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Hoffer v. Manchester Tank & Equipment Co.

February 12, 2010

MICHAEL D. HOFFER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MANCHESTER TANK & EQUIPMENT CO. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This cause is before the Court on Defendant Manchester Tank & Equipment Co.'s Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Motion) (d/e 8) and Defendant's Brief in Support of Its Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Brief) (d/e 9). Plaintiff has filed Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Response) (d/e 13), and Defendant filed Defendant's Reply Brief in Support of Its Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Reply) (d/e 15).

This matter is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the reasons described below, Defendant's Motion is granted as to Counts I and II of the First Amended Complaint (d/e 7), and Count III of the First Amended Complaint is dismissed.

APPLICABLE LAW

A motion for summary judgment must be granted "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)(2); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Herman v. Nat'l Broadcasting Co., Inc., 744 F.2d 604, 607 (7th Cir. 1984). Once the moving party has produced evidence showing that it is entitled to summary judgment, the non-moving party must present evidence to show that issues of fact remain. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). A court properly enters summary judgment "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; see McKenzie v. Ill. Dept. of Transp., 92 F.3d 473, 479 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Celotex). The court does not resolve disputed factual issues, but rather determines whether "there is a genuine issue for trial." Blaguss Travel Int'l v. Musical Heritage Int'l, 833 F.Supp. 708, 710 (N.D. Ill. 1993).

To successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, the non- movant must do more than raise a "metaphysical doubt" as to the material facts. See Zenith, 475 U.S. at 586. Instead, he must present "specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2); Zenith, 475 U.S. at 587 (emphasis omitted). There is not a genuine issue for trial if "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party . . . ." Zenith, 475 U.S. at 587.

FACTS

As of April 2008, Defendant employed Plaintiff as a supervisor in its production department. In October 2007, Plaintiff and a co-worker, Angel Welch, embarked on a personal project to build and test stilts at their workplace.*fn1 Plaintiff claims that his supervisor, Terri Helm, gave Welch and him permission to work on this project at work, on their own time. Brief, Ex. 2, Attachment "A". Plaintiff took photographs of the tests and posted them on his personal website. Id.

On April 18, 2008, Linda Walton, Defendant's human resources manager, obtained copies of these photographs from the Internet posting. Walton characterized the photographs as depicting "horseplay and seriously unsafe activities." Brief, Ex. 1, Declaration of Linda Walton, Ex. 1, Notice of Violation. Walton terminated Plaintiff's employment effective April 18, 2008, "[d]ue to the seriousness of the safety issues" shown in the photographs. Id. She issued a Notice of Violation, which Plaintiff signed and dated, acknowledging in his own handwriting that he "didn't even think of the safety issues" at the time he took the photographs and that, had he considered the safety issues, "it wouldn't have happened." Id. Plaintiff did not work for Defendant again after April 18, 2008. Reply, Ex. A-1, Declaration of Linda Walton, ¶ 4.

A few days later, Plaintiff contacted Defendant and requested a meeting related to his termination on April 18, 2008, because Plaintiff claimed that Helm had given him permission to engage in the behavior that led to the safety violations. Plaintiff returned to Defendant's offices on April 23, 2008, and met with personnel to discuss his claims. Plaintiff's explanation did not persuade Defendant, and Walton told Plaintiff at that meeting that the April 18, 2008, termination decision would not be modified. Reply, Ex. A-1, Declaration of Linda Walton, ¶ 6. Plaintiff alleges that he did not realize until April 26, 2008, that Defendant actually intended to fire him.

During the week of April 28, 2008, Plaintiff talked to Welch, his former co-worker and co-participant in the stilt project. Response, Ex. A, Declaration of Michael Hoffer, ¶ 6. In late 2007, while Plaintiff still worked for Defendant, he had provided information to higher-ups in the company that a supervisor, Larry Vahle, was sexually harassing and assaulting Welch. Defendant fired Vahle in January 2008.*fn2 During Plaintiff's conversation with Welch in April 2008, he learned that she had received a less serious punishment for the safety violations, and she told him that she thought they were both being punished for reporting Vahle's allegedly improper conduct. Plaintiff states that he realized sometime during the week of April 28, 2008, that Defendant had fired him for complaining about Vahle's treatment of Welch.

On February 25, 2009, Plaintiff met with his counsel and filled out the Illinois Department of Human Rights's (IDHR) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Intake Questionnaire. Plaintiff's counsel forwarded this document to the EEOC on February 26, 2009. The EEOC provided Plaintiff with its new charge form, and Plaintiff filed his Charge of Discrimination (Charge) with the EEOC on March 13, 2009. Brief, Ex. 2, Charge of Discrimination. He listed April 26, 2008, as the latest date on which discrimination had taken place. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant had terminated his employment to retaliate against him for "reporting and giving information about gross sexual harassment of employee Angel Welch by Supervisor Larry Vahle." Brief, Ex. 2, Attachment "A".

On March 24, 2009, John P. Rowe, the EEOC's district director, sent Plaintiff a Dismissal and Notice of Rights letter, informing Plaintiff that his "charge was not timely filed with EEOC; in other words, you waited too long after the date(s) of the alleged discrimination to file your charge." Brief, Ex. 2, Dismissal and Notice of Rights.

Plaintiff filed the original Complaint (d/e 1) in this Court on June 22, 2009, and later filed his three-count First Amended Complaint. In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant retaliated against him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., for opposing Vahle's alleged harassment of Welch. Count II is a claim for disparate treatment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., where Plaintiff claims that ...


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