United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
September 14, 2005.
TAJUDEEN LASISI, Plaintiff,
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.
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
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.
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 to the employer to articulate a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory explanation for the adverse employment action.
Id. The plaintiff must then demonstrate that the employer's
stated reason is a pretext for discrimination. Id. at 803.
Motorola contends that Lasisi has failed to meet his initial
burden of establishing a prima facie case of race
discrimination. The Court agrees. Lasisi is a member of a
protected class and suffered an adverse employment action when Motorola terminated
him.*fn2 Lasisi has provided insufficient evidence, however,
from which a jury reasonably could find that he was meeting
Motorola's legitimate job expectations or that similarly situated
non-black employees were treated more favorably.
Lasisi asserts that his performance evaluations, which were the
impetus for placing him on the PIPs, contained multiple
inaccuracies and misrepresentations. In response to at least one
report, Lasisi presented management with specific rebuttals to
what he believed were unfounded criticisms in his evaluation.
See, e.g., Pl's Ex. HH. By directly disputing the bases of the
criticism, Lasisi maintains that he has provided evidence from
which a reasonable jury could find that he was meeting Motorola's
legitimate expectations. Lasisi also highlights the fact that he
received some positive feedback from Burke in his 2003 and 2004
checkpoints. In addition, Lasisi submits favorable survey
responses from five co-workers, which, he claims, is further
evidence that his performance was adequate. The undisputed evidence, however, reveals that over the
three-year period prior to his termination, Lasisi was
consistently rated as needing some improvement and among the
least effective employees at his level. His end-of-year reviews
and PIP reports are replete with specific examples of how
Lasisi's work product and behavior were not meeting Burke's
expectations and the goals she had set for him. Though Lasisi
attempts to refute some of the criticisms in his rebuttals, even
giving Lasisi the benefit of the doubt that his justifications
are accurate, the rebuttals do not create a genuine dispute. They
primarily contain unsupported, self-serving statements and do not
address the vast number of specific and detailed critiques
contained in the reports. Lasisi cannot establish an issue of
fact based upon his own contentions that the evaluations were an
inaccurate reflection of his performance. See Jackson v. E.J.
Brach Corp., 176 F.3d 971, 985 (7th Cir. 1999). The five
co-workers' opinions are likewise insufficient to establish an
issue of fact. Lasisi created the survey, selected the employees
who would participate in the survey, and received the responses
via email with no attempt to make the process anonymous. The fact
that four of these co-workers, none of whom appear to be in
management positions, rated Lasisi as "[e]xtremely cooperative,
eager and provide[s] equitable solutions," has no bearing on
whether he was meeting management's legitimate expectations.
Lasisi further argues that he was inhibited from performing his
assignments in a satisfactory manner because both his 2003 and
2004 PIPs included unattainable goals. But Lasisi has provided no
evidence that the goals Burke set for him were unattainable and
thus illegitimate expectations. Lasisi maintains that the PIPs
contained vague assignments and unreasonable deadlines. These
conclusory statements, however, do not create an issue of fact.
See id. at 984-85. The only concrete example Lasisi provides is
that it was unrealistic to require one person to "evaluate `thousands' of test cases and determine which were
acceptable for automation." Pl's Resp. at 10. He cites Charles
Wallace's testimony that it took his test group of three
employees one year to automate 750 cases. But this comparison is
inapt. Lasisi has not attempted to show that evaluating test
cases to determine which are acceptable for automation takes the
same amount of time or skill as performing the automation itself.
Moreover, it is not clear from the PIP that Lasisi was expected
to evaluate "thousands" of test cases. In short, Lasisi has not
shown that a genuine issue of material fact exists with respect
to whether Motorola's expectations were legitimate or whether he
was meeting those expectations.
Nor has Lasisi provided evidence from which a jury reasonably
could find that similarly situated employees outside of his
protected class were treated more favorably by Motorola. To
satisfy this aspect of the McDonnell Douglas inquiry, a
plaintiff must point to an employee who is directly comparable to
him in all material respects, such as someone who reports to the
same supervisor, is subject to the same standards, and has
comparable experience and qualifications. See Patterson v. Avery
Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 680 (7th Cir. 2002). Indeed,
comparing Lasisi to the two individuals he names undercuts any
contention that his termination was motivated by racial animus.
It is undisputed that during the relevant time period, Burke
placed three employees on PIP, including Lasisi, Rodney Utley,
who is Caucasian, and Carolynn Cobey, who is African-American.
See Pl's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 41.
Utley was placed on a PIP June 11, 2003. On October 1, 2003,
Burke recommended that Utley's employment be terminated, as she
concluded that he did not meet the minimum expectations of his
PIP. Id. ¶ 43. Motorola's human resources department agreed to
allow Utley to resign voluntarily in lieu of discharge. Id. ¶
44. Reaching for an argument, Lasisi contends that Motorola has provided no verified evidence demonstrating
that Utley's employment was going to be terminated in lieu of his
resignation. Yet, in his statement of facts, Lasisi admits as
much is true. See id. ¶¶ 43-44.
Burke placed Cobey on a PIP in September 2003. Despite Lasisi's
allegations that the goals set for Cobey were unattainable, Burke
concluded that Cobey met the minimum expectations of her PIP and
did not recommend Cobey for termination. Id. ¶¶ 45-47. Lasisi
maintains that Cobey is not similarly situated in that she never
complained of racial discrimination. But it is the plaintiff's
burden, not defendant's, to identify similarly situated
individuals. Lasisi has offered no other individuals for
In sum, assuming that Utley and Cobey could be found similarly
situated in the necessary respects, Burke terminated one
African-American employee, Lisisi, and one non-African-American
employee, Utley, and retained another African-American employee,
Cobey. If anything, this evidence tends to show that Motorola was
not differentially treating its employees according to invidious
racial classifications. Accordingly, Lasisi has not provided
evidence sufficient for a jury reasonably to conclude that
non-black similarly situated employees received more favorable
treatment than him.
Even were Lasisi able to establish a prima facie case of race
discrimination, he has not supplied evidence to support his final
hurdle of establishing pretext. To show pretext, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that the employer's proffered reason for termination,
here, failing to meet minimum levels of performance expectations,
is a lie or completely lacks a factual basis. Jordan v.
Summers, 205 F.3d 337, 343 (7th Cir. 2000). It is undisputed
that Lasisi received poor performance ratings for three
consecutive years. As discussed earlier, Lasisi has not
established the existence of a genuine dispute as to the veracity of the
numerous deficiencies cited in his employment record. Even if
Motorola's reasons for terminating Lasisi were mistaken, it does
not establish pretext if the employer honestly believed those
reasons. Id. Lasisi has submitted no evidence that Motorola
management did not honestly believe that his performance was
inadequate. Lasisi has done little more than declare his belief
that the adverse actions were racially motivated. He has
therefore failed to show that a genuine dispute exists regarding
the issue of pretext. In sum, Motorola is entitled to summary
judgment on Lasisi's race discrimination claim.
Lasisi also claims he was the victim of unlawful retaliation,
alleging that he was placed on a PIP and terminated as a result
of making several complaints of racial discrimination to members
of Motorola's management. In particular, he points out that he
was placed on his 2003 PIP within one month of voicing complaints
to Motorola's human resource department. Because Lasisi offers no
direct evidence of retaliation, he must proceed under an
adaptation of the McDonnell Douglas test. To establish a prima
facie case of retaliation, the plaintiff must show that he
engaged in a statutorily protected activity; he performed his job
according to his employer's legitimate expectations; he suffered
an adverse employment action; and he was treated less favorably
than similarly situated employees who did not engage in
statutorily protected activity. Haywood, 323 F.3d at 531.
The Court has already concluded that Lasisi failed to show the
existence of a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether
he was performing his job in a satisfactory manner. Accordingly,
Lasisi cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation.
Motorola is entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants Motorola's
motion for summary judgment [docket no. 20]. The trial date of
January 9, 2006 is vacated. The Clerk is directed to enter
judgment in favor of defendants.
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