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Cottles v. Bank of America

March 31, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge David H. Coar


Frank Cottles (the "Plaintiff") is suing his former employer, Bank of America, N.A. (the "Defendant"), for reverse race and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and age discriminat[ion in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") , 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Before this court now is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment for each count of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.


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 genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). This standard of review is applied to employment discrimination cases with "added rigor." Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993).


Defendant operates a Check Processing Center (the "Center") in Chicago. Cottles is a White Caucasian male who was an operations manager in the Center. He was terminated from his position on May 14, 2004. At the time of termination, Cottles was 45 years old and drawing an annual salary of $81,665. Cottles was terminated by Ngoc Wozniak, an Asian woman who was around 33 years of age at the time of termination. Wozniak was the site manager of the Center. She consulted with her supervisor, Richard Wheeler, a White Caucasian male who was around 58 years of age at the time of termination. Wheeler is the Defendant's Midwest region Manager. Wozniak replaced Terry Jordan, another White male, as the site manager of Center. During Wozniak's tenure as site manger, there were five operations managers; three White males including Cottles, one Hispanic male and one African-American woman. Wheeler originally identified Michael Maddox, another White male who was at or about 54 years of age in 2004, as a suitable replacement for Jordan. However, Maddox declined to take the job based upon his reluctance to leave Jacksonville, Florida and relocate to Chicago, Illinois.

Defendant recognized that the check processing associates in the Chicago Center had very low morale. The low associate morale was linked to dislike and distrust of the existing management team of the Chicago Center. The majority of associates were African-American and/or women. Wozniak was brought in to the Chicago Center to improve the level of associate morale and to make the Center run more efficiently. Her efforts included holding town hall meetings, associate listening sessions and a rewards program for associates called the WOW Pins program.

In early May 2004, Defendant held a meeting of managers and administrative personnel to judge associates' entries of drawings into a contest (the "Wow Pins meeting"). This meeting was led by Christine Clark, an African-American female. Cottles also attended this meeting. Each entrant was to receive ten dollars, but the flyer advertising the contest communicated to the associates that each entry was to receive ten dollars. Therefore some associates submitted multiple entries in an attempt to maximize their prize money. The managers, including Cottles, engaged in a spirited discussion about the appropriateness of the multiple entries with the consensus agreeing on rewarding the multiple entries.

A few days later, Clark attended a meeting with Wozniak and another of Defendant's employees. At the meeting, Clark became upset when she received criticism of her performance from Wozniak. She thought she was being treated unfairly and unduly harsh in light of the lack of discipline given to Cottles for his allegedly inappropriate statements at the Wow Pins meeting about associates who submitted multiple entries. She then relayed her version of what occurred at the meeting, which was that Cottles was upset over associates submitting multiple entries and that he made statements about getting even with them. Wozniak assured Clark that she would investigate Cottles' behavior. Thereafter, Wozniak spoke with Richard Shelton and Rafael Delgado, two managers who were also at the Wow Pins meeting. Delgado told Wozniak that Cottles made statements that could be considered retaliatory. He told her Cottles said, "If that's how he's going to do it, then I will get even with him." Richard Shelton confirmed to Wozniak what Clark told her Cottles said at the Wow Pins meeting. Wozniak called Wheeler to discuss the incident. She also called the human resources department responsible for providing guidance to managers contemplating disciplinary actions. Wozniak concluded Cottles should be terminated because of his retaliatory remarks. She told him prior to terminating him that she was firing him because of his statements and that she would not allow him to ruin all of her hard work over the past four months. Wozniak labeled Cottles' conduct a loss of trust and confidence. In her own words expressed in an internal email dated May 14, 2004 to Lance Drummond, a member of Defendant's upper management, Wozniak cited concerns about the "Chicago Market situation and the amount of work that [lay] in front of [them] and the trust-building efforts with the associates" in her decision to terminate Cottles. After terminating him, Wozniak announced to the entire Chicago Center that Cottles was fired.

Wozniak also terminated Alison Seraphin, an African-American female operations manager. Wozniak labeled Seraphin's behavior as a loss of trust and confidence but she also cited her performance deficiencies as well. Several associates complained that Seraphin's abrasive and brash communication style, lack of leadership and inappropriate, harsh behavior.

However, prior to terminating Seraphin, Wozniak counseled her and gave her several opportunities to rectify her deficiencies.

Lori Conti, a female team lead, repeatedly engaged in conduct deemed to be inappropriate workplace behavior by BOA, yet she was not terminated for such behavior but was allowed to receive verbal and written counseling. Cathy Wallace, an African American female team lead, committed a serious security infraction which was deemed by Defendant to be a breach of trust, yet she was not terminated for such behavior, but was allowed to receive only a disciplinary warning. Team leads, who according to Cottles himself, were subordinate to operations managers and were not supervised directly by Wozniak.

Disputed Facts

Cottles states that he did not make threatening or retaliatory remarks in the Wow Pins meeting and that it was Clark who led the charge of those against the associates who submitted multiple entries into the contest.


A. Race Discrimination

Cottles proceeds under the burden-shifting method using indirect evidence as set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 800-06 (1973). Under the burden-shifting approach, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of intentional discrimination. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 505 (1993); Hall v. Bodine Elec. Co., 276 F.3d 345, (7th Cir. 2002); Miller v. Am. Fam. Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 997, 1007 (7th Cir. 2000); Szymanski v. County of Cook, 2002 WL 171977 at *5 (N.D.Ill.). Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, a rebuttable presumption of discrimination arises, and the burden of production then shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Szymanski, 2002 WL 171977 at *5. If the employer satisfies that burden, the presumption of discrimination is rebutted, and the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to persuade the trier of ...

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