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MAITER v. HARRIS BANKCORP

January 30, 2004.

MICHELLE M. MAITER, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRIS BANKCORP, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Michelle Matter ("Waiter") filed suit against her former employer, Defendant Harris Bankcorp, Inc. ("Harris Bank"). In her complaint, Maiter alleges that Harris Bank terminated her employment on the basis of her gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"). Harris Bank moves for summary judgment, arguing that Maiter cannot establish that (1) similarly situated male employees were treated more favorably, or (2) the proffered reason for Maiter's termination was pretextual. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants Harris Bank's motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Harris Bank has submitted a Local Rule 56.1 Statement setting forth the material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine dispute. (Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, hereinafter "Def. Facts.") Maiter has failed to respond to the Bank's statement of facts or to submit her own statement of facts as required by the local rules. Thus, the facts set forth by Harris Bank are deemed admitted.

  Maiter is a high school graduate and has some college and professional education. (Def. Facts ¶ 2; Def. Ex. 1 to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter "Def. Motion"). Prior to working for Harris Bank, Maiter held a number of banking positions with other financial institutions, including working as an officer and customer service representative for Citibank, as a Page 2 bank teller and senior personal banker for NBD/First Chicago Bank, and as a bank teller and customer service representative for Presidential Mortgage Company. (Id. ¶ 3; Employment Application, Def. Ex. 1 to Def. Motion.)

  Following interviews with Dianne Gardiner, West Regional Operations Manager for Harris Bank at that time, and West Regional President Maureen Bell, Maiter was hired to work as Branch Manager of Harris's Roselle Branch in May 1998. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5; Maiter Dep., at 33-34.) Gardiner hired Maiter and was her direct supervisor throughout Maiter's employment. (Id. ¶ 6; Maiter Dep., at 34-35; Gardiner Dep., at 23-24.)

  In her capacity as Branch Manager, Maiter was an officer of the Bank. (Id. ¶ 4; Maiter Dep., at 42-43.) She was responsible for the Roselle Branch's profitability, supervision of the employees at the Branch, and achievement of customer service objectives. (Id. ¶ 8; Maiter Dep. 39-42; Job Description, Def. Ex. 14 to Def. Motion.) She was also expected to ensure that all branch employees, herself included, adhered to the ethical and regulatory standards of the banking industry, and to Harris Bank's policy regarding conflicts of interest. (Id. 9; Maiter Dep. 43-47; Def. Ex. 14 to Def. Motion.) Maiter understood that under the Bank's conflicts of interest policy, an employee was not to perform transactions on his or her own behalf or on behalf of immediate family members. (Maiter Dep., at 46-47.) Maiter notes that this policy was not in writing and that employees were not formally trained on it. (Id.)

  One issue related to Maiter's job responsibilities that implicated adherence to ethical standards was Ham's Bank's teller guidelines regarding "forced balancing." (Def. Facts ¶ 10; Gardiner Dep., at 48.) Forced balancing is Harris Bank's term for misstatement by a teller of the amount of money in the teller's cash drawer. (Id.; Gardiner Dep., at 48-49.) Harris Bank's tellers were terminated for forced balancing for amounts of even less than a dollar. (Id.; Gardiner Dep., at 48.) Maiter was responsible for holding the tellers at her branch to this high level of ethical behavior, and Gardiner admits that Maiter did so quite well. (Id.; Gardiner Dep., at 49.) Page 3

  Another issue related to Maiter's job responsibilities that implicated both profitability and conflicts of interest was the reversal of service charges and fees charged to customers for overdrafts, wire transfers, check printing, falling below minimum balances, and other services. (Id. ¶ 11; Matter Dep., at 41, 53.) Harris Bank policy required service charge reversals to be approved by two employees (Id. ¶ 13; Maiter Dep., at 50), one of whom had to be either Maiter herself, Teller Supervisor Therese Cygan ("Cygan"), or Senior Personal Banker Elizabeth Henderson ("Henderson"). (Id. ¶¶ 12, 13; Maiter Dep., at 49-52.) Maiter and the other employees at her branch received training concerning service charge reversals, but that training did not include any specific direction concerning authorization of service charge reversals on an employee's own account, nor was there any written policy regarding such reversals. (Id. ¶ 15; Gardiner Dep., at 31-36; Certificate of Completion, Def. Ex. 6 to Def. Motion; Def. Ex. 7 to Def. Motion; Maiter Dep., at 73, 75.) Gardiner explained, however, that in her view an employee who wanted to reverse a service charge to his or her own account needed the approval of a manager at the same or higher level of authority as the employee. (Id. ¶ 14; Gardiner Dep., at 39-40.) In June 2001, at a regular monthly meeting, Gardiner instructed all West Region managers who reported to her, including Maiter, that the region's service charge reversals were excessive and that branch managers should work to reduce them. (Id. ¶ 16; Maiter Dep., at 56-57; West Region Manager's Meeting Agenda, Def. Ex. 2 to Def. Motion,)*fn1 Page 4

  In September 2001, while Gardiner was vacationing in South Carolina, she received a phone call from Dave Franzen, who was Regional Finance Manager at the time. (Gardiner Dep., at 22, 28). Gardiner recalls that Franzen told her he had received a phone call from an ex-customer of the Bank, Franca Medigovich ("Medigovich"), who had made certain allegations about Matter relating to service charge reversals. (Id. at 28.) Gardiner instructed Franzen to ask Medigovich to provide the information in writing. (Id.) Later, Gardiner called Waiter and asked her whether she knew what Medigovich had been talking about. (Id. at 29; Matter Dep., at 114.) In this conversation, Waiter described the circumstances in which Medigovich's account was closed. Gardiner was satisfied with Maiter's explanation, concluded that Matter had handled the matter appropriately, and undertook no further investigation of Medigovich's allegations. (Id. at 28-29.)

  On November 14, 2001, Harris Bank again heard from Ms. Medigovich, by way of an e-mail message in which Medigovich asserted that Maiter had disclosed confidential customer information, reversed service charges, and performed other inappropriate favors for her friends, including her boyfriend, Timothy Kidd. (Def. Facts ¶ 18; Gardiner Dep., at 27, 30; PI. Ex. 5 to Def. Motion.) Gardiner testified that West Region President Bell gave her a copy of this e-mail message. (Gardiner Dep., at 27.) In response, Gardiner initiated an investigation of some of the accounts identified in Medigovich's message. (Def. Facts ¶ 17; Gardiner Dep., at 27; PI. Ex. 5 to Def. Motion.) In reviewing records of Kidd's account, Gardiner found four service charge reversals on his checking account between February and May 2001. (Id. ¶ 19; Gardiner Dep., at 30-31; Def. Page 5 Ex. 8, 9 to Def. Motion.) Gardiner also investigated Maiter's own Harris Bank accounts and discovered service charge reversals, noted as "courtesy reversals," on October 15, October 19, and November 8, 2001 in an account held jointly by Maiter and her mother. (Id. ¶¶ 20-22; Maiter Dep., at 90-94; Gardiner Dep., at 31, 38; Def. Ex. 10, 11 to Def. Motion.) Maiter acknowledged that she benefited financially from these charge reversals. (Id. ¶ 24; Maiter Dep., at 154-55.) Henderson, who was Maiter's subordinate, had processed the October 19 and November 8 reversals at Maiter's request.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 23; Maiter Dep., at 90-94; Def. Ex. 11 to Def. Motion.)

  As Henderson's supervisor, Maiter evaluated Henderson's performance, had input into her compensation, determined her schedule, and could approve or deny her requested days off. (Id. ¶ 25; Maiter Dep., at 85-86.) Although Maiter says she typically phrased her instructions to subordinates as polite requests, she acknowledged that a subordinate's refusal to comply would constitute insubordination and would subject the subordinate to possible discipline or termination. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27; Maiter Dep., at 169-70.) Nevertheless, Maiter believes that Henderson would have refused to process the service charge reversals on Maiter's joint account with her mother if Henderson had felt uncomfortable or thought Maiter's request was inappropriate. (Id. ¶ 28; Maiter Dep., at 103-06, 168-69.) Gardiner pointed out that Maiter could have asked Assistant Regional Operations Manager Carrie Rhodes, Regional Sales Manager Greg Walsh, Regional Finance Manager Franzen, or Gardiner herself (her office was located at the Roselle Branch) to approve the service charge reversals on Maiter's joint account with her mother. (Id. ¶ 29; Gardiner Dep., at 9, 17, 22, 39-40) Maiter did not in fact ask Gardiner or any peer or supervisor to approve the Page 6 service charge reversals that Henderson processed. (Id. ¶ 30; Gardiner Dep., at 36, 44; Maiter Dep., at 101.) Gardiner testified that, had Maiter asked her, Gardiner would not have approved all of the service charge reversals because she believed that Maiter, as a Bank Officer, should have managed her personal accounts responsibly. (Id. ¶ 31; Gardiner Dep., at 38-39.)

  Upon discovering the service charge reversals on Maiter's joint account with her mother, Gardiner considered Maiter's conduct to constitute potential misappropriation of bank funds for personal gain. (Id. ¶ 32; Gardiner Dep., at 44-45.) For this reason Gardiner asked John ("Jack") Laurie from the Bank's Corporate Security department to conduct a further investigation. (Id.; Gardiner Dep., at 20, 43, 45.) On November 19, 2001, Laurie interviewed Maiter at the bank office in downtown Chicago about the service charge reversals on the joint account. (Id. ¶ 33; Gardiner Dep., at 49-50; Maiter Dep., at 94-95.) At the conclusion of the interview, Maiter signed a written statement in which she asserted that her mother, who had been battling cancer, "contacted Henderson to have these fees reversed." (Id. ¶¶ 34-35; Maiter Dep., 97-98; Def. Ex. 12 to Def. Motion.) Also on November 19, 2001, Henderson reported to Gardiner that Maiter had called her right after the interview and asked Henderson to lie by telling Laurie that it was Maiter's mother, not Maiter, who had requested the service charge reversals. (Id. ¶ 37; Gardiner Dep., at 50-51,)*fn3

  Maiter does not admit that she asked Henderson to reverse the service charge fees on Maiter's joint account with her mother. (Id. ¶ 35; Maiter Dep., at 98; Def. Ex. 12 to Def. Motion.) Harris Bank, however, has submitted as an exhibit in support of its motion for summary judgment Page 7 a print-out of an e-mail message that Matter admits she sent to Henderson on November 7, 2001. (Id. ¶ 36; Gardiner Dep., at 47-48; Maiter Dep., at 98-99; Def. Ex. 13 to Def. Motion.)*fn4 In that e-mail, Matter asked Henderson to "credit [her] mom's account $12.00 for the maintenance charge" (the November 8, 2001 ...


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