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Andonissamy v. Hewlett-Packard Co.

November 7, 2008


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Nos. 04 C 2521 & 05 C 3080-William J. Hibbler, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge


Before FLAUM, WILLIAMS, SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Sanjay Andonissamy worked as technician for Hewlett-Packard, assigned to the Qwest Cyber Center in Chicago, Illinois, from April 2001 to June 2003. He brought an employment discrimination suit against Hewlett-Packard in the Northern District of Illinois after his termination, alleging that Hewlett-Packard created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, retaliated against him for reporting the hostile work environment to his superiors, and denied him medical leave in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Andonissamy also sued Qwest for violating his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and sued Ken Smith, his former supervisor, for assault under Illinois law. The district court dismissed Andonissamy's assault claim after Smith filed a motion to dismiss because the statute of limitations had lapsed, and the remainder of Andomissamy's suit upon the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Andonissamy appeals on the Title VII claims, the § 1981 claim, the Family and Medical Leave Act claim, and the dismissal of the assault claim. For the following reasons, we affirm the district court's grant of the motion for summary judgment and the motion to dismiss.

I. Background

Sanjay Andonissamy began working for Hewlett-Packard in April 2001, as a systems engineer assigned to the Qwest Cyber Center in Chicago. Andonissamy is a citizen of France of Indian ethnicity, and his employment was based on Hewlett-Packard's sponsorship of his H-1B visa. Classified as a TSG-2 technician, Andonissamy's primary responsibilities included providing technical support to Qwest data centers and to Qwest customers.

Andonissamy and Hewlett-Packard offer divergent accounts of Andonnissamy's tenure with the company. Andonissamy alleges that, in the wake of September 11, 2001, Smith created a hostile work environment by directing numerous racist comments at Andonissamy, and that he was placed on remedial performance plans either as retaliation for his complaints to human resources about his work environment, or because of his supervisor's personal animus towards him. Hewlett-Packard, on the other hand, alleges that Andonissamy was an abusive and unprofessional co-worker who was terminated after the company gave him numerous warnings about his insubordination and disrespectful comments.

Andonissamy's employment discrimination suit is based on a series of comments from Smith. First, Andonissamy claims that sometime after September 11, Smith said in conversation with Andonissamy that, "All of Asia should be smashed," and used his hands in a way that indicated that he meant South Asia specifically; second, that Smith told Andonissamy that people like him should be hanged from trees as African-Americans had been hanged; third, that people out of college in the United States were unable to find jobs because people like Andonissamy had taken them; fourth, that jobs should be reserved for Americans; fifth, that no matter how much Andonissamy worked he would never be like his co-workers; sixth, that Smith claimed when reviewing resumes that he would look for resumes with American-sounding names. Andonissamy also claims that he was involved in a fight with two co-workers who called Andonissamy an "Indian racist bastard" and who then spoke with Smith after the fight ended.

Andonissamy claims that he expressed his frustration with Smith several times during his tenure with Hewlett-Packard. He sent complaints to Russell Lewis, Smith's supervisor, in October 2002, April 2003, and May 2003. Andonissamy alleges that in October 2002 and May 2003, he was issued performance warnings after complaining to Lewis. Andonissamy finally claims that in May 2003, he was suspended after Smith made a false report to human resources that Andonissamy had said "We will all have a big surprise," a report that Andonissamy claims was designed to make him look like a security threat. Human resources then conducted an investigation into the remark, which Andonissamy claims led to his firing on June 23, 2003.

Andonissamy bases his Family and Medical Leave Act claim on his treatment for depression and anxiety, which began at some point in 2002 and lasted until the end of his employment with Hewlett-Packard in 2003. Smith learned in late 2002 that Andonissamy took medication. Andonissamy claims that his condition worsened after the death of his brother and nephew in March 2003 and April 2003, respectively, and that he was not given leave to attend their funerals. He also missed work on two occasions due to illness in May 2003. While Andonissamy was taking medicine for depression from 2002 to 2003, his treating physician examined him on four separate occasions and did not place any restrictions on his daily activities or work. Nor did his physician diagnose Andonissamy with clinical depression.

Hewlett-Packard offers a different version of events. In January 2002, Andonissamy's supervisor, Ken Smith, gave him his first performance review. While Smith found that Andonissamy's technical skills were strong, he also noted that Andonissamy could improve his relationships with co-workers and customers. A few months after the first performance review, several of Andonissamy's colleagues complained that Andonissamy had treated them rudely, and Smith informed him of those charges in an e-mail. Another complaint, that Andonissamy had been rude to a Qwest employee in an e-mail, followed shortly thereafter. In October 2002, Smith placed Andonissamy on a performance plan to monitor his work for forty-five days, after a customer of the Qwest Cyber Center had network outages that were partly attributed to Andonissamy.

Hewlett-Packard's concerns about Andonissamy's performance grew. In 2002, Andonissamy refused to train a co-worker to serve as his back-up, despite repeated requests from Smith that he do so. On March 28, 2003, Smith contacted Lewis about an argument he had with Andonissamy when the latter refused to attend an installation for a customer. On March 31, 2003, Carol Dixon-Woolfolk, an employee of Hewlett-Packard's human resources department, began investigating Andonissamy's performance issues. During her investigation, Dixon-Woolfolk interviewed Andonissamy's co-workers, who reported that Smith frequently bore the brunt of Andonissamy's abusive yelling. Those same co-workers testified that Andonissamy screamed at them and talked down to them, sent condescending e-mails to Qwest employees, and failed to meet deadlines or follow instructions.

On April 16, 2003, Dixon-Woolfolk recommended that Hewlett-Packard issue Andonissamy a performance warning. Smith issued this warning on May 5, 2003, although Andonissamy refused to sign it. The warning listed the five most recent examples of insubordination and inappropriate conduct, including two incidents that had caused a Qwest employee to complain to Smith. Andonissamy, in response to the warning, then sent an e-mail to Lewis and Dixon-Woolfolk complaining about Smith. After the warning, Andonissamy continued to submit work late, missed scheduled installations, and refused to train a back-up.

In June 2003, in response to the concerns of Qwest employees about Andonissamy's behavior, Qwest refused to authorize Andonissamy's return to the Cyber Center. Lewis then decided to terminate ...

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