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SANCHES v. LORDEN DISTRIBUTING CO.

September 30, 2004.

CAROL SANCHES, Plaintiff
v.
LORDEN DISTRIBUTING CO., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WAYNE ANDERSEN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM, OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff Carol Sanches filed a complaint against defendant Lorden Distributing Company alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. For the following reasons, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff Carol Sanches was an employee of the Lorden Distributing Company ("Lorden") from 1977 to 2001. Lorden is a closely held, family business operating out of Rockford, Illinois. Sanches began as a bookkeeper and was later given additional responsibilities as office manager, financial officer, and administrator. On January 21, 2000, Sanches went home sick from work and never returned. In the months that followed, Lorden made repeated attempts to keep in contact with her. On February 23 and June 14, 2000, Lorden's General Manager, Mike LaLoggia, wrote Sanches asking for information on her medical status. On August 11, 2000, LaLoggia wrote Sanches to inform her that, given the open-ended nature of her absence, Lorden had hired an individual to assume her duties. The letter expressly stated that plaintiff's employment was not terminated. Lorden claims that Sanches ignored its requests for information.

  On January 25, 2001, LaLoggia sent plaintiff a final letter informing her that, due to her extended absence from work for one year, the company deemed her to have voluntarily resigned. Lorden's employment manual provides that any employee absent for a period of one year, regardless of the reason, is deemed to have resigned.

  In her complaint, Sanches argues that she was fired and was the target of a campaign to force her to resign. Company president Thomas Lorden had asked Sanches to train and assist his two sons, Tommy and Danny Lorden, when they started working for the company in 1997. Both men allegedly resisted her efforts to train them and over the course of the next two years, allegedly made her working environment intolerable. Sanches complains of being given excessive job duties that she alleges were not given to similarly situated male employees. She alleges that Tommy Lorden secretly tracked her performance, including her attendance, vacation days, and personal calls, in an effort to affect her performance evaluations and ultimately to undermine her position with the company.

  On or about August 4, 2000, Sanches filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), charging defendant with retaliation and gender and age discrimination under Title VII and the ADEA. On January 31, 2001, the EEOC dismissed plaintiff's claims and issued a Notice of Right to Sue. Sanches then filed this lawsuit.

  On February 18, 2004, Lorden filed a motion for summary judgment. In her response, Sanches moved to dismiss with prejudice three of the six counts in her lawsuit, including Count II (age discrimination), Count IV (breach of employment contract), and Count V (ERISA retaliation). We grant Sanches' motion. Lorden's motion for summary judgment on Count I (gender discrimination), Count III (retaliation), and Count VI (ERISA breach of contract) is granted for the reasons set forth below.

  DISCUSSION

  I. Summary Judgment Standard

  Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment may only be granted when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). We apply this standard with particular care in employment discrimination cases in which intent and credibility are critical. Senner v. Northcentral Technical College, 113 F.3d 750, 757 (7th Cir. 1997). Nevertheless, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). A party must present "more than a scintilla of evidence" to defeat summary judgment. Senner, 113 F.3d at 757.

  Indeed, "Rule 56 demands something more specific than the bald assertion of the general truth of a particular matter, rather it requires affidavits that cite specific concrete facts establishing the existence of the truth of the matter asserted." Hadley v. County of DuPage, 715 F.2d 1238, 1243 (7th Cir. 1983). Conclusory allegations alone will not defeat a motion for summary judgment. Thomas v. Christ Hosp. and Medical Center, 328 F.3d 890, 893-94 (7th Cir. 2003), citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89 (1990). "Speculation does not create a genuine issue of fact, instead, it creates a false issue, the demolition of which is a primary goal of summary judgment." Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 932 (7th Cir. 1995) (emphasis added). The fact-intensive nature of employment discrimination cases does not oblige the court to "scour the record" for factual disputes to help a plaintiff avert summary judgment. Greer v. Bd. of Ed. of the City of Chicago, 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001).

  II. Plaintiff Cannot Maintain a Gender Discrimination Claim

  Count I of plaintiff's complaint alleges gender discrimination under Title VII. Title VII prohibits employers from "discriminating against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff alleging gender discrimination under Title VII can prove her claim either by providing direct evidence of an employer's discriminatory intent or by showing disparate treatment using indirect evidence and the burden shifting ...


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