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Balthazar v. Southwestern Bell Corp.

March 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge


Plaintiff Maxeau Balthazar's ("Balthazar") complaint alleges causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 § U.S.C. 2000e et seq., against defendant Southwestern Bell Corporation ("SBC") doing business as defendant Illinois Bell Telephone Company, Inc. ("Illinois Bell")*fn1 (counts I and II) and under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Illinois Bell and defendant Martin Murphy ("Murphy") (counts III and IV, respectively). Count I alleges that Illinois Bell, through its agent Murphy, subjected Balthazar to "closer scrutiny, surveillance, unreasonable workloads, verbal abuses, cursing, discriminatory complaints, conduct, suspension and eventual termination" based on his race, color, and nationality in violation of Title VII. Count II alleges that Illinois Bell discharged Balthazar based on his race, color, and nationality in violation of Title VII. Count III alleges that Illinois Bell engaged in "unwarranted harassment, including but not limited to closer scrutiny, surveillance, unreasonable workloads, verbal abuses, cursing, discriminatory complaints, conduct, suspension and eventual termination" and prevented him "from enjoying the same rights to make and enforce contracts, as enjoyed by whites, non-Blacks and non-Haitians" in violation of § 1981. And count IV alleges that Murphy "interfered with and prevented plaintiff from enjoying the same rights as white citizens and non-Haitians to make and enforce contracts" in violation of § 1981. Illinois Bell and Murphy have moved for summary judgment on the complaint in its "entirety."*fn2 For the following reasons, the motion is granted.


A number of the facts in this case are undisputed.*fn3 Where disputed, the facts are taken from the properly supported portions of the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements.*fn4 Balthazar is a black male citizen of Haiti who maintains residences in Port au Prince, Haiti and Evanston, Illinois. Balthazar attested that his native languages are French, Haitian, and Creole, and that he speaks English "with a discernable accent."*fn5 Illinois Bell is an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Cook County. Murphy is a white male who resides in Chicago. In 2001, Illinois Bell hired Balthazar as a splicer in one of its construction units. In 2003, Balthazar was transferred to Illinois Bell's Installation and Repair Group ("I&R Group") at the Northbrook Garage. In February 2005, Balthazar's employment was terminated.

The I&R Group is responsible for installing and maintaining telephone services for Illinois Bell's business and residential customers. Upon his transfer to Northbrook, Balthazar began working as a customer systems technician. Technicians assigned to the I&R Group are responsible for installing new phone service and responding to existing customers' calls regarding trouble with existing phone lines. Following customer requests for repairs, a technician is dispatched to inspect the problem and perform any necessary service.

Illinois Bell's central dispatch office was responsible for assigning each technician his work for the day. During the morning meeting, the managers would give the technicians a printed copy of the work they had been assigned. Donna Malick ("Malick") was initially Balthazar's manager, and subsequently Jeffrey Zielinski ("Zielinski") was his manager for a short period of time. In January 2004, Murphy was transferred to the Northbrook location, and Balthazar was reassigned to him. Because managers in the I&R Group often share duties, Balthazar was still periodically supervised by other managers, including Zielinski, after being assigned to Murphy's team. Murphy's and Zielinski's immediate supervisor was area manager Kathy Lombardo ("Lombardo"). Lombardo reported to area director Michael Hejl ("Hejl").

Upon his transfer to the I&R Group in 2003, Balthazar attended Illinois Bell's installation school for training. During Balthazar's first few days as a technician, he rode along with several other technicians before going out in the field alone. He observed the technicians' work and they explained how to perform various tasks. During his first few weeks as a technician, on March 28, 2003, then Training and Development Manager Murphy conducted a "ride-along" with Balthazar. Balthazar attested that Murphy "wrote me up during a training session for not knowing something [Murphy] was teaching me[,]" and that the company used this write-up as one of the bases for his termination. Murphy testified that he did not rely on the document created from his ride-along to recommend Balthazar's suspension or termination. Murphy also testified that he did not recommend Balthazar's termination in February 2005, and he did not know who did. Murphy further testified that "a great number of the employee discussion forms" indicate that further incidents could lead to termination, but the ride-along form does not say that. Following this initial training, Balthazar attended periodic training classes. Balthazar also received ongoing training, including classes and daily instruction, coaching, and guidance from the I&R managers.

Defendants submitted the "I&R Technician Expectations Guide," the "Code of Business Conduct," the "Quality Standards Manual," and the "Bonding & Grounding Guru Booklet," which the parties agree outline Illinois Bell's rules and expectations for technicians' job performance.*fn6 Balthazar received copies of these documents.

The Technician Expectations Guide ("Guide") is a set of guidelines to help technicians maximize customer service while completing their daily assignments. The Guide includes general expectations as well as reliability, customer service, quality, and safety expectations. Any violation of the Guide can result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. When Murphy was transferred to Northbrook in 2004, he reviewed the Guide with Balthazar and the other technicians in detail. Murphy read each page of the Guide to the group, and gave the technicians the opportunity to ask questions.

The Guide provides that, if a job cannot be completed, then the customer and the manager must be notified. The Guide also provides that technicians must perform documentation related to each job they are assigned, and that such documentation must be complete and accurate. The documentation requirements include updating and closing out repair orders in the technicians' field laptop computer before leaving customers' homes. Upon completion of a job, technicians must accurately report the job's status in Illinois Bell's computer tracking system by entering certain codes indicating that the job has been completed (CMP), the job site was not accessible (NA), or the job is in jeopardy of not being completed by the end of the work day (JEP). Based on the completed job code, Illinois Bell presumes no further work remains. The Guide also provides that "Technicians must get overtime approved by the immediate manager; or if unavailable, the acting manager." Balthazar understood this to mean that he was required to obtain advanced approval for any overtime work.

The Quality Standards Manual ("Manual") contains guidelines relating to the performance of installation and repair tasks as well as customer service. The Manual instructs technicians to remove "cloth drops" - which is a brittle type of wire that Illinois Bell no longer uses as it can cause noise interference - encountered on any job to which they are assigned. The Manual also advises technicians that they are responsible for the repair of all quality and safety defects encountered at any location to which they are assigned. The Manual also instructs technicians to ensure that all cables are bonded and grounded, to visually inspect wiring boxes for proper grounding sources, and to test for proper grounding where visual inspection is not possible. The Manual further provides that technicians are expected to clean up after themselves when working in and around customers' homes, and to notify customers if any damage to their property occurs. The Manual also stresses the importance of using accurate codes when entering repair data into Illinois Bell's computerized work dispatch system to ensure that trouble repaired is accurately reported and that Illinois Bell is aware of any work that is not completed.

The Code of Business Conduct ("Code") requires employees to maintain the highest standards of customer care and to engage in all required communications with the customers they service. Violations of the Code result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.

The Bonding & Grounding Guru Booklet ("Booklet") reminds technicians that a ground tag must be attached to all ground wires. The Booklet warns not to use gas pipes or water pipes as a grounding source.

Illinois Bell evaluates technicians through quality inspections, job samples, reviews of work performed, and safety observations. Managers are expected to perform two quality inspections and two safety inspections per month for each technician. Managers document these inspections in an electronic reporting system called "WebAd." Defendants submitted a number of WebAd documents as evidence that, from February 13, 2004 to January 24, 2005,*fn7 "Murphy and Zielinski documented a total of eighteen separate incidents*fn8 which they believed constituted failures by Balthazar to meet the Company's performance standards."*fn9 Balthazar does not provide citations to the record disputing the statements of fact setting forth the following incidents:*fn10 February 13, 2004 verbal warning by Murphy*fn11 ; February 19, 2004 written warning by Murphy*fn12 ; July 1, 2004 inspection by Murphy in which he found performance issues; September 16, 2004 customer complaint about improper work, confirmed by Murphy upon inspection; October 25, 2004 performance issues documented by Murphy; and November 10, 2004*fn13 inspection by Murphy in which he found performance issues*fn14.

Defendants contend that Murphy issued Balthazar a final written warning on May 10, 2004 for deviating from performance standards on two separate jobs, including improper wiring and splicing and failure to attach ground tags to ground wires*fn15 , and a customer complaint that Balthazar had broken a ceiling tile while working in the customer's house.*fn16 Defendants assert that, upon inspection in response to the customer complaint, Zielinski confirmed that there was a broken ceiling tile in the area where work was being performed, and he also noted improper wiring work. Balthazar attempts to dispute that the wiring was improper, stating that he testified regarding a picture

Sir, I see from that picture, I see black. Could be a cable, I don't know what it is. I see gray something, two gray wires, and some stuff in there. I'm not sure what they are . . . .

Defendants contend that on July 1, 2004 Murphy inspected two job sites Balthazar worked on the previous day. In addition to performance issues found at the one location as noted above, defendants claim that, at the other location, the customer reported Balthazar failed to advise him that the work was complete before leaving and Murphy found an active telephone line was improperly grounded. Defendants' characterization of this incident in their Local Rule 56.1 statement is impossible to discern from the face of the document itself. Balthazar likewise cites the Quality Inspection form ("QI") documenting this incident, which he claims indicates that the customer was very satisfied because the document states "Assured customer VERY SATISFIED OK [ . ] "*fn17 It is also impossible to understand the significance of this phrase from the face of the document alone.

On August 3, 2004, defendants assert that Murphy and Hejl found a customer's lawn was littered with debris, a "cloth drop" wire was left in place rather than replaced, and there was improper wiring that resulted in a short preventing activation of the dial tone. Balthazar disputes defendants' assertion that he left "refuse" in a customer's yard with his deposition testimony that technicians were required to "clean up [their] mess" and he "[a]lways cleaned up after myself." Balthazar additionally attested that Murphy wrote him up for "insignificant matters and for errors made by other technicians[,]" including failing to pick up debris left on a customer's lawn by another technician. Balthazar cites the Employee Discussion Form ("ED") and the QI documenting this incident, which do not indicate that the mess was left by another technician. Balthazar also disputes defendants' contention that he left a "single pair cloth drop" which he should have replaced with his deposition testimony that Malick told the technicians, "If you come ...

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