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Ellis v. Home Depot

October 27, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


Elizabeth Ellis has sued her former employer, Home Depot U.S.A, Inc., for discrimination based on race and gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Home Depot has moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.


1. The Ellis - Dennis Altercation

On February 10, 2004, Ellis, an African-American female, was working as a cashier at the Home Depot in Calumet City, Illinois, when her boyfriend, Ravon Dennis, entered the store and asked to speak with her. She told him she was busy, but Dennis insisted, so she requested and obtained permission from the head cashier, Lorena Galvan, to take a break. She accompanied Dennis outside the store, and an argument ensued.

Around the same time, William DiCristofano, the store's receiving department supervisor, was leaving work and saw Ellis walking towards the store and away from Dennis's red Chevrolet Blazer. As DiCristofano and Ellis crossed paths, DiCristofano claims, Ellis muttered an expletive and said "I'm going to get my phone." He says that Ellis then walked back to Dennis's Blazer, tried to grab his cell phone, and struck Dennis several times. Ellis headed back to the store, but as she neared the entrance, Dennis pulled up in the Blazer, got out of the vehicle, and continued the argument. DiCristofano claims that he saw Ellis slap Dennis twice before he got back into the Blazer and sped off.

While this was happening, DiCristofano called the assistant store manager, James Siegfried, and told him that there was a cashier outside engaged in an altercation. By the time Siegfried made his way outside, Ellis was sitting on a bench near the front of the store, shaking and talking on a cell phone. Ellis was upset when she got off the phone, so Siegfried gave her the rest of the day off. He then walked back into the store, and a customer who said he witnessed the incident approached him. The customer said that he was a Home Depot stockholder and that he was upset to see an employee wearing her work apron hitting and screaming at someone in front of the store.

Later that day, Eleanor Gonzalez, the store's human resources manager, arrived at work and spoke with Siegfried about the incident. Siegfried told her that DiCristofano and a customer witnessed Ellis strike her boyfriend outside the store. Siegfried and Gonzalez then contacted Karl Karsten, the store manager, to inform him about the altercation. Karsten said that management would have to complete an investigation and that Ellis should be suspended from work in the meantime.

The next day, February 11, Karsten and Gonzalez took written statements about the incident from DiCristofano and Siegfried. They also spoke with Ellis to obtain her version of the events. She said that Dennis arrived at the store and kept "hollering and yelling" and that she had no control over him. She denied raising her voice, using profanity, or hitting Dennis in any way. She also said that Mary Gerenda, another cashier at the store, saw what happened and that Karsten and Gonzalez should speak with her as well. Karsten concluded the meeting by advising Ellis that he would continue the investigation and get back to her the next day.

Because Ellis denied hitting Dennis, Karsten decided to contact DiCristofano to question him again about what he had seen. He did so that same day, and DiCristofano's story remained consistent with his previous account. Gonzalez then interviewed Gerenda, who admitted that she saw parts of the incident, but did not see everything because she was also working at the returns desk, where her view was blocked. Gerenda did say that from what she saw, Ellis never hit Dennis.

After completing the investigation, Karsten and Gonzalez decided that DiCristofano's version of what happened was credible. They believed that by participating in a physical altercation on work property, Ellis committed an act classified in Home Depot's employee manual as a major work offense. As a result, Home Depot fired her on February 12.

2. The Eberle - Ramirez Altercation

In support of her claim that her termination was discriminatory, Ellis contends that a white male Home Depot employee, Robert Eberle, committed a major work offense but was not fired. In the fall of 2003, Eberle and DiCristofano were working together outside the store near the lumber area, when a customer, Adolfo Ramirez, pulled his van within ten feet of them, slammed on his breaks, jumped out of the car, and chased Eberle into the store. Startled, DiCristofano ran after Ramirez and yelled to a cashier, Yvonne Cavazos, to call for help. By the time DiCristofano caught up to Ramirez, he had jumped on Eberle's back, hit him in the face, and put him in a choke hold from behind. Several Home Depot associates separated the men and restrained Ramirez until the police arrived to arrest him. Ramirez was apparently angry with Eberle because Ramirez had done some work in Eberle's uncle's yard and Eberle had told his uncle not to pay Ramirez because the work was done poorly.

As Ramirez, a native Spanish speaker, was leaving the store, he pleaded with Cavazos to translate for him, so that he could tell Siegfried, who was now outside waiting for the police, "what Eberle was doing on company time." Cavazos Dep. at 25. Cavazos told Siegfried what Ramirez had said, and Siegfried replied, "He can make the statement when the police arrive." A week later, Ramirez called Cavazos and told her that Eberle owned a general contracting business and was using the Home Depot job to benefit his clients. Cavazos already knew that Eberle owned a general contracting business and had suspected, based on her own observations at work, that Eberle was using Home Depot to benefit his business. She never told anyone about her beliefs or her conversation with Ramirez, however, because she ...

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