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Eggleston v. Web-Mar Railroad Co.

August 10, 2006


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


A. Introduction

On April 21, 2005, Plaintiff Reno Eggleston ("Eggleston") filed suit in this Court against his former employer, Web-Mar Railroad Company, d/b/a The Alton & Southern Railway Company ("A & S"). Eggleston's complaint is brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), andalleges that A & S discriminated against him because of his race, African American, from approximately August 17, 2004 through September 1, 2004 (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). Specifically, Eggleston's complaint asserts two counts against A & S: (1) discrimination in employment based upon race, in violation of Title VII (see Doc. 1, ¶¶ 10-21), and (2) retaliation for complaints of racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 22-28). Now before the Court is A & S's summary judgment motion (Doc. 30), supporting memorandum (Doc. 31), supplements (Docs. 41, 58) and Eggleston's response in opposition -- three pleadings (Docs. 48, 49, 50). In addition, A & S has filed a reply (Doc. 51), to which Eggleston has filed a sur-reply (see Doc. 52). Regarding the sur-reply, this Court's Local Rule 7.1(c) states: "Under no circumstances will sur-reply briefs be accepted." SDIL-LR 7.1(c)("Motion Practice"). Accordingly, this Court will not consider that document in the present analysis, which begins with an overview of key facts and recitation of the legal standard governing summary judgment motions in this Court.

B. Factual Summary

For purposes of this analysis, the Court begins by accepting as undisputed those facts asserted in A & S's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 30), which Eggleston designates as "admitted" in his "Response to Defendant's Statement of Facts Contained Within the Motion For Summary Judgment" (Doc. 49). As those facts are clearly delineated and easily can be referenced, they do not require extensive recitation here (see Doc. 30, ¶¶ 2-15, 30, 32, 34, 39, 40, and 56). All additional facts relevant to this analysis -- both disputed and undisputed -- will be referenced throughout this Order where appropriate.

C. Applicable Legal Standard

A & S seeks summary judgment on both Eggleston's discrimination claim and retaliation claim, pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 56(c).

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, interrogatory answers, admissions, and affidavits leave no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of establishing both the absence of fact issues and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Santaella v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court reviews the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and makes all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Ulichny v. Merton Community School Dist., 249 F.3d 686, 699 (7th Cir. 2001); Miranda v. Wisconsin Power & Light Company, 91 F.3d 1011, 1014 (7th Cir. 1996). However, the mere existence of an alleged factual dispute is not sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247; Salvadori v. Franklin Sch. Dist.,293F.3d 989, 996 (7th Cir. 2002). Rather, to successfully oppose summary judgment, the non-movant must present definite, competent evidence in rebuttal. Vukadinovich v. Board of Sch. Trs. of North Newton Sch. Corp., 278 F.3d 693, 698-99 (7th Cir. 2002).

D. Analysis

Eggleston's Claim of Discrimination Based on Race

Title VII forbids workplace discrimination with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment "because of" an individual's race. Hardy v. Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, 328 F.3d 361, 364 (7th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).

A Title VII plaintiff must either (a) provide direct evidence of an employer's discriminatory intent, or (b) show disparate treatment using the indirect, burden-shifting method established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). See Contreras v. Suncast Corp., 237 F.3d 756, 759 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 824 (2001).

To prevail under the indirect approach, the plaintiff first must establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which requires him to prove: (1) the plaintiff was a member of a protected class; (2) the plaintiff was performing his job satisfactorily; (3) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated employees who were not members of the protected class were treated more favorably. Salvadori, 293 F.3d at 996; O'Regan v. Arbitration Forums, Inc., 246 F.3d 975, 983 (7th Cir. 2001).

If the plaintiff satisfies his burden as to this prima facie showing of discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant/employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.If the employer does so, that rebuts the presumption of discrimination and shifts back to the plaintiff/employee the burden of showing that the employer's proffered reason was pretextual. Id.; Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692-93 (7th Cir. 2000).The ultimate burden of proof that the employer discriminated remains on the plaintiff at all times. Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Group, Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 398 (7th Cir. 1997).

BecauseEggleston has presented no direct evidence of race discrimination,*fn1 the Court need only analyze his claim under the indirect, burden-shifting method.

Eggleston's Showing of Discrimination Using the Indirect Method of Proof

To show race discrimination using the indirectmethod, Eggleston first must meet the elements of his prima facie case. Eggleston must satisfy four elements: (1) he belongs to a protected class, (2) he performed his job according to A & S's legitimate expectations, (3) he suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) similarly situated employees of a different race (i.e., outside the protected class) were treated more favorably than he. See, e.g., Grayson v. O'Neill, 308 F.3d 808, 817-18 (7th Cir. 2002); Logan v. Kautex Textron North America, 259 F.3d 635, 639 (7th Cir. 2001).

In the present matter, the record shows that Eggleston is a racial minority, and as such is considered a member of a protected class; the first element is clearly satisfied. Also without question is the fact that Eggleston suffered two adverse employment actions: (1)being "pulled from work" on August 17, 2006 (see Doc. 1, ¶ 16), and (2) ultimately being terminated from his job following A & S's investigate hearing.*fn2 The third element, therefore, has also been satisfied.

Elements two and four of Eggleston's prima facie case remain in dispute. A & S argues that Eggleston cannot meet these elements (Doc. 31, p. 2). Eggleston responds that he has satisfied each element and that genuine issues of material fact exist which preclude the propriety of summary judgment (Doc. 48, p. 3).

Eggleston's Job Performance

In order to satisfy the second element of the prima facie case, the employee alleging discrimination must demonstrate that he was meeting the expectations of the employer either before or up until the adverse employment action. Jones, 302 F.3d at 741. "Meeting the expectations" of an employer includes adherence to that employer's rules and regulations regarding employee conduct. Id. Nevertheless, in making this determination, a Court should not consider the conduct that is the purported reason for the adverse employment actions as proof that an employee was not adhering to rules, and therefore not meeting his employer's expectations. As the Seventh Circuit has recently stated, such an argument "assumes its conclusion ... [t]he entire purpose of the McDonnell Douglas test is to determine whether the action in question was a legitimate reason for [the adverse employment action]." Goodwin v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois,et. al., 442 F.3d 611, 620 (7th Cir. 2006).

In the present matter, A & S's letter to Eggleston informing him of his termination stated the following:

[In the incident occurring August 11, 2004] Eggleston [allegedly was involved] in a verbal altercation where [he] reportedly exhibited conduct that was quarrelsome and/or displayed actions hostile towards another employee..,

Additionally, in a separate incident, [Eggleston] allegedly [was] involved in an altercation with a co-worker that was quarrelsome and/or displayed actions hostile towards another employee...

Upon review of [the formal investigation hearing transcript] it indicates by the testimony given by the witnesses, other charged employees and [Eggleston], that both incidents did occur. There were quarrelsome arguments in both incidents and the later incident did result in some type of physical altercation on [Eggleston's] part.

It has been proven in the testimony given [in the formal investigation], that [Eggleston] was in violation of Rule 1.6 and Rule 1.7 of the General Code of Operation Rules.

For your violation of Rules 1.6 and 1.7, you are terminated from the Alton and Southern Railway Company.

(Doc. 30, Ex. A, p. 1).

As the letter from A & S indicates, Eggleston was ultimately terminated for his involvement in two incidents: (1) the August 11, 2004 verbal altercation with Jeff Chandler, and (2) the "separate incident" -- the physical altercation involving Jason Lewis ("Lewis incident") -- that occurred "a month to a month and a half" prior to the August 11th incident (Doc. 50, Ex. 1, Ex. 9, pp. 122-125, Ex. 10). Because Eggleston's involvement in the Lewis incident was partially a reason for the adverse employment actions he suffered, pursuant to Goodwin, Eggleston need only produce evidence that he was meeting A & S's expectations prior to that incident.

In attempting to satisfy his burden on this point,*fn3 Eggleston asserts several times that the element has been met: "Plaintiff was meeting the expectations of the employer before or up until his termination ... (Doc. 48, p. 3); "Plaintiff's performance was satisfactory" (Doc. 48, p. 5); "The Plaintiff performed his railway duties as expected ..." (Doc. 48, p. 6). These assertions alone are insufficient to meet Eggleston's burden. "A Title VII plaintiff must establish, not merely incant, each of [the requisite] elements." Grayson, 308 F.3d at 818; Wells v. Unisource Worldwide, Inc., 289 F.3d at 1006 (7th Cir. 2002). If Eggleston can meet his burden on this point, it must be upon the strength of his proffered evidence, without regard to his repeated assertions.

The evidence Eggleston offers is meager. In support of his assertion that "[he] performed his railway duties as expected ...," Eggleston merely cites to two portions of the transcript of the deposition of Charles Alexander, Eggleston's supervisor (Doc. 48, Ex. 5).

In the first portion Eggleston cites, Charles Alexander is asked about Eggleston's work history (Doc. 48, Ex. 5, p. 19). In testifying on this point, Alexander admits that Eggleston "report[ed] to work on time," and "did the work assigned to him" (Doc. 48, Ex. 5, p. 18).*fn4 However, in the same portion, Alexander also states that Eggleston had"caus[ed] accidents at work that cost the company loss of time or products or anything of that nature." Id. at 19. Alexander mentioned that it was company policy to discipline an employee "if it was [shown] that [the ...

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