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LONG v. AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION

May 14, 2004.

ERMA LONG, Plaintiff
v.
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID COAR, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Erma Long has filed a two-count Complaint against Defendant American Medical Association. Count I of the Complaint alleges two distinct claims of racial discrimination in the terms of conditions of her employment and one claim of retaliation for complaints of race discrimination. Each of those claims, if proved, would be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The racial discrimination claims in Count I allege that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of race: (a) when she received a low salary increase in April 2001; and (b) when the Defendant eliminated her position and terminated her employment on September 30, 2001. The retaliation claim of Count I alleges that her employment was terminated on September 30, 2001 in retaliation for her complaints of racial discrimination. Count n of the Complaint alleges that the Defendant unlawfully eliminated her position and terminated her employment on September 30, 2001 because of her age (49); that claim, if proved, would be a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621.

This case comes before the Court on Defendant American Medical Association's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Defendant asserts that Plaintiff is unable to marshal sufficient evidence to proceed to a jury on any of the four grounds for relief outlined in her Complaint. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

 I. GENERAL BACKGROUND FACTS*fn1

  Plaintiff Erma Long ("Plaintiff or "Long") is an African-American woman.*fn2 Plaintiff worked for Defendant American Medical Association ("Defendant" or "AMA") from February 14, 1983 until September 30, 2001. In December 1997, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of Manager, VP Publishing and Special Projects. She retained this position until the time of her termination. During Plaintiff's tenure at the AMA, she consistently received "superior" or "exceptional" ratings for her job performance. Long's personnel file demonstrates an `enviable record of favorable appraisal ratings." (Pl. St. Add'l Uncontested Facts, ¶ 128.)

  On February 15, 2001, Long's supervisor, Robert Kennett ("Kennett") received a memo from Robert A. Musacchio ("Musacchio"), the Senior Vice President of Publishing and Business Services, informing him that he was going to be demoted. The memo asserted that under Kennett's leadership, the AMA publishing department experienced poor financial performance and failed to meet administrative deadlines. The memo also indicated that Musacchio selected Peter Payerli ("Payerli") to assume the role of Interim Vice President of Publishing effective April 1, 2001. The AMA announced these changes to its personnel on March 15, 2001. Also during February 2001, Payerli had a meeting with Musacchio. At that meeting, Musacchio told Payerli that he wanted Payerli to "energize and motivate and to change the way that the AMA did business." According to Musacchio, the underlying goals of this vague directive were to move the publishing department from a print — and display-based business to the electronic front and other revenue sources. (Pl. Appendix, Tab E at 36.)

  On March 16, 2001, Payerli met with Peggy Evans ("Evans"), the Director of Employment Services in the AMA Human Resources Department to discuss Long's position. Payerli reported to Evans that he wanted to "send [Long] w/Kennett in his new role. . . ." (Pl. Appendix, Tab D.) Payerli also expressed concerns to Evans about Long's behavior and her ability to work with other employees. Payerli told Evans that he had observed Long verbally abusing administrative staff, and he felt that there was a "pervasive hum of . . . how-difficult-it-is-to-work-with-[Long] sentiment." (Pl. Appendix, Tab C at 196.) Long denies that there is any truth to these criticisms of her performance, but she admits that Payerli expressed the concerns to Evans. Evans told Payerli that if Long had performance problems, this should be communicated to her and she should be given an opportunity to improve.

  On April 12, 2001, Payerli and Evans met again to discuss Long. At that meeting, Payerli told Evans that he felt Long's position should be eliminated. Evans' notes from the meeting reflect that Payerli registered concerns about Long's ability to work with the group.

  It was the practice of the AMA to give annual salary increases which were effective on April 1 of each year. The AMA issued its Compensation Management Guidelines ("guidelines") for 2001 on March 15, 2001. The guidelines informed the Executive Staff that the pay decisions for 2001 were limited by an maximum overall four percent payroll increase. The guidelines included criteria for the executives to use in making individual salary decision. Among the criteria in the guidelines were "performance criteria" and "salary range criteria." The guidelines also included a grid that set forth recommended increase percentages that varied based on the employee's performance rating and salary range.

  Following Payerli's appointment as interim VP Publishing, he became responsible for determining the salary increases of the employees in the publishing department in 2001. Based on Long's performance review from 2000 and her salary placement, the guidelines recommended a salary increase for her of four to eight percent in 2001. Payerli approved a 3.5 percent salary increase for Long.

  Long learned of her 3.5 percent salary increase when she got her monthly pay check on April 30 or May 1, 2001. Long went to Payerli's office to discuss her disappointment with the pay increase. She told Payerli that she was disappointed and that she felt unappreciated as an employee because her salary increase was below the guideline recommendation. Payerli thanked her for her comments and ended the meeting.

  On May 1, 2001, Long went to see Peggy Evans in the Human resources Department to discuss her disappointment with her salary increase. Long informed Evans that she believed the increase reflected racial discrimination and that Payerli was unwilling to discuss the matter with her because she was black. Long told Evans that she believed minority employees in publishing were getting lower salary increases than white employees. Evans advised Long that if she wished to file a formal race discrimination charge, she would have to talk to the Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Rhonda Rhodes, or the Executive Vice President, Dr. Ratcliffe Anderson.

  On May 4, 2001, Long met with Rhonda Rhodes and conveyed her concern that her salary increase was the result of racial discrimination. Rhodes told Long she would investigate her concerns. Long and Rhodes met a second time on May 7, 2001 to discuss Long's allegation. At Rhodes' request, Long prepared a chart setting forth the data on which she based her belief that she had been treated differently because of her race. Based on Long's chart, Rhodes asked one of her employees in Human Resources to run a report concerning the salary increases received by different groups of employees in the Publishing Department. Based on her further investigation, Rhodes concluded that "it appeared . . . that African-Americans were not receiving average increases that were lower than other groups by race." (Pl. Appendix, Tab I at 60.)

  Rhodes met with Payerli on May 14, 2001 to discuss the situation with Long. Prior to this meeting, Rhodes had not met with Payerli to discuss Long's allegations of racial discrimination. Payerli's first statement when he went into Rhodes' office for the May 14 meeting was that he was aware Long had "called him a racist." Payerli told Rhodes that Long's performance did not justify a raise higher than she was given. (Pl. Appendix, Tab I at 31.)

  On June 1, 2001, Long attended a meeting with Payerli and Evans at which she was informed that her position was being eliminated effective September 1, 2001. At that meeting, Payerli told Long that her duties would be absorbed by at least one other employee.*fn3 At that time, Payerli did not know Long's age. Later on June 1, 2001, Long met with Evans alone. Long asked whether her position was being eliminated because she complained of racial discrimination. Evans told Long that the elimination had been in the works since before Long complained of racial discrimination, but Evans was unable to discuss it with her at the time of her complaint.

  Long met with Rhodes on June 5, 2001. Long told Rhodes that her job was going to be eliminated and that she believed it was in retaliation for her complaint. Rhodes told Long that the elimination of her position was not caused by her complaint of discrimination. At the time of this meeting, however, Rhodes had made no investigation of Long's retaliation claim.

  Between June 1 and September 1, 2001, Long interviewed for three positions elsewhere in the AMA but she was not offered any of the three positions. In late August 2001, Long was informed that the AMA had agreed to extend her employment an additional thirty days to September 30, 2001 in order to give her more time to find a position within the organization. Long was unable to obtain employment within the organization within those additional thirty days.

  On February 14, 2002, Long filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. In her charge, she alleged that she had been the victim of racial discrimination, age discrimination, and unlawful retaliation. In particular, she alleged that her 3.5 percent salary increase in April 2001 was a result of racial discrimination; her firing was in retaliation for her complaint of racial discrimination; and that her firing was a result of age discrimination. Long received a right to sue letter from the EEOC and subsequently filed this lawsuit.

  The Defendant now seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's Complaint.

 II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

  A. General Standard for Summary Judgment

  Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Michael v. St. Joseph County, et. al, 259 F.3d 842, 845 (7th Cir. 2001). A genuine issue of material fact exists for trial when, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn from it in a light most favorable to the non-movant, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995).

  Because the purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims, the non-movant must respond to the motion with evidence setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Michael, 259 F.3d at 845; Albiero v. City of Kankakee, 246 F.3d 927, 932 (7th Cir. 2001). To successfully oppose the motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must do more than raise a "metaphysical doubt" as to the material facts, see Wolf v. Northwest Ind. Symphony Soc'y, 250 F.3d 1136, 1141 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation and quotation omitted), and instead must present definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion, see Albiero, 246 F.3d at 932. Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a party "who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and in which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 So. Ct. at 2552-53. A scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is not sufficient to oppose successfully a summary judgment motion; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

  B. Summary Judgment Standard for Discrimination Cases

  Plaintiff's allegations of age discrimination, racial discrimination, and retaliation are all evaluated with the same analytical framework. See Cerutti v. BASF Corp., 349 F.3d 1055, 1061 n.4 ("We employ essentially the same analytical framework to employment discrimination cases whether they are brought under the ADEA, Title VII, or § 1981." (citing Robin v. Espo Eng'g Corp., 200 F.3d 1081, 1088 (7th Cir. 2000); Vakharia v. Swedish Covenant Hosp., 190 F.3d 799, 806 (7th Cir. 1999)). In an employment discrimination case, the plaintiff may proceed under either the direct or indirect methods to prove her allegations of discrimination. See Cerutti v. BASF Corp., 349 F.3d 1055, 1060 (7th Cir. 2003). Under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff may show, by way of direct or circumstantial evidence, that the employer's decision to take an adverse job action was motivated by an impermissible purpose, such as race, national origin, or age. Id. at 727. Direct evidence is evidence that, if believed by the trier of fact, would prove discriminatory conduct on the part of the employer. See Rogers v. City of Chicago, 320 F.3d 748, 753 (7th Cir. 2003). The indirect method, also called the burden-shifting method, requires the plaintiff first to make out a prima facie case of discrimination through establishment of the following four factors: (1) plaintiff had membership in a protected class, or, for retaliation cases, engaged in action protected by Title VII; (2) plaintiff was meeting the employer's legitimate employment expectations; (3) plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action; (4) similarly situated employees outside of the protected class were treated more favorably by the employer. If a plaintiff proceeding under the indirect method of proof fails to establish all four factors in the prima facie case, summary judgment should be entered for the defendant. If the plaintiff establishes the prima facie case, the burden ...


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