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Curtin v. Devine

March 1, 2007

JOAN CURTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD A. DEVINE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On December 30, 2005, plaintiff Joan Curtin ("Curtin") filed a one-count complaint against defendant Richard A. Devine ("Defendant"), in his official capacity as State's Attorney of Cook County, alleging that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq ("ADEA") in terminating Curtin's employment on February 10, 2005. Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, (Dkt. No. 30), arguing that Curtin cannot support a prima facie case of discrimination. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

LEGAL STANDARDS

1. Summary Judgment

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 773 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). The court does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence. Abdullahi, 423 F.3d at 773. However, summary judgment must be granted in favor of the moving party if there are no genuine issues as to any material fact, such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

Furthermore, a party bearing the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The evidence relied upon must be competent evidence of a type otherwise admissible at trial, including affidavits based upon personal knowledge. Juarez v. Menard, Inc., 366 F.3d 479, 484 n.4 (7th Cir. 2004). A "mere scintilla of evidence" will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment; rather, there must be evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

Trial courts have discretion to strictly enforce compliance with Local Rule 56.1, which addresses proper summary judgment procedures. Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Bay Area Bus. Council, Inc., 423 F.3d 627, 633 (7th Cir. 2005). Ultimately, however, "the district court need[ ] only to decide whether, based on the evidence in the record, a material dispute of fact exist[s] that require[s] trial." Sound of Music Co. v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., No. 05-4109, 2007 WL 446029, at *2 (7th Cir. Feb. 13, 2007).

2. Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The ADEA prohibits discharge of an employee because of her age. 28 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). "To establish a claim under the ADEA, a plaintiff-employee must show that 'the protected trait (under the ADEA, age) actually motivated the employer's decision'-that is, the employee's protected trait must have 'actually played a role in [the employer's decision-making] process and had a determinative influence on the outcome.'" Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.com, Inc., No. 06-1885, 2007 WL 416984 (7th Cir. Feb. 8, 2007) (quotations omitted).

Plaintiffs can demonstrate discrimination through either the direct or indirect method of proof. The direct method of proof includes both "near-admissions by the employer that its decisions were based on a proscribed criterion" and circumstantial evidence "which suggests discrimination albeit through a longer chain of inferences." Luks v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 467 F.3d 1049, 1052 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Sylvester v. SOS Children's Villages Ill., Inc., 453 F.3d 900 (7th Cir. 2006)). "The distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence is vague . . . but more important it is irrelevant to assessing the strength of a party's case." Sylvester, 453 F.3d at 903. "It is enough that the circumstances give rise to a reasonable and straightforward inference that the employer has relied on a proscribed factor in taking action against the employee." Luks, 467 F.3d at 1053.

The "indirect method" of proof "involves a subset of circumstantial evidence (including the disparate treatment of similarly situated employees) that conforms to the prescription of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)." Luks, 467 F.3d at 1052. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination via the indirect method of proof, a plaintiff in Curtin's position must demonstrate that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was performing her job in accord with her employers' legitimate expectations; (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly-situated employees outside of her protected class were treated more favorably by the employer. Ptasznik v. St. Joseph Hospital, 464 F.3d 691, 696 (7th Cir. 2006). The burden of production then shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Id. Finally, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to attempt to show that the defendant's stated reason is pretextual. Id.

BACKGROUND

When reviewing Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, the court views all relevant facts in the light most favorable ...


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