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Mains v. Herrin Laundry Products

August 22, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Whirlpool Herrin Division f/k/a Herrin Laundry Products, a division of Maytag Corporation ("Maytag") (Doc. 24). Plaintiff John Manis ("Manis") has responded to the motion (Docs. 35 & 36).

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396. This standard is applied with special scrutiny in cases, such as employment discrimination cases, that often turn on issues of intent and credibility. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

II. Facts

Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Manis, and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, the admissible evidence establishes the following facts.

A. Employment at Maytag

Manis was first hired by Maytag in March 2001. Manis's employment was covered by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") that contained an absenteeism policy. See CBA art. 13. Under the absenteeism policy, each employee was given fifteen points. He would lose one or more points for each unexcused absence, and if his total reached zero, he was terminated. An employee could gain a point, however, for perfect attendance for thirty days in a row. Where an absence was first recorded as an unexcused but where it later became apparent that it was an excused absence because it was a "reported occupational injury or illness," CBA § 13.2.A, Maytag officials would manually make the change to an employee's time sheet.

There was often a two to three week lag time between when an employee reached zero points and when Maytag discovered it. Janice McConnaughy, Maytag's employee relations manager, had an unwritten, informal policy of not terminating an employee if, by the time she discovered the employee had dropped to zero points, the employee had accumulated a point for good attendance putting him back in the black.

Manis performed several jobs during his tenure with Maytag. In February 2003, Manis reported injuries to his back, forearm, wrist and elbow resulting from working in the dryer manufacturing line. In April 2003, he requested a transfer to another department because of the physical toll the job was taking on his body, and in May or early June 2003, Maytag transferred him to the washer manufacturing line.

B. Manis's Attendance

As of the beginning of 2003, Manis was down to six attendance points, and by the beginning of June 2003, he was down to zero points by Maytag's count. Manis and Maytag had different opinions on whether Manis's May 9, 2003, tardiness for a court appearance was excused or unexcused. The absenteeism policy excused time for "verified, mandatory court appearance[s] (due to no fault of the employee)," CBA § 13.2.A, and Manis and Maytag apparently had differing views about whether Manis's appearance as a defendant in a civil lawsuit met this criteria. Manis had asked McConnaughy before the court appearance whether it would be excused, and she had told him it would not. She told Manis he could speak to William Townsend ("Townsend"), Maytag's director of human resources, further about the matter, but Manis never did.

Manis accumulated one point on June 8, 2003, but then lost it due to an absence later that same week. This left him again at a balance of zero by Maytag's count heading into July 2003. McConnaughy did not detect Manis had reached zero ...

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