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Murdock v. Illinois Dep't of Transportation

July 19, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Rodrick Murdock ("Murdock"), who is African-American, sued his former employer, the Illinois Department of Transportation ("IDOT"), alleging that IDOT discriminated against him based on his race and color in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (2006). IDOT has moved for summary judgment.

Murdock fails to respond directly to most of IDOT's arguments, relying instead on conclusory allegations. Nevertheless, the court has done its best to analyze plaintiff's claims, as it has a duty to ensure that the moving party is indeed entitled to summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, IDOT's motion for summary judgment is granted.


From December 3, 2001, through March 8, 2002, Murdock was employed by IDOT as a temporary seasonal Highway Maintainer, or a "snowbird." Although snowbirds assist full-time Highway Maintainers with their duties, they are hired by IDOT as temporary employees, whose primary duty is to assist in snow and ice removal during the winter months. Murdock expected his position to last until March or April of 2002.

Murdock was assigned to the Stevenson Yard. Giovanni Fulgenzi ("Fulgenzi") was the personnel services manager for District One, which encompassed the Stevenson Yard. Fulgenzi was responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the Human Resources office, which included, among other things, payroll, workers' compensation, and the disciplining of employees.

On March 6, 2002, Murdock was assigned to a crew with Gregg Leschman ("Leschman"), Robert Kohn ("Kohn"), and another snowbird named Bob Marek ("Marek"). Both Leschman and Kohn were full-time Highway Maintainers. Nicholas Janeteas Jr. ("Janeteas") was the Acting Lead Worker for the crew, which was assigned to perform pothole patching that day.

The operation involved an asphalt truck pulling a "hot-box" containing heated asphalt. Leschman was driving the asphalt truck and Murdock was in the passenger seat. Janeteas was standing behind the truck on the driver's side to direct the patching operation and the asphalt truck. Kohn was also standing behind the truck on the passenger side. At some point, Janeteas tried to motion to Leschman to move the truck forward because it was blocking the entrance ramp to the highway and causing a traffic jam. However, Leschman did not see Janeateas. After observing Janeteas motion several times for the asphalt truck to move, Kohn ran up to the passenger side door and banged on it to get the attention of its occupants. Leschman finally looked over at Kohn and moved the truck forward.

After the truck had moved, Murdock made a comment to Kohn regarding his banging on the door. Though the exact words used by Murdock are in dispute,*fn1 all accounts involve mention of a .357, which is a type of gun. Kohn asked Murdock if he was joking and Murdock responded, "You owe me an apology. You banged on my door." Kohn Dep. 17.

Kohn believed that Murdock was trying to provoke a fight and felt threatened by Murdock's comment. He reported the comment to Janeteas, who told Kohn to stay in the lead truck to avoid any further problems with Murdock. Janeteas then reported to Control that a crew member had been threatened.

Later that day, Ken Chlebicki ("K.C."), who was Janeteas' supervisor, asked Kohn if he felt threatened. Kohn responded that he did. K.C. then asked Leschman and Kohn to write statements regarding what had occurred between Murdock and Kohn. Neither Leschman nor Kohn were told what to write in their statements. Leschman reported that Murdock had said, "If this happened and I had a .357 it would be different." Def.'s Ex. E. Kohn reported that Murdock had said, "If you do things like that people might pull a .357 magnum on you." Def.'s Ex. F.

On or about March 7, 2002, Fulgenzi was notified by K.C. about Murdock's alleged threat. He received Leschman and Kohn's written statements and, after reviewing them, believed that Murdock had, in fact, threatened Kohn.

IDOT has a "Zero Tolerance Policy" concerning violence in the workplace, which provides in relevant part:

The use of violence or the threat of the use of violence by Department employees to subordinates, co-workers, superiors or others will not be tolerated. No employee may physically use or threaten to use any object to harm another individual. All employees have the responsibility to promptly and completely report any ...

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