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Long v. Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois

July 17, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, U.S. District Judge


The Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois ("TRS") moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff Julie Stephens Long's ("Long") claim under the Family Medical Leave Act's ("FMLA") anti-retaliation provision.*fn1

Summary judgment is granted to TRS.

I. Motion to Strike

Before laying out the material facts, the Court must determine what assertions belong in the record. TRS claims that Long's affidavit conflicts with her prior deposition testimony on a number of points and moves to strike it, in whole or in part. Long objects.

An affidavit, even a self-serving one, may suffice to defeat a summary judgment motion if it is supported by the record or "based on personal knowledge" and "set[s] forth specific facts" demonstrating that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Buie v. Quad/Graphics, Inc., 366 F.3d 496, 504 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003).

Nevertheless, a party "cannot create 'sham' issues of fact with affidavits that contradict their prior depositions." Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. A & E Oil, Inc., 503 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Ineichen v. Ameritech, 410 F.3d 956, 963 (7th Cir. 2005)) (internal quotations omitted). "If such contradictions were permitted . . . the very purpose of the summary judgment motion - to weed out unfounded claims, specious denials, and sham defenses - would be severely undercut." Ineichen, 410 F.3d at 963 (quoting Bank of Ill. v. Allied Signal Safety Restraint Sys., 75 F.3d 1162, 1168-69 (7th Cir. 1996)) (internal quotations omitted).

TRS urges the Court to strike Long's affidavit for specifically denying certain facts that Long could not recall during her deposition. In response, Long suggests that a memory lapse and a later denial are not inimical. Regardless of whether two statements absolutely conflict, striking remains the proper remedy if "'the affidavit differs from prior deposition testimony to the point that it is unreliable.'" Johnson v. Nordstrom, Inc., 260 F.3d 727, 736 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Patterson v. Chi. Ass'n for Retarded Citizens, 150 F.3d 719, 720 (7th Cir. 1998)).

Having assiduously reviewed this record, the Court concludes that several conflicts exist between the affidavit and the deposition. First, Long avers that she never received any complaints or counseling concerning her work, an assertion that starkly contrasts with her deposition testimony about losing a promotion because of excessive absenteeism. See id. at 737 (finding no abuse of discretion in district court's striking of statement in affidavit that plaintiff "'was never informed . . . that [her] job performance was lacking or needed improvement'" where plaintiff's deposition testimony stated that she had once been confronted about stealing customers).

Second, Long claims in her affidavit that a variety of meetings did not occur, including two in September of 2005. At her deposition, however, Long admitted that she did not recall any such meetings. She elaborated on this point when discussing a September meeting, explaining, "I really don't know. I can't honestly say yes or no because I don't remember." No explanation is given for her sudden recollection. Therefore, these paragraphs are stricken.*fn2

Third, Long asserts that a majority of her absences were FMLA-related and sets out specific days she now believes were covered by FMLA leave. Some of these dates are consistent with her affidavit testimony, but others directly conflict with it. A particularly egregious example of the latter is Long's affidavit claim that she missed work due to an ovarian cyst. In her deposition, however, she testified that she was Christmas shopping. No explanation is given for this discrepancy and no medical records or other evidence is offered to bolster Long's current claims. Rather than dig through the record to verify or strike each FMLA assertion, this Court elects to strike the entire paragraph.*fn3 See Rogers v. City of Chi., 320 F.3d 748, 751 (7th Cir. 2003) (noting, in similar circumstances, that district courts have "no obligation to scour [an] affidavit in order to glean what little admissible evidence it may . . . contain").

Therefore, TRS' motion to strike is granted with respect to paragraphs 7, 18, 25, 26, and 28. Beyond that, it is denied.*fn4


The Court now turns to the remaining record evidence, all of which is construed in Long's favor. Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008).*fn5

A. Structure of the Teachers' Retirement System

The Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois ("TRS") services some 300,000 active and retired Illinois public school personnel. Among its other duties, TRS provides over 82,000 retirees and other beneficiaries with monthly benefit payments.

TRS' day-to-day operations are managed by Executive Director Jon Bauman ("Bauman"). Bauman has the final say on all disciplinary actions, including suspension and termination. Generally, however, personnel activities at TRS fall within the province of Human Resources Director Gina Larkin ("Larkin"). Larkin typically works with individual managers when making recommendations on disciplinary actions.

Long was employed by TRS' Payroll and Insurance Department ("Payroll"), which shoulders responsibility for processing direct deposit forms for members. At all relevant times, Manager Marshall Branham ("Branham") was responsible for this department and ...

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