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Pleniceanu v. Brown Printing Co.

March 12, 2007


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


Plaintiff Florin G. Pleniceanu ("Pleniceanu"), sues his former employer, Brown Printing Company ("Brown"), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to e-17, alleging a hostile work environment and discriminatory discharge based on national origin. Brown filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 25). For the reasons stated below, the court denies the motion in part and grants the motion in part.


Taking all facts and inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, Pleniceanu, the court recounts the facts underlying the lawsuit. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Brown operates a printing plant in Woodstock, Illinois, including a binding operation. The binding operation involves the assembly of books or magazines after the individual pages, inserts, and covers have been printed. (Def. 56.1. ¶ 5.) Brown employs bindery operators to supervise the operation of the binding machine with the assistance of assistance operators. (Def. 56.1. ¶ 4.) Brown monitors the quality of the binding through a "time-stamp" process to determine, for example, whether the books or magazines contain the correct number pages or inserts and cards. (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5.) A "time stamp" is a representative sample of a bound book that is pulled at regular intervals from a pre-determined number of bound books, which is typically one time stamp for every 5000 bound books. (Id. at ¶ 16.) The time stamp is then checked for quality issues, like whether the books are square, the customer addresses are positioned correctly, and the correct insert cards are used. (Id.) A sticker is placed on the time stamp with a checklist addressing these quality issues. (Id.) The bindery operator has the primary responsibility to pulls the books at the timed intervals and check the quality factors on each time stamp. (Pl. Res. 56.1. ¶ 16.) Once signed, time stamps are placed in the bindery office at the end of a shift. There is no policy specifically prohibiting an operator from retrieving his time stamps from the bindery office after an operator has dropped off the time stamps.

During the relevant period, issues with poor work product or production were ultimately handled by Wayne Bishop, the bindery manager for the Woodstock plant, although the supervisors often brought these issues to his attention. (Pl. Res. 56.1 ¶ 20.) There were eight supervisors in all that reported to Bishop. (Bishop Dep. at 7.) Bishop would take input from the supervisors about disciplinary measures with regard to errors or misprinted books. (Pl. Res. 56.1 ¶ 20.) In most cases, discipline for poor work product or poor production began at the supervisory level and escalated to Bishop. (Bishop Dep. at 11-13.) Bishop would also rely on the supervisors to inform him of events that occurred, especially if the event took place during the second or third shift, which Bishop did not work. (Id.) Supervisors had "the latitude to fire and hire in certain situations." (Bishop Dep. at 150.)

Brown also maintained in its Employment Handbook a policy against harassment and offensive behavior. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 11.) The policy entitled "Prohibited Offensive Behavior" stated that:

Employees are prohibited from engaging in sexual or personal harassment based on race, creed, color, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or status, veteran status or status with respect to military service or other harassment prohibited by federal, state or local laws. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 11.) The policy further stated that:

Any other conduct which has the effect of interfering with an individual's work performance or conducting an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment is prohibited. Conduct which is by word or action offensive or degrading to another person will not be tolerated and will subject the offending employee to disciplinary action, ranging from verbal warning to termination of employment. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 12.) According to the policy, employees who believe that they has been the subject of harassment or witnesses to the harassment were to report the conduct promptly to their supervisor, department manager, designated Human Resources representative, or the Human Resources Manager. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 13; Pl. Res. 56.1 ¶ 13.)

Pleniceanu, who was of Romanian national origin, was employed as a bindery operator at the Woodstock plant during the third shift on the C-crew until his termination on February 16, 2004. He worked next to fellow bindery operator Rodger Schneider ("Schneider"). (Def. 56.1 ¶ 22, 23.) Andrew Patterson was Pleniceanu's and Schneider's supervisor on the third shift, along with 65-70 other full time employees and a varying number of temporary workers. (Bishop Dep. at 7.) Patterson, who had previously been an assistant operator who worked in the same crew as Pleniceanu, was promoted to the position of supervisor in December 2002 and began supervising Pleniceanu and Schneider in July 2003. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 8) In December 2003, Edward Davis, the Human Resources Manager, held a meeting with the C-crew, including Pleniceanu and Schneider, which included a review of Brown's anti-harassment policies. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 33.)

Before becoming Pleniceanu's supervisor, Patterson would refer to Pleniceanu by the nickname "Romanian." (Pl. Res. 56.1. ¶ 24.) Once Patterson became Pleniceanu's supervisor, Patterson began making derogatory remarks about Pleniceanu's national origin on almost a daily basis from September 2003 to the beginning of February 2004. (Def. 56.1. ¶ 27; Pl. Res. 56.1. ¶ 27.) Patterson would call Pleniceanu about once a day to every other day a "dumb Romanian," "butt fucking Romanian," "fucking Romanian," "fat Romanian," "fucking immigrant," or some combination thereof. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 27; Pl. Res. 56.1. ¶ 27; Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 2, 3) Patterson also told Pleniceanu that he had "come here and suck[ed] on welfare" and that Pleniceanu was "coming and taking American jobs." (Pl. Res. 56.1. ¶ 27; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 2.) Further, Patterson stated to Pleniceanu, "Oh, you Romanians, you're stupid, you don't know anything." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 3.)

Patterson would also threaten Pleniceanu with demotion. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20.) Patterson repeatedly told Pleniceanu that he had the power over him to make him lose money, that he could fire Pleniceanu, that he could demote Pleniceanu to a utility person if he wished, and that he could replace Pleniceanu with an assistant operator named John Uden ("Uden"). (Id.) Uden later replaced Pleniceanu when Pleniceanu was fired. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20.)

Schneider, who worked as a bindery operator next to Pleniceanu, recalled in his deposition hearing the near-daily comments that Patterson made to Pleniceanu. (Pl. 56.1. ¶ 4.) Schneider knew from Pleniceanu that Patterson's comments were degrading to Pleniceanu and that Pleniceanu was "tired" of Patterson "calling [him] either a fat Romanian or a stupid Romanian." (Schneider Dep. at 14, 63.) When asked during his deposition why Schneider did not report the observed harassment, in accordance with Brown's Prohibited Offensive Behavior policy, Schneider responded that, "When I realized [the comments] bothered him, [Pleniceanu] just said he would take care of it." (Schneider Dep. at 63.) Schneider therefore did not report the conduct because he "believed that [Pleniceanu] had it under control." (Schneider Dep. at 57.)

Pleniceanu was afraid that he would lose his job if he reported Patterson to Bishop and, specifically, his health insurance because his child at the time was undergoing multiple surgeries to repair his esophagus. (Pleniceanu Dep. at 69.) Pleniceanu's fear stemmed from his view that Patterson close friends with Bishop. (Pleniceanu Dep. at 69.) Patterson was hired by Bishop to be a supervisor and spent time in Bishop's office. (Id.) In addition, Pleniceanu attested in his deposition that he had been warned by another supervisor, Mike Turner, that Patterson was "out to get [him]."*fn1 (Id. at 42.)

Pleniceanu in his deposition concedes that he did not follow Brown's anti-harassment policy and report Patterson's conduct, presumably to Bishop or Edward Davis ("Davis"), the director of Human Resources. (Pleniceanu Dep. at 66.) Instead, Pleniceanu told Patterson on two occasions, once in November 2003 and once in January 2004, that "his comments made me very uncomfortable." (Pleniceanu Dep. at 68-69.) According to Pleniceanu, the first time he asked Patterson to stop calling him anti-Romanian names, Patterson "seemed like he was even surprised that [Pleniceanu] would even dare to say something to him. He stopped for a brief period, a week or so, and then he started it again, just like nothing ever happened." (Id. at 91.) On the occasion that Patterson began to again call Pleniceanu anti-Romanian names, Patterson, in front of co-worker Diane Whitening, "started the discussion and said that he first thought that I was a 'butt-fucking Greek,' at which point Whitening, which is Greek, got offended and told him that, 'You shut up. You're just Wayne [Bishop's] suck-up.'" (Id. at 90.) The second time that Pleniceanu told Patterson to stop, Pleniceanu said to Patterson that he "did not come to work every day to hear his remarks about my national origin." (Id. at 92.) Pleniceanu attested that Patterson's anti-Romanian comments "did not make me feel good. It just makes you sick when you hear people talking to you like that." (Id.)

Despite the derogatory remarks that Patterson made to Pleniceanu, Patterson gave Plenicenau a positive performance review on January 23, 2004. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 35; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 12.) Pleniceanu received the highest rating in the overall appraisal and in six out of eleven categories, and the second highest rating in the remaining five categories. (Pl. Ex. 16 of Ex. F.) Pleniceanu received this positive evaluation despite being disciplined a month earlier in December 2003 for signing up his operator assistant, Howard Orcutt ("Orcutt"), for overtime and then working Orcutt's overtime shift if Orcutt could not do it. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 34; Pl. Res. 56.1 ¶ 34.) Pleniceanu admitted to engaging in this conduct but claims to not know at the time that his conduct was improper. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 34; Pl. Res. 56.1 ¶ 34.)

The event leading to Pleniceanu's termination occurred on February 9, 2004. Patterson asked Pleniceanu to take another worker to the hospital due to a workplace injury, and then return to the hospital to bring the worker back to the plant. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 36.) While Pleniceanu was gone, another operator Michael Klehr ("Klehr") supervised the operation of Pleniceanu's machine along with Pleniceanu's operator assistant, Orcutt, who was responsible for pulling the time stamps. (Id.) Unbeknownst to Pleniceanu, Orcutt did not pull the time stamps at the appropriate intervals. (Id. at ¶ 37.) When Pleniceanu returned from his trip to the hospital to pick up the injured worker, Pleniceanu signed the time stamps provided by Orcutt as acceptable without checking the time stamps for quality issues. (Id. at ¶ 37; Pl. Res. 56.1 ¶ 37.) Before the end of his shift, Pleniceanu took the signed time stamps to the ...

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