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MATTSON v. CATERPILLAR INC.

May 2, 2003

THOMAS MATTSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CATERPILLAR INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael T. Mason, United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Thomas Mattson, alleges that defendant, Caterpillar, Inc., subjected him to sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (e) et seq. ("Title VII"). Before us are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment on both counts. For the following reasons, this Court grants Caterpillar's motion and denies Mattson's motion.

BACKGROUND

Both of the parties filed statements of undisputed facts pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 wherein they agreed to the majority of the facts. The parties' disputes for the most part concern the proper interpretation of such facts. Thus, the following facts are undisputed except where noted.

Caterpillar is a corporation which is and for many years has been doing business in the State of Illinois, operating a number of manufacturing facilities involved in the production of earth-moving equipment, engines and generators. At all relevant times, Caterpillar has employed at least 15 employees in the State of Illinois, and is an "employer" as defined by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b).

Mattson began his employment with Caterpillar in 1971. From April 1999 until his termination on December 16, 1999, Mattson served as a third-shift electrician in Building BB of Caterpillar's Mossville, Illinois facility. Mattson's responsibility in this position was to repair electrical problems that occurred in the facility's engine-testing equipment (i.e., the "test cells") area. The test cell area is a noisy area where employees wear earplugs and have to raise their voices and speak directly into other persons' ears to be heard. Mattson was assisted in his responsibilities by a more senior electrician, Paul Hart. Mattson's direct supervisor was Lee Gill.

During this same period, Beth Cone served as the foreman of the test cell area for the third shift. Although Cone was not Mattson's direct supervisor, she issued directions to him that he was expected to obey. On one occasion, Cone complained to Gill that she had observed Mattson sleeping in one of the electricians' cells. Cone also believed that Mattson was unresponsive to her requests. On approximately April 14, 1999, the tension between Cone and some of the electricians boiled over. On this day, Cone and Hart had a loud discussion over an incident in which Mattson and Hart had improperly left a test cell without indicating that the cell was still under repair. During that discussion, Hart became angry and took two steps towards Cone before Mattson stepped in and restrained him. The following Monday, Hart's pending transfer to another building came through, and Hart was transferred. After this time, Cone's primary point of contact when she needed an electrician was Mattson.

Following the altercation, on approximately April 19, 1999, maintenance supervisor Jerry Hoven held a meeting to discuss the problems that had been occurring in the maintenance and test cell areas. Mattson, Gill, and test cell mechanics Wayne Minor, Denny Pemberton, and Steve Snyder attended the meeting. During the meeting, Mattson and other employees told Hoven that they were concerned about "physical contact" with Cone. Specifically, Mattson complained that Cone had deliberately pressed her breast against his arm from behind.

Around this same time, Mattson also complained to Gill of unwelcome sexual behavior towards him by Cone. Specifically, Mattson complained that Cone had reached for some papers near his crotch.*fn1 Pemberton and Snyder made similar complaints; specifically, they complained that Cone had gotten in the habit of standing too close to them and positioning her body in a manner that caused them to run into her.*fn2

As a result of these complaints, Caterpillar assigned its EEO Coordinator, Lynda White, to conduct an investigation. White conducted interviews with Mattson, Cone, and Gill, and employees Snyder, Pemberton, and Minor. During her interview with Mattson, Mattson stated again that Cone's breast had touched his arm and that she had reached around him to get some papers on a clipboard. Mattson told White, however, that he did not know if Cone's breast had touched him "on purpose" and did not believe Cone was attracted to him. Mattson also told White that there had been "nothing anyone could do right" for Cone during the previous week, and that he wanted to either be transferred or have Cone transferred.

White concluded her investigation with a report dated April 30, 1999 in which she found that no sexual harassment had occurred, and recommended that a "matter of record" be placed in Mattson's personnel file.*fn3 White's recommendation was based on her conclusions that Mattson had exaggerated his complaint against Cone and that Mattson, Minor and Snyder had conspired to get Cone in trouble before they got in trouble, themselves. In reaching these conclusions, White noted that Mattson's account as to the level of physical contact between he and Cone had been contradictory, with Mattson initially stating that there was a lot of physical contact between them, but later admitting that the contact had occurred only once and was probably inadvertent. In contrast, White found Cone to have been truthful, and noted that there were no contradictions in her account.

White reviewed her findings with Human Resources Manager Norman Ricca. At Ricca's request, on approximately May 10, 1999, Caterpillar issued Mattson, as well as Snyder and Minor, each a "matter of record" warning them that false accusations of sexual harassment could lead to disciplinary action including discharge. After receiving the matter of record, Mattson understood that he could be disciplined for making charges of sexual harassment that the Company found to have no reasonable basis. Caterpillar also counseled Cone to be careful as to how close she stood around people and to make sure that she had their attention when approaching them. Thereafter, Cone changed her behavior when speaking to employees by carrying a clipboard and holding it over her chest.*fn4

Three months later, on approximately August 20, 1999, Mattson filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"), which was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In his charge, Mattson alleged that he had been subject to sexual harassment and retaliation. Mattson's sexual harassment allegations were based on: (1) the single instance in which Cone's breast had touched him, and (2) Cone's act of reaching around Mattson to get a clipboard. Mattson's retaliation allegations were based on: (1) Caterpillar's denial of his request for a transfer, and (2) Mattson's receipt of a disciplinary warning (the matter of record) after he complained of the alleged sexual harassment.

Caterpillar assigned White's successor, Christine Troglio, to investigate and respond to Mattson's charge. During the course of her investigation, Troglio reviewed the investigation files from Lynda White's previous investigation and interviewed employee Chuck Hollis, as well as several other employees. Hollis, in his interview, stated that Mattson had informed him that the purpose behind the sexual harassment complaint was to have Cone removed from the test cell area due to a disagreement between Cone and several of the hourly employees. Hollis acknowledged that Mattson had not explicitly admitted to him that the complaint was false, but stated that he (Hollis) believed it to be false. Based on her investigation, Troglio concluded that Cone did not commit any sexual harassment ...


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