Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 06-3194-Richard Mills, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall, District Judge.
Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, SYKES, Circuit Judge, and KENDALL, District Judge.*fn1
Julie Stephens Long's employment with the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois ("TRS") came to an end on February 3, 2006.
While TRS maintains that it fired her for poor performance, Long believes that she was fired in retaliation for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of TRS, which Long now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm.
TRS administers the pension plan that provides monthly retirement benefits to approximately 82,000 retired teachers throughout Illinois.
Jon Bauman served as the Executive Director of TRS. He held ultimate responsibility for the organization's dayto-day activities and he possessed final decision-making authority for all disciplinary actions including the suspension and termination of employees. Human Resources Director, Gina Larkin, reported directly to Bauman and oversaw all personnel activities at TRS. Before disciplining an employee, Larkin worked in conjunction with the appropriate department manager in order to determine a recommended course of action that she would present to Bauman.
At TRS, the Member Services Division facilitates all retirement, disability and survivor benefit claims. Terry Viar, Director of Member Services, reported directly to Bauman and oversaw the payment of benefits to TRS members. The Benefits Department, a subsection of Member Services, processes all retirement benefits. Deputy Director of the Benefits Department Sally Sherman managed the Benefits Department and reported directly to Viar.
To expedite the payment of benefits, TRS allows its members to receive their benefits through an electronic fund transfer ("EFT"), whereby TRS deposits benefit payments directly into a member's bank account. Within the Benefits Department, the Payroll and Insurance Department ("Payroll") processes direct deposit forms for members opting to receive their payments via EFT. Payroll Insurance Manager Marshall Branham oversaw the daily administration of benefits for TRS members, including the timely processing of EFT payments. Branham reported to Sherman.
Long began working at TRS in September, 1985. Starting in 2000, Long worked in Payroll in the position of Payroll Clerk IV. Her primary responsibilities included enrolling members in the EFT program, entering EFT information into a database, verifying bank routing and account numbers and responding to change of address requests from beneficiaries. Branham was Long's direct supervisor.
When she initially started in Payroll, Long received favorable performance reviews. Over time, though, errors in her work and increasing absences led to lower reviews. In June 2005, she missed 25% of her scheduled working days. In July 2005, her absences rose to 40% of her scheduled days. Additionally, although Branham asked Long in 2004 to train employees from other departments on the EFT process, she had not done so as of June 2005. On July 26, 2005, Branham met with Long to inform her that because of her absenteeism, he planned on withdrawing his recommendation that she receive a promotion. Long agreed with his assessment regarding her absenteeism. At the meeting, Branham also instructed her to train employees within the Data Services Department on the EFT process by September 2005.
In September 2005, TRS traced several errors within the EFT system to Long. For example, she improperly recorded a bank account number which resulted in TRS sending a member's benefit payment to the wrong location. She also improperly documented an address which resulted in a member's estranged ex-wife receiving sensitive financial information about the member. On September 14, 2005, the members called TRS to complaint about the difficulty they had receiving their benefit payments. Although Long had responsibility for responding to member communications regarding EFT transactions, she was absent from work that day, so other TRS employees fielded the calls. The next day, Branham met with Long to discuss her EFT errors and the impact that her absences had on other TRS employees. Branham also informed Long that she had not processed payroll deduction plan applications in a timely manner which resulted in TRS moving responsibility for processing the applications to another department. Once again, Branham urged Long to train other TRS employees on the EFT process. He summarized the meeting in a memorandum dated September 20, 2005.
In the fall of 2005, Larkin held two meetings with Branham and Sherman to discuss Long's performance. Through the meetings, Larkin learned that Long entered incorrect addresses in the EFT database, entered incorrect routing numbers and did not complete her tasks in a timely manner. She also discovered that in addition to the member complaints that TRS received, Long's fellow employees complained about her performance. Branham and ...