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TJELLE-MONFERDINI v. CATERPILLAR

September 27, 2004.

SUSAN TJELLE-MONFERDINI, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUZANNE CONLON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Susan Tjelle-Monferdini ("Tjelle") sues Caterpillar, Inc. for retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Tjelle claims she was terminated by Caterpillar in retaliation for requesting overtime pay. Caterpillar denies it engaged in retaliation and contends Tjelle was terminated for over-reporting her overtime. Caterpillar moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 56.

BACKGROUND

  All facts are undisputed unless otherwise rioted. Caterpillar manufactures and ships parts for excavators and trucks. In 1994, Tjelle began working for Caterpillar at its Joliet, Illinois facility as an industrial apprentice. She was a valued employee and received several promotions. From 1999 to her termination in February 2004, Tjelle worked as a logistics planning analyst. Rollin Dilworth served as Tjelle's direct supervisor from August 2003 until one week before her termination. Oren Miller became her supervisor during her last week of employment as part of a departmental reorganization. Tjelle was paid every other week; as a salaried non-exempt employee she was entitled to overtime pay at a rate of time-and-a-half her regular pay rate. In 2003 and 2004, Caterpillar encouraged employees in Tjelle's department to work overtime. Caterpillar paid overtime to employees if more than eight hours were worked in a weekday or if any hours were worked on the weekend. Employees were required to submit their overtime electronically via the electronic document routing ("EDR") computer system. When employees reported overtime using the EDR system, the overtime pay was automatically included in paychecks. If overtime was not entered into the FDR system correctly or on time, employees were required to complete a paper memo called a "blue card" to submit requests for overtime pay. Unlike the EDR system, blue cards required manual processing by payroll clerks. Therefore, the FDR system was the preferred method for Caterpillar employees to record their overtime. Tjelle was responsible for reporting her own overtime.

  Tjelle worked on Saturday, December 27, 2003. This was the only day she worked during, the December 21-28, 2003 workweek. Tjelle contends she worked 6.8 hours that day, but the EDR system was not operating. On January 2, 2004, she requested a blue card from Dilworth in order to report her overtime hours from the previous Saturday. Dilworth approved the completed blue card and submitted it to the payroll department. When Tjelle received her January 16, 2004 paycheck, she discovered she was not paid overtime for the 6.8 hours worked on December 27th. She informed Dilworth and he assured her he would look into it. When the overtime was not included in her January 30th paycheck, Tjelle again spoke to Dilworth and told him her overtime had been "messed up" since November. She explained she had not received overtime pay in the same workweek when she worked the overtime hours. Rather, she usually received overtime pay in the following pay period. Tjelle always received her overtime compensation, but believed timing of the payments was erroneous. Dilworth again told her he would look into the absence of the December 27th overtime pay.

  Dilworth spoke to Monica O'Brien in Caterpillar's payroll department to ensure Tjelle was paid for her overtime. O'Brien was responsible for processing salaried employees' blue cards. Tjelle also spoke to O'Brien about her overtime pay. O'Brien's review of the payroll records caused her to believe Tjelle had already been paid for the disputed overtime. Tjelle explained she worked the same number of hours on December 13 and December 27, which may have made it appear that overtime was already paid. O'Brien processed the blue card and Tjelle received the overtime for December 27th on her February 13th paycheck.

  Bill Lawson was O'Brien's direct supervisor and oversaw payroll operations. Tjelle never raised the overtime issue with Lawson. O'Brien, however, kept Lawson apprised of the issue and Lawson decided to review Tjelle's overtime himself Lawson attests he wanted to ensure Tjelle was paid for all hours worked and to avoid any further misunderstandings. Further, he sought confirmation that Tjelle had not been paid twice, as O'Brien originally suspected. Caterpillar Ex. E, ¶ 15. Tjelle asserts Lawson's inquiry was unnecessary because the issue was resolved when O'Brien issued her overtime payment. Tjelle Resp. to Caterpillar Facts at ¶¶ 76-80. In any event, Lawson examined Tjelle's payroll records and discovered she had submitted what he believed to be an unusually high number of blue cards. Caterpillar Ex. E, ¶ 17. Lawson found the records and blue cards were confusing, so he obtained Tjelle's gate swipe data from Caterpillar security.*fn1 Id. at ¶ 18. Lawson thought the gate swipe data recorded the exact time an employee entered or left the facility; he intended to use the gate swipe information to ensure Tjelle's hours and pay balanced.*fn2 Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. Upon comparing the gate swipes to Tjelle's claimed overtime, however, it appeared Tjelle claimed overtime for hours not worked. Lawson showed his findings to Dan Kaye, a logistics manager who told him to further review and compile the data. Lawson reviewed additional gate swipes and prepared a spreadsheet representing Tjelle's swipe-in times, swipe-out times, overtime claimed, and overtime to which she was actually entitled. Pay periods that Lawson believed showed Tjelle over-reported overtime appeared in red. Tjelle denies she over-reported her overtime and contends many of the spreadsheet calculations were inaccurate. Tjelle Ex. D at ¶¶ 1, 10. She does not know how Larson calculated the figures or whether the alleged mistakes were intentional. Tjelle Resp. to Caterpillar Facts at ¶ 137.

  Lawson also spoke to Dilworth about Tjelle's overuse of blue cards and her failure to enter time through the EDR system. Dilworth testified at his deposition:
[Lawson's] words to me were that it was the salaried employee's responsibility to make sure they turned in their overtime on EDR, on that system, in the allotted time. And by showing me those blue cards — or while showing me those blue cards, he said that this is totally unacceptable, it requires too many man hours for my people to be working with these cards so she needs to be turning her time in on the EDR because that's part of her job responsibility.
Caterpillar Ex. D at 10. Lawson requested that Dilworth counsel Tjelle about using too many blue cards instead of electronically reporting her overtime because he felt, as payroll supervisor, blue cards required additional employee work hours in the payroll department. Tjelle responds that Dilworth merely told her "I'm just going to warn you that Bill Lawson is going to turn you in to Jim Waters and you're going to get reprimanded if you turn in any more blue cards . . . just be careful." Caterpillar Ex. A at 99. When Tjelle asked whether she would receive overtime if she did not turn in a blue card, Dilworth told her to make sure she entered the time into the EDR system because that was the accepted mode of submitting overtime; blue cards were only to be used as an exception.

  On February 24th, Kaye provided Miller, Tjelle's new supervisor, with a copy of Lawson's spreadsheet. Kaye told Miller the data reflected repetitive over-claiming of overtime. Miller assumed the spreadsheet was accurate; he did not know how the spreadsheet was compiled nor did he check its accuracy. After discussing the spreadsheet's disparities between claimed and earned overtime with Larson, Miller spoke to human resources personnel. Over-claiming overtime is considered "stealing time." Human resources confirmed Caterpillar had a zero tolerance policy on stealing time and that Caterpillar had terminated other salaried non-exempt employees for the same conduct. Miller decided to terminate Tjelle's employment. On February 27th, Miller and a member of the human resources department met with Tjelle. Miller asked Tjelle to explain why Caterpillar had paid her for overtime she had not actually worked; Tjelle replied she did not know what he was talking about. Miller informed her Caterpillar had a zero tolerance policy for stealing time and terminated her employment. Miller did not show Tjelle the spreadsheet he relied upon in deciding to terminate her, despite her request for documentation of the alleged over-reporting. Tjelle was not told she was terminated for complaining about overtime.

  When Tjelle complained to Dilworth and O'Brien about not receiving the December 27th overtime pay, and when she complained to Dilworth that her overtime pay had not been timely paid since November, she concluded Caterpillar's failure to pay was in violation of federal overtime wage laws. Tjelle argues her termination was retaliatory because she repeatedly complained about her December 27th overtime, was fired for overtime, and "Bill Lawson didn't like it and decided, oh, let's get rid of her. I don't know. This is all my assumption. I have no idea what happened." Caterpillar Ex. A at 122-123. Tjelle does not know of any other salaried non-exempt employees who complained to Caterpillar supervisors or payroll about overtime. Nor does she know of any employee who was accused of over-reporting overtime. Tjelle has identified three purportedly comparable employees who "did not complain about overtime, in fact worked overtime for which they were [sic] not paid and were not discharged for their silence." Tjelle Resp. to Caterpillar Facts at ¶ 146.

  DISCUSSION

  I. Standard of Review

  Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving papers and affidavits show there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); King v. Nat'l Human Res. Comm., Inc., 218 F.3d 719, 723 (7th Cir. 2000). Once a moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R. Civ. P. 56(e); Silk v. City of Chicago, 194 F.3d 788, 798 (7th Cir. 1999). A genuine issue of material fact exists 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); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). II. Retaliation

  The FLSA prohibits employers from discharging or otherwise discriminating against employees for filing a complaint or instituting, or causing to be instituted, a proceeding under or related to the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). Tjelle may prove a FLSA retaliation claim either directly or indirectly. Davis v. Con-Way Transp. Cent. Express, Inc., 368 F.3d 776, 786 (7th Cir. 2004); Cichon v. Exelon Generation Co., No. 02 C 3441, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16459, at *11-12 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 18, 2003) (FLSA retaliation claim analyzed under same framework as Title VII retaliation claim). To survive summary judgment using the direct method, Tjelle must present "direct evidence (evidence that establishes without resort to inferences from circumstantial evidence) that [s]he engaged in protected activity . . . and as a result suffered the adverse employment action of which [s]he complains." Stone v. City of Indianapolis Public Utils. Div., 281 F.3d ...


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