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LASISI v. MOTOROLA

September 14, 2005.

TAJUDEEN LASISI, Plaintiff,
v.
MOTOROLA, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATHEW KENNELLY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Tajudeen Lasisi has sued his former employer, Motorola, Inc., alleging he was subjected to unequal terms and conditions of employment and terminated from his job as a software engineer because of his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5. Lasisi has also sued Motorola for unlawful retaliation for his opposition to the race discrimination he allegedly encountered. The case is before the Court on Motorola's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Motorola's motion with respect to each claim.

Facts

  On June 17, 2004, Motorola discharged Lasisi, who is African-American, from his position as a grade level E-10 section manager in software engineering. Lasisi had been employed by Motorola since January 22, 1996. He was initially hired as a software engineer but was promoted to the position of section manager in December 2000. According to Lasisi, his employment problems began when he was transferred to the Integrated Data Enhanced Network ("iDEN") group in October 2001. The iDEN group is responsible for development of the Nextel phone network and products. During his first year with the iDEN group, Lasisi reported to Toshihiko Kii. For the remainder of his employment with Motorola, from approximately October 2002 to June 2004, his direct supervisor was Betty Burke. Throughout this period, both Kii and Burke reported to Dominic Alleva, senior resource manager for the iDEN division.

  Lasisi contends that he suffered several racially motivated adverse employment actions at the hands of these individuals, which culminated in his dismissal from the company. In addition to his termination, Lasisi claims that Alleva denied his request for a laptop computer, denied his requests for reimbursement for home internet usage related to his work, and failed to reimburse him for work-related books he purchased. He also submits that Burke placed him on two performance improvement plans for invidious reasons.

  Motorola asserts that Lasisi was terminated because of poor performance, pointing out that he received negative evaluations for three consecutive years prior to his termination. In 2001, Kii rated Lasisi's performance as SI, needing some improvement, and his relative effectiveness as LE, least effective, meaning that he assessed Lasisi as among the bottom 10% of comparable Motorola employees in effectiveness on the job. The general assessment of Lasisi's work, based on feedback from managers, group leaders, and team members, was that he was not contributing to the iDEN group at a level equal to the average level E10 engineer. Similarly, in 2002, Burke rated Lasisi's work product as SI and his relative effectiveness as LE. According to the report, Lasisi's rating was the result of poor work quality and his repeated failure to complete test cases and meet deadlines.*fn1 In 2003, Lasisi once again received SI and LE ratings from Burke. Though the report states that Lasisi's performance now met many predefined goals, it nonetheless says that he "does not consistently meet all performance and/or behavior expectations." The report also indicates that Lasisi continued to offer excuses rather than solutions for getting tasks completed and that requests had been submitted from the system testers that they be allowed to write their own tests due to the poor quality of Lasisi's test cases and the amount of time needed to make the test cases usable. See Def's Ex. K.

  Because Lasisi's performance consistently rated below Burke's satisfaction, she required Lasisi to participate in a 90-day performance improvement plan (PIP) beginning August 21, 2003. A PIP is an agreement between a manager and employee to execute a plan containing certain goals and objectives determined by the manager. The manager assesses the employee's progress at 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day intervals. Lasisi's PIP contained detailed examples of his unsatisfactory performance and outlined several goals and expectations for him to accomplish. See Pl's Ex. M. The agreement also stated that Lasisi may face termination if he failed to achieve these goals or maintain a satisfactory level of performance.

  In his 30-day follow-up report, Burke outlined numerous instances in which Lasisi had failed to adequately complete projects and concluded that his performance during the evaluation period was "unacceptable." See Pl's Ex. M. The PIP does not contain 60-day and 90-day follow-ups. However, during Lasisi's second "checkpoint" of 2003, completed on October 13, 2003, Burke indicated that Lasisi was "on plan" in meeting his goals and demonstrated the behaviors required by the plan. See Pl's Ex. O. Lasisi's PIP was scheduled to end in November 2003, but it was "not formally" completed. Def's 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 84-85. In her affidavit, Burke states that although Lasisi had not satisfactorily met all of his goals and expectations, she chose to not discharge him at that time because she had not obtained all the required signatures on the PIP. Burke Affid. ¶ 11. According to Burke, she advised Lasisi that a new PIP would be created for him. Id.

  Beginning March 4, 2002, Burke placed Lasisi on another PIP. Lasisi claims that this PIP was distinct from the first, whereas Motorola maintains that this PIP was an extension of the 2003 PIP. The 2004 PIP provided a summary detailing Lasisi's poor performance, including work product and actions subsequent to the start date of his original PIP. See Pl's Ex. L. It also included a list of specific goals and required improvements. In her 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day reviews, Burke reported that Lasisi had not met the specific actions and expectations listed in the plan. In each instance, she documented specific expectations that were not accomplished and suggested corrective actions. According to Burke's reviews, Lasisi consistently failed to complete projects in a timely manner, turned in subpar work product, and otherwise failed to meet the expectations for an E10-level engineer. Similarly, during a May 28, 2004 checkpoint, Burke gave Lasisi a number of poor ratings for goal completion. The PIP itself ended June 6, 2004. As a result of Lasisi's failure to satisfy the goals of the PIP, Burke and Alleva decided to discharge him at the conclusion of the PIP.

  Lasisi disputes the bases for his poor evaluation ratings and PIP reviews, arguing that he received those ratings only because he is an African-American. He claims that Burke's reports contain numerous inaccuracies regarding his performance. Lasisi also maintains that his PIPs included unattainable goals that were designed to set him up for failure. Finally, Lasisi contends that the adverse employment actions taken by Motorola were in retaliation for his complaints to members of Motorola's management about racial discrimination. Lasisi testified that he first complained of experiencing racial discrimination around the end of 2001 and that he subsequently complained to various members of management and the human resources department in 2002, 2003, and 2004. On March 29, 2002, Lasisi filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Motorola disputes when and to whom Lasisi voiced his concerns, but for purposes of this motion, the Court accepts Lasisi's contentions as true.

  Discussion

  Summary judgment is appropriate where "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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Though the Court views the record in the light most favorable to Lasisi, the non-moving party in this instance, and draws reasonable inferences in his favor, id. at 322, Lasisi may not simply rest on the pleadings but must instead affirmatively demonstrate that there is a genuine issue for trial. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 771 (7th Cir. 2003); see also Davis v. GN Mortgage Corp., 244 F. Supp. 2d 950, 955 (N.D. Ill. 2003) ("A defendant is entitled to put the plaintiff to his proofs and demand a showing of the evidence."). Thus, Lasisi must produce specific facts to support his contentions rather than relying on speculation or conclusions without factual support. Rand v. CF Industries, Inc., 42 F.3d 1139, 1146 (7th Cir. 1994).

  1. Race Discrimination

  A plaintiff may establish race discrimination by providing direct evidence of discrimination or by proceeding under the indirect burden-shifting method set forth in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 793 (1973). See Haywood v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 323 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2003). Because Lasisi has offered no direct evidence of discrimination, he must resort to the indirect method of proof. The McDonnell Douglas paradigm assigns the plaintiff the burden of establishing a prima facie case of race discrimination by showing that: he was a member of a protected class; he was meeting his employer's legitimate job expectations; he suffered an adverse employment action; and similarly situated employees not in the protected class were treated more favorably. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If the plaintiff satisfies the elements of a prima facie case, the burden shifts ...


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