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PEART v. MUELLER STREAMLINE CO.

October 18, 2004.

KEGAN PEART, Plaintiff,
v.
MUELLER STREAMLINE CO., and DEBORAH JONES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOAN GOTTSCHALL, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

The Defendants Mueller Streamline Co. and Deborah Jones have moved for partial summary judgment on: (1) all of Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Defendant Jones, (2) Plaintiff's race discrimination and retaliation claims relating to his suspension against Mueller, (3) Plaintiff's race discrimination claim relating to his denial of a "lead person" position, and (4) Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The defendants are entitled to summary judgment on only the first two of these grounds, and so the motion is granted in part.

I. Facts

  Mueller Streamline Co. is a Tennessee-based corporation that manufactures and distributes tubes and fittings. It fills orders for pipe-fittings from its Addison, Illinois, distribution center. Kegan Peart worked for Mueller in Addison as a warehouse worker from 1999 to August 8, 2002. His duties were picking, packing and auditing orders, and sending orders out via UPS. All warehouse workers were members of the Teamsters. The other employees at the site were Deborah Jones, the warehouse manager, and her administrative assistant, Diane McClendon. Evidence about the racial makeup of the employees and number of employees during Peart's tenure is disputed. At the time Peart worked at the warehouse, Jones appointed one of the workers to be a "lead person" in the warehouse. The lead person was a sort of team leader. The parties dispute whether the lead person received any extra pay for the job, but it is clear that the lead person did not have the authority to hire, fire, or discipline other employees. While the evidence put forward by the parties clearly shows that the lead person had some extra responsibilities, corresponding benefits are far more nebulous, if present at all. The Defendants deny that the position was supervisory, but in an internal email exchange Jones referred to the position as supervisory, and when the position was eliminated, she discussed with her supervisor whether the person who was to be stripped of the title would view it as a demotion. Norma Marines, a Hispanic, was installed as lead person in 2000, but Peart complains that he should have been installed instead of her. After Marines stepped down as lead person, Ernesto Reyes became lead person. Peart did not apply for lead person at that time because he did not want to change to the second shift as he would have had to do if he became lead person.

  During Peart's tenure "NIGA" graffiti was written in marker on walls and racks in the warehouse at least 15 times between the Spring 2001 and Fall 2002. Peart and Jones both understood it to be racially offensive. Peart claims that the graffiti would stay up for three months at a time, and that Jones reacted to his complaints about the graffiti by accusing him of writing it. Jones denies this and claims that the graffiti was eliminated immediately when she saw it. She also claims that she held a meeting after the first graffiti went up. At the meeting, she told the employees not to write anything on the walls, and to report graffiti so she could remove it. She says she then spent more time in the parts of the warehouse where the graffiti appeared. She consulted the corporate office and states that a manager from the Tennessee headquarters attended a meeting and told workers that the one responsible for the graffiti would be fired. Peart denies that there were any meetings about the graffiti.

  Peart was suspended for two days after he was involved in a confrontation with Eliseo Covarrubias, a Hispanic employee. The parties dispute what happened during this confrontation. Peart refers to it as an "attack," in which he was struck by a cardboard box kicked by Covarrubias. Norma Marines and Denis Walker were two warehouse workers who saw the fight. Their deposition testimony, when synthesized, suggests that Covarrubias kicked the box at Peart and pushed him away because Peart was nearly on top of Covarrubias during a verbal dispute about a cardboard box. Jones testified that when she saw the two of them, they were nose to nose and about to start throwing punches. Jones made the workers shake hands and go back to work. Peart found this resolution unsatisfactory and called the police to the worksite. After this, Jones suspended both Peart and Covarrubias for fighting. Jones asserts that she was planning on suspending the two from the moment she saw them about to fight; Peart claims that she decided to suspend them only after he called the police.

  Peart also complains that Eliseo Covarrubias and Ernesto Reyes called him names on a daily basis "for a while," mainly after this confrontation and the suspension. Jones stated that name calling was brought to her attention only a couple of times. She stated that she did not tolerate name calling at the warehouse and that she brought up the name calling at employee meetings.

  Peart complains about a number of Jones' acts and statements. For example, Peart complains that Jones told him on several occasions when he presented grievances to her that it was "her warehouse" and she could do what she pleased. Further, he states that Jones told him to "take it to the EEOC" on a couple of occasions when he complained of discriminatory acts. Peart complains that Jones "harassed" him by following him around the warehouse while he was filling orders. Jones states that she was merely observing his work and that she did this to all employees from time to time. Finally, Peart complains that Jones brought her three dogs to work with her on a regular basis, one of which was a large sixty-five pound dog. He states that the dogs would jump on him. Jones admits that she brought her dogs in from time to time, but states that they were not allowed to roam free around the warehouse. Peart complained to Jones that he had a great fear of dogs, but the parties dispute whether she continued to bring them to work after Peart's complaint.

  II. Analysis

  Summary judgment is appropriate when the parties' filings demonstrate 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). Facts are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

  A. Title VII claims against Jones

  Jones moves for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's Title VII claims against her on the ground that she is not an "employer" under the act. The evidence shows that Jones was merely Peart's supervisor at Mueller, and she did not independently employ Peart. Supervisors cannot be held individually liable under Title VII, and so Jones is entitled to summary judgment on all Title VII claims asserted against her. See Silk v. City of Chicago, 194 F.3d 788, 797 n. 5 (7th Cir. 1999); Williams v. Banning, 72 F.3d 552, 554-55 (7th Cir. 1995). However, individuals can be held liable for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and thus Peart's § 1981 racial discrimination claims against Jones survive. B. Claims relating to Peart's suspension

  Peart raises claims under both Title VII and § 1981 that his suspension after the confrontation with Covarrubias was due to either his race, or retaliation for asserting his rights. The liability analysis is identical for both a Title VII claim and a § 1981 claim. See ...


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