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Pelnarsh v. Donnelley

April 24, 2009

JEANIE M. PELNARSH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
R.R. DONNELLEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy Mcdade United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

On November 13, 2007, the plaintiff, Jeanie Pelnarsh, filed a pro se complaint against her former employer, R.R. Donnelley, seeking relief for alleged sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.*fn1 Pelnarsh's Amended Complaint, filed on March 20, 2008, raises two federal claims. First, Pelnarsh alleges that she experienced a hostile work environment due to pervasive sexual harassment by co-workers and supervisors during her employment at R.R. Donnelley. Second, Pelnarsh alleges that R.R. Donnelley discharged her in retaliation for reporting the harassment to state and federal employment agencies. In addition, the Amended Complaint includes parallel claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act. Before the Court today is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant R.R. Donnelley on September 16, 2008 (Doc. 47). Pelnarsh responded in opposition to the motion on October 7, 2008, and Donnelley replied on October 22, 2008. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Jeanie Pelnarsh began working full-time for R.R. Donnelley in late 1999 as a pressroom clerk at the company's facility in Pontiac, Illinois. After a brief layoff in 2002, Pelnarsh was rehired by Donnelley as a material handler at the Pontiac facility. In May 2002, Pelnarsh transferred to an administrative assistant position at the Pontiac facility's Digital Solutions Center (DSC). While at the DSC, Joe Carlberg, a regional manager, served as Pelnarsh's supervisor. According to Pelnarsh, during the course of her employment at Donnelley's Pontiac facility, she was the target of regular derogatory, sexually-charged remarks and unwanted touching by various male employees and supervisors. Pelnarsh claims to have filed numerous company-internal complaints about the harassment, the last complaint occurring in August 2005.

On October 1, 2005, Pelnarsh transferred to a customer service position at Donnelley's Mendota, Illinois facility. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at p. 95). She experienced no further sexual harassment after her transfer to Mendota. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at p. 239). Pelnarsh alleges that, in December 2005, about two months after her transfer, she filed charges with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) in reference to the harassment she had experienced at the Pontiac facility.

On January 30, 2006, Donnelley terminated Pelnarsh's employment, citing improper use of her company credit card as the reason. Because Pelnarsh believed her termination to be in retaliation for her complaints and charges regarding sexual harassment at the Pontiac facility, she purportedly filed new charges with the EEOC and/or IDHR in February 2006, July 2006, and August 2006. (Ptf.'s SJ Resp. at ¶ 18). As will be discussed later in this Opinion, the documentary evidence on record reflects that Pelnarsh filed charges with the EEOC only on September 21, 2006. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep., Ex. 30).

The facts surrounding Pelnarsh's termination from R.R. Donnelley are undisputed in all material respects. While working as an administrative assistant at the Pontiac facility's DSC, Pelnarsh received a company credit card from Donnelley ("Purchasing Card," "Procurement Card," or "P-Card"), which allowed her to purchase company supplies. The card was issued in Pelnarsh's name, but Donnelley was billed directly for all purchases. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at 69). Donnelley maintained a written P-Card policy -- which Pelnarsh acknowledged by signature -- clearly stating that the card was not to be used for employees' personal purchases. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at pp. 81-83, Ex. 14). In derogation of this policy, Pelnarsh regularly used the P-Card to pay for personal expenses, including her phone bill, her daughter's braces, furniture, legal fees in a custody battle, an iPod, and yard lights for her home. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at pp. 69, 83, 106-110, 120, 129). Pelnarsh admits that she did not intend to reimburse the company for (or even keep track of) these personal purchases on the company's card, which Donnelley totals at $57,625.26. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at pp. 110-116, 120; 9/15/08 Bartolone Aff. ¶ 4).*fn2 Pelnarsh's purported explanation for this seemingly blatant abuse of the company credit card is that her supervisor, Joe Carlberg, told her that she could make any and all personal purchases that she wished, using the P-card, without reimbursing the company.*fn3 (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at pp. 110-116). The parties dispute whether Joe Carlberg knowingly approved these purchases or whether he simply did not scrutinize Pelnarsh's P-Card statements closely enough.

A financial audit by Donnelley in late 2005 revealed Pelnarsh's personal P-Card purchases. (9/15/08 Bartolone Aff. ¶ 3). Donnelley terminated Pelnarsh shortly thereafter. Subsequently, Pelnarsh pleaded guilty to theft, a Class 2 Felony in Illinois, and served 90 days in the LaSalle County Jail. (7/29/08 Pelnarsh Dep. at pp. 173-74, Ex. 27). Joe Carlberg was formally reprimanded (but not terminated) after the company concluded that he failed to carefully review Pelnarsh's P-Card statements. (9/15/08 Bartolone Aff. ¶ 10 & attachment dated 2/23/06).

In this federal action, Pelnarsh seeks to recover for the alleged sexual harassment she endured during her employment at Donnelley's Pontiac, Illinois facility. In addition, she seeks to recover for her termination, which she believes was Donnelley's method of unlawfully retaliating against her for complaining about sexual harassment within the company.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment should be granted where "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). The non-movant cannot rest upon the allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; she must support her allegations with proper documentary evidence. Chemsource, Inc. v. Hub Group, Inc., 106 F.3d 1358, 1361 (7th Cir. 1997). It is not the Court's function to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Instead, the Court relies on the non-moving party to identify the evidence which creates an issue of triable fact. Bombard v. Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc., 92 F.3d 560, 562 (7th Cir. 1996).

The Court must "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Holland v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). In doing so, the Court is not "required to draw every conceivable inference from the record -- only those inferences that are reasonable." Bank Leumi Le-Isreal, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2d 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991). If the record before the Court "could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party," then no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. McClendon v. Indiana Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). In order for the non-movant to prevail, "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for [her]." Brownell v. Figel, 950 F.2d 1285, 1289 (7th Cir. 1991). However, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court may not weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact; disputed facts must be left for resolution at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

ANALYSIS

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII is violated when sexual harassment in the workplace is so severe or pervasive that it alters the conditions of the victim's employment, creating a hostile or abusive working environment. Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 786 (1998). In addition, Title ...


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