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DENT v. BESTFOODS

August 27, 2003

CHARLES DENT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BESTFOODS, DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

After losing his job of twenty-five years, Charles Dent filed a lawsuit against his former employer, alleging race discrimination and retaliation. Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants Defendant's motion.

UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

I. The Parties

Defendant, incorporated as Conopeo, Inc., does business as Unilever Bestfoods North America ("Bestfoods"). Bestfoods manufactures mayonnaise at a facility in Chicago, Illinois. (R. 8-1, Answer ¶ 4; R. 17-1, Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 6.)

Bestfoods hired Charles Dent, an African-American, as a forklift operator in July 1975. (R. 8-1, Answer ¶ 3; R. 17-1, Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 15-16.) Dent acted as the chief steward of his union from 1989 through 1998, and again from June to October 2000. (R. 17-1, Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 18.) Beginning in 1993, Dent began complaining and bringing charges of discrimination on behalf of himself and other employees.

II. Dent's Conduct Leading Up To Termination

Bestfoods has an employee "Guide to Conduct." Bestfoods required all employees to [ Page 2]

comply with this handbook. (R. 17-1, Def's Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 29.) From 1995 to 1997, Bestfoods disciplined Dent on three occasions for purported disorderly conduct and abusive language in violation of the Guide to Conduct, (Id. ¶ 32.) Bestfoods also informed Dent on October 4, 1996 that he had to control his emotions, and that it would not tolerate any further outbursts. (Id. ¶ 33.) In 1997, Bestfoods issued Dent a final warning. (Id. ¶ 34.) That warning stated, in part, that "[f]uture outbursts of this type will result in further disciplinary action up to and including discharge." (Id. ¶ 34.)

A. Dent's Incident with Blanks

Starting in February 1999, Warren Blanks assumed primary responsibility for all aspects of Bestfoods' human resources, including labor relations, employment relations, hiring, staffing, discipline, benefits, and compensation. (R. 17-1, Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 12.) On June 16, 1999, Dent attended a meeting with Blanks and Alonzo Singleton. (Id. ¶ 35.) Singleton was acting as the chief union steward at the time. (Id.) The parties dispute what happened at that meeting. According to Bestfoods, Dent threatened Blanks by inviting him to meet Dent on a street comer. (Id.) Dent claims that he did not threaten Blanks, but instead invited him to play basketball with him. (R. 20-1, Pl's Statement of Add'l Facts ¶ 9.)

B. Last Chance Agreement

After this incident, Blanks reviewed Dent's personnel record. (R. 17-1, Def's Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 36.) Blanks found Dent's previous citations for violating the Guide to Conduct. (Id.) Blanks initially decided to terminate Dent, but later provided him with a Last Chance Agreement instead. (Id. ¶ 39.) The Last Chance Agreement stated that Dent's continued employment would be at the sole discretion of the company and that any future misconduct would be grounds for immediate ...


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