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KNOWLES v. TRANS UNION LLC

January 3, 2005.

LORELEI KNOWLES, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANS UNION LLC, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARK FILIP, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Lorelei Knowles ("Plaintiff" or "Knowles") is suing her former employer, Defendant Trans Union LLC ("Trans Union"), alleging that Trans Union, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), subjected her to a race-based hostile work environment (Count I), and terminated her employment because of her race (Count II).*fn1 This case is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Count I (D.E. 28), and the facts set forth in this opinion are limited to those that are relevant to this count. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

  The parties to this suit are as follows.*fn2 Defendant Trans Union is a corporation with offices in Chicago, Illinois. (Def.'s St. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff Lorelei Knowles is an African-American woman, who worked for Trans Union at these offices until Trans Union terminated her employment, effective December 31, 2002. (Id. ¶ 9.)

  Knowles contends that Trans Union encouraged or tacitly approved of specific acts of violent behavior that were directed against her in the course of her employment at Trans Union. (Id. ¶ 11.) Knowles alleges three specific acts. (Id. ¶ 12.) First, in or about August 1999, a co-worker, Beverly Gehrt ("Gehrt"), "physically and verbally assaulted" Knowles by "pushing and cursing [Knowles] while [Knowles] was sitting at [her] desk." (Id.) Second, in or about January 2000, Knowles reported to Trans Union that a supervisor, Timothy Shanovich ("Shanovich"), "verbally and physically assaulted [her] by cursing and shoving her while she was sitting in a chair." (Id.) Third, in or about March 2001, Knowles informed Trans Union that Shanovich again "physically assaulted [her]," after which Plaintiff filed an incident report alleging battery with the Chicago Police Department. (Id.)

  Knowles contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after her termination. (Id. ¶ 13.) Knowles completed an EEOC Form 283 (the "Intake Questionnaire") on January 30, 2003. (Id.) Knowles alleged on the Intake Questionnaire that (1) Trans Union terminated her employment because of her race and age and (2) that Gehrt and Shanovich harassed her because of her race and age, and that Trans Union "did nothing to help [her] when [she] reported the . . . incidents." (Id. ¶ 14.)

  At some point in or around January 2003, Knowles also contacted Attorney Valda D. Staton ("Staton") for the purpose of obtaining legal services. (Id. ¶ 15.) (Staton is one of the attorneys who has filed an appearance on behalf of Plaintiff in this suit. (D.E. 6.)) In this regard, Knowles wanted information about "[her] options and how [she] would have to proceed, if [she] was seeking redress from Trans Union." (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 15.) Knowles "asked [Staton] to seek some sort of positive resolution to this action, short of full scale litigation, since [Knowles] had limited assets, and [she] had no luck to date getting Trans Union to address [her] concerns with their actions and inactions with regard to [her] employment." (Id.)

  After reviewing Knowles's "preliminary filings" with the EEOC, in addition to other documents that Knowles provided to Staton relating to her employment and termination, Staton agreed to represent Knowles for the purposes of contesting Trans Union's termination of her employment. (Def.'s St. ¶¶ 16, 17) Staton similarly agreed to assist Knowles "in coordinating efforts with the EEOC Representative assigned to her so that she might complete her [EEOC] filing." (Id. ¶ 16.)

  Staton sent a letter to Trans Union, on behalf of Knowles, dated February 13, 2003, that stated that Knowles had "engaged" Staton. (Id. ¶ 17.) The letter also stated that Knowles would not consent to a severance agreement until she and the EEOC had completed an evaluation of Trans Union's conduct. (Id.) In the letter, Staton asked Trans Union to contact her to discuss its willingness to engage in settlement negotiations to avoid an extensive EEOC investigation. (Id. ¶ 19.) Staton also forwarded a copy of this letter to the EEOC Investigator assigned to Knowles's case, and Staton suggested that the parties set a mutually agreeable deadline for discussions and a final settlement. (Id. ¶ 18.)

  Approximately two weeks later, on February 26, 2003, the EEOC investigator assigned to Knowles's case sent Knowles a draft of Knowles's formal Charge of Discrimination ("EEOC Charge") against Trans Union. (Id. ¶ 20.) The EEOC Charge indicated the following types of misconduct: race discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation (D.E. 29, Ex. 8 (Charge of Discrimination)), and designated December 31, 2002 (the date of Plaintiff's termination), as both the "earliest" date such discrimination took place and the "latest" date it occurred (Def.'s St. ¶ 22). The text of the EEOC Charge containing the "particulars" of the alleged discrimination states in its entirety:
I was hired by Respondent on or about October 6, 1997. My most recent position was Programmer Analyst. On or about December 31, 2002, I was terminated. Respondent stated that my termination was due to the end of a specific project in which I was not the lead person for this project.
I believe I have been discriminated and retaliated against because of my race, Black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended[,] and because of my age 44 (DOB: 02/14/1958), in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
(Id. ¶ 23.) The EEOC Charge contains no mention of racial harassment or of a hostile work environment. (Id. ¶ 24.) (In contrast, the Intake Questionnaire stated that one of the bases for the EEOC complaint was the "ongoing" harassment Knowles alleges that she suffered at the hands of her co-workers. (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 24.)) The letter from the EEOC investigator accompanying the charge included the following instructions for Knowles: "Review all the information on the enclosed charge form. If you feel a correction should be made, please call to discuss it with me." (Def.'s St. ¶ 20.) Knowles signed the EEOC Charge on April 7, 2003, some five weeks after it was sent. (Id. ¶ 21.)

  On or about April 21, 2003, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights ("right-to-sue letter") to Knowles. (Id. ¶ 25.) Knowles filed suit against Trans Union on July 17, 2003. (Id. ¶ 1.) On December 16, 2003, Knowles filed a two-count Amended Complaint. (D.E. 10.) It is undisputed that each of the three allegations contained in Count I of the Amended Complaint occurred more than 300 days before Knowles filed her EEOC Charge. (Id. ¶ 26.)

  ANALYSIS

  I. Summary Judgment Standard

  Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, it is not a court's "function to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat . . . summary judgment; [a court relies] on the nonmoving party to identify with reasonable particularity the evidence upon which [the nonmoving party] relies." Bombard v. Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc., 92 F.3d 560, 562 (7th Cir. 1996); see also, e.g., Richards v. Combined Ins. Co. of Am., 55 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1995). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party ...


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