by Micro Center when it issued a "One-Time Warning Memorandum" on November 29, 2000, and denied her a training opportunity.

BACKGROUND

Micro Center is in the business of sales and distribution of computer hardware, software and other accessories. It maintains retail centers in the Chicagoland area. Newell has been employed by Micro Center since December 2, 1996, first as a Human Resources Assistant and, since September 1997, as a General Sales Supervisor. She continues in that position today. Mandel, initially occupied the same Position as Newell, General Sales Supervisor. In February 2000, Mandel was promoted to the position of Retail Sales Manager and became Newell's direct supervisor. Prior to Mandel's promotion he and Newell got along together.

According to Newell, her problems with Mandel commenced in March 2000, when she returned from a leave of absence due to the death of her son. Mandel told her that he would be delegating some of her duties to a sales associate in her department. She told him not to do so as she was fully capable of handling all of her job duties. Mandel refused and she complained to Micro Center Management. She contends that it was after she complained that Mandel commenced his campaign of harassment.

According to Newell, Mandel belittled her, called her his slave, and excessively paged her through the intercom system. He also yelled at her, belittled her in front of her subordinates and was unfairly critical of her work. Mandel denies that he ever referred to Newell as his slave and, after Newell complained to management, Micro Center conducted an investigation but was not able to find anyone to confirm that it happened. Newell admits that she referred to herself, verbally and in writing, as Newell's slave and that she on one occasion got down on her hands and knees and asked Mandel if he wanted her to lick his shoes. On October 14, 2000, Mandel struck Newell with a stuffed animal. Newell believed that Mandel was frustrated as a result of an incident that had occurred earlier in the day. Newell charged Mandel with criminal battery. The charge was dismissed when she failed to show up in court. Micro Center conducted an investigation of this incident and counseled Mandel. He was eventually offered the choice of relocating or resigning. He chose to resign. Newell contends that the harassment caused her stress and a miscarriage. However, she failed to supply the court with any medical support showing causation.

During the time Mandel was retail sales manager (and Newell's superior), numerous other employees, white, nonwhite, male and female, complained that Mandel talked down to them and acted in a demeaning manner. Newell suggests that two other supervisors, Gerald Minzey, and Chris Caldwell, white males occupying positions similar to hers, were treated more favorably by Mandel. However, as Newell admits, both of them complained that they were also treated in a demeaning and condescending manner by Mandel. Micro Center admits that Mandel's management style left something to be desired, and to such an extent that it removed him from his supervisory position, in part because of Newell's complaints.

Newell filed a charge of discrimination against Micro Center with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the "IDHR"). The Department conducted fact-finding conferences and found "substantial evidence" to support the charges of harassment and retaliation. The IDHR filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission but Newell asked that it be stayed before any evidence could be taken because she preferred to litigate in federal court.

On November 29, 2000, Newell received a written warning complaining of her actions on the sales floor in view of customers, in which she portrayed herself as a slave on a southern plantation. This was a "One-Time" warning, meaning that the employee was given a chance to correct her behavior before disciplinary action is taken. Newell was not further disciplined for her alleged conduct. Newell claims that this warning was given to retaliate for her complaint of harassment.

She also claims that she was denied a training opportunity when another employee was sent for a work related "reset" training session in retaliation for her complaint. This "training" was simply a reorganizing of product shelving in the Micro Center retail outlets. An employee was selected to be sent to another store to participate in the reorganizing and then to return to lead the reorganizing at his home store. Micro Center says that it had valid business reasons for selecting the other employee to attend the training session. Newell, however, failed to state how her career was affected negatively by not receiving the training.

Micro Center has moved for summary judgment contending that Newell has not supplied evidence that the work environment was sufficiently severe so as to alter the conditions of employment. It also moves for summary judgment on the retaliation claim on the ground that Newell has not been subjected to an adverse employment action.

DISCUSSION

The Harassment Claim

In order to survive summary judgment on a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must establish that the conduct alleged to be hostile was so severe or pervasive so as to create an abusive work environment in violation of Title VII. Russell v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 243 F.3d 336, 343 (7th Cir. 2001). In making this determination the court will look at all of the circumstances, including the nature of the conduct, the frequency, whether it was physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it interferes with an employee's work performance. Id. It must be both objectively offensive, i.e., a reasonable person would ...


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