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KENNEDY v. LEASE FINANCE GROUP

December 13, 2005.

JANICE F. KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
v.
LEASE FINANCE GROUP, a division of CIT, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID COAR, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Janice F. Kennedy ("Plaintiff") is suing her former employer, Lease Finance Group, a division of CIT ("Defendant" or "LFG"), for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Before this court comes Defendant's motion for summary judgment in its favor. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003).

  The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. To successfully oppose the motion, the non-movant must designate these facts in affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions; the non-movant cannot rest on the pleadings alone. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. "A scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position is insufficient," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, and the non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Weighing evidence, determining credibility, and drawing reasonable inferences are jury functions, not those of a judge deciding a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. II. FACTS*fn1

  Defendant, located in Chicago, Illinois, leases credit card terminals and other related point-of-sale equipment to small and mid-size retailers in the United States and Canada. Defendant is a division of CIT, a commercial and consumer finance company headquartered in Livingston, New Jersey.

  Plaintiff is a former Staff Accountant at LFG. She was hired on or about July 1, 1998 and resigned effective July 27, 2005. Plaintiff received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1999 and a Masters of Science in Public Service Management in 2003, both from DePaul University.

  On March 24, 2005, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In that complaint, and in the instant Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her age (Plaintiff is now 56), race (black), and disability (asthma and hearing loss). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that in January 2004 she was denied promotion to the Operations Specialist position at LFG and in March 2004 her co-workers received higher pay raises than she did. A. Plaintiff's Disabilities

  Plaintiff's claimed disabilities are asthma and total hearing loss in her right ear. Plaintiff maintains that her asthma is bought on by stress, anxiety, and the weather. For her asthma, Plaintiff takes two medications once a day for maintenance and uses an inhaler as needed. Plaintiff has stated that this regimen controls her asthma. Plaintiff's deposition testimony notes that people at LFG knew about her asthma because they could hear her coughing. Plaintiff's disputed facts note that people knew about her asthma because of her short-term disability leaves of absence from work. Plaintiff claims that she told the former Human Resources Representative, Chris Mahon ("Mahon"), about her asthma She did not, however, request an accommodation from LFG, and believed there was nothing LFG could do for her asthma. According to Plaintiff, the medication allowed her to perform her job duties without any accommodation from LFG. Plaintiff did not have any medical restrictions on the type of work she could perform.

  Plaintiff never told anyone at LFG about her hearing loss, and no one at LFG was aware of her hearing loss. Plaintiff stated that her hearing loss did not affect her ability to do her job.

  B. Defendant's Policies and Procedures

  Defendant maintains its Employee Handbook on the CIT Employee Intranet. The Employee Handbook contains various policies, including those about "Equal Employment Opportunity," "Recruitment Process," "Workplace Harassment," and "Employee Concern Procedure." The "Equal Employment Opportunity" applies to hiring, promotion, demotion, transfer, termination, and compensation. The "Employee Concern Procedure" guides employees in addressing job-related issues in the workplace, including complaints about harassment and discipline. An employee has three options when filing a complaint: (1) discuss the problem with the first level manager to whom the employee reports; (2) have a conference with the unit or department head, area Vice President or Senior Vice President, Local Human Resources Representative or the Corporate Employee Department in Livingston, New Jersey; or (3) submit the problem to the CIT Integrity Hotline.

  Promotions at LFG are based on the requirements of the position and the candidate's credentials, experience, and work performance. If an individual has exhibited strength in an area that is central to the available position, then that candidate will be considered for the position. Strong performers may not be qualified for available positions within LFG for various reasons, including that their experience and strong performance may be in an area completely unrelated to the available position. The requirements of the position dictate the type of candidate LFG will hire or promote.

  C. Pay Raises in the Accounting Department

  Plaintiff began employment at LFG in 1998 as an Accounting Clerk in the Accounting Department. After the job functions of LFG's Accounting Clerks expanded in March 2000, Plaintiff's title, along with the title of all Accounting Clerks, charged to Staff Accountant. During the time Plaintiff was employed at LFG, her only experience was in the Accounting Department; she never worked in any other department at LFG.

  During Plaintiff's employment, LFG employed three Staff Accountants: Plaintiff, Sebreena Parks ("Parks"), and Willie Richardson ("Richardson"). Parks is an African-American female, born in 1968, who has no known disabilities. Parks began her employment with CIT as an Accounting Clerk in 1997 and has worked only in the Accounting Department. Richardson is an African-American male, also born in 1968, who has no known disabilities. Richardson began his employment with LFG's Collections and Tax Departments in 1997; he transferred to the Accounting Department in 2001. Plaintiff was not responsible for supervising Parks and Richardson.

  Staff Accounts are responsible for booking the daily cash activity for their case accounts in the General Ledger and maintaining a running total of that activity. Staff Accountants are also responsible for reconciling the daily booking of leases between two computer programs, processing accounts payable items received each day, and preparing various daily, weekly, and monthly reports.

  The Accounting Department was an independent department at LFG. In November 2002, however, the department was reorganized to become part of a combined Accounting/Compliance Department. Because of the reorganization, Accounting Department personnel gained the additional responsibility of managing funding for the leases booked each day. The manager of the Accounting Department, Anthony Szabo ("Szabo") needed one of the three Staff Accountants to assist in these funding duties. Szabo is a Caucasian man, born in 1967. Szabo requested a volunteer since the additional work had to be performed at the end of the day, most likely after hours, and would take approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Defendant maintains that Richardson was the only Staff Accountant to volunteer and that he already handled additional work preparing tax filings. Plaintiff disputes this; she maintains that the additional tax filing work was rotated weekly between the three Staff Accountants. Szabo has been responsible for supervising Parks since 1997, Plaintiff since 1998, and Richardson since 2001. As Accounting Manager, Szabo is responsible for preparing the Staff Accountants' performance reviews and recommending their merit salary increases. The performance evaluations are completed in January or February for the preceding year. The performance rating scale is 1 to 4, with 1 ("Outstanding") being the highest possible rating and 4 ("Needs Improvement") being the lowest. A rating of 2 is characterized as "Exceeding Expectations" and 3 as "Meeting Expectations."

  Szabo prepared the 2003 performance evaluations and discussed them with each Staff Accountant in February 2004. He gave the Staff Accountants the following ratings: Plaintiff received a 2.17, Parks received a 2.09, and Richardson received a 1.84. According to Szabo, all three Staff Accounts were solid performers in 2003. He rated Parks slightly higher than Plaintiff because of Parks' substantial contribution to tax filing work in the beginning of 2003. He rated Richardson slightly higher than both Parks and Plaintiff because of his outstanding work performance, his extra work with the additional funding and tax filing responsibilities, and his willingness to handle additional duties and tasks as needed.

  Szabo's 2004 salary merit increase recommendations for the Staff Accountants were based on their performance ratings in 2003. Szabo also sought to equalize the disparity in Richardson's salary. Richardson's performance in 2003 was better than that of the other two Staff Accountants and he handled greater responsibilities. Yet, prior to the 2004 merit increases, Richardson was paid less than Parks and Plaintiff. Szabo believed there was no justification for this disparity. Thus, in 2004, Plaintiff received a 2% merit increase, which increased her annual salary to $36,000. Richardson received a 4% merit increase, which increased his annual salary to $36,000. Parks received a 2.09% merit increase, which increased her annual salary to $36,325.

  D. Jobs to Which Plaintiff Applied But Was Not Promoted

  1. Vendor Account Assistant — September 2003

  Defendant had an opening for Vendor Account Assistant in September 2003. The Vendor Account Assistant is responsible for assisting Vendor Representatives and Sales Consultants with all aspects of the vendor relationship at the transaction level. The ideal candidate would have strong writing and communication skills, a strong interest in sales, and prior sales experience.

  Plaintiff learned of the position from a posting on the bulletin board in LFG's kitchen. She applied for the position by submitting her resume to Mahon and interviewed for the position. Defendant maintains that Plaintiff was not qualified for the Vendor Account Assistant position because her only experience at LFG was in Accounting, where she did not obtain any customer service experience. Plaintiff counters that the job posting did not state that only customer service experience with LFG was considered for the job.

  Lissette Ortega ("Ortega") was the successful applicant. Ortega is a Hispanic woman, born in 1970, with no known disability. Defendant maintains that Ortega received the position because of her prior customer service experience with LFG, because she exhibited the ability to handle a lot of responsibility, because she was willing to take initiative to complete tasks not associated with her position, and because she received excellent performance reviews from her supervisor, who described her as an "ideal employee." Plaintiff never worked in the same department as Ortega. Plaintiff never supervised Ortega or saw her performance reviews.

  2. Operations Specialist — January 2004

  In December 2003, LFG created a new position, Operations Specialist, to support Sarai Sierra, the Operations Manager for LFG. The duties of the Operations Specialist included running production reports, managing the time and attendance for all employees, supervising the employees, receiving requests for time off, monitoring violations of CIT policies, addressing problems in ...


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