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JACK-GOODS v. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO.

May 5, 2004.

BARBARA JACK-GOODS, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIDNEY SCHENKIER, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On August 22, 2001, the plaintiff, Barbara Jack-Goods, filed this action against the defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, claiming sex, race and age discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. On September 26, 2003, plaintiff amended her complaint to withdraw her age discrimination claim. Defendant now has moved for summary judgment on all remaining claims (doc. # 28). For the reasons given below, the Court grants this motion.*fn1

I.

  Summary judgment is proper if the record shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 249-50; see also Flip Side Productions, Inc. v. Jam Productions, Ltd., 843 F.2d 1024, 1032 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 909 (1988). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Valley Liquors, Inc. v. Renfield Importers, Ltd., 822 F.2d 656, 659 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 977 (1987), and must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Santiago v. Lane, 894 F.2d 218, 221 (7th Cir. 1990).

  When a material fact or a set of facts yields competing, but reasonable, inferences, then there is a genuine issue that precludes summary judgment. The non-moving party's burden is to identify facts that are both material and genuinely disputed. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324,(1986). To be material, a fact must be outcome determinative under the substantive law governing the motion. Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). A "genuine issue" exists when the party opposing the motion for summary judgment serves and files, pursuant to local Rule 56.1, a concise statement outlining the material facts that require denial of summary judgment, supported by citations to the evidentiary materials that support those denials (e.g., affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions etc.). Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Although the party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact, Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, the non-moving party cannot rely upon the pleadings alone, but must use the evidentiary tools outlined in Rule 56. II.

  The material facts that the parties do not genuinely dispute — and that support the entry of summary judgment for the defendant — are as follows. On or about March 16, 2001, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against State Farm with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), thus satisfying the requirement of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) and (e) for pursuing a Title VII lawsuit. Plaintiff's charge of discrimination was timely filed within 300 days after certain alleged unlawful employment practices occurred. On May 24, 2001, the EEOC issued plaintiff a Notice of Right-to-Sue with respect to her charge of discrimination. This action was timely brought within 90 days of plaintiff's receipt of the Notice of Right-to-Sue letter (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts (hereinafter, "Def.'s 56.1 So. ¶ ___") ¶ 5).

 
A. Plaintiff's Initial Employment with State Farm Insurance.
  The defendant hired plaintiff in December 1984, at its Griffith, Indiana office. During the period immediately prior to April 1998, plaintiff served as a claims specialist in the Griffith office's personal injury department (also known as the bodily injury department). While serving in this department, plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Ellen Johnson (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 7). At some point prior to April 1998, plaintiff was promoted to the position of claims specialist, also known as an MA3 (Id. ¶ 6).

  B. State Farm's 1998 Reorganization.

  In 1998, State Farm changed its claim handling operations at the Griffith office. The claims specialists who previously handled either bodily injury or property damage claims began handling both kinds of claims. At approximately the same time, State Farm created its "Claims Central" operation. Generally, less complex claims were referred to Claims Central for handling while the more complex claims remained in the Griffith office for handling. Thus, the relative complexity of the claims handled by the Griffith claims specialists increased (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 8). At about this same time, more responsibility for the handling of files was given to claims specialists in the Griffith claims office. Claims specialists set their own case-handling schedules and developed their own case plans. However, supervisors continued to review the files on which claims specialists were working, as well as closed files. The more problems that a supervisor saw in a claims specialist's handling of the case, the more frequently the supervisor would review that specialist's files and the more frequently the supervisor would meet with the specialist to instruct him or her in how to improve his or her work product (Id. ¶ 9).

  At the time of the 1998 change in claims handling operations, some employees were reassigned to different supervisors. Scott Lewis (formerly the property damage supervisor) and Ms. Johnson (formerly the personal injury supervisor) were each charged with supervising some of the employees formerly assigned to each of the departments at the Griffith office. As a result of the 1998 reorganization, as of the Spring of 1998, Mr. Lewis supervised Jeff Novorita, Tanya Bolden, Carrie Nero, Barbara Jack-Goods, and others. From the time of the reorganization forward, Mr. Lewis did not supervise Jason Miller, and was not a decision-maker with respect to Mr. Miller's employment (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 10).

 
C. Plaintiff's Employment From April 1998 Through December 2000.
  From April 1998 through August 1998, plaintiff worked as the duty representative, assisting insureds and claimants who came to the office seeking information (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 11). In July 1998, Mr. Lewis completed a review of plaintiffs work as the duty representative. This review was very positive, indicating that plaintiff "has performed [as duty representative] very well as demonstrated by the number of compliments I have received regarding her handling of our customers in the drive-in" (Id. ¶ 12). In August 1998, plaintiff was moved back to a regular claims specialist desk, where she remained under the supervision of Mr. Lewis (Id. ¶ 13). In early November 1998, because Mr. Lewis was out of the office, Ms. Johnson signed plaintiff's review for Mr. Lewis, in accordance with Mr. Lewis' instructions. This review again was very positive, indicating that plaintiff "was just re-assigned from duty rep to field claims representative. Barbara is flexible [sic] and has a positive attitude in our changing times. She has excellent rapport with her agency partner and customers" (Id. ¶ 14).

  The record indicates that Mr. Lewis began to perceive a decline in plaintiff's job performance in the fourth quarter of 1999, and that he expressed this perception and/or opinion to her in a variety of ways: through written memoranda, during personal meetings in his office, and in her performance evaluation for 1999 and 2000 (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶¶ 15, 18 (e.g., Def.'s Ex. F, at 25 and Ex. D thereto; Def.'s Ex. K ¶ 2; Def.'s Ex. F, at 32-34; Def.'s Ex. C, at 12-15; 33; Pl's Ex. 30)). Beginning in March 2000, Mr. Lewis began reviewing more of plaintiff's files and meeting with her more frequently to counsel her as to ways she could improve her job performance (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 16). By her own testimony, plaintiff acknowledges that Mr. Lewis would discuss specific case files with her during frequent meetings in her office; in these meetings, Mr. Lewis noted areas in which he said the plaintiff had made errors or not ideally handled a case, and suggested ways in which she could have handled the case better (Id. ¶ 16; Def.'s Ex. C, at 333). Mr. Lewis testified that he evaluated plaintiff's files more frequently than the other MA3s under his supervision in the year 2000 (Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 15; Def. `s Ex. F, at 89). Plaintiff verifies this testimony with her own when she states that "she was the only employee who was required to attend long counseling sessions or meetings with Mr. Lewis" (Pl's Am. Resp. to Def.'s 56.1 St. ¶ 17 (Pl.'s Dep., Def.'s Ex. C, at 250)).

  Mr. Lewis's complaints about the plaintiff's job performance generally focused on what he perceived to be plaintiff's diminished responsiveness to agents, insureds and others; for example, plaintiff did not return some phone calls, delayed returning other phone calls and/or was not in the office to receive phone calls and answer questions (Def.'s 56.1 So. ¶¶ 18-19). Mr. Lewis also received complaints from agents, insureds and others regarding plaintiff's responsiveness (Id. ¶ 18). The plaintiff admits that she did not always immediately return certain phone calls (Def.'s Ex. C, at 504-507 (Pl.'s Dep.)). The plaintiff, however, disagrees (a) that she had "performance problems," and (b) that she made an error by not contacting an attorney on a case where State Farm ended up paying a $15,000 judgment after trial (Def.'s Ex. C, at 505-06, 507-511).

  Thus, in general, the record reflects that Mr. Lewis, plaintiff's supervisor, perceived and documented deteriorating job performance by plaintiff in the fourth quarter of 1999 and throughout the year 2000. Mr. Lewis did not make any secret that this was his view, as is ...


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