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Enriquez v. United States Cellular Corp.

November 14, 2008

VERONICA ENRIQUEZ; SHEERCE MULLINS; ANGELINA SANCHEZ; NICOLE SKOPIS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES CELLULAR CORPORATION, A DELAWARE CORPORATION; CLAYTON WELCH, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN CAPACITY AS AN EMPLOYEE OF U.S. CELLULAR, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Virginia M. Kendall, United States District Judge Northern District of Illinois

Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Veronica Enriquez ("Enriquez"), Sheerce Mullins ("Mullins"), Angelina Sanchez ("Sanchez") and Nicole Skopis ("Skopis") (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed suit against United States Cellular Corporation ("USCC") and Clayton Welch ("Welch") (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiffs allege sex discrimination in the form of sexual harassment*fn1 and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") against USCC. Additionally, Sanchez alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law against Welch and USCC. Defendants moved for summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons set forth below, their motions for summary judgment are granted.

STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

I. Background

USCC maintains a wireless telecommunications network and it also operates retail stores that sell cellular telephones and related items. Plaintiffs worked at the USCC retail store in Bedford Park, Illinois. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1.)*fn2 Enriquez worked as a part-time wireless consultant for USCC beginning November 8, 2004. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.) Enriquez reported directly to Sales Supervisor Samuel Vallez ("Vallez"). (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 9.) Skopis became a part-time cashier/greeter for USCC on May 2, 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.) Skopis asked Welch several times to move her to a sales position at the store, but never submitted an internal application form pursuant to USCC's guidelines for promotions and transfers. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 19-20.) USCC hired Sanchez as a part-time cashier/greeter on September 6, 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 11.) Sanchez reported directly to Vallez until October 2005, when she began to report to Welch. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 12.) She held that same position as a full-time employee beginning November 1, 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 12.) On October 10, 2005, USCC hired Mullins as a full-time wireless consultant. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 21.) Welch worked as the Bedford Park Store Manager from October 2005 through April 17, 2006 and reported to the Area Sales Manager, Noel Hornsberry ("Hornsberry"). (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.) Associate Relations Manager Tracey Banks-Giles ("Banks-Giles") provided human resources support to Hornsberry. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.)

When the Plaintiffs began their employment with USCC, they received a copy of the USCC Associate Handbook which contained the company's Harassment Policy. (Pl. 56.1Resp. ¶¶ 10, 13, 18, 23.) They also had access to USCC's Harassment Policy via the company's intranet site and knew that they could bring complaints of workplace discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation to company leadership, including human resources representatives, human resources executives and other USCC executives. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 10, 13, 18, 23.)

II. Welch's Behavior

a. Towards Enriquez

Enriquez claims that Welch sexually harassed her beginning in November 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 24.) At that time, she asked Welch for a change in her work schedule. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 25.) In response, Welch asked her to "lay across [his] desk in some lingerie," laughed, and granted her request. (Id.) Around that same time, Welch began to make comments regarding the physical appearances of women entering the Bedford Park store. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 29.) On several occasions, he said "she's got a nice ass," "damn, she's fine," and "if you have a nice ass you can work at U.S. Cellular" when female customers entered the store. (Id.) At some later time, Welch sent Enriquez text messages such as "those black pants look good on your ass," and "your scent is still in my office" when she wore perfume. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 26.) Additionally, Welch made several comments to her, including "you have a nice body." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27.) Enriquez overheard Welch tell Vallez that he "can't wait for [a co-worker] to wear that skirt again because she looked really good in it." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 30.) In approximately December 2005, Welch attempted to kiss Enriquez while she was in his office. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 28.) She immediately left his office. Welch later called her to apologize if he made her feel uncomfortable. (Id.) When the store ordered new uniform shirts for its employees in March 2006, Welch told her that her "tits are going to look nice in that shirt." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 27.) After each incident, Enriquez returned to work, completed her shift, and continued to work with Welch on a daily basis. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 26-28.)

b. Towards Sanchez

Sanchez claims that Welch sexually harassed her beginning in February 2006. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 32.) In February 2006, Welch told her "you have got a nice ass." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 33.) In response, Sanchez asked him not to say that again. (Id.) Around that same time, he told her that her "shirt looked nice and tight" and he asked to see her breasts on two occasions. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 34.) She responded by telling him to stop treating her with disrespect. (Id.) After that, Welch asked to see her breasts several more times. (Id.) In March 2006, Welch asked her "when are you going to let me lick your tits?" (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 35.) Around that same time, Welch told Sanchez that he "took a bottle of water, and [he] showed [Mullins] the best time of her life." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 36.)

Sanchez heard Welch make comments to other male employees when female customers entered the store, such as "damn, look at her ass. We need to get her to work here." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 37.) When female job applicants entered the store, Welch would ask Sanchez "how does [the applicant] look?" (Id.) In late March 2006, Sanchez had a disagreement with Welch regarding four hours of sick time. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 38.) Welch accused her of stealing the time, and notified her that such behavior could constitute grounds for termination. (Id.) Sanchez responded to him, "what, I wouldn't let you see my tits, and now you're trying to fire me." (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.) Welch told Sanchez that he "could have her taken care of" because he belonged to the Freemasons. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.) After that incident, he sent her text messages stating, "And u should b careful what u say behind my back because people tell me [sic]" and "I don't disrespect women and don't threaten my job that is not wise this is what happens when u don't mind ur own bus [sic]." (Id.) Sanchez did not lose her job over the incident, but after that, she claims that she did not feel comfortable being around Welch. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 38, 70.) Nonetheless, after each incident with Welch, Sanchez returned to work, finished her shift, and continued to work with Welch on a daily basis. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 35.)

c. Towards Skopis

Skopis claims that Welch sexually harassed her beginning in November 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 40.) Around that time, he told Skopis that she was pretty. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 41.) He then called Skopis into his office to tell her that he wanted to go out for drinks with her and get her drunk so he could take advantage of her and have her do things with him that would probably cause trouble for him. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 42.) He then asked her if she felt uncomfortable. She responded that she did not. (Id.) Beginning in November 2005, she overheard Welch make comments regarding female customers in the store several times a week. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 46.) For example, Skopis overheard Welch say, "Wow, look at her. She is pretty. Look at her body. Get her an application." (Id.). In December 2005, Skopis told Welch that she "will do anything around here" if he would permit her to leave her shift early on that day. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 43.) He then pulled her into his office and asked, "So what do you mean by anything? Are you serious when you say anything, you will do anything?" (Id.) She responded, "I meant anything work-related. You are taking it the wrong way." (Id.) Welch replied, "Oh, so now you are just teasing me" and allowed her to leave her shift early. (Id.) In rejecting Welch's advances, Skopis reminded Welch that he had a wife, to which he responded, "don't play the marriage card with me" and "it's not [my wife's] business what I do outside my marriage." (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1.) After each incident with Welch, Skopis returned to work and finished her shift without any trouble. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 42.)

Also in December 2005, Welch and Skopis attended a Christmas party hosted at a co-worker's house. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 44.) At the party, Welch whispered to Skopis, "You look good enough to eat right now." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 44.) Later that night, when Skopis sat on the edge of a pool table, Welch approached her, pushed her legs open, and picked her up to dance, holding her with her legs around his waist for approximately thirty seconds. (Id.) While he held her, Skopis hit him and told him to let her down. (Id.) He then placed her down when he realized that she felt uncomfortable. (Id.) After the Christmas party, Welch sent Skopis several text messages. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 45.) The first message stated that Skopis "had a bad boy for a boss and she didn't know the things he could do with her." (Id.) The second message stated that Welch "was going to get himself into trouble for talking to her like that." (Id.) In the third message, Welch told her that "he liked it when she wore her hair down because that does it for him." (Id.) Skopis did not speak to him regarding the messages. (Id.) After the Christmas party, Welch told Skopis to speak to Vallez about her desire to switch into a sales position. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 19.) However, she did not submit an approved internal application for the position, which USCC requires for internal promotions and transfers. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 20.)

d. Towards Mullins

Mullins alleges that Welch sexually harassed her beginning in October 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 49.) In February 2006, she bought a Valentine's Day present for Welch. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 52.) Also in February 2006, he sent her a text message telling her, "Let's elope to the Bahamas." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 50.) Mullins thought the message was funny. (Id.) Later that month, Welch sent her a message to "meet [him] at this hotel." (Id.) Later, when she did not answer his phone calls, he sent her two messages saying, "You might as well call me back or else." (Id.) Another time, Welch called her and said, "Let's go out. When we [sic] going to hook up?" (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 51.) On two occasions, Welch attempted to kiss Mullins in his office. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 52.) On two other occasions, Welch lifted Mullins by the outside of her thighs and called her "juicy." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 53.)

e. Miscellaneous

At some point after Plaintiffs rejected Welch's advances, Mullins, Sanchez and Skopis had their work schedules changed so that they would have to work nights. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 12.) However, they were not the only USCC employees at the Bedford Park store that experienced schedule changes. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 68.) Rather, Skopis stated that "everyone had to switch up their schedule [to work] days, nights [or] weekends sometimes." (Id.) Additionally, at some point before Plaintiffs reported Welch's behavior internally, Welch told Mullins that she was fired for wearing a USCC-issued Chicago White Sox shirt to work. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 69.) Immediately after that, he told Mullins that she was not fired. (Id.) After this incident, Mullins continued to work for USCC at the Bedford Park store. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 69, 62.)

During a store meeting in March 2006, Welch told employees that complaining to Hornsberry would be useless because Welch "is [Hornsberry's] boy" and Hornsberry "has his back." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 65.) During that same meeting, he told the Bedford Park employees that what happens in the Bedford Park store stays in the Bedford Park store. (Id.) However, Welch did not make those comments in connection with a discussion of sexual harassment reporting procedures. (Id.)

III. Plaintiffs' Behavior

At some point during their employments with USCC, Enriquez and Skopis attended a strip club together. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 76.) Skopis did not feel offended at the strip club, and she even gave one of her male co-workers a "stripper pole" for his twenty-first birthday. (Id.) Sanchez has exchanged text messages that contained sexual jokes with her co-workers. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 77.) On one such occasion, she received a text message containing images of cartoon characters engaging in oral sex. (Id.) That message did not make Sanchez feel uncomfortable, and she forwarded the message to Mullins. (Id.) Mullins did not feel offended by the images, either. (Id.) On another occasion, Sanchez shared a text message with her co-workers that included images of nude people "gyrating" on top of each other. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 78.) In March 2006, Sanchez sent a picture of a woman's buttocks to Vallez with the message, "Here you go. You can take it wherever you go. Ha, ha, ha." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 79.) On another occasion, Mullins shared pictures of herself with Sanchez, including nude pictures of Mullins, as well as pictures featuring Mullins wearing lingerie. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 80.) Mullins claims that she did not share the images with Welch. (Id.) Nevertheless, Welch had somehow obtained copies of the pictures. (Id.)

IV. Reporting Welch and Subsequent Events

On Sunday, April 2, 2006, Sanchez reported Welch's behavior to Hornsberry, saying, "I am being harassed by Clayton [Welch], and I can't take it no [sic] more." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 55.) Because Hornsberry was not available to handle Sanchez's claim on that day, he offered to get back to her, and she agreed. (Id.) A few days later, Hornsberry called Sanchez and asked her to compose an email to him that contained all of her allegations, but she refused. (Id.) On April 5, 2006, Enriquez and Skopis met with a lawyer to discuss Welch's behavior. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 56.) Sanchez and Mullins met with the same lawyer the next day. (Id.) On April 7, 2006, Sanchez called the USCC ethics line and reported Welch's behavior. (Id.) On April 8, 2006, Sanchez left a message regarding Welch for Banks-Giles, and Banks-Giles set up a meeting to speak with Sanchez in person. (Id.) Sanchez then met with Hornsberry and Banks-Giles on April 12, 2006. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 57.) Sanchez received the rest of that day off, with pay, and then went on vacation until April 25, 2006. (Id.) After Sanchez met with Banks-Giles and Hornsberry, Enriquez called Banks-Giles to report Welch. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 58.) The following week, Banks-Giles and Hornsberry met with Enriquez to discuss her complaints in person. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 59.) After the meeting, Enriquez never worked with Welch again, and she admits that he did not sexually harass her after she complained. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 60.)

Skopis and Mullins never filed complaints with USCC regarding Welch. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 62, 63.) However, they each met with Banks-Giles and Hornsberry as a part of USCC's investigation into Welch's conduct. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 62, 63.) During the course of the investigation, Hornsberry and Banks-Giles conducted between twenty five and thirty interviews. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 64.) As a result of USCC's investigation, Hornsberry suspended Welch on April 12, 2006, and the company terminated Welch's employment on April 17, 2006. (Id.)

When Sanchez returned from her vacation on April 25, 2006, she transferred from the Bedford Park store to USCC's Crestwood, Illinois retail store. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 15.) She had previously requested a transfer to USCC's Oak Lawn, Illinois retail store, but Hornsberry assigned her to the Crestwood store. (Id.) Also on April 25, 2006, Sanchez's employee status changed in the USCC employee database. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 10.) Although Sanchez remained a full-time employee at USCC, the computer system classified her as a part-time employee. (Id.) Because the system reflected a change in her status, Sanchez received notification that her benefits, including health insurance, had ended. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 67.) Sanchez called the USCC Human Resources department to straighten the situation out. (Id.) She now admits that USCC corrected its employee database to reflect her status as a full-time employee, that she "never lost anything in terms of insurance," that the mix up "didn't affect her in any way," and that she "suffered no harm" as a result of the temporary change of her employment status in the computer system. (Id.)

In May 2006, Sanchez received a referral to a psychiatrist after telling her physician that she felt depressed. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 71.) However, despite the referral, she did not see a psychiatrist. (Id.) In late June 2006, Sanchez received the transfer to USCC's Oak Lawn retail store that she had requested in November 2005. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 15.) Beginning in July 2006, Sanchez began to experience signs or symptoms of depression. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 74.) On July 11, 2006, Sanchez went to South Suburban Hospital because she experienced chest pains and felt "really down" because her former co-workers from USCC's Crestwood store believed that she caused Welch's termination for no reason, and also because she argued a lot with her husband. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 72.) After checking into South Suburban Hospital, she was involuntarily committed to a mental institution, Methodist Psychiatric Institution, for one night. (Id.) At Methodist, she told her doctor that she had no issues at work, and that she had been admitted to the institution by mistake. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 73.) Her doctor provided her with several resources for support and counseling, but she did not seek further mental health treatment at any time. (Id.)

After Plaintiffs met with Hornsberry and Banks-Giles, other USCC employees blamed Plaintiffs for Welch's termination. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ΒΆ 66.) Enriquez overheard one of her co-workers tell another co-worker ...


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