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Mellenthin v. SBC-Ameritech

September 29, 2008

MARY MELLENTHIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SBC-AMERITECH, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Mary Mellenthin sued her former employer Ameritech Advanced Data Services of Illinois, Inc. ("Ameritech") claiming that Ameritech violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") by giving her a verbal warning and a negative performance evaluation and later demoting her because of her sex. She also claims that Ameritech retaliated against her for filing an EEOC charge and subjected her to a hostile work environment. Mellenthin also claims that Ameritech, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., terminated her employment because of her alleged disability and failed to reasonably accommodate her. She further claims that Ameritech terminated her in retaliation for having filed a second EEOC charge. Finally, she alleges that Ameritech intentionally subjected her to emotional distress. Defendant Ameritech moves for summary judgment on all counts. For the following reasons, that motion is granted in part and denied in part. Ameritech's motion to strike certain paragraphs of plaintiff's amended/corrected local rule 56.1 statement of additional facts and certain paragraphs of plaintiff's amended/corrected response to defendant's statement of undisputed facts is granted to the extent described herein.

BACKGROUND

In February 2004, Mellenthin began working as a complex bid manager for Ameritech at a facility in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Mellenthin worked as part of an organization known as Bid Central. She was responsible for preparing price quotes for installation of network equipment at customer locations. Mellenthin worked under the supervision of Bruce Gregory, the Associate Director for the Complex Bid Program, who worked out an office in Texas. Dave Gentilini was a complex bid manager in the organization, but he also performed functions as the team lead.

Gregory measured the performance of the complex bid managers against certain criteria. Gregory expected bid managers to complete bids within a 48-hour (designated "AVVID") or 72-hour (designated "non-AVVID") timeframe, depending on the type of bid, and he expected them to review and log all jobs within four hours of initial receipt. Gregory judged each bid manager based, among other things, on the total number of bids completed and the total value of the bids completed. Gregory also expected bid managers to be accessible to him via telephone, e-mail, and an instant messaging system known as "Q."*fn1

In 2004, Gregory noticed certain problems with Mellenthin's job performance. Specifically, he noticed that Mellenthin often missed the 48/72 hour turn-around time for bids and that she often took too long to review jobs upon assignment. Gregory also received multiple complaints regarding Mellenthin's work from the National Pricing Center (the organization that sent jobs to Bid Central).*fn2

As of October 2004, Gregory also noted that Mellenthin ranked near the bottom of the team in the number of bids completed and dollar value of bids for the third quarter of 2004. In October 2004, based on his concerns regarding Mellenthin's late turn-around times for projects, her taking too long to review projects at the outset, and complaints he received from the National Pricing Center, Gregory directed Gentilini to speak with Mellenthin about her job performance and give her a verbal warning,*fn3 and Gregory personally followed-up with a telephone call and e-mail to Mellenthin. Despite the verbal warning, Mellenthin felt that her performance did not need improvement.

At the end of 2004, Gregory completed an annual performance review for Mellenthin in which he noted her continuing problems with the 48/72-hour turn-around times, her inaccessibility and lack of timely response to communications, complaints he received regarding her work, and her display of a "defensive attitude rather than a willingness to improve." Ameritech's Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def's Fact") ¶ 30.

In April 2005, Mellenthin filed an EEOC charge alleging that Gregory discriminated against her based on sex in issuing her the verbal warning and negative performance evaluation.

In mid 2005, Gregory was required to designate one complex bid manager as "surplus" (i.e., he had to eliminate one complex bid manager from his team as part of a reduction in force ("RIF")). He designated Mellenthin. In lieu of termination, Mellenthin was able to secure another, lower-level position within Ameritech as a customer service specialist working for supervisor Jeff Siegel, and she began work in this job around July 21, 2005 at the same Arlington Heights facility.

According to Mellenthin, she was exposed to a chemical at work at the Arlington Heights facility on July 27, 2005. When moving to a new work station, Mellenthin found herself in a locked stairwell. In the stairwell, Mellenthin experienced difficulty breathing, her eyes teared, and she felt "caustic discomfort" in her nose and throat. Mellenthin's Statement of Additional Fact ("Pl's SAF") ¶ 17. According to Cindy Noland, Ameritech's Rule 30(b)(6) witness, the "front desk" started receiving reports that people were feeling symptoms in their breathing passages, nasal passages and bronchial passages. Pl's SAF ¶ 18. Mellenthin returned to work for about six weeks after the chemical exposure, but from September 15, 2005 onward, she never returned to work and was on a leave of absence. From September 15, 2005 to mid-February 2006, Mellenthin received paid disability benefits.

Mellenthin contends that she has post-traumatic stress syndrome ("PTSD"), depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and occasional blackouts resulting from the chemical exposure. Mellenthin claims that she can no longer multi-task, she cannot travel on an airplane, she needs a support person for stressful situations, she has trouble thinking, she isolates from contact with others, and has difficulty dealing with confrontations with people.

During 2006, Mellenthin requested that Ameritech accommodate her disabilities by returning her to work at a different building. Ameritech refused that request. Mellenthin filed a second EEOC charge in May 2006 alleging disability discrimination. After Mellenthin lost her appeal of Ameritech's February 2006 cancellation of her paid disability benefits, her supervisor, Jeff Siegel, sent Mellenthin a letter requiring her to return to work by July 12, 2006. Mellenthin failed to return to work and her employment was terminated effective July 13, 2006.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is granted "if 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 judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A party opposing summary judgment must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). There is no genuine issue for trial unless there is "sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Id. at 248. The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321 (1986).

Discrimination Based on Mellenthin's Gender

Under Title VII, a plaintiff may prove her employment discrimination case either by direct or indirect evidence. Direct evidence "essentially requires an admission by the decision-maker that his actions were based on the prohibited animus," Venturelli v. ARC Cmty. Servs., Inc., 350 F.3d 592, 599 (7th Cir. 2003), and is "rarely found." Radue v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 219 F.3d 612, 616 (7th Cir. 2000). When a plaintiff lacks direct evidence, she may utilize the burden-shifting method of proof established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The McDonnell Douglas framework requires the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating that she: (1) belongs to a protected class, (2) performed her job to his employer's legitimate expectations, (3) suffered an adverse employment action despite performing satisfactorily, and (4) received less favorable treatment than similarly-situated employees outside the protected class. Hildebrandt v. Ill. Dep't of Nat'l Res., 347 F.3d 1014, 1030 (7th Cir. 2003); Hughes v. Brown, 20 F.3d 745, 746 (7th Cir. 1994). If the plaintiff succeeds, the ...


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