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Taylor v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

February 24, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning


Plaintiff Denise Taylor brings suit against defendants Exxon Mobil Corporation, Station Operators, Inc., and Azhar Siddiqui, for employment discrimination. Taylor alleges that the defendants subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her race. Defendants Exxon Mobil and Station Operators, Inc. have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons provided below, the motion is granted. Any references in this memorandum and order to "defendants" refers to Exxon Mobil Corporation and Station Operators, Inc. unless otherwise indicated.

I. Facts

Denise Taylor is a black woman and a former employee of defendant SOI, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of defendant Exxon Mobil. Taylor began working as a sales associate for SOI on or about December 8, 2003, at a service station in Wheeling, Illinois. Taylor was hired to work part-time but changed from part-time to full-time status in September 2004. In May 2004, Azhar Siddiqui became the store manager for the Wheeling service station where Taylor worked. Siddiqui offered to promote Taylor to the position of assistant store manager on several occasions, but Taylor declined.

According to the defendants, in February 2005, Taylor received a verbal warning, documented in writing (see Exh. 14 to Taylor's deposition, Defendants' Exhibits, Vol. 3 at 101), for clocking in before the start of her shift and clocking out late at the end of her shift without her manager's permission. The document contains a handwritten note at the bottom stating "refused to accept" and Taylor testified at her deposition that she did not recall receiving such a warning.

On or about April 21, 2005, Taylor and Siddiqui had a disagreement about Taylor's schedule. According to Taylor, Siddiqui had changed her hours and was requiring Taylor to work at a time when she had already planned to visit her father in the hospital. Taylor, upset about the schedule change and Siddiqui's refusal to accommodate her own schedule, started to cry and told Siddiqui that she needed to leave the store to "get some air." Siddiqui treated her departure as though she had quit. Indeed, when Taylor reported for work the next day, April 22, 2005, her co-workers told her that Siddiqui said she had quit, though Siddiqui was not at the store on that day. According to Taylor, one of the other employees, Courtney Leipis, called Siddiqui who told Leipis that Taylor had to write a "statement" before she would be allowed to get her job back. The statement, hand written by Taylor, states:

I [sic] Denise, walked out on 4-21-05, not realizing that Azhar thought that this meant I was quitting. But I apologized about my behavior and [sic] that I am sorry that this may have upset him or anyone else. I had needed to leave because I was very upset, I didn't know if I left I was giving up my job. But I do realize this now. I will not let this happen again.

The statement is signed "Denise Taylor, 4-22-05" and includes other employees' signatures underneath Taylor's. In her deposition, Taylor testified that the statement was false, that she did nothing wrong, and that she only signed the statement in order to regain her job.

The last day that Taylor performed work at the Wheeling service station was May 25, 2005. Taylor was in the process of signing off of her register at the end of her shift when she was approached by assistant store manager Courtney Leipis. According to Taylor, Leipis approached her and kept telling her to "hurry up" and to clock out. After Taylor finished with her register, she went to the back office to talk with Leipis about what Leipis had said to her. Taylor told Leipis, "I never disrespect you. Why would you do that to me."

While Taylor and Leipis were talking, Siddiqui approached them and Taylor told Siddiqui what had happened between her and Leipis. Siddiqui told Taylor that she needed to change her ways and that he was sick of her. Taylorresponded by telling Siddiqui that since she could not talk to him, she was going to talk to Carlos Corniffe, the territory manager. According to Taylor, Siddiqui replied that she was being insubordinate and that she was to give him her keys to the store, because she was fired. Taylor gave Siddiqui her keys, and then left the service station and went home.

Upon arriving at home, Taylor phoned Corniffe, whom she testified is African-American, and told him what had happened between her and Siddiqui. Corniffe told Taylor that Siddiqui did not have the authority to fire her and that Siddiqui would have to consult with him before firing her. Corniffe also told Taylor that he was going to schedule a meeting with her and Siddiqui to discuss what had happened. After talking with Corniffe, Taylor received a phone message from Siddiqui stating that there was going to be a meeting between the three of them after the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Taylor never attended the meeting with Corniffe and Siddiqui because her family members told her she didn't have to. Taylor also states in her response that she did not attend the meeting because: (1) she felt that she would not have been hired back anyway, (2) they would have "double-teamed" her without allowing her the opportunity to defend herself, (3) Siddiqui had sent the police to her home on a false charge against her son, and (4) she had suffered such a loss of dignity and suffered so much stress that even if Corniffe had re-hired her she would not have been able to return to work.

Taylornever returned to work at SOI thereafter. She has been employed by BP Amoco at its retail location in Wheeling, Illinois from May 2005 to the present. Taylor seeks no damages for back pay or lost benefits in this action.

The court notes that Taylor alleges that after becoming store manager, Siddiqui "undertook a plan to terminate the employment of all black employees working at the Wheeling facility and replace them with non-black employees." Specifically, Taylor identified the following black employees as having been fired from the Wheeling service station by Siddiqui: Sandra Brown, Robin Beasley, Joe Meadows and Tarleace Beard. The court addresses specific facts related to these individuals as relevant in the text of this order. Moreover, other relevant facts are discussed as necessary in the analysis section of this order.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper when the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of any material fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court construes all the facts and the reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in favor of the non-movant. Warren v. Solo Cup Co., 516 F.3d 627, 629 (7th Cir. 2008). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The nonmoving party may not merely rest upon the allegations or details in her pleadings, but instead, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

III. Analysis

A. What Claims is Taylor Alleging?

In her amended complaint, Taylor alleges two counts: Count I is styled as a "race discrimination" claim against ExxonMobil Corporation and SOI under Title VII while Count II is styled as a hostile work environment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against all three defendants.

In their motion for summary judgment, the defendants argue that Taylor cannot establish a prima facie case of race discrimination. In her response, Taylor denies that she is alleging a disparate treatment claim under Title VII. Rather, she states that "[t]he Amended Complaint alleges that these firings [of SOI's black employees] created a hostile work environment violating both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I) and Section 1981 of [the] Civil Rights Act of 1868", which is presumably Count II. Taylor seems to be playing fast and loose with the court. Count I is styled "race discrimination" and makes absolutely no mention of a purported hostile work environment claim. Instead, Count I alleges that "[b]y terminating plaintiff's employment defendants, Exxon, [sic] and SOI have willfully and intentionally discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of her race." Amended Comp. at ¶ 18.

In contrast, Count II is specifically styled as one based on the "creation of [a] hostile work environment" and expressly alleges that "[p]laintiff was subject to the unwelcome harassment described above", "[t]he harassment plaintiff suffered was based on his [sic] race", and "[t]he harassment described above was severe and pervasive so as to have altered the conditions of the employee's environment and to have created a hostile and/or abusive working environment." Id. at ¶¶22-24. It is clear from the allegations in Count II that Taylor knows how to allege a hostile work environment claim and chose not to do so in Count I. Accordingly, the court rejects Taylor's attempt to transform her disparate treatment claim in Count I to a hostile work environment claim under Title VII. Because Taylor states that she is not bringing a disparate treatment claim, summary judgment as to Count I is granted in favor of the defendants.

In any event, because hostile work environment claims brought under Section 1981 are evaluated "under the same rubric as Title VII claims," the same analysis undertaken below would apply even if Taylor had properly brought a Title VII hostile work environment claim in Count I. Herron v. Daimler Chrysler Corp., 388 F.3d 293, 299 (7th Cir. 2004); see also Sublett v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 463 F.3d 731, 736 (7th Cir. 2006) (stating that "'[a]lthough section 1981 and Title VII differ in the types of discrimination they proscribe, the methods of proof and elements of the case are essentially identical'")(quoting Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, Ind., 91 F.3d 922, 940 (7th Cir. 1996)).

B. Hostile Work Environment

In order to establish a hostile work environment, Taylor must demonstrate the existence of the following four factors: (1) she was subject to unwelcome harassment; (2) the harassment was based on her race; (3) the harassment unreasonably interfered with her work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment that seriously affected her psychological well-being; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability. Herron, 388 F.3d at 302 (citation and quotation marks omitted). A hostile work environment must be "'so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment.'" Rhodes v. Ill. Dep't. of Transp., 359 F.3d 498, 506 (7th Cir. 2004)(quoting Hilt-Dyson v. City of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 462-63 (7th Cir. 2002)). Moreover, the working environment must be "both subjectively and objectively offensive." Herron, 388 F.3d at 302. In determining whether a plaintiff has established a hostile work environment, the court must look at "the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating or a mere offensive utterance, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance." Id. at 303.

The defendants assert that Taylor has not established that she was subjected to a hostile work environment because she has not demonstrated that the alleged harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive such that it unreasonably interfered with her work performance.*fn1 Taylor responds that the following evidence supports her hostile work environment claim:

[Siddiqui's] failure to replace the terminated black employees with black job applicants, the racial comments made regarding black job applicants, the fact that plaintiff's hours were cut in response to her inquiries regarding black job applicants, . . . , the racial comments directed at plaintiff and her sons, and the attempt to frame plaintiff with a phony lottery theft charge.

Response at 9. In another part of her response, Taylor states that she was: subjected to [Siddiqui's] racially offensive language. Plaintiff also had her hours cut in response to her inquire [sic] as to why no black job applicants were being hired. Further, plaintiff ...

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