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Dinkins v. Bunge Milling

June 30, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge


Plaintiffs Robert Dinkins ("Dinkins") and Kenneth Sanders ("Sanders") are African American men who work for Bunge Milling, Inc. ("Bunge"). The plaintiffs claim that Bunge and The United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union AFL-CIO-CLC (the "Union") (of which the plaintiffs are members) have discriminated and retaliated against the plaintiffs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1 Bunge, the Union, and the plaintiffs have filed motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the defendants' motions [85, 88] are granted. The plaintiffs' motion [100] is denied.


Bunge operates a corn and soybean mill in Danville, Illinois. It produces dry grain products and oils for use in foods and animal feed.

The plaintiffs are bound by the terms of the Union's collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with Bunge. Among other things, the CBA describes the procedure for filling job openings, and specifies the four-step grievance process for resolving violations of the CBA.

Sanders has worked at Bunge since 1993, and Dinkins since 1994. Both men were hired as loaders/unloaders and have always worked in that capacity. The CBA classifies loaders/unloaders as "unskilled" positions. Loaders are primarily responsible for loading grain or oil into train cars and trucks. The loader/unloaders also perform related tasks such as cleaning, operating a switch board, and routine maintenance.

Over the years, Dinkins and Sanders have applied for operator positions, which are classified by the CBA as "skilled" positions. Caucasian applicants were selected for the open positions sought by Dinkins and Sanders.

Dinkins also believes he applied for a position in Bunge's lab. He cannot recall when he did so, but says it was around the time that three African Americans applied and were hired for lab positions.

In 2005, Dinkins sought entry into Bunge's electrician apprenticeship program.*fn2 At the time, there were two openings. Two Caucasian men were selected.

Dinkins and Sanders also allege that they have received disciplinary write-ups because of their race. Both men complain of numerous and allegedly undeserved disciplinary warnings or suspensions beginning in the 1990s and continuing into 2005. The warnings pertain to attendance, tardiness and required overtime; careless workmanship; safety violations; and, in Dinkins' case, interfering with supervision and/or insubordination as well as loud arguments and inappropriate behavior with management. The plaintiffs claim that some of the unwarranted discipline was in retaliation for assisting former Bunge employee Charles Bryant with his race discrimination lawsuit and/or unemployment claim. Dinkins and Sanders state that they filed grievances on many of the disciplinary actions, but never heard back from the Union as to the outcome.*fn3


Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment must show the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 17, 23 (1986). Any discrepancies in the factual record should be evaluated in the non-movant's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). But "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (emphasis added).

A party opposing summary judgment bears the burden to respond, not simply by resting on its own pleadings but by "set[ting] out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (emphasis added). In order to be a "genuine" issue, there must be more than "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

Thus, "summary judgment is the 'put up or shut up' moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events." Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). "If [the non-movant] does not [meet his burden], summary judgment should, if appropriate, be entered against [the non-movant]." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).

Affidavits must be based on the personal knowledge of the affiant and "set out facts that would be admissible in evidence." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(1) (emphasis added). Personal knowledge may include inferences and opinions drawn from those facts. Visser v. Packer Eng'g Assoc., Inc., 924 F.2d 655, 659 (7th Cir. 1991). "But the inferences and opinions must be grounded in observation or other first-hand personal experience. They must not be flights of fancy, speculations, hunches, intuitions or rumors about matters remote from that experience." Visser, 924 F.2d at 659.

The court has combed through the pro se plaintiffs' pleadings, memoranda, and supporting documents to determine the contours of the claims for which this court may grant relief. Much of the plaintiffs' documentation is immaterial; it does not affect the outcome of a legitimate claim.*fn4 The plaintiffs' case against Bunge is limited to these narrow questions: (1) whether the plaintiffs were denied promotions and/or apprenticeship opportunities because of their race; (2) whether they were subjected to disciplinary action because of their race; and (3) whether they were retaliated against for supporting Charles Bryant's Title VII case or unemployment claim. The case against the Union is limited to whether, because of the plaintiffs' race, the Union failed to enforce the provisions of the CBA by refusing to pursue the plaintiffs' grievances.

I. Claims against Bunge

The plaintiffs bring their claims pursuant to Title VII and Section 1981. They must establish the same prima facie case under either statute. Alexander v. Wisconsin Dep't of Health & Family Servs., 263 F.3d 673, 681-82 (7th Cir. 2001).

Unlawful discrimination may be shown by either the "direct" or "indirect" method. On summary judgment, the plaintiffs must present evidence to establish all elements of a prima facie case under one method or the other. That the plaintiffs are African American and were not promoted (or were not accepted into the apprenticeship program, or were disciplined, or did not prevail on their grievances) does not establish that the plaintiffs were treated differently because of their race. "That approach would turn the federal judiciary into a body of employment arbitrators asking whether personnel decisions are supported by 'just cause.' The lack of 'just cause' would establish that forbidden discrimination or retaliation was the real cause. That's not what the federal law says. The burden of persuasion is ...

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