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JOHNSON v. RUSSELL-STANLEY CORPORATION

June 21, 2004.

JEROME JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
RUSSELL-STANLEY CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL PLUNKETT, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Jerome Johnson has sued Russell-Stanley Corporation ("RSC") for its alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and state law. RSC has filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56(c) motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

The Legal Standard

  To prevail on a summary judgment motion, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, [must] 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). At this stage, we do not weigh evidence or determine the truth of the matters asserted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). We view all evidence and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is appropriate only when the record as a whole establishes that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Id.

  Background*fn1

  Plaintiff, an African-American, was hired by Smurfit, RSC's predecessor, in the fall of 1990. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 6.) In 1997, Smurfit sold to RSC the Addison, Illinois plant where plaintiff worked. (Id. ¶ 2.) After the sale, plaintiff became an RSC employee. (Id. ¶ 6.)

  RSC makes plastic drums that are used in, among others, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. (Id. ¶ 1.) The drums made at the Addison plant often carry hazardous materials, which the Secretary of Transportation defines as materials capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health and safety when transported in commerce. (Id. ¶ 3.) The testing and quality of these drums is regulated by federal law. (Id. ¶ 14.)

  RSC has a set of standard operating procedures ("SOPs") for testing its drums to ensure that all legal requirements are met. (Id. ¶ 16.) The SOPs require that certain quality tests be performed on all drums and that others be performed on a sample of drums from each production line. (Id. ¶ 17.) The SOPs also require that the tests be described and the results be recorded on forms kept at the facility. (Id. ¶ 18.)

  During the relevant time, plaintiff worked as a quality control technician. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff reported to the quality supervisor, Jim Haskins, who reported to the quality manager, initially, Greg DeVries, and later, Anant Shah, who reported to the plant manager, Mark McGrew. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 10-13.) As a quality control technician, plaintiff was required to perform three kinds of tests on drums pulled from different machines each shift: an open head drop test, a tight (or closed) head drop test and a hydrostatic test. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 28.) Plaintiff was expected to perform all three tests within a few days of a drum's production. (Id. ¶ 29.) The SOPs required plaintiff to sign, date and record the results of each test he performed on a quality test report ("QTR"). (Id. ¶¶ 31-33.)

  The open head drop test was the most time-consuming of the tests plaintiff was required to run. (Id. ¶ 30.) Before he could run such a test, plaintiff had to take a drum from the freezer, where drums were left to cure, fill it with frozen regrind (ground up plastic drums) and stones, put the lid and ring on the drum and seal the drum shut. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.) Then, using the drop tester machine, plaintiff would lift the drum four feet, three inches off the ground, turn the drum to a forty-five degree angle and drop it. (Id. ¶ 36.) The drum passed the test if the lid did not come off, the side seam did not crack and the regrind and stones did not spill out. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) Regardless of the outcome, all drums are sent to the grinding room after being tested. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.)

  After an open head drum is drop tested, it shows signs of impact on the sides, the lid and the ring. (Id. ¶ 42.)*fn2 Over time, the drum may return to its original shape, but the ring and lid will remain damaged. (Id.; Pl.'s LR. 56.1(b)(3)(A) Stmt. ¶ 42.)

  In November 2002, McGrew noticed seventy-one untested open head drums near plaintiff's work area. (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 45.) Some of them had production dates of July, August and September 2002, which meant they were probably already in the hands of RSC customers. (Id. ¶ 46.) McGrew told plaintiff that he had two weeks to test the drums, and authorized overtime for him to do it. (Id. ¶ 47.) As of Friday, November 22, 2002, it appeared to Haskins, plaintiff's immediate supervisor, that plaintiff had not tested any of the backlogged drums. (Id. ¶ 49.) Consequently, on Monday November 25, 2002, plaintiff was given a written warning for failure to follow instructions, substandard work and failure to comply with federal regulations for drum tests. (Id. ¶ 50.) The warning said that plaintiff would be subject to "disciplinary actions up to and including termination," if he failed to follow directions in the future. (Id., Tab V(C), 11/25/02 Disciplinary Report.)

  The following day, November 26, 2002, Haskins discovered six QTRs that plaintiff had signed and dated Wednesday, November 27, 2002. (Id. ¶ 52.) In the grinding room, Haskins found four of the six drums that corresponded to the QTRs. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.) Haskins believed that the drums had not been tested because they showed no signs of damage. (Id. ¶ 57.) Haskins, recognizing their importance, moved the drums to the front office of the plant for safekeeping. (Id. ¶ 135.)

  Haskins discussed the situation with Shah, and the two concluded that plaintiff had not tested the drums, had falsified records and should be suspended for three days without pay. (Id. ¶¶ 59-60.)*fn3 The suspension started Wednesday, November 27, ...


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