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Stephens v. Erickson

June 30, 2009

LESLEY C. STEPHENS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHARLES ERICKSON, KEVINMURRAY, MICHAEL PICARDI, GLENTATARA, AND WILLIAMLONERGAN, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES AS AGENTS OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO; AND THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 06 C 0176-William J. Hibbler, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 6, 2009

Before KANNE, WOOD, and SYKES,Circuit Judges.

Lesley Stephens, an employee of the City of Chicago, interviewed for four separate promotions between August and October 2004. The City selected another candidate to fill each position. Stephens sued the City, alleging that he was denied a promotion in retaliation for filing a prior lawsuit and complaining of discrimination within his department. He also claims that his superiors further retaliated against him by altering the conditions of his employment. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all counts. After considering Stephens's arguments and the record below, we agree that summary judgment was appropriate.

I. BACKGROUND

Lesley Stephens began working for the City of Chicago in 1979, when he was hired as a truck driver by the Department of Fleet Management ("Fleet"). In December 1985, Stephens was promoted to acting foreman. Around one*fn1 year later, in early 1987, the City appointed Stephens to be acting assistant superintendent at Fleet, a position that required him to supervise approximately 144 employees at twelve locations. Later that same year, Stephens was reassigned to his original position as a truck driver, and in early 1988, he suffered a back injury and took disability leave.

Stephens did not work for the City again until 1993, when he returned to Fleet as an accident adjuster, a position he has held ever since. His duties include evaluating, appraising, and photographing damaged City vehicles, as well as obtaining maintenance estimates from outside repair shops.

In 1997, Stephens, who is African American, filed a lawsuit alleging that the City engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotional practices. The parties eventually settled the dispute on July 6, 2004. Stephens now alleges that he also complained about racial discrimination before and after his settlement, including lodging internal grievances, writing letters to the Mayor of Chicago, and filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Shortly after Stephens settled his lawsuit, he applied for four supervisory positions, three of which were within Fleet and one that was in the Department of Aviation. Stephens was interviewed but was ultimately passed over for each promotion. He now asserts that the City refused to promote him in retaliation for his 1997 lawsuit and history of discrimination complaints, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Because Stephens claims that each promotional decision was retaliatory, we briefly explain the City's promotional process and the circumstances surrounding the promotions.

A. The Promotional Process

For each job opening, a City employee interviewed Stephens and several other candidates. The interviewers used a standard Hiring Criteria Rating Form, on which they rated each candidate based on a variety of metrics, such as the applicant's prior supervisory experience, and then calculated an overall numeric score. The interviewers, who did not have authority to hire, then recommended that the candidate with the highest score receive the promotion.

Defendant Michael Picardi, the Commissioner of Fleet,*fn2 possessed the final hiring authority for all positions within the department. Picardi explained, however, that he often delegated his authority over personnel decisions to Al Fattore, then the Deputy Commissioner of Administrative Services. Typically, after Fattore obtained approval from the City to fill an open position, he would direct Laura Johnston, an administrative services officer, to generate an interview list from the Department of Personnel, schedule interviews, and assemble the necessary paperwork. After the interviews, Johnston would review the Rating Forms and prepare a hiring package for the candidate whom the interviewer rated the highest. Johnston possessed the authority to sign Commissioner Picardi's name on the hiring form to approve the candidate's hire. Stephens agreed when opposing defendants' motion for summary judgment that Picardi did not dele-gate the final hiring authority to Fattore or Johnston, a position he maintains on appeal.

Finally, Picardi testified that he and his delegates relied exclusively on an interviewer's hiring recommendation, and that during his tenure at Fleet, he had never overruled such a recommendation. In the case before us, the highest-rated candidate was selected for each open position. Picardi testified that he did not discuss the promotions in question with anyone, including the interviewers, and he was not personally involved in the promotional decisions.

B. The Three Fleet Department Positions

Stephens applied for three managerial positions within Fleet, each of which involved overseeing the maintenance of City vehicles. On August 27, September 10, and September 22, 2004, the City interviewed Stephens*fn3 and several other applicants for each open position. At that time, none of the interviewers knew about Stephens's prior lawsuit or his discrimination complaints; one inter-viewer did not know Stephens at all prior to the interview. None of the interviewers discussed any applicant with Commissioner Picardi.

All three interviewers asked each candidate the same questions, and each interviewer ultimately awarded the highest rating to a candidate other than Stephens. In each case, the interviewer cited the winning applicant's prior experience, recent job performance, or specific positive attributes relevant to the position. For example, the first successful applicant was serving as an acting manager and had helped convert Fleet to a new computer database; the second was serving in a supervisory role and previously oversaw a ten-month analysis of Fleet's inventory; and the third had prior relevant experience at a car dealership and had performed well on certain assigned tasks. Each of the successful candidates also indicated a willingness to work any shift.*fn4

The interviewers did not consider Stephens to be an equally attractive candidate. They acknowledged that Stephens possessed some prior supervisory experience, but they believed it not to be as broad or pertinent as that of the other candidates. Further, at least one interviewer noted that he could not tell from Stephens's resume when he served in his prior positions.*fn5 The interviewers were also underwhelmed by Stephens's demeanor during the interviews. In response to one question about what he would do "to move the department forward," Stephens responded, "Don't know yet." Another interviewer noted that Stephens came across as "a bit arrogant" and that he "didn't think that was going to be good for grouping people together for one common cause." As a result, each interviewer awarded Stephens with a rating that placed him at or near the bottom of the applicant pool. In each case, the interviewer recom-mended that the City hire the highest-rated applicant.

C. The Department of Aviation Position

The fourth and final position for which Stephens applied was Manager of Vehicle Maintenance at O'Hare International Airport. Stephens was one of four*fn6 candidates interviewed by Defendant William Lonergan, the Deputy Commissioner of the Aviation Department. Lonergan had never met Stephens before the interview, did not know of Stephens's prior complaints against the City, and did not discuss Stephens's application with Commissioner Picardi.

After asking each candidate the same questions, Lonergan rated Walter West the highest. Lonergan explained that West had greater budgetary and supervisory experience, which included serving as Stephens's supervisor for a time. Lonergan rated Stephens much lower, expressing particular concern over Stephens's demeanor.

Unlike the other three job openings, Commissioner Picardi was not the final hiring authority for this position. That person was John Roberson, the Commissioner of the Aviation Department, and he also interviewed West. Roberson considered West to be the best qualified candidate and subsequently hired him. Roberson did not know Stephens, nor did he know about any of his prior complaints against the City, and he did not discuss the open position with Commissioner Picardi.

Stephens notes some questionable circumstances surrounding West's promotion. In late September 2004, a few weeks before the October 12 interviews, a group of co-workers held a going-away party for West. West allegedly informed his co-workers that he had been hired for a job at O'Hare. He then assumed his position on October 14, just two days after the interview. When asked about the questionable timing, West explained that he interviewed previously for an airport manager position in the spring of 2004, and he was told that he would get the job pending some paperwork. ...


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