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Bennett v. Potter

November 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel



Plaintiff Cynthia Bennett ("Bennett") is a white female employee who has been employed by Defendant United States Postal Servicesince 1987. In 2006, Bennett was employed as a maintenance support clerk. That October, Bennett's manager, Surjit Grewal ("Grewal"), a male Indian-American, was looking to temporarily fill ("detail") a maintenance mechanic position. Bennett never requested to be detailed into that position because she felt that she was qualified for the permanent position and "did not need to be detailed" in. Grewal offered the position to Judy Rodgers ("Rodgers"), an African-American colleague of Bennett's, who had never passed the qualifying test for the position. Around that same time, Keith Williams ("Williams"), another custodian who had not passed the qualifying test, was also detailed into a maintenance mechanic position. Bennett had passed the qualifications for the job.

In December of 2006, Bennet sought a promotion to the position of maintenance mechanic, and spoke to Gerwal about applying for the position. According to Bennett, she was told not to apply because Rodgers, who was still detailing the position, would be given priority.

Rodgers was assigned to a tour 2 shift. On January 5, 2007, Gerwal promoted Bennett to maintenance mechanic. Her promotion eligibility form notes that Bennett chose a vacancy with a "tour 3" shift assignment. On January 24, Bennett requested a change of schedule from tour 3 to tour 2 - evening shift to day shift. Grewal denied the request, stating that Rodgers was currently in that tour and had priority. In June 2007, Grewal selected Bennett for promotion to mail processing equipment mechanic.

On November 29 and December 20, 2006, Bennett requested a maintenance mechanic's tool set, and her requests were denied because she was not officially working as a maintenance mechanic at that time. Bennett finally received her tool box in April. In the interim, she had to borrow tools to complete her tasks on the job. According to Bennett, Rodgers received a toolbox prior to being detailed into the position.

Bennett claims that while working as Grewal's subordinate, he made several discriminatory comments, including remarks that women shouldn't be working on machines, that in his culture females make everybody else look good, women should do office work, and others were jealous because Bennett was a white female and shouldn't be in her position as a maintenance mechanic. Beginning in 2007, Bennett "had a problem" with co-worker Doug Rattin ("Rattin"). According to Bennett, Rattin wasn't willing to help her on the job but was willing to help male employees, and on several occasions said to her "Have you cried yet? I'm going to make you cry." He also told her that females should not work as mechanics, and on one occasion, while acting as Bennett's temporary supervisor, informed her of a rumor that the two of them were having sex. Bennett further claims that in May 2007 Russell Ricard ("Ricard"), one of her managers, accused her of stealing tools and that on four separate occasions over a year and a half Ricard treated her differently from her male colleagues when she asked for assistance.

Around August 2007, Bennett reported Rattin's comment about the rumored affair to an investigator and Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") specialist. After the investigator spoke to Rattin and Russell, Rattin ceased speaking to Bennett.

In her complaint, Bennett alleges several instances of sex and race discrimination as well as a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment. Defendant now moves for summary judgment and for the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted.


Summary judgment should be granted 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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of triable fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Pugh v. City of Attica, Ind., 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

Once the moving party has set forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The nonmoving party must offer more than "[c]onclusory allegations, unsupported by specific facts" in order to establish a genuine issue of material fact.

Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)). A party will be successful in opposing summary judgment only if it presents "definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion." EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2000). I consider the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002). I will accept the nonmoving party's version of any ...

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