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Zinn v. Illinois Dep't of Revenue

October 14, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on defendant Illinois Department of Revenue's ("IDOR") motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21). Zinn has responded to the motion (Doc. 23), and IDOR has replied to that response (Doc. 26).

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosed 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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396. This standard is applied with special scrutiny in cases, such as employment discrimination cases, that often turn on issues of intent and credibility. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

II. Facts

Viewing all evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in Zinn's favor, the evidence establishes the following facts for the purposes of this motion.*fn1

On April 3, 2006, the IDOR hired Zinn, an African-American man, to serve as an "auditor in training," also referred to as a "trainee," in its Fairview Heights, Illinois, office. The trainee position is a one-year entry-level position designed to train those who are not yet qualified to perform the duties of a Revenue Auditor I. The training includes intensive classroom instruction and on-the-job training in IDOR's audits and operations. Successful completion of the trainee program results in promotion to Revenue Auditor I. Unsuccessful trainees are terminated.

Gary Bigham ("Bigham"), who is white, was Zinn's supervisor. Bigham also supervised one other African-American trainee, Madonna Aldridge ("Aldridge"), a woman.

A. Offensive or Harassing Conduct

Bigham made several comments Zinn found offensive. On April 24, 2006, on Zinn's first day at the Fairview Heights office, Bigham told Zinn he should have stayed in Mississippi where he was from, asked him why he did not apply to work in Chicago where some of his family lived and told him he did not see Zinn making it as an auditor on his watch. He also told Zinn he was not allowed to share a ride to training sessions with a co-trainee who was a white female. In August 2006, Bigham repeated his comments about Zinn working in Mississippi or Chicago and about his not succeeding on Bigham's watch, adding that Zinn was not worth the salary he was being paid. In October 2006, Zinn overheard Bigham say he did not see the "retarded boy" making it on his watch. The context of the comment revealed that Bigham was talking about Zinn. At some point, Zinn reported Bigham's offensive statements to Ruby Taylor ("Taylor"), from IDOR equal employment opportunity department, and to another IDOR supervisor.

In addition, throughout Zinn's training period, Bigham was always "on his case" about his work. However, this was because Bigham was ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the audit and wanted to make sure Zinn's work was correct.

Zinn also believed Michael Schaab ("Schaab"), his assigned mentor, contributed to a hostile work environment. One time several months into the trainee program when Zinn came to Schaab with a question, Schaab told Zinn he should look up the answer for himself and called him passive. Indeed, during Zinn's training year, Bigham and Schaab would often refuse to answer Zinn's questions regarding his work, telling him to look up the answer himself. On occasion, when Zinn would ask Bigham a question, Bigham would excuse himself for a few minutes but then not return for hours. In October 2006, Zinn filed an internal discrimination complaint against Schaab and Bigham alleging they were not training or mentoring him properly, but after discussions with Taylor, he elected not to follow up on the complaint.

In addition, five or six times Zinn overheard unknown others in the bathroom at the IDOR office using the word "nigger" but not in reference to him.

B. Zinn's Work Performance

Bigham was clearly not happy with Zinn's performance from early on and told him so frequently. Some of Zinn's work had to be returned to him multiple times because of mistakes, because things needed to be added or because he did not follow instructions. Bigham thought Zinn's written explanations about the reasons for his audit decisions were too vague and insufficient for the IDOR's central office, although Zinn's explanations were similar to some other employees' explanations. Zinn closed fewer cases than most other trainees and, on at least one occasion, did not complete an audit on time, which resulted in a complaint from the business being audited. However, Bigham also asked Zinn questions he could not answer before he did more investigation and then became dissatisfied when Zinn could not answer the questions. Bigham was also dissatisfied with other aspects of Zinn's work. ...

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