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Johnson v. Jung

September 28, 2009

MERDELIN V. JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALEXANDRA JUNG AND GENERAL BOARD OF PENSION AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Merdelin Johnson ("Johnson"), a black woman of Jamaican origin, brought this lawsuit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ("section 1981") alleging that her former employer, The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church ("The General Board"), failed to promote her because of her race and national origin, retaliated against her based upon complaints of such discrimination, unfairly discharged her, and subjected her to sexual harassment. Further, Johnson alleges that defendant Alexandra Jung ("Jung") individually discriminated against her in her promotion decisions based upon race and national origin in violation of section 1981. Before this court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment on these claims pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for which they have filed a joint memorandum in support. For the following reasons, the motions are granted with respect to the allegations of discrimination and unfair termination contained in Counts I and III, the retaliation allegations set forth in Count II that are based on the August and December 2002 promotion decisions, and the sexual harassment claim contained in case number 04 C 6158, which has been consolidated with case number 02 C 5221. Therefore, Johnson has no remaining claims against Jung, and Jung is dismissed as a defendant in this lawsuit. The General Board's motion is denied with respect to those retaliation allegations set forth in Count II that are based upon the March 2001 and January 2003 promotion decisions. Separately, we deny defendants' motion to strike a large portion of Johnson's statements of fact and plaintiff's motions to strike a number of the defendant's submissions.

BACKGROUND

Johnson joined The General Board as a permanent employee in the summer of 1999. Following an interview with defendant Alexandra Jung, Johnson accepted an offer to become a Team Member on the Benefits Determination Team. Johnson, however, quickly became dissatisfied with her workplace environment. Johnson alleges that she filed her first complaint of discrimination with Human Resources in the same summer that she joined the organization. (Pl.'s Resp. at 1.1.) (because Johnson's response to the motion for summary judgment confusingly features two sections of a single document, each beginning with the page number 1, we will label facts appearing in section one of her brief beginning with 1.1 and facts appearing in section two beginning with 2.1).

Johnson alleges that over the next four years, she unsuccessfully bid for a promotion on four occasions: March 2001, August 2002, December 2002, and January 2003. In March 2001, she applied for the position of Team Leader and was interviewed by defendant Jung, Assistant Manager Jamie Blits, and Team Leader Michael Foreman (black, Jamaican). (Defs.' Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 41-43.) The panel unanimously decided on another candidate, John McFall. (Id.) Johnson alleges that hiring official Blits subsequently informed her that her tendency to complain of discrimination might have played a role in the decision to deny her the promotion. (Compl. ¶ 13.) Johnson also claims that Mary Rutherford, a senior official in Human Resources, cautioned that opening an investigation into discrimination might limit her ability to win future promotion. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

On the heels of these events, plaintiff filed an official Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in December 2001. Johnson alleges that, subsequent to filing that charge, her performance reviews begin to slip relative to previous years. She asserts that the "average" overall rating and negative comments she received on John McFall's 2002 mid-year review of her performance did not match the positive feedback she had received during the review period. (Compl. ¶ 17.)

In August and December 2002, Johnson again attempted to advance her career by attaining the position of Plan Sponsor Manager. While The General Board insists that she failed to submit an application while either position was still available, Johnson asserts that she was a candidate and was unfairly passed over in each circumstance.

In January 2003, Johnson attempted to gain promotion for the final time. Again, her bid for a Team Leader position was unsuccessful for reasons she believes were illegitimate. Johnson asserts that within hours of receiving her application, a company official informed her that she had been written up for a prior insubordinate remark. (Compl. ¶ 23.) Johnson believes that this "write up" represented an attempt to provide false grounds for again choosing another candidate for promotion. Since this time, Johnson has filed two additional complaints with the EEOC alleging discrimination and retaliation based upon The General Board's failure to promote her.

Finally, Johnson also sets forth a claim of sexual harassment based upon an incident that occurred in January 2004. Johnson claims that, after being called inside the office of her Team Leader, Jimmy Jackson, she was shown a purportedly humorous video on Jackson's computer. Johnson informed Jackson that she found the video-which featured a momentary display of male nudity-offensive. In response to this incident, Johnson filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment.

Johnson's employment with The General Board came to an end in March 2004 when it was discovered that she had recorded conversations with fellow employees without their consent. The General Board handed down its decision after determining that these audio recordings were both illegal and a threat to the core values of their workplace environment. (Defs.' Memo. at 10.)

Based on the series of facts alleged above, Johnson filed separate lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois on September 16, 2004 and September 22, 2004, respectively. The first lawsuit (02 C 5221) sets forth three counts of discrimination: (1) Count I alleges discrimination based upon race and national origin in violation of Title VII, (2) Count II alleges retaliation in violation of Title VII, and (3) Count III alleges discrimination and retaliation by The General Board and discrimination by defendant Jung individually in violation of section 1981. The second lawsuit (04 C 6158) sets forth a single count alleging sexual harassment by The General Board. At the plaintiff's request, the two lawsuits were consolidated on November 1, 2005. The defendants now move for summary judgment on all counts.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 277, 248 (1986). The nonmoving party is tasked with presenting specific, competent evidence to rebut the motion for summary judgment. Butts v. Aurora Health Care, Inc. 387 F.3d 921, 924 (7th Cir. 2004). We will evaluate the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and will draw all reasonable inferences in their favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

DISCUSSION

I. Discrimination and ...


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