United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
September 28, 2004.
Woodard, et al.,
Tower Automotive Products Co., Inc.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PHILIP REINHARD, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Horace Coleman, Jr., along with 32 others, brought
this action against defendant, Tower Automotive Products Company,
Inc., his former employer, claiming disparate treatment and
racially hostile work environment, in violation of
42 U.S.C. § 2000e ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"). The
discrimination charges were brought after defendant closed its
Rockford, Illinois plant, where plaintiff worked. The analysis
for both Title VII and Section 1981 claims is the same. See
Vakharia v. Swedish Covenant Hosp., 190 F.3d 799, 806 (7th
Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1204 (2000). Count 24 of
the complaint pertains to plaintiff. Defendant moves for summary
judgment against plaintiff. Motions for summary judgment are
pending against the other 32 plaintiffs as well. When class
certification was denied, there appeared to be factual
differences precluding class certification. However, a reading of
the facts on the first few summary judgment motions shows a
similarity in most of the facts with only minor differences.
Nevertheless, the court will decide each motion separately.
Plaintiff admits in his response to the summary judgment motion
that he cannot prove a disparate treatment claim. He proceeds
only on the hostile work environment claim. His claim in this
regard, like those of the other 32 plaintiffs, involves racially
offensive graffiti for the most part directed at a general
To establish a claim for a racially hostile work environment,
plaintiff must show 1) he was subject to unwelcome harassment; 2)
the harassment was based on his race; 3) the harassment was
severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of the
employees work environment by creating a hostile or abusive
situation; and 4) there is a basis for employer liability.
Williams v. Waste Management of Illinois, Inc., 361 F.3d 1021,
1029 (7th Cir. 2004). Where plaintiff claims co-workers are
responsible for creating the hostile work environment, he must
show the employer was negligent either in discovering or
remedying the harassment. Id. The employer can avoid liability
if it takes prompt and appropriate corrective action. Id. To be
actionable, plaintiff must show his work environment was both
objectively and subjectively hostile. Cerros v. Steel
Technologies, Inc., 288 F.3d 1040, 1045 (7th Cir. 2002).
Whether the work environment is actionably hostile is judged from
the totality of the circumstances including the frequency of the
discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether it is physically
threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance and
whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work
performance. Clark County School Dist. v. Breeden,
532 U.S. 268, 270 (2001).
Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim is based on the
presence of racially offensive graffiti in the workplace and the
focus of the analysis is whether this was so severe or pervasive
as to alter the conditions of plaintiff's employment by creating
a hostile or abusive situation. In 1997, someone wrote "nigger"
on plaintiff's work shirt. LR 56.1 (a) ¶¶ 80-81. He complained to
his supervisor and an investigation was conducted which failed to
find who wrote it. Id. ¶¶ 82-83. Plaintiff saw graffiti in
bathroom stalls, some using the word "nigger", a swastika, and a
stick picture of a man hanging from a noose. Id. ¶ 94. He saw
"KKK" along one of the assembly lines and saw "a good nigger is a
dead nigger" and "blacks are nothing but porch monkeys" also
written. Id. ¶¶ 95-96. He saw graffiti saying "Horace you
nigger go back to Africa." LR 56.1(b) ¶ 44.
Although disturbing and offensive, these instances are not
severe or pervasive enough to be actionable. The graffiti here,
which, except for the two incidents noted above, was directed at
a general audience rather than at plaintiff, when viewed in the
totality of the circumstances was not severe or physically
threatening to plaintiff, and is more akin to a mere offensive
utterance. Clark County School Dist., 532 U.S. at 270. His
citation of EEOC v. Pipefitters Ass'n ocal Union 597,
334 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. 2003) is inapposite. EEOC did not hold
language similar to the graffiti here actionable. The issue in
that case was whether a union could be held liable for failing to
effectuate change in the workplace. Whether graffiti was severe
or pervasive enough to be actionable was not an issue before the
court. Plaintiff has not established a hostile work environment
For the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion for summary
judgment is granted. This order is not final and appealable and
no judgment shall enter until all claims involving all parties
have been adjudicated. See Fed.R. Civ. P. 54(b).
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