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Brown v. Cummins-Allison Co.

October 30, 2006

JOHN BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CUMMINS-ALLISON CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant Cummins-Allison Corporation ("Cummins") for summary judgment in its favor on the issues raised in the complaint of Plaintiff John Brown. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Cummins is a manufacturer of money-handling machines such as coin and currency counters. Brown, an African-American male, worked for Cummins as a full-time employee from March 1998 until May 2004. Throughout his tenure, Brown performed packing and assembly work. In early 2001, Cummins hired Sandra Santos to supervise the assembly department, in which Brown worked.

Starting in October of that year, Santos met with assembly personnel to reiterate the need to meet an 85% performance level in production per month. She also notified assemblers that discipline would result if performance standards were not met. Production levels are calculated based on information provided by the employee regarding how many parts he or she produced during a day's shift and the amount of time it took to produce them. Employees fill out a form with this data.

Brown concedes that his performance levels fell below 85% on several occasions from 2001 until his termination. However, Santos did not approach him about these difficulties until March 2003, when she began issuing verbal warnings. When the shortfalls continued, the warnings were issued in writing. In March 2004, Brown filed a discrimination charge, alleging that the written warnings he had received were racially motivated. In April 2004, Santos met with Brown and informed him that, in light of his continued failure to meet the 85% production level, he would be suspended for three days. Brown did not bring his production level above the 85% mark, and on May 7, his employment was terminated. The termination document noted that Brown had performed at above the minimum performance level only 50% of the time for the 12 months prior to his termination.

Brown then amended his charge to include an allegation that his termination was retaliatory. The EEOC issued a right to sue letter, and Brown timely filed this suit against Cummins, alleging only unlawful retaliation. Discovery has been completed, and Cummins now moves for summary judgment in its favor pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party must identify the specific portions of the total record, which it believes establishes the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). 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, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided for in [Rule 56], 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 judgmentis 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 of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). The court must consider the record as a whole in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences that favor the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000). With these principles in mind, we turn to the instant motion.

DISCUSSION

Although Brown filed charges for discrimination and retaliation, he has chosen to pursue only the latter. We restrict our consideration accordingly. See Culver v. Gorman & Co., 416 F.3d 540, 550 (7th Cir. 2005).

Brown has offered no direct evidence that Cummins' actions were motivated by a desire to retaliate for his filing a charge of discrimination in March 2004, so he must proceed using the burden-shifting framework originally set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824 (1973). To establish a claim for retaliation, he must present a prima facie case by demonstrating that he engaged in a statutorily protected activity, that he was meeting his employer's legitimate expectations, that he suffered an adverse action, and that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees who did not engage in the same activity. See Stone v. City of Indianapolis Publ. Util. Div., 281 F.3d 640, 644 (7th Cir. 2002). If he can do so, the burden shifts to Cummins to provide a legitimate business reason for the action it took. See id. Brown must then offer evidence that Cummins' proffered reason is pretextual, a lie concocted to cover up the actual discriminatory impetus for the adverse action. See id. To defeat the motion for summary judgment, Brown must point to a genuine issue of material fact that, if resolved in his favor, would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for him.

There is no dispute that Brown engaged in a statutorily protected activity when he filed his discrimination charge. There is also no dispute that he suffered an adverse action in the form of his three-day suspension and the eventual termination of his employment. However, with respect to ...


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