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Benitez v. American Standard Circuits

January 5, 2010

JOSE LUIS BENITEZ AND JUAN REYES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AMERICAN STANDARD CIRCUITS, INC. AND VIJAY PATEL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Jose Luis Benitez ("Benitez") and Juan Reyes ("Reyes") (collectively "Plaintiffs") bring this action against Defendant American Standard Circuits, Inc. ("Defendant" or "ASC"), each alleging claims of sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiffs also allege Illinois common law claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Plaintiffs' claims stem from events that occurred during their employment with ASC. Presently before the Court are three motions: Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff Benitez's claims, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff Reyes's claims, and Defendant's motion to sever, or alternatively, to bifurcate Plaintiffs' trials pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 and 42. For the reasons stated below, all three of Defendant's motions are DENIED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Benitez and Reyes are former employees of American Standard Circuits, Inc. ("ASC"), an Illinois corporation. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on All of Plaintiff Benitez's Claims ("DSOF-Benitez") ¶ 1.) Benitez and Reyes both worked at ASC's Franklin Park facility, which closed in March 2009. (Id.) Gordhan Patel ("Gordhan") is ASC's Chairman, Director, and Secretary, and Jay Hirpara ("Hirpara") is ASC's Vice President and Director. (Id.) From approximately September 21, 1998 until August 28, 2005, Jack Raida ("Raida") served as Plant Manager of ASC's Franklin Park facility. (Id. ¶ 3.) Succeeding Raida, Bhavesh Mehta ("Mehta") served as Plant Manager of the facility from approximately August 29, 2005 until the facility closed in March 2009. (Id. ¶ 2.) When Bhavesh Mehta became Plant Manager, Pravin Gondalia (also known as Manu Hirpara) ("Gondalia") served as the Second Shift Plant Manager. (Id. ¶ 4.) The Plant Manager supervised the entire facility, including the screening department, plating department, and maintenance department. (Id. ¶ 5). Each department also had its own supervisor, although the precise responsibilities and powers of those "supervisors" are disputed. (Raida Dep. 18:21-22:1, Aug. 4, 2009.)

I. Plaintiff Benitez

Plaintiff Benitez was employed in ASC's screening department from approximately February 17, 2003 until January 20, 2006. (DSOF-Benitez¶ 16.) Throughout Benitez's employment, Bharat Patel ("Bharat") served as "Screening Supervisor," although his precise responsibilities and powers are disputed. (Id. ¶ 10.)

Benitez claims that he suffered several instances of unwanted sexual advances by Vijay Patel ("Vijay"), another ASC employee. (Plaintiff Benitez's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("PSOF-Benitez") ¶ 3.) During Benitez's employment, Vijay worked as a mechanic in the maintenance department. (DSOF-Benitez ¶ 29.) Plaintiffs assert that Vijay was, in fact, the supervisor of the maintenance department, though ASC disputes this claim. (PSOFBenitez ¶ 33.) According to Benitez, around September or October of 2005, Vijay began making sexually explicit comments to him and groping his genital parts. (Benitez Dep. 220:15-222:22; 225:23-226:11, Dec. 23, 2008.) Benitez claims that, on one occasion toward the end of 2005, Vijay forced him to engage in oral sex and then asked Benitez to penetrate him. (Id. at 228:11-21.) Benitez claims that he refused to comply with Vijay's demands, told him to stop, and pushed him away. (Id. at 228:17-21; 240:21-24.) Benitez claims that he complained two or three times to his direct supervisor, Bharat Patel, about Vijay's advances, and he specifically reported Vijay's request that Benitez penetrate him. (Id. at 215:1-14; 238:8-20; Benitez Decl. ¶ 7.) According to Benitez, Bharat dismissed his complaints by laughing at him and telling him that he was crazy because Vijay was married and had children. (Benitez Dep. 215:1-14; 238:8-20; Benitez Decl. ¶ 7.)

Benitez asserts that, on January 18, 2006, Vijay lowered his pants, began touching Benitez's genital parts, and again asked Benitez to penetrate him. (Benitez Dep. 239:17-241:15.) According to Benitez, Vijay threatened that Benitez would be fired if he did not comply with Vijay's sexual demands. (Id.) Benitez claims that he refused Vijay's demands and complained to Bharat the next day. (Id.) According to Benitez, Bharat merely laughed and told him he was crazy. (Id. at 215:1-14; Benitez Decl. ¶ 7.) One day later, on January 20, 2006, ASC terminated Benitez's employment. (PSOF-Benitez ¶ 27.) On January 23, 2006, Benitez filed a police report with the Franklin Park Police Department regarding the incident with Vijay. (DSOF-Benitez ¶ 61.) The case was eventually closed without any criminal action taken because Benitez never followed up with the police department or cooperated with their attempted investigation.

(Id. ¶ 66.) Benitez claims that he has suffered from depression, sleeplessness, and marital problems as a result of the incidents involving Vijay. (PSOF-Benitez ¶ 5.)

Bharat denies that Benitez or any other employee ever complained to him about Vijay. (Bharat Dep. 132:22-134:2, June 24, 2009.) In addition, Vijay denies that he ever made any sexual advances toward Benitez. (Vijay Dep. 96:19-100:20, July 15, 2009.)

II. Plaintiff Reyes

Plaintiff Reyes was employed in ASC's plating department from approximately February 9, 1998 until February 3, 2006. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on All of Plaintiff Reyes's Claims ("DSOF-Reyes") ¶¶ 1-2.) When Reyes began working at ASC, Raju Patel ("Raju") worked as an operator in the plating department, and Reyes served as a helper who assisted Raju. (Id. ¶ 2.) Eventually, Reyes became an operator in the plating department and held that position throughout the remainder of his employment at ASC. (Id.) Although the exact timeframe is unclear, during the latter part of Reyes's employment in the plating department, Amarat Patel ("Amarat") served as the "Plating Supervisor." (Id. ¶ 10.)

Reyes claims that, throughout the eight years he worked for ASC, he was repeatedly groped by Vijay. (Id. ¶ 24.) Reyes claims that Vijay's advances began during the first week of Reyes's employment in February 1998. (Reyes Dep. 170:14-22, Dec. 22, 2008; Def. ASC's First Amended Answer ¶ 20). According to Reyes, the first incident occurred when Raju directed him to assist Vijay in retrieving some tools, and Vijay grabbed Reyes's penis as the two were climbing a stairway to the tool room. (Reyes Dep. 171:1-14; 172:4-19; Reyes Decl. ¶ 4.) Reyes claims that he backed away from Vijay, descended the staircase, and returned to his work area, where he found Raju and another employee laughing. (Id.)

Reyes claims that, throughout his employment at ASC, Vijay attempted to grope his genital parts two or three times per week. (Reyes Dep. 179:22-180:20.) According to Reyes, on one particular occasion between October and December 2005, when he went to retrieve a tool from the tool room, Vijay shut the tool room door and began grabbing Reyes's penis. (Id. at 175:22-177:7; 179:18-180:1.) Reyes claims that Vijay also spoke to him in English, and although Reyes did not understand Vijay's words because he does not speak English, Vijay's actions and mannerisms communicated that he wanted to have sex with Reyes. (Reyes Decl. ¶ 5.) Reyes claims that he responded defensively to Vijay's advances by trying not to let Vijay touch him, finding his way to the door, and exiting the tool room. (Reyes Dep. 178:10-23.)

According to Reyes, his final encounter with Vijay occurred on Saturday, January 14, 2006 around 9:00 a.m. Reyes claims that, during this incident, Vijay approached Reyes from behind while Reyes was holding a machine and grabbed Reyes's penis. (Id. at 154:7-157:8.) Reyes claims that when his supervisor, Amarat, saw Reyes pushing Vijay away, Amarat responded by telling Reyes in English that Vijay was a "fucking gay." (Id.) Amarat denies that this occurred, denies ever seeing Vijay touch another ASC employee inappropriately, and denies ever hearing about such conduct. (Amarat Dep. 109:22-115:19, June 25, 2009.) In addition, Vijay denies that he ever made any sexual advances toward, or inappropriately touched, Reyes. (Vijay Dep. 96:19-101:20.)

On January 28, 2006, Reyes went to the Franklin Park Police Department and filed a police report against Vijay about the incident that had occurred two weeks earlier and Vijay's conduct in general. (DSOF-Reyes ¶ 38; Dziewinski Decl. Ex. 1.) On January 30, 2006, the Franklin Park Police Department informed ASC that Benitez, Reyes, and another employee, Leo Hernandez, had filed police reports against Vijay. (DSOF-Reyes ¶ 20.) That same day, Gordhan Patel ("Gordhan") and Jay Hirpara ("Hirpara") called Reyes into their office to discuss the incidents Reyes reported to the police. (Id. ¶ 52.) Another ASC employee, Ruffo Vazquez, translated the conversation for Reyes. (Id.) During this meeting, Gordhan and Hirpara instructed Reyes to contact the management if he had any problems at ASC in the future. (Id. ¶ 53.) According to Reyes, Gordhan and Hirpara also stated that he would be terminated if he did not drop his charges against Vijay. (Reyes Decl. ¶ 8.) Disputing Reyes's account, Vazquez claims that neither Gordhan nor Hirpara threatened to terminate Reyes during the meeting in which he served as an interpreter. (Vazquez Decl. ¶¶ 2-6, 9.)

On the same day, January 30, 2006, ASC issued a written warning to Vijay concerning the incidents reported to the police and stating that, "[a]fter the company investigation and the police investigation, there is no proof of the claims." (Plaintiff Reyes's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("PSOF-Reyes") ¶ 20.) Reyes claims that no one from ASC spoke with either him or Benitez before issuing the warning to Vijay. (Id.) ASC disputes this claim. ASC admits, however, that it never took any other disciplinary measures against Vijay; ASC never suspended, demoted, or changed Vijay's responsibilities after the police reports were filed. (Id. ¶ 22.)

On February 3, 2006, ASC provided Reyes with a letter stating that the Franklin Park Police Department had informed ASC that Reyes needed to correct his social security number with the social security office. (Id. ¶ 25.) Throughout his employment at ASC, Reyes received letters from ASC approximately once a year stating that his social security number did not match the Social Security Administration's records and instructing him to correct the discrepancy. (DSOF-Reyes ¶¶ 60-61.) The February 3 letter resembled the letters Reyes had previously received except that where the old letters stated "the Social Security records we have on file are not accurate," the February 3 letter added "the Franklin Park Police Department brought it to our attention." (Id. ¶ 66.) Gordhan testified that he instructed the office manager to prepare the February 3 letter because Officer Joseph Vallejo, the Franklin Park police officer charged with investigating Reyes's police report, had informed him that Reyes's social security number did not match the Social Security Administration's records. (Id. ¶ 26.) Vallejo, however, denies that he ever investigated Reyes's social security number or reported any issues related to Reyes's social security records to ASC. (Vallejo Dep. 37:19-38:12.)

Reyes claims that when he received the February 3 letter, his department supervisor, Amarat, instructed him not to return work until he corrected the problem with his social security number. (Reyes Dep. 129:5-12; 132:8-12; 134:5-7; Reyes Decl. ¶ 11.) Furthermore, Reyes claims that Amarat made him understand that he was being terminated. (Id.) According to Reyes, since he understood that he was being terminated, he completed a form requesting to be paid the vacation compensation he was owed. (Reyes Dep. 136:8-18; Reyes Decl. ¶ 13.) Reyes claims that Amarat signed and approved his request. (Id.) According to Reyes, when he later returned to collect his pay check, Amarat instructed him to sign a letter of resignation. (Reyes Dep. 244:16-146:4; Reyes Decl. ¶ 13.) Reyes claims that he refused to sign the letter, stating that he was not resigning and wanted to come back to work, but Amarat replied that he could not return to work. (Id.) Amarat disputes Reyes's account and denies that he ever terminated Reyes. (Amarat Dep. 45:23-46:14.) According to ASC, Reyes simply took vacation from February 6 to February 20, 2006 and voluntarily failed to return to work after his vacation. (DSOF-Reyes ¶¶ 68-69).

III. Procedural Posture

Plaintiffs Benitez and Reyes initially brought this lawsuit against ASC and Vijay Patel, alleging both state law tort claims and violations of Title VII. On October 1, 2009, Vijay Patel was dismissed as a party. Benitez's remaining claims against ASC include: assault (Count II); battery (Count IV); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VI); sexual harassment in violation of Title VII (Count XIV); and retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count XV). ASC currently moves for summary judgment on all of Benitez's claims. Reyes's remaining claims against ASC include: assault (Count I); battery (Count III); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V); sexual harassment in violation of Title VII (Count XVI); and retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count XVII). ASC currently moves for summary judgment on all of Reyes's claims as well. Before this Court are both of ASC's motions for summary judgment and ASC's motion to sever or, alternatively, to bifurcate Plaintiffs' trials. The Court first considers ASC's motions for summary judgment.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT ANALYSIS

I. Standing

As an initial matter, ASC argues that neither plaintiff has standing to bring this case. ASC rests this argument on Benitez's admission that he has also been known as Jose Luis Benitez Leon and works for his current employer under another name, and Reyes's admission that he has also been known as Juan Reyes Roman. The Court disagrees with ASC's assertion that neither plaintiff has standing and finds the cases cited by ASC inapposite. See Dotson v. Bravo, 321 F.3d 663 (7th Cir. 2003); Martin v. Brock, No. 07 C 3154, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57207, at *9 (N.D. Ill. July 19, 2007). These cases deal with plaintiffs who, unlike Benitez or Reyes, purposefully thwarted the judicial process and therefore warranted the severe sanction of dismissal. See id. Additionally, for the first time in each reply brief, ASC introduces the argument that Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, 535 U.S. 137, 152 (2002), governs this case. Any argument raised for the first time in a reply brief is deemed waived. Baker v. America's Mortgage Servicing, Inc., 58 F.3d 321, 325 (7th Cir. 1995). Moreover, the Court explicitly barred ASC from seeking the evidence necessary to advance this argument, and ASC may not flout this Order. (See Dkt. 78, 3/03/09 Order.)

II. Motions to Strike

In resolving Defendant's motions for summary judgment, the Court considered Defendant's motions to strike portions of Plaintiffs' additional material facts and the evidence on which these facts rely. Because the Court bases its ruling on admissible evidence pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the Court need not rule separately on Defendants' motions to strike. Additionally, Plaintiffs move to strike Defendant's reply memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Benitez's claims and Defendant's purported "replies" to Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) responses to Defendant's statements of material facts. Plaintiffs correctly assert that Defendant's reply memorandum exceeds the 15-page limit imposed by Local Rule 7.1, and the Court therefore strikes all pages in excess of the page limit. In addition, the Court strikes Defendant's purported "replies" to Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) responses to Defendant's Statements of Material Facts, as Plaintiffs correctly note that neither Local Rule 56.1 nor this Court's Standing Order on Motions for Summary Judgment provide for such documents to be filed.

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists 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. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). At summary judgment, the "court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a ...


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