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Robinson v. International Truck and Engine Corp.

March 31, 2009


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

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


This matter is before the Court on Defendant International Truck and Engine Corporation's motion for summary judgment [36], filed on May 16, 2008. Plaintiff Richard Robinson alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion [36] is granted.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff Richard Robinson was an employee of Defendant International Truck and Engine Corporation from June 25, 2004, to August 24, 2007. Plaintiff, an African-American male, has a Master's Degree in Human Resources. He began working for International at their Melrose Park plant as a Second Shift Team Advisor on a contract-to-hire basis, and was hired as a regular employee in the same position a few months later. Def. SOF ¶ 4. International's Melrose Park plant makes diesel engines for trucks and buses. As a Team Advisor, Plaintiff managed approximately twenty hourly employees and was responsible for ensuring that they met certain production goals and had the necessary equipment to do so. Def. SOF ¶ 6.

In November 2005, Plaintiff was promoted to Lead Team Advisor, where he oversaw team advisors and assigned them overtime as well as specific tasks. Def. SOF ¶ 7. In February 2007, Plaintiff took over the responsibilities of a Level 6 Resource Leader, and International officially promoted him to that position in June 2007. Def. SOF ¶ 9. In that position, Plaintiff supervised Team Advisors and was responsible for the department budget and planning processes. Throughout his employment at International, Plaintiff generally worked at least seventy-five hours per week. Def. SOF ¶ 10.

On August 24, 2007, International discharged Plaintiff on the basis that he had violated the company's harassment policy by allegedly sexually harassing Tonya Hillard, a Caucasian female employee at the company.*fn2 Def. SOF ¶ 47. International hired Hillard in September 2004 as a production coordinator, counting cycles on production lines in all areas of the Melrose Park plant, as well as ordering materials for the production line. Def. SOF ¶ 14-16. On or around August 20, 2007, Hillard informed her immediate supervisor, Jim Galambos, that she was uncomfortable around Plaintiff, that he had grabbed her breast on more than one occasion, and that once, in 2006, he positioned her against a conveyor belt or table and told her "I could fuck you now."*fn3 Def. SOF ¶ 17. Plaintiff disputes that any of the events occurred and denies that he engaged in any inappropriate conduct with Hillard or any other female employees. Instead, Plaintiff admits only to occasionally hugging female employees and telling Hillard that she probably did things with boys while in high school that she did not want to do because she was not the type of person to say no. Def. SOF ¶ 43.

Galambos reported Hillard's complaint to Defendant's human resources department, and human resources generalist Kerry Shipe entered the information into International's "My Safe Workplace" database. Def. SOF ¶ 18, 19. International then outsourced the investigation of the sexual harassment complaint to Business Controls, Inc. ("BCI"), a Littleton, Colorado based company. Id. BCI assigned an investigation consultant, Megan Levi, to conduct an investigation of the complaint on behalf of International. Def. SOF ¶ 20. International's policy does not require the use of an outside firm to conduct investigations into allegations of employee misconduct. Rather, the human resources department has discretion to conduct the investigation internally or to hire an outside agency. Shipe and human resources manager Tim Powelke decided to use BCI to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment lodged against Plaintiff.

Levi conducted interviews of the company's employees by telephone from her office in Colorado. Def. SOF ¶ 21. Levi interviewed several employees (including Plaintiff and Hillard) (Def. SOF ¶¶ 22-26, 31), and on August 23, 2007, reported the substance of her interviews to Shipe and Powelke. Def. SOF ¶ 34. Based on the information provided in Levi's verbal report, Shipe and Powelke concluded that Robinson had violated International's harassment policy, and Powelke decided that Plaintiff should be fired.*fn4 Def. SOF ¶¶ 45, 46. On August 24, Powelke and Shipe informed Plaintiff that BCI had completed its investigation and that International had decided to terminate his employment, effective immediately.

The written BCI investigative report, which was turned over to Defendant after the decision to terminate Plaintiff had been made, states that "[t]he information gathered through employee interviews could not definitely confirm or refute Ms. Hillard's allegations." While various employees reported that Plaintiff was "friendly," only one of Hillard's allegations was corroborated. Adrianna Derousse, Hillard's sister-in-law, testified that she observed Plaintiff position Hillard against a table and whisper something in her ear. While Derousse did not hear the comment that Plaintiff made to Hillard, Derousse testified that Hillard informed her immediately following the incident that Plaintiff had made a comment similar to "I will bend you over the table right here, right now, and fuck you." Aside from Derousse, there were no other witnesses to this incident.

In October 2006, several African-American employees wrote a memorandum to "Management of International" complaining about Jim Garner, a Caucasian supervisor. The employees accused Garner of failing to act in a professional manner and of creating a stressful and unproductive work environment. Defendant interviewed the employees who filed the complaint -- at least one of whom reported that Garner acted like a "slave task master * * * like we all could be hung and there was nothing we could do about it" -- but determined that Garner would not be disciplined. Pl. SOF ¶ 79. The investigation resulted in a letter of reprimand admonishing Garner for acting inappropriately. The letter, from Charles Peal, Jon Sebastian, and Kerry Shipe, also warned Garner that "further instances of this kind of behavior could lead to discipline up to and including discharge."

In September 2004, Vanessa Wilson, an African-American female, reported to Reena Davis that Joe Assaf, a Caucasian employee, had locked her in a cage and asked her to "suck his penis." Pl. SOF ¶ 84. James Marzec, a human resources manager at the time, along with "C. Luchene" (a female employee), conducted an investigation into Wilson's allegations. Marzec did not find any witnesses to corroborate Wilson's version of the events, and Assaf denied the allegations. Pl. SOF ¶ 85. Marzec ultimately concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support Wilson's claim, and Assaf was not disciplined.

II. Analysis

A. Summary Judgment ...

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