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Johnson v. Siemens Building Technologies

March 30, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Jeffrey Johnson worked for Defendant Siemens Building Technologies ("Siemens") from 1994 until his termination in 2004. In this suit, Johnson alleges that Siemens discriminated against him on the basis of his race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended 42 U.S.C. § 2000, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by rejecting his requests for training and work hours to accommodate his child care schedule. Johnson further alleges he was suspended and later terminated by Siemens in retaliation for protesting unlawful employment discrimination. Finally, Johnson brings a claim of retaliatory discharge in violation of Illinois common law, alleging that Siemens discharged him because he reported to the EEOC that Siemens had submitted false documents to the State of Illinois. Siemens now moves for summary judgment, and, for the reasons set forth below, the request is granted.


Plaintiff, an African-American male, was hired on July 5, 1994 by Landis & Gyr Powers, Inc., which was acquired several years later by Siemens. (Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter "Def.'s 56.1) ¶ 1.) Plaintiff was originally hired as a warehouse material handler, and remained in that position until he suffered a wrist injury, which necessitated light duty work. (Johnson Dep., Ex. A to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts (hereinafter "Plaintiff's 56.1"), at 31.) Plaintiff spent approximately seven months working light duty in customer service, (Id. at 29.), before transferring to the domestic traffic department in 2000. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 1.) The traffic department, part of the Siemens logistics group, takes in component parts from suppliers, where they are then stored, manufactured into a finished product, marketed and sold by other Siemens departments, and ultimately shipped by the traffic department to customers around the world. (Johnson Dep., at 20; Kentfield Dep., Ex. F to Plaintiff's 56.1, at 6-7.) Siemens maintains both a domestic and international traffic department. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 2.) The domestic traffic department handles shipments to the United States and Canada, and the international traffic department handles shipments to the rest of the world. (Johnson Dep., at 21-22; Kentfield Dep., at 29.)

Plaintiff was employed in the domestic traffic department in a position referred to as traffic coordinator or logistics coordinator. (Plaintiff's 56.1 ¶ 1; Kentfield Dep., at 17.) His duties in that position included "performing" consolidation reports, tracking shipments in the domestic traffic department, and training new hires. (Id.) His usual work hours in the traffic department were from 8:00 a.m. until 4:45 p.m., a 40-hour work week. (Id. at ¶ 4.) When Plaintiff first transferred into the domestic traffic department, his immediate supervisor was Clifton Salonis, an African-American male. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.) Salonis remained Plaintiff's immediate supervisor until October 23, 2003, when Alexander Kentfield, the director of logistics, reclassified Salonis to the position of traffic specialist. (Id.; Kentfield Aff., Ex. J to Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 4, 6.) Kentfield then served as Plaintiff's direct supervisor from October 23, 2003 until January 2004, when Siemens hired Art Hurtado as traffic manager. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 5.) As traffic manager, Hurtado was in charge of both the domestic and international traffic departments. (Hurtado Dep., Ex. C to Plaintiff's 56.1, at 9.) Plaintiff and Salonis were joined in the domestic traffic department in March 2004 by Joanna Zaucha, a white female who transferred into the department full time after previously assisting part time in the department for several months. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 7, 41.) Plaintiff, Salonis, and Zaucha reported to Hurtado, and Hurtado reported directly to Kentfield, who supervised the entire traffic department. (Id. at ¶ 9; Hurtado Dep., at 8-9; Plaintiff's 56.1 ¶ 3; Kentfield Dep., at 7.)

Plaintiff's Work Performance and Disciplinary History Prior to 2004

On April 19, 1999, when Plaintiff was still working in Siemens' warehouse, he and another warehouse employee, Gilberto Tovar, engaged in a verbal and physical altercation on company premises. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 18; Notice of Suspension April 20, 2000, Ex. H-20 to Def.'s 56.1.) Siemens' policy, as stated in the employee handbook, is that an employee who is involved in any type of physical violence is to be terminated. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 19; Notice of Suspension April 20, 2000.) Plaintiff's then-supervisor, Rigoberto Sixto, determined, however, that because Plaintiff and Tovar each claimed to have been defending themselves and because there were no witnesses to the incident, it would be unfair to terminate them. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 19; Notice of Suspension, April 20, 2000.) Instead, Sixto suspended both Plaintiff and Tovar for five days. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 18.) Sixto sent each a disciplinary letter warning that "any verbal or physical threats of violence towards each other, or anyone else in the Company, by either individual involved in the incident, will result in his immediate termination." (Notice of Suspension, April 20, 2000.) Plaintiff admits that he signed the letter, signifying his agreement to these terms. (Id.; Johnson Dep., at 231.)

Soon after Plaintiff transferred into the domestic traffic department, he began having difficulties with his supervisor, Clifton Salonis. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 21.) On Plaintiff's first performance review as a traffic coordinator, for the year 2000--2001, Salonis wrote under the "Long Term Development Recommendations" section that "Jeff will have to be instructed in how to be less defense [sic] in his response to management/supervisor instruction and direction, as he tends to take this as a personal criticism. I will work with my manager and human resources to identify an appropriate class for Jeff." (Id.; Performance Appraisal, 2000--2001, Ex. H-14 to Johnson Dep.) Plaintiff's work performance itself was rated as "Good," a rating given to those "whose demonstrated performance clearly meets all the requirements of the position in terms of quality and quantity of output." (Performance Appraisal, 2000--2001.) His performance was again rated "Good" the following year. (Performance Appraisal, 2001--2002.) In this review, he acknowledged his difficulties with his co-workers, stating that "[w]ith the cooperation of my co-workers I will make a conscious effort to maintain a professional atmosphere and actively share in the task of maintaining a clean and organized work area." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 22; Performance Appraisal, 2001--2002, Ex. H-13 to Johnson Dep.)

Plaintiff does not deny Defendant's contentions that he had difficulties and disputes with Salonis; he notes, instead, that Salonis had daily conflicts with everyone in the department. (Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Response") ¶¶ 21, 27.) Indeed, both Rigoberto Sixto and Sam Cade, a senior Human Resources coordinator for Siemens, (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 11), testified that they also found Salonis to be rude, disrespectful, and belligerent at times. (Sixto Dep., Ex. G to Plaintiff's 56.1, at 12-14; Cade Dep., Ex. E to Plaintiff's 56.1, at 55.) Salonis was given a disciplinary warning in 2002 for being verbally abusive towards his subordinates, (Cade Dep., at 51, 54), and was placed in a "360-degree feedback program,"a program in which a Siemens employee is evaluated by his or her peers, and then works together with Human Resources to improve on any problematic behavior or other negatives specifically identified in the peer evaluations. (Id. at 52-53.)

On October 18, 2002, Plaintiff was involved in an incident with a cafeteria worker. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 24; Johnson Dep., at 220.) In a written record of a verbal warning to Plaintiff regarding the incident, Kentfield stated that two Siemens supervisors reported that they and other Siemens employees witnessed Plaintiff verbally abusing a cafeteria worker. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 24; Interoffice Letter from Kentfield to Johnson of 10/23/02, Ex. H-17 to Def.'s 56.1) The supervisors told Kentfield that Plaintiff loudly insisted that he be given credit for a bagel that he had already cut, toasted, buttered, and paid for, because he forgot that free food was available.

(Interoffice Letter from Kentfield to Johnson of 10/23/02.) Plaintiff also reportedly protested that the cafeteria worker would treat him differently if he were Nick Fowler, the vice president of Siemens. (Id.) Kentfield told Plaintiff in the memo that the Siemens' supervisors reported this incident because they were "embarrassed by your actions as a fellow Siemens employee." (Id.) The memo reminded Plaintiff of Siemens' "Respectful Workplace" policy, which requires all employees to be respectful towards all other people at all times while on Siemens premises, while conducting company business, or at any time while representing the company, and warned that Plaintiff's actions crossed this line. (Id.) The memo warned that "[s]hould there be any further incident, a written warning and further disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, if warranted by the circumstances, may result." (Id.) Plaintiff admits that his signature appears on the bottom of this memo. (Id.; Johnson Dep., at 219.) He also admits that Siemens has a "Respectful Workplace Policy," but identifies ten incidents in which, in his view, employees violated that policy without any repercussions.*fn1 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 14; Respectful Workplace Policy, Ex. I-17 to Def.'s 56.1; Plaintiff's Response ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff does not believe that anyone reported this incident to Kentfield other than Plaintiff himself; he claims that he went to Kentfield immediately after the incident and told him what had happened. (Johnson Dep., at 222.) In Plaintiff's version of the incident, Plaintiff felt that he was being overcharged for his purchase and the cafeteria worker became angry when he questioned her about the price, so he asked for a refund. (Id. at 224.) The cafeteria worker became he understands that confrontational and refused to give him a refund, even after Plaintiff asked to speak with her supervisor. (Id.) Plaintiff then went immediately to Kentfield to report the incident, because he understands that when a Siemens employee has a dispute with a cafeteria worker, he or she is supposed to report it to their supervisor so that the issue can be documented. (Id. at 224-225.) Plaintiff contends that Kentfield embellished the incident because he was angry about the fact that Plaintiff had circumvented Kentfield and gone directly to Human Resources regarding a dispute that Plaintiff was having with Salonis. Plaintiff recalls that Kentfield spoke to Plaintiff about this in a threatening way immediately before the incident with the cafeteria worker. (Id. at 220-221, 225.)

The difficulties between Plaintiff and Salonis continued into 2003. Plaintiff and Salonis were unable to work together productively despite constant oversight from Kentfield. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 27; Kentfield Aff. ¶ 4.) Finally, in October 2003, Kentfield made the decision to remove Salonis from his supervisor position and to reclassify him as a traffic specialist. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 27; Kentfield. Aff. ¶ 4.). On October 22, 2003, Kentfield counseled both Plaintiff and Salonis about their difficulties in working together. (Kentfield Aff. ¶ 5.) The next day, Kentfield sent Plaintiff and Salonis an e-mail reiterating his concerns, warning that the behavior would no longer be tolerated, and formalizing Salonis' demotion. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 27; E-mails from Kentfield to Johnson and Salonis, 10/23/03, Ex. H-24 to Def.'s 56.1.) Kentfield directed both Plaintiff and Salonis to report directly to him and cautioned that "any further disruption of this nature will result in formal disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment." (Id.) Plaintiff's and Salonis' offices were also moved to increase their physical separation. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 28.) Though both Plaintiff and Salonis reported to Kentfield, Salonis, as a traffic specialist, continued to perform several additional functions. (Defendant's Supplemental Statement of Undisputed Facts in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter "Def.'s Supp. 56.1) ¶ 4.) Specifically, Salonis served as the system administrator for the desktop shipping system, which assigned certain UPS accounts to various Siemens employees, and he was responsible for freight analysis, which involved preparing monthly reports on outbound shipments. (Id.; Kentfield Supp. Aff., Ex. K to Def.'s Supp. 56.1 ¶ 3; Johnson Dep., at 26-27.)

Plaintiff's performance report for 2003--2004 reflected the October 2003 incident. Kentfield wrote that "[o]ur respectful workplace policy requires, at all times, that employees do their utmost to work in a tolerant and cooperative manner. There was a severe disruption of this work ethic in October, which has had severely negative effects on [Plaintiff's] work relationships, work processes and productivity in the department." Plaintiff's overall work performance grade was rated "Good Minus." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 36; Performance Appraisal, 2003--2004, Ex. H-12 to Def.'s 56.1.)


The domestic and international traffic departments are responsible for a heavy work load, and overtime work is sometimes necessary to cover business needs. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 15; Kentfield Dep., at 9-10; Cade Dep., at 12.) The traffic department has a policy that if overtime is needed, management first seeks volunteers to work overtime. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 16; Kentfield Dep., at 9.) Traffic department employees have the option to decline a request from management to work voluntary overtime. (Cade Dep., at 12.) If the department cannot cover its business needs through voluntary overtime, however, management may schedule employees to work mandatory overtime. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 15, 16; Kentfield Dep., at 9.) Failure to perform mandatory overtime can lead to consequences as severe as termination of employment. (Cade Dep., at 12.) Plaintiff contends that he was unaware that overtime was a job requirement of traffic department employees prior to taking the position. (Johnson Dep., at 97.) He acknowledged that his job was not made more difficult by the need to work occasional overtime and that the fact that he had to occasionally work mandatory overtime did not jeopardize his potential for promotion. (Id. at 100.) Working overtime did, however, interfere with his ability to pick up his daughter from daycare. (Id. at 96.) Plaintiff claims in this lawsuit that Defendant forced him to work overtime and failed to accommodate his childcare schedule on the basis of his race and gender.

In August 2003, Maria Lopez, a member of the domestic traffic department, was transferred to the international traffic department, leaving the domestic traffic department short-staffed. (Kentfield Aff. ¶ 3.) Joanna Zaucha, who at the time was working in Siemens' production area, was asked to fill in for a few hours a day in the domestic traffic department to help the department keep up with its work. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 25; Kentfield Aff. ¶ 3.) Even with her help, however, management still needed overtime work from Plaintiff and Salonis on a regular basis to help meet shipping requirements. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 26; Kentfield Aff. ¶ 3.)

In the October 23, 2003 e-mail admonishing Plaintiff and Salonis about their poor working relationship and formalizing Salonis' demotion, Kentfield also notified Plaintiff and Salonis of the need for them to work overtime because the department was short-staffed. (E-mails from Kentfield to Johnson and Salonis, 10/23/03.) When Plaintiff asked whether he was still allowed to ask Zaucha for help, Kentfield responded by telling Plaintiff that the traffic department needed to reduce its use of Zaucha because she was working in the department up to four hours a day, which was far more than what had been intended. (Id.) Kentfield also reiterated the need for Plaintiff and Salonis to work overtime due to staff reductions and increased business needs. (Id.) Plaintiff replied by telling Kentfield that he could not work overtime unless he had sufficient time to arrange to have someone pick up his daughter from daycare before 6:00 p.m. (Id.; Plaintiff's 56.1 ¶ 8.)

The following day, October 24, Plaintiff filed a complaint of "retaliation and unfair treatment" with Sam Cade and Cade's supervisor Jim Cooper, the Senior Director of Human Resources, (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12), in which Plaintiff alleged that Kentfield was forcing him to work overtime in retaliation for Plaintiff's having requested that Kentfield move his office away from Salonis'. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 29; Johnson Claim of Retaliation and Unfair Treatment to Cade and Cooper, Ex. H-23 to Def's 56.1.)*fn2 The complaint further stated that Kentfield ignored an incident in which Salonis slammed a door into Plaintiff's foot so hard that it tore the sole off of his shoe. (Johnson Claim of Retaliation and Unfair Treatment to Cade and Cooper.)

Plaintiff and Kentfield continued to discuss the overtime requirements in a series of e-mails throughout the rest of October 2003. Kentfield again explained to Plaintiff that overtime work was necessitated by increased business demands and unforeseen staff shortages, that Kentfield hoped the need for overtime was temporary, and that Kentfield would attempt to give Plaintiff advance notice as to when he would be required to work overtime in deference to Plaintiff's childcare needs. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 30; E-mails between Kentfield and Johnson, 10/23/03--10/24/03, Exs. 26, 27 to Johnson Dep.) Kentfield also explained that Plaintiff could no longer ask Maria Lopez work overtime in his stead, as Plaintiff had often done in the past, because the international traffic department was also understaffed and Lopez was needed to work overtime in that department. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 30; E-mail from Kentfield to Johnson, 10/24/03, Ex. H-28 to Def.'s 56.1.) Plaintiff, for his part, continued to insist that he could not work overtime until 6:00 p.m. on a regular basis. (E-mail from Johnson to Kentfield, 10/31/03, Ex. H-29 to Def.'s 56.1.)

The domestic traffic department suffered another blow in December 2003, when Salonis suffered a heart attack and was forced to take medical leave. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 31; Kentfield Aff. ¶ 7.) Kentfield claims that during this time period, Plaintiff refused to work overtime on multiple occasions, telling Kentfield that he "had no intention to stay that day or any other day to work required overtime," and that he had "a life outside of Siemens" and was leaving. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 32; Kentfield Dep., at 12-14.) Plaintiff denies that he made such comments, and contends that he offered to come in as early as 2:00 a.m. in order to leave at 4:45 p.m. (Plaintiff's Response ¶ 32.) The portion of the record that Plaintiff cites, however, indicates that this offer was actually made in October 2003, when Plaintiff was first informed of the need to work overtime, and not during December 2003. (Johnson Dep., at 244-245.)*fn3

In January 2004, Siemens hired Art Hurtado as traffic manager. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 33.) Hurtado assumed a supervisory position over the domestic and international traffic departments, and his hiring partially relieved Plaintiff's work burden. (Id.) Additionally, Siemens hired a temporary employee to help Plaintiff and the traffic department. (Id. at ¶ 34.) Even with this additional staff, management still needed Plaintiff to work mandatory overtime, (Kentfield Aff. ¶ 7), and Plaintiff did so daily during the first two weeks of January 2004. (E-mail from Kentfield to Cade, Cooper, and Hurtado, 1/20/04, Ex. H-33 to Def.'s 56.1.)

On January 19, 2004, Plaintiff met with Kentfield and Hurtado to discuss Plaintiff's concerns regarding overtime. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 35; Memo from Hurtado to Johnson, 10/15/04, Ex. H-6 to Def.'s 56.1; E-mail from Kentfield to Cade, Cooper, and Hurtado, 1/20/04.) Plaintiff complained at the meeting of working "unending and never ceasing 9 and 10 hour days," and claimed that he had been so busy that he failed to record all of his overtime hours. (E-mail from Kentfield to Cade, Cooper, and Hurtado, 1/20/04.) Plaintiff also stated that he would no longer work past 4:45 p.m. (Memo from Hurtado to Johnson, 10/15/04; E-mail from Kentfield to Cade, Cooper, and Hurtado, 1/20/04.) Kentfield reiterated Siemens' overtime policy and warned Plaintiff that failure to perform mandatory overtime would result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. (Memo from Hurtado to Johnson, 10/15/04; E-mail from Kentfield to Cade, Cooper, and Hurtado, 1/20/04.)

Despite Kentfield's warning, Plaintiff left work at 4:45 p.m. every day except one during the week of January 19, 2004. (Memo from Hurtado to Johnson, 10/15/04.) Kentfield sent Plaintiff another e-mail on January 26, 2004, once again stressing the mandatory nature of the company's overtime policy. (Def.'s 56.1 at ¶ 38.) Plaintiff nevertheless again failed to work his mandatory overtime on January 29, which necessitated that another co-worker cover for him. (Id. at ¶ 39.)*fn4 Salonis returned from medical leave around this time, although he had to work a reduced schedule pursuant to doctor's orders. (Id. at ¶ 31.)

Plaintiff also met with Jim Cooper twice, once on January 22 and once on January 28, to complain about the overtime situation. (Id. at ¶ 40.) Cooper investigated the matter, and concluded in a January 30 e-mail message to Plaintiff that Kentfield was requiring Plaintiff to work overtime because the traffic department was understaffed and there was an increased business need, not as retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints to Human Resources about Salonis. (Id.; E-mail from Cooper to Johnson, 1/30/04, Ex. H-16 to Def.'s 56.1.) Cooper also noted that Plaintiff averaged only 3.5 hours per week of overtime in November and December of 2003 and worked just 14.7 hours of overtime during the first two weeks of January 2004, an amount Cooper deemed not unreasonable. (E-mail from Cooper to Johnson, 1/30/04.) Cooper stressed that under company policy an employee must perform mandatory overtime when it is assigned, and that failure to perform a mandatory overtime assignment "will be regarded as failure to complete a job assignment, and may be addressed through progressive disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment." (Id.)

In March 2004, Zaucha transferred into the traffic department full time as a traffic coordinator. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 41.) Zaucha's normal work hours were from 10:15 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Def.'s Supp. 56.1 ¶ 3; Kentfield Supp. Aff. ¶ 4.)*fn5 Zaucha worked a significant amount of overtime during her first five months in domestic traffic, and her overtime hours greatly exceeded those worked by Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 51; Kentfield Aff. ¶¶ 10, 12.) Overtime records indicate that from the middle of March 2004 until the end of August 2004, Zaucha worked more than 114 hours of overtime, whereas Plaintiff worked only 9 hours of overtime during the same time. (2004 Overtime Comparison, Ex. J-3. to Def.'s 56.1.) Kentfield and Hurtado never had to require Zaucha to perform mandatory overtime, as she almost always volunteered to work overtime. (Def.'s Supp. 56.1 ¶ 2; Hurtado Aff., Ex. L to Def.'s Supp. 56.1 ¶ 3.)

On April 28, 2004, Plaintiff, Zaucha, and Salonis met with Sam Cade and Art Hurtado to discuss work distribution within the domestic traffic department, as well as argumentative behavior and "empowerment issues" between Plaintiff and Salonis. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 52; Memo from Hurtado to Johnson, 10/15/04.) Zaucha herself had not engaged in any disruptive behavior. (Hurtado Dep., at 34-35.) Plaintiff contends that the meeting focused only on complaints that he and Zaucha had made to Hurtado and Cade regarding Salonis' unwillingness to show Plaintiff and Zaucha how to perform certain tasks. (Plaintiff's Response ¶ 53; Johnson Dep., at 204-05.) Defendant does not mention whether any specific incident had generated the need for this meeting, but Defendant asserts that at this meeting, Cade explained ...

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