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Lauderdale v. Capital Fitness

March 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Joel Lauderdale was employed as a porter/janitor in gyms operated by the Defendant until his termination in 2006. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff contends that Capitol Fitness harassed and ultimately fired him because of his race, African-American. After a period of discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied and Defendant's is granted.


The facts presented here are based primarily on Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement of material facts. Although warned of the need to comply with the court's rules [see Docket No. 29], Plaintiff's response to the Defendant's statement failed to contradict any of the Defendant's factual assertions and included very few citations to the record. (See Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts in Support of Its Mot. for Summ. J. of 9/2/2008 (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1 Response") ¶¶ 11, 21 [Docket No. 31].) His own Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts was not filed with his own motion for summary judgment, but was instead submitted only after Defendant filed a written response to Plaintiff's motion. (See Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts (hereinafter, "Pl.'s 56.1") [Docket No. 38].) The court presumes true any fact set forth in either party's Rule 56.1 statement, so long as it is supported by record citations, nevertheless construing the record in the light most generous to Plaintiff, a pro se litigant.

Capitol Fitness employed Plaintiff as a porter/janitor in several of its gyms dating back to January 2000. (EEOC Charge, Ex. A to Pl.'s Motion for Summary Judgment.) Throughout his time there, Plaintiff performed such duties as wiping down exercise equipment, cleaning the facilities, and doing laundry. (Def.'s Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter "Def.'s 56.1") [Docket No. 28] ¶ 6; Lauderdale Dep, Ex. B to Def.'s 56.1, at 27.) Plaintiff was fired and re-hired on four occasions during his tenure. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 7, 8; Lauderdale Dep. at 31, 33, 36, 38, 41.) The fifth and final termination occurred in 2006. That summer, Plaintiff and Capital Fitness's operations manager, Dave Paul, began to butt heads. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 11; Lauderdale Dep. at 45-47.) In Paul's opinion, Plaintiff was failing to perform the duties assigned him (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 11), while Plaintiff asserts that Paul treated him rudely and assigned him to duties beyond his job description. (Compl. ¶ 13; Lauderdale Dep. at 43, 63.) For instance, the two men disagreed about whether Plaintiff should be responsible for scheduling janitors' shifts. (Lauderdale Dep. at 45-46.)

The situation came to a head in late August 2006. On August 28, after some confusion over Lauderdale's responsibilities concerning an applicant for a vacant janitor position, Lauderdale left work in the middle of his shift, without permission. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12; Lauderdale Dep. at 50-53.) Lauderdale claims that Paul had previously brought the applicant in for an interview but had not hired him. (Lauderdale Dep. at 51.) On August 28, the applicant showed up for work, but because Lauderdale did not know whether or not Capitol Fitness had actually hired him, Lauderdale was uncertain whether he should assign the applicant to work. (Id. at 50-51.) When he could not get in contact with Paul, Lauderdale became "stressed out" and went home early. (Id. at 51-52.) When Lauderdale next returned to work, Paul and another manager called Lauderdale into an office and, after a heated exchange, told Lauderdale that he was fired. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 13-14.) Lauderdale admits that he was upset during this meeting; he testified that he was "about to explode." (Lauderdale Dep. at 54.) Frustrated by his difficulties with Dave Paul, Plaintiff told Mr. Paul, "I do not want to talk to you" and that he was "not going to listen" to anything the managers had to say. (Id.) A letter written by Defendant's vice president after the filing of this lawsuit, a copy of which is attached to Lauderdale's own motion, refers to Lauderdale's departure during the middle of his shift "without warning or reason" and his "insubordinate" behavior and use of "vulgar language" during the subsequent encounter. (Letter from Pierro to Lauderdale of 8/2/2007, Ex. D to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.)

Plaintiff has not identified specific direct or circumstantial evidence that race was a factor in the termination decision. He acknowledges that up to the time of his termination, no employee of Capitol Fitness suggested that Lauderdale was mistreated or fired because of his race. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 16, 17, citing Lauderdale Dep. at 78.) Dennis Pierro, a vice president of Capitol Fitness, states in an affidavit that he had "personal knowledge of the defendant's personnel matters, including matters concerning the plaintiff's employment," and that Lauderdale's race did not enter into the gym's decision to terminate him. (Pierro Aff. ¶ 6.) Self-serving as this statement may be, Lauderdale offers no evidence to rebut it. Nor does the record contain any evidence that Capitol Fitness treated similarly situated non-black employees differently than Lauderdale.*fn1 Indeed, although Plaintiff testified that Dave Paul "behav[ed] very badly," he admitted that he does not know why Paul disliked him and that he can produce no evidence that race factored into his firing. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 15, 19, citing Lauderdale Dep. at 63, 78, 79, 80, 86, 87.)

Nevertheless, on April 13, 2007, Plaintiff filed a charge against Capitol Fitness with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He alleged,

I began employment with [Capitol Fitness] as a Janitor/Porter on or about January 2, 2000. Beginning in or around August 1, 2006, my supervisor began assigning me duties that fell outside my job responsibilities. When I asked him for assistance with completing these extra assignments, he refused to help me. On or about August 29, 2006, [Capitol Fitness] discharged me.

I believe I have been discriminated against based on my race, Black, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . . . ." (EEOC Charge.) In the "Discrimination Based On" section of the charge, Lauderdale checked only the box for "Race."*fn2 (Id.) On April 26, the EEOC sent Lauderdale a Dismissal and Notice of Right to Sue, and on June 6, 2007, Plaintiff filed this suit, alleging that Capitol Fitness had discriminated against him on the basis of race when it "failed to stop harassment" and "terminated the plaintiff's employment."*fn3 (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 12.) In addition, Lauderdale alleged, "Around August 1, 2006 my supervisor began assigning me duties that fell outside my job responsibilities. When I asked the supervisor for assistant, [sic] he refused to talk with me." (Id. ¶ 13.)


Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Bennington v. Caterpillar, Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001). The court is not required to draw every conceivable inference from the record, however; rather, the non-movant "must present definite, competent evidence in rebuttal." Salvadori v. Franklin Sch. Dist., 293 F.3d 989, 996 (7th Cir. 2002). Conclusory allegations of discrimination therefore cannot defeat a summary judgment motion. See Fischer v. Wayne Dalton Corp., 139 F.3d 1137, 1140 (7th Cir. 1998). The fact-intensive nature of employment discrimination cases necessitates that the parties highlight those ...

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