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Bullock v. AON Consulting

April 28, 2006

ALEXA BULLOCK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AON CONSULTING, INC. OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Alexa Bullock claims that Aon Consulting denied her opportunities for advancement while she was employed by the company, and then terminated her employment because of her race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. §1981. Aon has moved for Summary Judgment on these issues. For the reasons stated below, Aon's motion is granted.

Facts

I will accept the following facts as true for the purposes of summary judgment. Plaintiff Alexa Bullock ("Bullock") started working at Actuarial Science Associates ("ASA") in June 1999. In October of 2000, the Defendant, Aon Consulting, Inc. of New Jersey ("Aon") acquired ASA, and Bullock became an employee in Aon's Rolling Meadows office. During her employment, Bullock was the "team leader" for the Pension Specialist Group dedicated to AT&T, one of Aon's "jumbo market" clients. As team leader, her duties involved dealing with several aspects of AT&T's pension benefits as well as overseeing the specialists in her group.

During this time she reported directly to Patricia Wilner, the Director of Operations. Wilner reported to John Hebenstreit, the Vice President of Service Delivery for AT&T.

After reporting problems with Wilner in 2001, Bullock was offered a comparable position on the team with Lucent, Aon's other "jumbo market" client. Bullock, however, declined the offer, choosing instead to stay with AT&T. In 2004 Lucent decided not to renew its contract with Aon, and the staff from that client was reassigned. Earlier that same year, Ken Mayda, the Client Delivery Manager for AT&T, offered Bullock the position as AT&T's Tuition Reimbursement Program Manager. She declined this offer as well. Wilner eventually accepted the same offer, and still occupies that position. Once Wilner left, Bullock began reporting directly to Hebenstreit. Cheryl Schilling temporarily filled Wilner's position, which was eventually filled permanently by Tanya Baird.

Ultimately, after Aon's business with AT&T also began to decline, Aon decided to eliminate teams dedicated to only one client and instead form units that serviced multiple clients. As a result, call center representatives and specialists were no longer in the same area, and reductions in staff were necessary. Mayda and Hebenstreit eventually decided to eliminate Bullock's supervisory position, as well as several others. They claimed that Bullock's higher salary, combined with her inability to fill in for all of the specialists she oversaw made her more expendable than other employees.

Consequently, Bullock has filed this suit alleging racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq., and under 42 U.S.C. §1981. Bullock claims that she was limited in job opportunities because of a failure to promote and was discharged on the basis of her race. Aon now moves for summary judgment.

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In determining whether any genuine issue of material fact exists, I must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in its favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A genuine issue of fact exists only when, based on the record as a whole, a reasonable jury could find for the non-movant. See Pipitone v. United States, 180 F.3d 859, 861 (7th Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). Aon argues that summary judgment is appropriate because Bullock cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination for any of her claims.*fn1

Racial Discrimination in Job Opportunities under Title VII

Title VII makes it illegal for an employer "to limit . . . [an employee's] employment opportunities . . . because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a)(2). Since she does not have any direct evidence of discrimination, in order to avoid summary judgment Bullock must rely on the three-step burden-shifting method set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). Under this method, an employee seeking to establish a prima facie case of discrimination in job opportunities under Title VII must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position she sought; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) a similarly situated person who was not a member of the protected class and was not better qualified was promoted. See Dandy v. United Parcel Service, 388 F.3d 263, 273 (7th Cir. 2004); Butts v. Aurora Health Care, Inc., 387 F.3d 921, 924 (7th Cir. 2004).

If established, the prima facie elements raise a rebuttable presumption of discrimination. See Cianci v. Pettibone Corp., 152 F.3d 723, 726 (7th Cir. 1998); EEOC v. Our Lady of the Resurrection Med. Ctr., 77 F.3d 145, 149 (7th Cir. 1996). The burden of production -- not proof -- then shifts to Aon for purposes of articulating a legitimate, nondiscriminating reason for its actions. See id. If Aon satisfies that burden, Bullock must then present evidence showing that Aon's articulated reason for not promoting her were only a pretext for discrimination. See Cianci, 152 F.3d at 726; Coco v. Elmwood Care, Inc., 128 F.3d 1177, 1179 (7th Cir. 1997).

Bullock is a member of a protected class under Title VII, but Aon argues that she cannot show other elements of her prima facie case of discrimination. Specifically, Aon claims that: (1) Bullock cannot establish that she was more qualified for the positions assigned to Jeff Redford, Maritza Nowakowski and Cheryl Schilling; (2) Bullock cannot identify any specific positions she is referring to with respect to Schilling and Nowakowski; and ...


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