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Robbins v. Caterpillar

September 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rebecca R. Pallmeyer United States District Judge

Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Ernest Robbins, age 61, has been employed by Defendant Caterpillar, Inc. since 1973. In this lawsuit, Robbins claims that Caterpillar discriminated against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), subjected him to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and retaliated against him for cooperating with the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") in violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act ("IWA"). The alleged acts of discrimination include Defendant's placing Robbins on an involuntary medical leave of absence in September 2005. Caterpillar has moved for summary judgment, arguing that there are no disputes of material fact concerning any of the claims properly before the court, and that Caterpillar is entitled to judgment on those claims as a matter of law. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.


On June 29, 2005, Robbins filed a charge against Caterpillar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 6.) Robbins's EEOC charge alleged that Caterpillar discriminated against him on the basis of age by subjecting him to "different terms and conditions of employment" than younger workers. (Attachment to Robbins Dep., Ex. 2, Ex. 3 to Def. 56.1.) The EEOC notified Plaintiff of his right to sue on May 17, 2006, and he filed a complaint in this court on August 3, 2006, alleging that Caterpillar violated the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 623(d); promoted a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and retaliated against him for having cooperated with an EPA investigation, in violation of the IWA, 740 ILCS § 174/15 (2008).


The facts are drawn principally from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements. Notably, Plaintiff's response merely presented his own version of the facts, rather than a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Defendant's statement of facts as required by the Local Rules. The court has nevertheless reviewed Plaintiff's submissions and all documents in the factual record, including Plaintiff's EEOC charge of discrimination and transcripts of the depositions of Plaintiff Ernest Robbins; Donna Graefen, a co-worker; Matthew Neu, M.D., the medical director of Defendant's Joliet facility; Ming Xu, M.D., Plaintiff's treating physician; Tamara Holman, Caterpillar Human Services Manager; and Michael S. Martin, Plaintiff's supervisor.

Work Environment

Robbins has been a Union employee at Caterpillar's Joliet, Illinois facility for more than 35 years, where he has held positions including test and assembly technician, grinder operator, and most recently, machinist. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 7.) While operating as a test and assembly technician from December 2004 until March 2005, Robbins reported to supervisor Mike Martin. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 8.) On January 7, 2005, Robbins was involved in an altercation with co-worker Jamie Martinez and two other employees. Robbins testified that his co-workers "created an incident where I broke my finger," "destroyed my lunch," and "start[ed] screwing around with [Robbins's] work stuff." (Robbins Dep. 79; 80.) Robbins was suspended following this altercation; when asked whether he believed this decision was motivated by his age, he testified, "I said, no. . . . [T]hey walked me out because they said I threatened [a co-worker.]" Robbins was indefinitely suspended as a result of the altercation, but he was ultimately permitted to return to work on February 7, 2005, in a different work area, separated from the co-workers involved in the altercation. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 13-14.)

On June 29, 2005, Robbins, then 56 years old, filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, in which he alleged that he and another senior employee, known to Robbins only as "Cowboy,"suffered harassment based on their age. (Robbins Dep. Ex. 4; Robbins Dep. at 62-64.) The EEOC charge referred specifically to the January 2005 altercation. (Robbins Dep. Ex. 4.) In addition, Robbins claimed to have been subjected to different terms and conditions of employment than other employees, unfairly questioned about his productivity, and threatened with discipline for circumstances he could not control, such as other employees visiting his work area.(Id.) He testified that Cowboy suffered harassment from co-workers, as well, including co-workers urinating in his lunch box, stealing his tools, and sabotaging his work area due to his seniority. (Robbins Dep. at 65-68.)

At the time he filed the charge, Robbins testified, he felt like an outcast because Defendant's management, specifically supervisor Mike Martin, monitored his productivity more scrupulously than other employees and ordered younger employees to neither approach nor speak with him at a time when he was supposed to be training for a new position and required interaction, for training purposes, with other employees. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. ¶¶ 11-16.) In addition, Plaintiff claims other employees threw oily rags into his work station, poured sewage into his lunch boxes, and sabotaged his work station. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17.) Robbins believed he was harassed due to being the "oldest person on the line," having more seniority with the Union, and having greater overtime preference. (Robbins Dep. at 73-74.) He pointed out that if his co-workers were successful in discouraging him from working overtime, they themselves would get more overtime work. Robbins believed that the desire for overtime assignments is what motivated his co-workers to harass "Cowboy," as well. (Id. at 70, 73.)

In July 2005, Robbins successfully bid out of his position as a test and assembly worker and was moved into a position as a grinder operator. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.) As both a test and assembly technician and grinder operator, Robbins met production requirements and never received poor performance evaluations. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.)

Cooperation with EPA

Robbins claims that in July 2004, he cooperated with EPA investigators by sending them e-mails and providing photographs of Caterpillar's "E-Building," during their investigation of pollution into the waterways of Illinois. (Def.'s 56.1 ΒΆ 33.) At his deposition, however, Robbins was unable to identify the investigators by name, did not furnish copies of the e-mails or photos, and offered no evidence of any further contact with the agency. (Robbins Dep. at 140-42.) Robbins believes his co-workers harassed him because he reported Caterpillar to environmental authorities, but he admits that he never told anyone at Caterpillar that he had made these reports. (Id. at 57-58; 60-63.) Asked at his deposition whether he revealed his reports to a supervisor, Robbins responded, "I didn't tell ...

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