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ALMAZAN v. PEPPERIDGE FARMS

November 4, 2005.

MINERVA ALMAZAN, Plaintiff,
v.
PEPPERIDGE FARMS, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES KOCORAS, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on Defendant, Pepperidge Farms, Inc.'s ("Pepperidge Farms"), motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

  The relevant facts are taken from the parties' filings under Local Rule 56.1 ("L.R.56.1"). As is the practice in this district, we will only consider those facts or additional facts that are presented in conformity with L.R. 56.1. The alleged facts not properly before us or unsupported by the record have been disregarded. See Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997) (refusing to consider the plaintiff's additional facts where not supported by specific references to the record). Almazan, a Hispanic woman whose national origin is Mexican, is a resident of Downers Grove, Illinois. Pepperidge Farms is a corporation with its principal place of business in Norwalk, Connecticut and registered to do business in Illinois. Almazon was employed by Pepperidge Farms at its Downers Grove Bakery ("Bakery") from September 30, 1978, until her employment was terminated by Pepperidge Farms on March 5, 2003. At that time Almazan held the position of bulk equipment cleaner.

  The Bakery has a cafeteria where employees can purchase food and beverages. Amber Bloomquist ("Bloomquist"), the Employee Relations Manager at the Bakery, oversees cafeteria operations. Bloomquist is a subordinate of Fern Downing ("Downing"), Human Resources Manager, and therefore kept her informed of the goings-on in the cafeteria. On occasion the Bakery is short-staffed and there is not always an employee stationed at the cash register to collect payment. Consequently, in conformity with Bakery policy prior to Almazan's termination, employees occasionally left payment for their purchases on the counter or returned later to pay for their purchased items. Almazan concedes that occasionally she would leave the cafeteria without paying for her items, but asserts that she would later return to pay for them. In an attempt to curb misuse of this practice, Bloomquist posted two notices in the cafeteria, one on the counter and one in the food line, indicating that cafeteria personnel "needed to ring every purchase to keep track of purchases and inventories." Almazan does not recall the signs, but cannot say they were not there. She concedes that she knew that employees were expected to pay for cafeteria items and that stealing was grounds for employment termination.

  On February 13, 2003 and February 19, 2003, Bakery employee Lynn Fox ("Fox") reported, and in so doing asked to remain anonymous, that Almazan was not paying for her meals in the cafeteria to Human Resources Associate Leslie Segermark ("Segermark"). Segermark then reported the information to Bloomquist without revealing Fox's identity. On February 20, 2003, Bloomquist spoke with Kathy Forejt ("Forejt") and Gertrud Mills ("Mills"), the morning shift cafeteria workers, and asked them to watch for such situations and to inform her if any occurred.

  On February 21, 2003, Mills informed Bloomquist that Almazan had not paid for the meals she received the previous day. As a result, Bloomquist began to investigate Almazan and, in so doing, observed her taking cafeteria items without paying for them. Bloomquist then spoke with three additional cafeteria workers; each reported that Almazan generally did not pay for cafeteria items and that the problem was worsening.

  Consequently, on March 4, 2003, Bloomquist recommended to Paul Canton ("Canton"), the Plant Manager, that Almazan's employment be terminated for stealing. Bloomquist based her recommendation on personal observations as well as information gleaned from the interviewed employees. Based upon the recommendation, Caton decided that Almazan's employment should be terminated absent any exculpatory information that should be considered. It is undisputed that on four other occasions, both before and after Almazan's discharge, Canton terminated employees for stealing from the cafeteria. Each was non-Hispanic and non-Mexican. In the event that the accused employee denied the allegations, further investigation was conducted prior to their termination. On March 5, 2003, Downing informed Bloomquist of Canton's decision.

  On March 5, 2003, Bloomquist and Paglia, her department head, met with Almazan regarding the termination decision. When presented with the news, Almazan was surprised and nervous. She did not deny or admit the allegation and did not present any exculpatory information to combat the allegation. Consequently, Bloomquist informed Almazon that her employment was terminated.

  Prior to her termination, Almazan had a meeting with Paglia to discuss her job performance. At that meeting, Paglia informed Almazan that he wanted her to give 110 percent to her work and also imposed strict deadlines on her to complete her work assignments. Plaintiff did not witness Paglia make similar requests of other employees. On May 18, 2001, following the meeting with Paglia, Almazan complained to Downing about the meeting with Paglia and their relationship generally. Almazan indicated that she felt "singled out" and discriminated against because of the meeting and because she believed Paglia was more friendly with other employees. Pepperidge Farms maintains a written policy prohibiting unlawful discrimination in the workplace and provides avenues for employees to report conduct they believe is inappropriate. Almazan knew of the policies and how to use them as is evidenced by the fact that she had done so in the past.

  Pepperidge Farms also maintains a drug-free workplace and requires employees to submit to random drug testing. Employees are selected to submit to such testing and are chosen at random by computer. Even though no adverse employment action was ever taken against Almazan because of the drug testing, she asserts that she was tested more than other non-Hispanic employees.

  During her employment, Plaintiff suffered a broken wrist and was placed on light work duty. Generally, employees placed on light work duty do not work on Saturdays or Sundays. While injured, Almazan was not asked to work overtime on Saturdays even though Ken Napadano ("Napadano"), a Caucasian man, was. Napadano is a mechanical engineer and is one of the few people in the Bakery with experience with refrigeration, heating and air conditioning units. Napadano works for a different department than Almazan who possesses none of those skills. On December 5, 2003 Almazan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging employment discrimination. On February 25, 2004, the EEOC issued Almazan Notice of Right to Sue Letter. Almazan received said letter on March 19, 2004. On May 28, 2004, within the 90 day statutory limitation, Almazan filed the present lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII and Section 1981. Pepperidge Farms now moves for summary judgment on all counts.

  LEGAL STANDARDS

  Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). In seeking a grant of summary judgment the moving party must identify "those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). This initial burden may be satisfied by presenting specific evidence on a particular issue or by pointing out "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). A "genuine issue" in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986); rather, "[a] genuine issue exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the ...


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