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Esquivel v. International Union of Operating Engineers

September 2, 2008

VERONICA ESQUIVEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTERNATIONAL UNION OF OPERATING ENGINEERS, LOCAL 150, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Veronica Esquivel ("Esquivel") worked as an administrative assistant for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 ("Union"). During her tenure there another employee acted toward her in ways that she felt were so inappropriate as to rise to the level of sexual harassment. After she filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and received a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Esquivel brought this action against the Union, asserting that she was subjected to a gender-based hostile work environment and then to retaliation once she complained of the harassment.

Now moving for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, the Union disclaims liability. For the reasons stated in this opinion, its motion is granted.

Summary Judgment Standard

Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, (477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to nonmovants and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). But to avoid summary judgment a non-movant "must produce more than a scintilla of evidence to support his position" that a genuine issue of material fact exists (Pugh v. City of Attica, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001)) and "must set forth specific facts that demonstrate a genuine issue of triable fact" (id.). Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-movant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). What follows then is a summary of the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Esquivel.*fn1

Background

Esquivel embarked on her administrative assistant job at the Union in September 2002 (Compl. Ex. A at 1). In late 2003 one of the Union's business agents, Daniel Regan ("Regan"), began to act toward her in a way that she persuasively labels as sexual harassment (U. St. ¶13). Because the result here does not rest on the quantum of harassing conduct, there is no need to repeat the graphic particulars set out by Esquivel.

Some earlier background is useful, however, to provide context for Esquivel's familiarity with the procedures for reporting sexual harassment at the Union. She claims that shortly after she began to work there she was sexually harassed by a different Union business agent, Fenton Cross ("Cross")(U. St. ¶9). Esquivel did not formally report the incident, but instead told another assistant in the office, Amy Posateri ("Posateri"), what had occurred (U. St. ¶9). Posateri took it upon herself to inform Alexia Kulwiec ("Kulwiec"), an attorney for the Union and designated sexual harassment liaison, of Esquivel's problems with Cross (U. St. ¶9). Kulwiec then met with Esquivel and asked if Esquivel wished to make a sexual harassment complaint, but Esquivel refused because Cross had apologized to her and she felt the matter was resolved (and, indeed, she had no further issues with Cross)(U. St. ¶10). Esquivel felt that after the incident with Cross the business agents' demeanor toward her changed and they were less friendly, but things went back to normal within a few months (U. St. ¶12).

To move forward to Esquivel's situation with Regan, about December 2004 she complained about Regan's conduct to the office manager, John Garza ("Garza")(E. Resp. St. ¶ 14). At some point she also complained to another business agent, Joe Ward, and he told Regan to cease his harassing conduct (E. Resp. St. ¶14). Within a short time after that conversation Esquivel told Ward that the situation with Regan had improved, and Ward considered the matter closed because he heard no more about it (E. Resp. St. Ex. B at 22-23). Esquivel complained of the harassment to Posateri as well, although the record does not reflect when (E. Resp. St. ¶14).

On May 5, 2005 Esquivel complained to Union attorney Ken Edwards ("Edwards") and asked him to prepare a sexual harassment complaint (E. Resp. St. ¶¶ 14, 18; E. Add. St. ¶12). On the following day Esquivel initiated the formal sexual harassment complaint procedure by meeting with Melinda Henzel ("Henzel"), an attorney and sexual harassment liaison for the Union, along with Steve Cisco ("Cisco"), the recording-corresponding secretary for the Union (E. Resp. St. ¶14; E. Add. St. ¶13). Before that Esquivel had not made a formal complaint to Henzel because she was afraid of reprisals from Regan and the Union (E. Add. St. ¶9).

Because Esquivel did not feel that the Union was doing anything about her report of sexual harassment, on May 9, 2005 she submitted her resignation effective May 20 (E. Add. St. ¶16). Three days later Garza told her that it was in the best interests of all involved that she not finish out her remaining time with the Union, and he told her to leave the premises that day (E. Add. St. ¶17). When she left she was given her final paycheck through May 20 and a check covering her unused vacation and personal days (Compl. Ex. A at 12).

On August 23, 2005 Esquivel filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, checking the boxes for "sex," "retaliation" and "other" (U. St. ¶21). After receiving a right-to-sue letter, she initiated this action (U. St. ¶22).

Hostile Work Environment

To establish successfully that her work environment was hostile, Esquivel must show that (Phelan v. Cook County, 463 ...


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