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Bates v. City of Chicago

September 4, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


This case was filed by an African-American firefighter who joined the Chicago Fire Department ("CFD") in 1977. Plaintiff Ronald Bates rose through the ranks to the position of District Chief, an exempt rank member of the CFD, until he was demoted to Deputy District Chief in May, 2004. Bates alleges that his demotion was impermissibly motivated by racial animus. I previously dismissed other counts of the complaint, including Sections 1981 and 1983 claims, the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and all claims against the individual defendants. Defendant City of Chicago moves for summary judgment on Bates's claim for Title VII race discrimination, arguing that Bates cannot establish that (1) similarly situated non-African-American employees were treated more favorably, or (2) the proffered reason for Bates's demotion was pretextual.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.


The City of Chicago Fire Department is organized into a hierarchy of positions and ranks. Above the district level, the command structure from the top down is as follows: Fire Commissioner, First Deputy Fire Commissioner, Deputy Fire Commissioner, Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner. Below this structure, the CFD is organized into seven geographical districts, each run by a District Chief. The command structure within each CFD District from top to bottom is as follows: District Chief, Deputy District Chief, Battalion Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, Engineer, Firefighter. All positions above the rank of Battalion Chief are non-career service, or "exempt" positions. The CFD's personnel rules define the non-career exempt employees as at-will employees. They may be disciplined or discharged for any reason or no reason, and neither demotions nor discharges need be for cause.

Bates was an exempt rank member of the CFD until he was reassigned in 2005 following a demotion in 2004. Bates began with the CFD in 1977 as a firefighter and rose through the ranks, attaining the position of District Chief in 2000. He was appointed to District Chief by then-Commissioner James Joyce, a Caucasian.

On May 1, 2004, Cortez Trotter, an African-American, was appointed Commissioner of the CFD. Trotter had also risen through the ranks, beginning as a Fire Paramedic in 1976. As Fire Commissioner, Trotter had the discretion to appoint firefighters to exempt positions, and was authorized to move employees around as he saw fit. On May 24, 2004, Commissioner Trotter issued Personnel Order No. 2004-10, which appointed the exempt ranks under his command. These appointments included the demotion of three African-Americans and five non-African-Americans, the promotion of eight African-Americans and eleven non-African- Americans, and the lateral reassignment of two African-Americans and two non-African-Americans.

Bates was demoted from District Chief to the rank of Deputy District Chief. Nick Russell, also an African-American, replaced him. Commissioner Trotter appointed three African-Americans to the position of District Chief, thereby increasing the number of African-Americans at that rank. Bates was the only District Chief that was demoted. Among the other demotions were James Connolly, a non-African-American who was moved from Deputy Fire Commissioner to Assistant Deputy Commissioner, and Sal Marquez, a non-African-American, who was demoted from Deputy Fire Commissioner to District Chief.

Trotter states that his personnel decisions were based on his perception of who had high energy and enthusiasm, because those qualities complemented his aggressive management style. He reports that he observed Bates in his official capacity, and Trotter believed that Nick Russell was a better match for District Chief under his administration.


A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment should be granted when "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). The facts presented are to be construed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Smith v. City of Chicago, 242 F.3d 737, 742 (7th Cir. 2001). Once the moving party has set forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-324 (1986).

B. Race Discrimination in Violation of Title VII

Title VII makes it illegal for an employer "to limit ... [an employee's] employment opportunities ... because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(2). There are two ways of demonstrating a prima facie case of Title VII race discrimination: the direct method and the indirect method. Luckie v. Ameritech Corp., 389 F.3d 708, 714 (7th Cir. 2004). Both parties agree that Bates has no direct evidence of racial animus, and thus cannot proceed under the direct method. Under the indirect method, Bates must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating that: (1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he reasonably performed his job to his employer's expectations, (3) he suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) his employer treated similarly situated employees outside his protected class more favorably. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); Contreras v. Suncast Corp., 237 F.3d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 2001). If Bates satisfies each of these elements, the burden then shifts to his employer to offer a ...

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