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Saitta v. Melody Rae Motors

October 23, 2009

VINCE SAITTA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MELODY RAE MOTORS, INC., D/B/A HONDA ON GRAND, DEFENDANTS.



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

Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Vince Saitta, a Sicilian-American, worked as a car salesman for Melody Rae Motors for nearly 18 months before his termination in September 2008. In this lawsuit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., Saitta alleges that Defendant subjected him to a hostile work environment due to his national origin and retaliated against him because of his complaints of discrimination. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all claims, and for the reasons that follow, that motion is granted in part and denied in part.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Honda on Grand, the business name that Melody Rae Motors uses for its Elmhurst, Illinois Honda dealership, initially hired Saitta in 2002, but he left after two weeks because he broke his leg and could not work for more than a year. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl's 56.1, Ex. A, at 138-39, 174-75.) Five years later, in March 2007, Honda on Grand hired Saitta again after he interviewed with four managers, Richard Walker, David Salomon, Ray Abdi, and Gene Khytin. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 7-8.) At Honda on Grand, Saitta's superiors included Michael Perrin, the owner of the dealership; John Ridings, the general manager; and Abdi, a new car manager. (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 1.) Although Perrin was only on the premises about once a month, he talked with Ridings by phone nearly every day. (Id.)

A. Alleged Harassment

Saitta claims he was regularly subjected to harassment on the basis of his national origin. (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 14.) Among other insults, managers and co-workers called Saitta a "wop," a "greaseball," and a "Sicilian dirtbag." (Id.; Pl's Resp. to Def's 56.1 ¶ 42.) Saitta testified that the insults were a daily occurrence and he identified a few specific incidents. (Pl's 56.1, Ex. A, at 223-29, 275, 278, 369.) Saitta acknowledges that he also engaged in some back-and-forth with his co-workers that included insults and graphic language, but he stated that the only time he made an insulting comment that touched on a co-worker's race or ethnicity was in a conversation with Paul Balice, who, like Saitta, is an Italian-American. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 51; Pl's Resp. to Def's 56.1 ¶ 51.) Balice's family came from Bari, Italy, and, according to Saitta, Saitta merely made light of the regional differences between Sicily and Bari, in particular, the distinctive accent of Bari natives. (Pl's Resp. to Def's 56.1 ¶ 51.)

Saitta never complained in writing about his treatment before the 70-cents incident, discussed below, but he testified that he made several verbal complaints without success. (Id. ¶ 74.) Although Saitta said he reported the harassment "many, many times" and "a few times a month," (Pl's 56.1, Ex. A, at 234-36), he could only remember the specifics of a handful of meetings with supervisors about his co-worker's harassing comments. (Id. at 276.)

C. The 70-Cents Incident

On August 19, 2008, Saitta was assigned a "bone deal." (Def's 56.1 ¶ 59.) A "bone deal" is a sale where the deal has already been made before a salesperson is assigned. (Id.) Saitta's role in the deal required little more than taking the customer's trade-in vehicle and providing the customer with a new car. According to Saitta, his manager and the customer were rushing him to complete the transaction, so he drove the trade-in to the area where the new car was being prepared rather than to the location where he would normally take a trade-in vehicle. (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 28; Def's 56.1 ¶ 63.) While Saitta waited for the new car to be ready for the customer, he cleaned out the trade-in, finding some papers, stickers, and 70 cents, which he put in his pocket in order to return to the customer. (Pl's 56.1¶ 30.) Ridings, the general manager, and Abdi, a new car manager, observed Saitta's efforts. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 65.) They approached Saitta, and Ridings asked him whether he had taken anything he was not supposed to take. (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 31.) Saitta did not know what Ridings meant, so Ridings asked Saitta specifically whether he had taken something out of the car's change compartment. (Id.) Saitta answered by removing the change from his pocket and asking whether that was what Ridings was talking about. He also asked Ridings, referring to the outside business responsible for detailing trade-in cars, "are you mad because I didn't leave it in there for Scotty to take it?" (Id.; Def's 56.1 ¶ 68.) The conversation escalated until Ridings told Saitta to "shut the fuck up before I launch you, get the fuck out of my face." (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 32.) Defendant does not substantially dispute Saitta's account of the incident except to allege that Ridings and Abdi reasonably believed that they had witnessed Saitta stealing a customer's property. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 66.) According to Defendant, after Ridings witnessed what he believed was unusual behavior by Saitta-Saitta says it was not unusual-he waited fifteen minutes to see if Saitta would return the change to the customer. (Id. ¶ 65-66.)

After his argument with Ridings and Abdi, Saitta completed the deal with the customer and returned the change. (Pl's Resp. to Def's 56.1 ¶ 66.) Ridings testified that he never questioned the customer about the change and that the customer never complained to him. (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 36.)

D. Saitta's Termination

After Saitta left work on August 19, 2008, he sent an e-mail to Ridings and two other managers, complaining about harassment and discrimination he had suffered while employed by Defendant:

Note from Saitta, Vincent: Attention Chuck Perrin, John Ridings, and Mike Andrews, This is a formal letter to the three principles of Honda on Grand and that being the Vice President, General Manager and Comptroller for which i know to be the principles of this dealer i am currently employed at. I am officially filing a lawsuit against Honda on Grand for the unlawful harrassment, slander and discrimination I have endured through out my employment here. I have been repeatedly violated of my state and federal rights and this evening has taken its final toll. I am filing tomorrow morning with the EEOC and will be providing all the documents and evidence i have collected from the day i started here. I tried to discuss this matter repeatedly with my superiors with no ...


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