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Turner v. Swissport Cargo Service

December 12, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge


Dennis Turner ("Turner") has brought a three-count Complaint against his former employer, Swissport Cargo Services, LP*fn1 ("Swissport"), asserting that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race and national origin. Turner charges violations of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ("Title VII," 42 U.S.C. §§2000e to 2000e-17)*fn2 and Section 1981.

Swissport has moved for summary judgment on all of Turner's claims under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, and its motion has been fully briefed by the parties. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, Swissport's motion is granted in its entirety.

Summary Judgment Standard

Well-established Rule 56 principles impose on Swissport the burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose this Court must consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to non-movant Turner and must draw all reasonable inferences in his favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). But to avoid summary judgment, Turner must produce "more than a mere scintilla of evidence to support his position" that a genuine issue of material fact exists (Pugh v. City of Attica, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001)) and "must set forth specific facts that demonstrate a genuine issue of triable fact" (id.). If the record reveals that no reasonable jury could find in favor of Turner, summary judgment must be granted (see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

To evaluate that possibility, what follows is a summary of the facts, viewed of course in the light most favorable to non-movant Turner under the criteria prescribed by Rule 56 and this District Court's LR 56.1.*fn3 And that of course obviates the need to repeat "according to Turner" or the like, or to identify any conflicting account, though a conflicting version is sometimes included for purely informational purposes.


Turner is an African American male formerly employed by Swissport, a dedicated air cargo ground services company (S. St. ¶9). Swissport's mail operations include areas where its employees (known as "mail agents") alternatively unload, encode and sort mail according to its final destination (id. ¶9). Turner worked part-time as a lead mail agent, a position that included all the responsibilities of the mail agents plus the added responsibility of ensuring that employees were in their assigned work areas, enforcing orderly operations, proposing improvements in work methods, providing coaching and individual on-the-job training of other mail agents and providing support for warehouse cargo agents (S. St. ¶¶11, 82-3). As a lead mail agent Turner could not hire or fire other employees, nor could he resolve, without the assistance of a supervisor, conflicts that arose between himself and other employees (T. Dep. 83-84, 118-20).

For the relevant time period, Swissport's mail department leadership consisted of Frank Clemente ("Clemente") as the cargo manager (C. Dep. 5), Mark Poedtke ("Poedtke") as the operations manager (id. 18) and Sigmund Matusik ("Matusik") as the full-time supervisor (M. Dep. 7). During his tenure as a lead mail agent Turner was primarily supervised by Matusik, Francisco Bravo ("Bravo") and Juan Miramontes ("Miramontes")(T. Dep. 72-73). Assignments within Swissport's operations were not fixed: All mail agents were assigned to areas based on the organization's operational needs, and lead agents as well as supervisors were expected to jump in and assist in the various work areas as needed (C. Dep. 34, 45). Turner was aware that as a lead mail agent he was expected to work in any position in the Swissport mail facility (S. St. ¶32).

Events giving rise to Turner's claims occurred in September and October 2004, when he was primarily working in the mail encoding area, a position that required him to lead up to eight employees, most being Hispanic females, some of whom spoke English and others of whom did not (T. Dep. 44, 275). On September 28, during a shift meeting with his supervisors, Turner reported having an issue with Teresa Blanco ("Blanco"), a Hispanic employee who persisted in turning off the encoding machine in violation of Turner's specific request that she leave the machine running (id. 122-23, 125). In response to Turner's report, his duty manager told him that he could send Blanco home if she continued to turn off the encoding machine (id. 120). Matusik, however, overrode Turner's duty manager and ultimately said that Turner could not send her home (id. 120).

On the following work day Turner had an altercation with Lisa Diaz ("Diaz"), a fellow lead agent (T. Dep. 139). Diaz called Turner and asked him to come to her work area for a discussion, but when he arrived Diaz was speaking in Spanish to another worker, Olympia Placencia ("Placencia")(id. 141-42). Turner interrupted several times, asking Diaz to speak English so he could understand what was being said, but Diaz refused (she later claimed that was because she was trying to translate Placencia's words from Spanish to English)(S. St. ¶36; D. Dep. 42). After Turner persisted in his requests that Diaz speak English, she reacted angrily by telling Turner to shut up and by cursing at him (T. Dep. 143). As the interaction escalated, Diaz became so enraged that she attempted to strike Turner, but she was restrained by Bravo (id.; D. Dep. 43). When tempers subsided Turner, Diaz and Bravo each had an opportunity to tell his or her version of the story at a meeting with supervisors Matusik and Poedtke (T. Dep. 144). During that meeting Diaz told the supervisors that the conflict erupted because Placencia had asked Diaz to intervene on her behalf when Turner refused to let Placencia use the washroom (M. Dep. 38-39), a claim that Turner denies (T. Dep. 146).*fn4

As a result of the altercation Diaz was suspended without pay for three days for cursing at and attempting to strike Turner (S. St. Ex. P), and Turner was reassigned from the encoding area to the G chute (M. Dep. 32). Turner was upset about his reassignment to the G chute--he viewed the transfer from encoding to the G chute as punishment and a demotion (S. St. Ex. P; T. Mem. 7). For his part, Matusik says he had decided to move Turner to the G chute because the communication problem caused by the Spanish language barrier convinced him that "it would be easier just to have [Turner] work in a different area and the best at that time was the G aisle" (M. Dep. 31). Diaz was contemporaneously reassigned as the lead cargo agent in the encoding area because her Spanish-speaking skills alleviated the "communication gap" between Spanish and non-Spanish speakers that had caused so much friction between Turner and Blanco, Diaz and Placencia (id. 33).

Turner testified expressly that he understood his race was not a motivating factor in his transfer from encoding to the G chute. Instead he believes he was transferred because he did not speak Spanish (T. Dep. 275) and that was why he was replaced in encoding by Spanish-speaker Diaz (id. 144). Neither Turner's title nor his pay rate was affected when he was reassigned from the encoding area to the G chute (id. 256).

Upon reporting for his first day of duty at the G chute on October 5, Turner endured what he believes was retaliation and harassment (T. St. ¶48). During that first shift Matusik tried to call Turner twice on the radio, but both times Turner had stepped away from the area and missed the calls (T. Dep. 244-45).

Because Matusik called him right after he had stepped away from the work floor, Turner believes that supervisor Miramontes, along with employees Diaz and Keith Mori ("Mori"), were spying on him in order to report his absences to Matusik (id. 245-46), but he cites no evidence to support that. Turner testified that when he and Matusik finally spoke, Matusik explained the reason for his calls: "Both times he said that I shouldn't be leaving Art by himself because he needed help and he said I need to stay in the area and ...

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