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Jeffrey v. Met Logistics

March 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: District Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Plaintiff Alison K. Jeffrey ("Plaintiff") claims that she was discriminated against by her employer Defendant Met Logistics, Inc. ("MET"), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. MET filed a motion for summary judgment [66] and both parties filed motions to strike some or all of the other party's Local Rule 56.1 statements [76, 81]. For the following reasons, the Court denies both motions to strike [76, 81] and grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment [66].

I. Motions to Strike

A party who wishes to argue that portions of an opposing party's statement of facts contain errors or are inadmissible on evidentiary grounds may file a motion to strike those portions of the statement. Goltz v. University of Notre Dame du Lac, 177 F.R.D. 638, 640 (N.D. Ind. 1997). "Pleadings that do not conform with the local rules may be stricken at the discretion of the court." Id. at 640 (citing Bell, Boyd & Lloyd v. Tapy, 896 F.2d 1101, 1103 (7th Cir. 1990)); Pfeil v. Rogers, 757 F.2d 850, 858 (7th Cir. 1985); Graham v. Security Sav. & Loan, 125 F.R.D. 687, 688-89 (N.D. Ind. 1989), aff'd, 914 F.2d 909 (7th Cir. 1990)). Indeed, it is the function of the Court, with or without a motion to strike, to review carefully both statements of material facts and statements of genuine issues and the headings contained therein and to eliminate from consideration any argument, conclusions, and assertions that are unsupported by the documented evidence of record offered in support of the statement. See, e.g., Sullivan v. Henry Smid Plumbing & Heating Co., Inc., 2006 WL 980740, *2 n.2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 10, 2006); Tibbetts v. RadioShack Corp., 2004 WL 2203418, at *16 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2004); Rosado v. Taylor, 324 F. Supp. 2d 917, 920 n.1 (N.D. Ind. 2004). The Court is capable of redacting the statement of facts and disregarding interpretation or analysis of the facts, or unfounded assertions of fact found in the statement. The Court's scrutiny of material statements of facts applies equally to the party seeking summary judgment and the party opposing it.

For example, testimony must be based on personal knowledge. See, e.g., Joseph P. Caulfield & Assocs., Inc. v. Litho Prods., Inc., 155 F.3d 883, 888 (7th Cir. 1998) (testimony "that was necessarily speculative and lacking in foundation * * * is insufficient"); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). In addition, although the evidence supporting a factual contention need not be admissible itself, it must represent admissible evidence. By way of illustration, a deposition transcript usually is not admissible at trial but (obviously) may be used in support of summary judgment; however, a hearsay statement made during a deposition does not constitute adequate evidentiary support for a factual proposition. See Eisenstadt v. Centel Corp., 113 F.3d 738, 742 (7th Cir. 1997) ("hearsay is inadmissible in summary judgment proceedings to the same extent that it is inadmissible in a trial, except that affidavits and depositions * * * are admissible in summary judgment proceedings to establish the truth of what is attested or deposed").

In this instance, the Court need not rule on all of the particulars of the parties' motions to strike because any statements or responses that contain legal conclusions or argument, are evasive, contain hearsay or are not based on personal knowledge, are irrelevant, or are not supported by evidence in the record will not be considered by the Court in ruling on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Many of the parties' assertions comply with Local Rule 56.1; some do not. Any paragraph or fact that is not supported by record evidence will be disregarded. Indeed, the Court has not relied on any evidence as to which the admissibility is disputed in its disposition of Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

Consistent with the discussion above, the Court denies both parties' motions to strike [76 and 81] and will rely only on material statements of fact which are both admissible and supported by the record compiled at the summary judgment stage. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); L.R. 56.1; see also Davis v. Elec. Ins. Trs., 519 F. Supp. 2d 834, 836 (N.D. Ill. 2007); Lawrence v. Bd. of Election Com'rs of City of Chicago, 524 F. Supp. 2d 1011, 1014 (N.D. Ill. 2007). II. Background

A. Standard

The Court takes the relevant facts from the parties' respective Local Rule 56.1 ("L.R. 56.1") statements. The Court resolves all genuine factual ambiguities in Plaintiff's favor (see Foley v. City of Lafayette, Ind., 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004)), and takes no position on whose version of disputed factual matters is correct. See, e.g., Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003) (stressing that on summary judgment, courts must look "at the evidence as a jury might, construing the record in the light most favorable to the non-movant and avoiding the temptation to decide which party's version of the facts is more likely true").

L.R. 56.1 requires that statements of facts contain allegations of material fact and that those allegations be supported by admissible record evidence. See L.R. 56.1; Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 583-85 (N.D. Ill. 2000). The Seventh Circuit repeatedly has confirmed that a district court has broad discretion to require strict compliance with L.R. 56.1. See, e.g., Koszola v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Chicago, 385 F.3d 1104, 1109 (7th Cir. 2004); Curran v. Kwon, 153 F.3d 481, 486 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Midwest Imports, Ltd. v. Coval, 71 F.3d 1311, 1317 (7th Cir. 1995) (collecting cases)). As noted above, where a party has offered a legal conclusion or a statement of fact without offering proper evidentiary support, the Court will not consider that statement. See, e.g., Malec, 191 F.R.D. at 583. Additionally, where a party improperly denies a statement of fact by failing to provide adequate or proper record support for the denial, the Court deems that statement of fact to be admitted. See L.R. 56.1(a), 56.1(b)(3)(B); see also Malec, 191 F.R.D. at 584. The requirements for a response under Local Rule 56.1 are "not satisfied by evasive denials that do not fairly meet the substance of the material facts asserted." Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. of Trs., 233 F.3d 524, 528 (7th Cir. 2000). Finally, the Court disregards any additional statements of fact contained in a party's response brief rather than in its statement of additional facts. See, e.g., Malec, 191 F.R.D. at 584 (citing Midwest Imports, 71 F.3d at l317).

B. Facts

Plaintiff Alison K. Jeffrey started as a temporary employee at Defendant Met Logistics, Inc. on December 8, 2003. According to Plaintiff, in a causal conversation early in her tenure at MET, Plaintiff mentioned to Etsuko Shibata, MET's managing director and secretary, that after Plaintiff gave birth to her first child in 1999, she had wanted to be a "stay at home mom." Pl. SOF ¶ 2. On July 19, 2004, MET offered Plaintiff a job as a full time administrative assistant. At that time, Plaintiff did not have an employment contract with MET; rather, she was an at-will employee. Her work hours were 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.*fn1 As an administrative assistant, Plaintiff performed general administrative duties and also performed certain financial, accounting, and human resources functions.

On March 11, 2005, Shibata sent Plaintiff an e-mail asking her to keep her personal phone calls to a minimum, saying that she represents "some HR responsibilities and I need to make sure that you are setting an example to the rest of the group." On March 24, 2005, Shibata sent Plaintiff another e-mail:

Unfortunately, it has been brought to my attention by several people within the office today that there has been extended non-business chatting in the office during business hours during my absence. It was particularly disturbing that the chatting was not 5-10 minutes but lasting sometimes over one hour with other co-workers. I hope you can understand my frustrations when I was informed of this by several people who noticed this on several occasions. (emphasis in original). Plaintiff responded that while she chats with co-workers from time to time, it is usually on breaks and she has "never had a conversation that lasted over an hour."

On August 11, 2005, Plaintiff received a performance appraisal from MET. In the review, Shibata noted that "Alison has been a reliable employee in terms of attendance and quality of work. Punctuality has been an area that has improved the last several months." According to Shibata, she made the punctuality comment to note a tardiness issue while encouraging Plaintiff to arrive at work on time. Def. SOF ¶ 13. Shibata claims that she verbally addressed Plaintiff's frequent tardiness prior to the performance appraisal. Def. SOF ¶ 12. Plaintiff admits that prior to the August 2005 performance appraisal, she had been late to work on more than one occasion; however, she denies that anyone at MET spoke to her about her tardiness prior to her review. On August 12, 2005, Plaintiff received an e-mail from Shibata, telling her "I need your cooperation to keep the lunch hour within the hour so we have ample phone coverage around lunch time. Just give me call if you are running late so I can be here to release others."

In September 2005, Tim Campbell, the president of MET, and Shibata had a falling out with a third MET shareholder, Mario Chen. Chen transferred his interest in MET and started a competing company called MET International.*fn2 After the change in ownership, MET reorganized and determined that it did not need a full time employee in Plaintiff's position. MET offered Plaintiff a position as a sales coordinator, effective December 1, 2005, and Plaintiff accepted the position at the same rate of pay that she was receiving as an administrative assistant. Plaintiff's new duties included assisting Jim Donovan (Operations Manager), Athena Metaxes (Marketing Manager), and the business development department in identifying potential customers, receiving requests for quotations, obtaining certain information from vendors, and preparing quotations. In addition, Plaintiff testified that it was part of her responsibilities to open one of the suites for other employees who came, and she agreed that if she was late and someone else showed up, that person would not be able to get in to the building. Jeffrey Dep. 54:1-8.

On December 12, 2005, Metaxas, Plaintiff's direct supervisor, sent her the following e-mail:

I always believe in being straight and honest with employees and to tell it like it is. I am trying to give you a heads up and to protect you. I know this is a new role for you and there is a learning curve. Just a word of advice, please try and get here on time because you know how the Chiefs [Tim Campbell and Etsuko Shibata] are about getting here on time. They notice and check those things and I was told that they have spoken to you about it before. Another thing, and just a head's up for this week, please try and be proactive and ask questions if you don't get something. Don't do it via email because with the hectic schedules that people have around here, it will most likely not get attended to and they will think that you are not doing your job. Physically walk up to them and ask to get the answers.

In response, Plaintiff thanked her for the "heads up on Friday, regarding me being late. I didn't have time to thoroughly explain * * * but again thank you, I know you were just giving me the warning." Plaintiff then said that when she is late, she always makes up the time either by staying late or coming in early on a different day.

On February 7, 2006, Plaintiff told Metaxas that she was pregnant with her second child. According to Plaintiff, Metaxas urged her to tell Campbell and Shibata, which she did the same day. Later that same day, after getting Plaintiff's approval, Metaxas sent an e-mail to other employees, announcing that one employee had gotten engaged and that Plaintiff was expecting her second child in the fall. In her affidavit, Plaintiff stated that she believed Campbell's and Shibata's attitudes toward her changed -- for the worse -- after she announced her pregnancy.

As part of her responsibilities as a sales coordinator, Plaintiff attended MET's weekly business development meetings and provided weekly recaps of customer quoting opportunities. In his affidavit, Campbell stated that he was not satisfied with Plaintiff's performance because he did not think she was well-prepared.*fn3 In her affidavit, Plaintiff contends that no one ever told her that her performance was insufficient or that Campbell was dissatisfied. However, e-mails from Metaxas on March 24 and 27, 2006, and April 4, 2006, belie Plaintiff's affidavit. On March 24, Metaxas sent Plaintiff a reminder to send out the business development agenda: "Please don't forget to put out the BD agenda soon for the meeting * * * * Chiefs will be pissed if you don't have it ready and I am just giving you fair warning." Then, on March 27, Metaxas sent Plaintiff the following e-mail:

Welcome back from your vacation. I just wanted to let you know that we had a meeting on Monday morning with all the managers about a variety of topics and one of the subjects was the quotations and proposals. Please keep in mind that we have to keep it consistent in that a quote must go out in 1 day or less if possible, unless you have to go overnight to an agent, otherwise we will never get the business. If you don't get a response from an agent overnight, let either myself or Tim or Etsuko know so we can call. I was a bit surprised and disappointed to see that we hadn't gotten the IL to Athens quote out * * * before you had left on vacation. Since this was an export quote, we could have gotten the best rate possible in the ...

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