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Brown v. Innovative Systems Group

July 26, 2007

LARITA BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INNOVATIVE SYSTEMS GROUP, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Larita Brown (hereinafter, "Brown") alleges that her employer, Innovative Systems Group, Inc. (hereinafter, "ISG") violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by retaliating against her by firing her for making a complaint alleging that a fellow employee subjecting her to racial harassment.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

ISG is a consulting firm that places information systems consultants with client companies. ISG also occasionally places administrative assistants with clients. ISG is owned by Dan Burns (hereinafter, "Burns"), Joe Salas, and Sonny Salas. Brown was recruited by ISG Technical Recruiter Melissa MacLeod (hereinafter, "MacLeod") in February 2004 for placement as an administrative assistant with Blue Cross Blue Shield (hereinafter, "BC/BS").

During August 2004, Patricia Stewart (hereinafter, "Stewart"), another ISG administrative assistant placed at BC/BS made two comments to Brown that Brown deemed racially offensive. Brown told MacLeod about these comments. On August 30, Stewart handed Brown a piece of paper with a printed joke on it that Brown found racially offensive. Brown showed the joke to a few BC/BS employees, asking them if she had overreacted. Brown then took the joke to the BC/BS Compliance Department and spoke to Michael Hussman (hereinafter, "Hussman"). Hussman took Brown to speak to Jim Szczepankski (hereinafter, "Szczpankski"), who prepared an incident report setting forth Brown's complaints against Stewart. The BC/BS Compliance Department reviewed Stewart's e-mail usage, and flagged several non-work-related e-mails Brown sent to Stewart over a six-month period. The flagged e-mails were turned over to the BC/BS Human Resources Department. There were other non-work-related e-mails in Stewart's email.

Tony DeAngelo (hereinafter, "DeAngelo") reviewed the information supplied by Compliance and determined that Brown's and Stewart's placement at BC/BS would be terminated for improper use of the BC/BS e-mail system. Pursuant to the agreement between ISG and BC/BS, BC/BS has sole discretion to terminate the placement of any ISG employee if the employee's performance or qualifications "do not meet the standards determined by [BC/BS] as necessary or appropriate for the performance of the Services"; ISG must "promptly remove" any employee that BC/BS has so terminated.

Because it was a Friday, Burns was asked to contact Brown and tell her not to return to the BC/BS facility.

Thus, on September 4, 2004, MacLeod called Brown and asked her not to return to BC/BS. During that conversation, Brown asserts that she told MacLeod that she had complained to BC/BS about Stewart's comments and the typewritten joke, that she felt she was being terminated for that reason, and that she planned to call an attorney. MacLeod asserts that Brown told her that she had complained to BC/BS but does not recall if Brown mentioned why she complained. Another ISG employee informed Stewart that her placement at BC/BS was terminated.

MacLeod followed up with Burns and ISG Human Resources Director Debra Prochut (hereinafter, "Prochut") about the call to Brown (it is unclear from the record exactly when this follow-up was made). She told Burns and/or Prochut that Brown was surprised to be terminated by BC/BS because she had filed a claim with BC/BS. Brown never told Burns or anyone at ISG (besides MacLeod) that she had complained to BC/BS regarding Stewart's racial comments. Burns contends that he did not know that Brown had made a complaint of racial discrimination to BC/BS until Brown filed her complaint with the EEOC.

About a week later, Brown spoke to MacLeod to see if ISG had more work for her. Despite looking, MacLeod was not able to find any work available for Brown as an administrative assistant. ISG terminated Brown's employment; ISG asserts that it terminated Brown because it was unable to find another placement for her while Brown asserts that she was terminated because she complained to BC/BS about Stewart's comments and joke.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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). A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a dispute is genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court must view all the evidence and any reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Miller v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 997, 1003 (7th Cir. 2000).

III. ...


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