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Meyer v. City of Springfield

January 8, 2009

PATRICIA MEYER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills United States District Judge

OPINION

RICHARD MILLS, U.S. District Judge

Patricia Meyer brings this case pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., based upon the City of Springfield's termination of her employment, which she alleges was because of her gender.

Pending before the Court is the City's motion for summary judgment. The motion is allowed.

I. BACKGROUND

(A)

Plaintiff Patricia Meyer was employed by Defendant City of Springfield as Assistant Waterworks Operator I from November 12, 1996, until October 25, 2003. Meyer held the position of Water Works Maintenance Person from October 26, 2003, until her termination with the City on September 20, 2005.

In support of its summary judgment motion, the City notes that Meyer had several disciplinary incidents before her termination. She received a three-day suspension on August 15, 2003, for failing to check the carbon feed pumps as required and for recording false data. Meyer received a written warning on October 5, 2003, for falsifying data when she partially pre-filled a data sheet with carbon data and an operator checklist prior to the performance of her actual rounds. She was told in writing that "[f]urther incidents of this nature will result in further progressive discipline, up to and including termination." Meyer received a written warning on February 26, 2004, for failing to perform chlorine inspections and was told in writing that further incidents could result in her termination.

The City alleges that Meyer was terminated on September 20, 2005, because of an incident three months earlier when she failed to properly monitor a lime slaker, and a history of other disciplinary actions. Meyer claims that she was terminated because of the City's discrimination on the basis of gender.

On June 24, 2005, it was Meyer's responsibility to monitor the lime slaker by reviewing the pH levels to ensure that, if a problem occurred, it would be addressed immediately. Ted Meckes, the General Superintendent of Water Treatment, and Jim Zeigler, a Senior Operator, both stated that Meyer should have monitored the raw pH computer screen every fifteen minutes. Meyer alleges she acted reasonably in checking the lime slaker.

Computer generated records indicate that the lime slaker was not feeding lime into the water system or was doing so for a very short period of time from 7:40 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. on June 24, 2005, which caused a significant drop in the pH level. Meyer states that the lime slaker was feeding, but on an intermittent basis. The drop in the pH informed Meyer that she had a problem with the lime slaker and she needed to feed lime into the water supply. Meyer alleges the drop indicated she had a potential problem. However, the investigation revealed that the lime slaker was feeding and that the reason for the drop was that employees were cleaning the filter. Greg Selinger, a senior maintenance man, testified during the civil service hearing he would have gone to the lime slaker if he had seen the pH monitor readings "because that's what happens when the slaker stops feeding [lime]." Selinger testified, moreover, that the computer screens indicated that the lime slaker had stopped feeding.

The City alleges that two visual alarms went off signifying that lime was not being fed into the water supply, but Meyer failed to respond to the alarms even though she acknowledged them. Meyer disputes this assertion, stating that she investigated the first visual alarm and determined that the slaker was feeding and that there was a reason for the drop in pH. She responded to the second visual alarm, found that the lime slaker was not feeding and took appropriate action.

According to the testimony of Selinger, he took charge of the situation and told Meyer what to do and how to handle the situation. He stated he was "calling the shots" by instructing Meyer how to react to the crisis. The City further alleges that while this was occurring, Meyer was on the telephone for long periods of time with individuals who she thought might be able to help. Meyer states that Selinger was not "calling the shots." Moreover, she was on the phone consulting with knowledgeable persons concerning how best to correct the low pH.

(B)

This incident resulted in an elevated turbidity level in the City's drinking water. This is illustrated by charts that show filters 9-12 all exceeded 1.0 NTU for two consecutive measurements taken fifteen minutes apart. The four filters were out of EPA compliance according to Kim Lucas, the chemist who checked the EPA regulations, and David Cook, the EPA Regional Manager. In addition, all twelve filters exceeded 0.3 NTU. Meyer contends that the City did not have to issue a drinking water alert, there was no health danger as a result of the loss of lime feeding function and no fines or penalties were assessed. The City alleges that excessive turbidity in the water can cause microorganisms, viruses and bacteria to pass into the water system, which can cause members of the public to become sick and lose confidence in the City's water supply.

The City states that paperwork had to be submitted to the EPA notifying them of the triggering event caused by the malfunctioning lime slaker. This was the first time that this type of reporting involving elevated turbidity readings had to be made to the EPA, according to Meckes's testimony. Tom Skelly, the Water Division Manager, said that the turbidity readings were the highest recorded in the plant's history.

Meyer was asked by Kim Lucas what her 11:00 a.m. on-line combined turbidity reading was on the day of the incident. Meyer did not take an 11:00 a.m. reading, but took a reading at 12:50 p.m. that showed a .23 NTU reading. At approximately 1:00 p.m., Meyer called Lucas and told her that the 11:00 reading was .23 NTU, which is within normal operating limits. Meyer also recorded the .23 NTU reading on the data sheet.

The City contends that Meyer gave Lucas a fabricated reading of .23 NTU for the 11:00 a.m. reading, when the actual reading was .62 NTU. Meyer claims that the reading of .23 NTU was a true reading. A reading of .62 NTU indicates that the turbidity level is elevated due to the fact that lime was not feeding into the system for a two hour period. Meyer alleges that the lime was feeding intermittently during this period and was only off for 30-45 minutes. The City alleges that Meyer's 11:00 a.m. reported reading would indicate that lime was feeding properly into the water supply and that the problem had been taken care of when in fact it had not. Moreover, that reading would have deceived the EPA because the City would have reported that 100% of its June samples for combined turbidity readings were under .30 NTU, rather than the actual 99.7%. Meckes was required to report the corrected .62 NTU reading to the EPA. Meyer notes, however, that the computer system recorded the values continuously and on an instantaneous basis, regardless of the information she provided.

According to Selinger, the crisis was under control by 11:00. He and Meyer were waiting to see how the chemicals were going to react. Meyer disputes these assertions, stating she was busy trying to resolve the low pH and did not have time to take an 11:00 reading. The problem was not yet under control and, though it had begun to improve, Selinger lowered the polymer feed, causing the turbidity to rise again and the problem was exacerbated. Selinger testified that he would have taken readings had she asked him.

Meyer agreed with Meckes's testimony when she testified that she was told during the carbon feed incident that she should record the actual time she obtained the readings. Skelly testified it was never appropriate to have inaccurate data in the water treatment process. Meyer disputes this to the extent that it was a practice not to change times on preprinted forms.

The City contends that although Meyer failed to notify the relevant individuals about the water supply, she did call her brother-in-law, Greg Finigan, who is not in her chain of command and did not receive training in the water treatment process. Meyer alleges that although Finigan was not trained by the City, he is a chemist who understood the water treatment process and had been consulted by the City before. Bob Morgan, the Plant Manager, testified that it was normal procedure when a major event occurred to notify either Ted Meckes or himself. Meyer claims ...


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