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Erickson v. SCIL

September 5, 2006

ROBERT ERICKSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCIL, LLC, D/B/A SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Robert Erickson has sued his former employer, SCIL, LLC, which does business as Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks hired Erickson in December 2001 and fired him in December 2002. Erickson, who is Caucasian, alleges that Saks terminated him based on his race and in retaliation for making a complaint about discrimination. Saks has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Saks' motion.

Facts

Saks operates department stores, including one in downtown Chicago. It hired Erickson in December 2001 to work as asset protection manager at the downtown Chicago store. In this position, Erickson was required to supervise other asset protection personnel responsible for (among other things) detecting and apprehending shoplifters, perform that same type of work himself, and investigate employees and complaints. Erickson also had some responsibility in hiring personnel, though the final decision rested with his supervisor. In October 2002, Saks promoted Erickson to district asset protection manager.

Erickson contends that in early 2002, Bette McNamara, his supervisor at the time, told him to give Caucasians preferential treatment in hiring and not to hire African-Americans. She said it was harder to terminate African-Americans because they had to be given "progressive discipline," which, evidently, was not the case for Caucasian employees. Indeed, Erickson claims, there were occasions when he recommended particular African-American employees for termination or discipline, but McNamara overruled him because of the supposed need to go through progressive discipline.

According to Erickson, McNamara told him that if he kept hiring African-Americans, he and his department would suffer. Erickson says he told McNamara he thought what she was proposing was illegal. And despite what he claims McNamara said, Erickson kept proposing African-American candidates for hiring; McNamara supposedly kept repeating her earlier warnings. In August-September and in October-November 2002, Erickson says, he reported McNamara's warnings to Saks human resources managers.

In December 2002, Anthony Caccioppoli, Saks' senior director of asset protection, received an anonymous e-mail alleging that Erickson was responsible for an improper detention of a woman he had detained for shoplifting (we will refer to her as "Individual D").*fn1

Caccioppoli later got another anonymous e-mail saying that if he investigated Erickson, other incidents of wrongdoing would emerge. Caccioppoli, who works in New York, sent Corey Gonnella, his director of investigations, to Chicago to conduct an investigation regarding these allegations.

Gonnella obtained written statements from several asset protection employees and also interviewed them. McNamara was present at the interviews and is claimed to have asked questions of some or all of the employees. She prepared a report documenting her presence at the interviews.

At the conclusion of the investigation, Gonnella prepared a report for Caccioppoli summarizing his findings. Gonnella noted that Erickson's report regarding Individual D stated that he had observed her shoplift on the store's third floor, take an internal escalator to the seventh floor, exit the store, and re-enter via another door on the same floor. According to Gonnella, two other asset protection associates, Howard Denham and Gerjuan Bouldin, said that on the day of the incident, Erickson had radioed that Individual D exited the store on the third floor and that he later radioed that she was on the eighth floor. This was consistent with what the anonymous e-mailer had reported to Caccioppoli.

Gonnella also stated in his report that he had concluded that on two occasions, Erickson had asked George Sanders and Chris Sandoval, both members of Erickson's staff. to falsify reports concerning another shoplifting case and a series of audits of the store safe. Gonnella stated that when interviewed, Erickson had admitted that he had directed Sanders to backdate audit reports to mislead Saks auditors in case they arrived unannounced. Gonnella also stated that he believed Erickson had been deceptive in giving his version of the Individual D matter. See Def. Ex. 7. Gonnella attached to his report the statements of Denham, Bouldin, Sanders, and Sandoval.

Caccioppoli reviewed Gonnella's report. He discussed his conclusions with corporate human resources director Marcia Miller. Caccioppoli recommended terminating Erickson based on Gonnella's findings. Miller concurred in the recommendation. Caccioppoli and Miller both testified that they, and they alone, participated in the termination decision.

Discussion

The Court may grant Saks' motion for summary judgment only if there is no genuine issue of fact and Saks is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In deciding the motion, the Court is required to view the facts and any reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Erickson, ...


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