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Ellis v. United Parcel Service

April 29, 2008


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 06-cv-00366-RLY-TAB-Richard L. Young, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Evans, Circuit Judge.


Before BAUER, WOOD, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

This case centers around United Parcel Service's nonfraternization policy, which forbids a manager from having a romantic relationship with any hourly employee, even an employee the manager does not supervise. The purpose of this policy, according to UPS, is to prevent favoritism and the perception of favoritism. The policy extends to workers outside of a manager's supervisory authority because UPS says it frequently transfers managers and a manager could end up supervising any hourly employee. Unsurprisingly, this policy does not stop Cupid's arrow from striking at UPS.

As the discovery taken in this case reveals, intracompany dating is prevalent, although employees often take precautions to keep their relationships secret. Gerald Ellis was one such employee, but, unfortunately for him, he got caught. Ellis, who is an African-American,*fn1 sued UPS claiming it fired him because of his race and because he is married to a white woman, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The district court granted summary judgment for UPS, and Ellis appeals.

Because this case comes to us at the summary judgment stage, we set out the facts in the light most favorable to Ellis, the nonmoving party. See Nichols v. S. Ill. Univ.-Edwardsville, 510 F.3d 772, 779 (7th Cir. 2007). Ellis began working for UPS as a driver in 1979. He worked his way up the ladder and eventually was promoted to Hub Supervisor in the Indianapolis sorting facility, a managerial position. In December 2000 the aroma of amour must have been filling the air at UPS as Ellis began dating Glenda Greathouse, a white woman who worked at UPS's phone center. But daily contact between Ellis and Greathouse, at least while at work, must have been sporadic as the phone center was in a different building from the sorting facility where Ellis worked. Anyway, for more than three years, Ellis kept mum at UPS about the relationship, and Greathouse told only one close friend. But other employees eventually learned that Ellis and Greathouse were an item. Employee relations manager Brenda Baker got wind of the relationship and apparently didn't like it. She told Ellis's direct supervisor, Angela Wade, that "there were plenty of good sisters out there," which Wade understood to mean that Baker, who is African-American, thought Ellis should be dating African-American women. Wade, we should also add, is an African-American. Later, Ellis testified at his deposition that Baker called him a "sell-out" because he was dating Greathouse.

In February 2004 Ellis admitted to Wade that he was dating Greathouse. Wade testified at her deposition that she told Ellis he was "crazy" for dating Greathouse because, she explained, the relationship violated UPS's nonfraternization policy. She told Ellis that he or Great-house would have to quit or Ellis would be fired. Wade reported the relationship to her supervisor, division manager Derick Craft. Craft, who is also an African-American, met with Wade and Ellis to discuss the relationship, and Ellis fessed up that he was dating Greathouse. Craft told Ellis that he was "crazy" to date "the white girl from the call center," and he ordered Ellis to meet with Kenny Walker, the human resources manager for the Indiana district, the next day. At that meeting, Walker, who like Baker, Wade, and Craft, is also an African-American, questioned Ellis about his relationship. Walker described the nonfraternization policy to Ellis, explained that Ellis's relationship with Greathouse violated the policy, and told Ellis that he had to "rectify the situation." Ellis testified that he understood that Walker expected him to end the relationship. Walker did not follow up with Ellis or ask him whether he stopped seeing Greathouse. Walker testified that when implementing the nonfraternization policy it was his practice to explain the policy to the manager and to give the manager the option of ending the relationship or deciding which member of the couple would be let go. Walker said that he took managers at their word when they told him they would comply with the policy. Although Ellis testified that Walker did not tell him explicitly that resignation was an option, Ellis said that he and Greathouse discussed whether one of them should leave UPS.

Ellis did not end the relationship and neither did he or Greathouse resign. Instead, three days after the meeting with Walker-on Valentine's Day, no less-Ellis and Greathouse became engaged. A little over a year later, in April 2005, they were married. Ellis testified that he believed that their marriage brought him into compliance with the nonfraternization policy, although he admitted that he never asked Walker whether a marriage between a manager and an hourly employee violated the policy and never told Walker that he and Greathouse were married.

After they were married, Ellis and Greathouse still did not tell others at UPS about their relationship. But in July 2005, 3 months after their wedding and 17 months after Walker met with Ellis and discussed the UPS nonfraternization policy, Walker saw Ellis at a concert acting affectionately with a white woman. Walker later told Baker what he had seen, and she guessed, based on Walker's description, that the woman on the receiving end of Ellis's affections at the concert was Greathouse. Later that month, Walker met with Robert Severson, a district manager, and told him that Ellis might be in violation of the nonfraternization policy. Severson told Walker to investigate and to review his findings with Lawrence Lewis, who is the North Central Region human resources manager, and a UPS in-house lawyer. District human resources managers, like Walker, consult with Lewis before disciplining employees so Lewis can ensure that policies are being enforced uniformly throughout the region. They also speak to in-house attorneys so that UPS can avoid unnecessary legal exposure. After consulting with Lewis and counsel, Walker determined that Ellis was in violation of the nonfraternization policy and that the "problem" had to be resolved. He met with Ellis and learned that Ellis and Greathouse were married. He then asked Ellis to resign. When Ellis refused, Walker fired him for violating the nonfraternization policy and for dishonesty. Walker, Severson, and Lewis testified at their depositions that Walker made the final decision to fire Ellis.

In granting UPS's motion for summary judgment, the district court determined that Ellis had not put forward sufficient direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination to allow him to proceed by the direct method of proof. It then concluded he failed to present enough evidence to make out a prima facie case under the indirect method of proof because he could not show that any similarly situated employees who were involved in intraracial relationships at UPS were treated more favorably. Furthermore, even if he had come forward with enough evidence to establish a prima facie case, the court concluded that he could not show that UPS's reason for firing him was a pretext for discrimination.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Nichols, 510 F.3d at 779. Summary judgment is proper only when all of the evidence, taken together, shows that there is no genuine issue of any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment in its favor.

Ellis first argues that, under both the indirect and direct methods of proof, he put forward sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on his claim that UPS fired him because he was involved in an interracial relationship. We have not yet decided whether an employer violates Title VII if it discriminates against an employee because the employee is involved in a relationship with a person of another race. See Ineichen v. Ameritech, 401 F.3d 956, 961-62 (7th Cir. 2005) (reserving the question). But we need not address the issue now because, even if discrimination on the basis of involvement in an interracial relationship constitutes illegal race discrimination, Ellis did not put forward enough evidence to survive summary judgment.

For Ellis to make out a prima facie case under the indirect method of proof, see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), he had to come forward with evidence, among other things, that a similarly situated employee who was not involved in an interracial relationship was treated more favorably, see Adams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 324 F.3d 935, 939 (7th Cir. 2003). Ellis identifies approximately twenty couples he says have been involved in intraracial romantic relationships that violated UPS's nonfraternization policy. He insists that the managers in all of these relationships either were not fired or were given the opportunity to have their partners resign; so, he argues, they were treated more favorably.

But most of Ellis's purported comparators are not similarly situated to him because they were not subject to the same decisionmaker as Ellis when they purportedly violated the policy. Different decisionmakers may rely on different factors when deciding whether, and how severely, to discipline an employee. See Radue v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 219 F.3d 612, 618 (7th Cir. 2000). So, to be similarly situated, a manager must have been treated more favorably by the same decisionmaker that fired the Ellis. See Little v. Ill. Dep't of Rev., 369 F.3d 1007, 1012 (7th Cir. 2004). Ellis contends that he was fired by a group of decisionmakers, including Walker, Severson, Lewis, Craft, Baker, and the in-house lawyers. Thus, he argues that any manager involved in an intraracial relationship with an hourly employee is similarly situated if the manager worked under "the group." We disagree. UPS's evidence showed that Walker alone made the ultimate decision to fire Ellis, and Ellis has offered nothing to establish that anyone else was a decisionmaker. Walker apprised Severson, his boss, on the status of his investigation and Severson told him to consult with Lewis and in-house counsel, but Walker, Severson, and Lewis all testified that Walker was responsible for the decision to fire Ellis. As Severson suggested, Walker consulted with Lewis to ensure consistent enforcement of the nonfraternization policy, and with in-house counsel to discuss UPS's potential legal exposure. But this just shows that Walker used the resources at his disposal to make an informed decision; Ellis presented no evidence that Lewis or the in-house lawyers were the ultimate decisionmakers. See, e.g., Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Group, Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 396 (7th Cir. 1997) (evidence that supervisor ...

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