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BITUIN v. SUPERVALU

July 29, 2003

ABEL BITUIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SUPERVALU, HOLDINGS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Bernthal, Magistrate Judge.

ORDER

In November 2001, Plaintiff Abel Bituin filed a Complaint (#1) pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, against Defendant Supervalu Holdings, Inc. (hereinafter "Supervalu"), alleging that Supervalu discharged him solely because of his national origin. In February 2003, Defendant Supervalu filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#26). After reviewing the parties' pleadings and memoranda, this Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#26).

I. Background

Mr. Bituin's race is Asian and his national origin is Filipino. (Abel Bituin Aff., ¶¶ 2-3.) He worked in Supervalu's warehouse from 1994 until his termination in 2001. (Bituin Dep., p. 6.)

On May 15, 2001, Mr. Bituin was sitting by himself at a table in Supervalu's break room when a malfunctioning change machine began to dispense dollar coins. (Bituin Dep., pp. 37-38.) At first only two coins fell out, which Mr. Bituin retrieved and took back to his table. (Bituin Dep., pp. 37-38.) A few moments later the machine released four more dollars and Mr. Bituin took those too. (Bituin Dep., pp. 52-53.)

While Mr. Bituin sat quietly with his six coins, the machine's sporadic but increasingly voluminous discharge of currency attracted the attention of his coworkers. (Quentin Mayfield Dep., pp. 5-8.) Two of the workers began to jostle the machine in an attempt to increase its output and several others scrambled to collect the money spilling out onto the break room floor. (Mayfield Dep., pp. 4-9.)

Amidst the chaos, Quentin Mayfield, another Supervalu employee, announced his intention to return the money to the management and collected ninety-seven coins from his coworkers and from the floor in front of the machine. (Mayfield Dep., pp. 7-9.) When Mr. Mayfield finished, he allegedly called to supervisor Andy Pecunas, who met him halfway up the staircase leading from the ground floor to the first mezzanine level where the break room was located. (Mayfield Dep., p. 9.) Mr. Mayfield testified that he was in the process of handing a cup containing ninety-seven coins to Mr. Pecunas when Mr. Bituin passed them on the stairs, deposited a handful of change in the cup, and continued on his way. (Mayfield Dep., p. 8.) Mr. Bituin reported only that he informed Mr. Pecunas the change machine was broken and returned the six coins in his possession. (Bituin Dep., pp. 41-43.)

After an investigation into the events of May 15, personnel director Kathy Knudsen and general manager Mike Guth decided to fire all of the individuals seen taking money from the machine except Mr. Mayfield (Knudsen Aff., p. 23), whom the managers allegedly believed was innocent of any wrongdoing. (Knudsen Aff., pp. 33-35.) Mr. Bituin and five other individuals, several of whom were Caucasian, were terminated. (Knudsen Aff., p. 25.) Mr. Mayfield, who is also Caucasian, suffered no adverse employment action.

Mr. Bituin called Ms. Knudsen the day after his termination in an unsuccessful attempt to win his job back, arguing that "what happened in the break room — . . . was wrong, but I shouldn't have been terminated," and he had "seen worse things in the warehouse that were grounds for termination [but] those people were still there." (Bituin Aff., p. 48.)

Mr. Bituin filed suit against Supervalu on November 16, 2001, for damages in excess of $75,000 and attorneys fees to compensate for unlawful employment practices committed against him pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sections 704(a) and (g). 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(a), 2000e-5(g).

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits, and other evidence show that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(b). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any genuine dispute of material fact that requires a trial. Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). However, "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, whether he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

III. Analysis

Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). An employee may demonstrate his employer's intentional discrimination by providing either direct or indirect evidence. Direct evidence of discrimination is evidence that one can interpret as an acknowledgment of the employer's discriminatory intent without relying on any inference. Mojica v. Gannett Co., 7 F.3d 552, 561 (7th Cir. 1993); Rothman v. Emory University, 123 F.3d 446, 451 (7th Cir. 1997). To ...


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