Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Adams v. City of Chicago

March 30, 2010

DAVID ADAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

David Adams was employed by the City of Chicago as an accountant from 1999 until his termination in 2005. In this lawsuit, Adams contends he was subjected to a hostile work environment, disciplined, and ultimately discharged because he is infected with HIV. In the alternative, Plaintiff asserts that his discharge was in retaliation for his filing a charge of disability discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"). Defendant City of Chicago has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has no evidence of a hostile environment and that there was no impropriety in the decision to discharge him. The City contends that Plaintiff's medical condition does not qualify as a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In any event, the City urges, the decision-makers who disciplined Plaintiff over the several years of his employment were unaware of Plaintiff's HIV-positive status, and the discharge decision was based on Plaintiff's work performance and attitude. For the reasons set forth here, the motion is granted.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff's Assignment in the Fiscal Unit

Plaintiff was employed by the City in its Department of Planning and Development ("DPD") from June 1, 1999 until his termination on August 5, 2005. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.) The DPD includes several divisions; one of them, the Administrative Services Division, is comprised of the Office Operations Unit, which manages the DPD's vehicles, equipment, and supplies. The Division also includes the Fiscal Unit, which processes invoices, performs accounting and record keeping, prepares fiscal reports and budgets, reviews contracts, and administers grants. (Id. ¶ 4.) David Wells became the Managing Deputy Commissioner in March 2001, and in late 2002, Nikki Bravo, who had been assistant Commissioner of the Administrative Services Division, was assigned to oversee the Fiscal Unit. Bravo reported to Wells until 2007. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5.)

In 2001, Plaintiff transferred to the Fiscal Unit as an Accountant IV. In that position, he was primarily responsible for processing vouchers from the DPD's Real Estate Division, securing funding for certain projects, reporting on the DPD's financial position, and preparing budget reports. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 6; Pl.'s 56.1 Add'l ¶ 14.) The Real Estate Division "grew," the parties agree, in 2002 or 2003, when the DPD absorbed a real estate division from the Department of Housing and staff from the Department of General Services, resulting in more work for the entire Fiscal Unit. (Pl.'s 56.1 Add'l ¶ 1; Def.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 7.) Even before that growth, Tina Drews, who had the title of "Coordinator of Special Projects," occasionally helped to process vouchers when there was a "high volume." (Pl.'s 56.1 Add'l ¶ 12.) Plaintiff suggests that Mr. Wells, the Managing Deputy Commissioner of the DPD, was not sensitive to the Fiscal Unit's workload; although Wells had worked as an Accountant IV, he did not process vouchers or prepare reports and budgets relating to real estate and was unaware how the expansion of the DPD's Real Estate Division impacted on the volume of vouchers, reports, and budgets that the Fiscal Unit processed. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.)

The only other Accountant IV in the Unit, Rosendo Mota, was assigned to process vouchers for another DPD division, and to handle revenue and petty cash and work on special reports. Mota's job required creation of monthly reports for all City land sales; transfer of security deposits to the "balance sheet account"; "reconcil[iation of] the accounts to ensure sufficient funds for property taxes"; and transfer of funds to the "voucher account." (Id. ¶¶ 7, 66.) Mota testified that three months after he began working in the DPD, Plaintiff assumed most of the real estate work: "I [Mota] was doing the revenue and he [Plaintiff] was doing Real Estate invoices and I was doing invoices for Neighborhoods." Because half of Mota's work was "revenue," he processed only half as many vouchers as Plaintiff did. (Mota Dep., Ex. 4 to Pl.'s 56.1, at 11-12.) Mota noted, further, that Plaintiff was responsible for handling all the "special invoices," a time-consuming project because it required obtaining signatures from several individuals. (Id. at 31.) Mota testified that Plaintiff was "great" at getting work done. (Id. at 13.) Tina Drews, too, thought Plaintiff had a "very good work ethic. His work was complete. It was always accurate, and as far as [she] knew, it was always on time." (Def.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff believed he had more work to do than anyone else, but was nevertheless able to "get it done in a timely manner until they started making unusually tight time frames." (Adams Dep., Ex. 5 to Pl.'s 56.1, at 37.)

The record identifies several individuals as Plaintiff's supervisors. Defendant asserts, and Plaintiff has admitted, that Margaret Wilson was Plaintiff's direct supervisor from February 9, 2002 until March 31, 2004. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.) The parties also agree that from late 2002 until his termination in 2006, Plaintiff reported either directly or indirectly to Nikki Bravo. (Def.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 22.) They agree, further, that as of August 2, 2004, Leonard Obilor became the Director of Finance for the Fiscal Unit and was Adams's and Mota's direct supervisor. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8.)

When Obilor began working as Director of Finance, he instituted new policies, including a central filing systems for vouchers. Obilor required employees who processed vouchers to include the property's "PIN" number, as well as the property's address, on each voucher.*fn2 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 16.) Obilor also enforced a January 2004 policy requiring that all payment vouchers be processed within five to ten days. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff received a copy of that policy, and, though it took him up to thirty days to process what he characterized as an "irregular invoice," Plaintiff testified that he was able to get his own work done and occasionally volunteered to help his co-workers process their outstanding invoices. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 18.) Other changes Obilor instituted included requiring employees who reported to him to get his advance approval before sending e-mails to persons in other divisions, requiring his staff to obtain Obilor's approval before seeking assistance from an intern, and prohibiting Accountant IV's (like Plaintiff) from going to the Comptroller's office, which is in a separate building, to pick up checks. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20, 69.)

Obilor did not confirm Plaintiff's account of an excessive workload. Obilor acknowledged that his employees might complain about their workloads from time to time, but he did not recall any specific complaints from Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5.) Nor did Obilor specifically compare Plaintiff's workload with that of James Varghese, who ultimately replaced Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 6, citing Obilor Dep., Ex. 6 to Pl.'s 56.1, at 49-50.) The parties agree that Plaintiff's work processing vouchers could be complicated by "funding issues." When such issues arose, Nikki Bravo testified, Plaintiff would not be viewed as "delinquent or tardy in processing that invoice," but was expected to attempt to resolve the issue in a timely manner and, if he was unable to do so, make a note of the difficulties on the invoice when he submitted it to Bravo. (Def.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8, citing Bravo Dep., Ex. 1 to Pl.'s 56.1, at 94-97.)

Evaluations

Managers in the DPD "strive[] to complete [formal performance evaluations] every six month for employees," using a form document labeled "Performance Management System." (Pl.'s 56.1 Add'l ¶ 23.) The evaluations were conducted by the employee's immediate supervisor, and reviewed by the supervisor's own supervisor. (Id.; Bravo Dep., Ex. 1 to Pl.'s 56.1 at 50-51.) Thus, Nikki Bravo evaluated all employees in the Administrative Services Division either directly or indirectly. (Bravo Dep. at 51.) Bravo recalls having seen a formal evaluation for Plaintiff after the Fiscal Unit came under her supervision, though she does not recall having been the one to give him such an evaluation. (Id. at 52-53.) For the first six months of 2002, Plaintiff's performance was ranked between "Very Good" and "Outstanding." ("Performance Management System" document, Ex. 14 to Pl.'s 56.1.)

The only other performance evaluation form that appears in the record is dated April 25, 2005. The form is signed by Plaintiff and by Leonard Obilor but is otherwise incomplete--that is, it contains no evaluation of Plaintiff's performance. ("Performance Management System" document, Ex. 17 to Pl.'s 56.1.)*fn3 There are no other performance evaluations in the record, but Plaintiff has submitted two pages of handwritten notes of a meeting on May 12, 2005. (Handwritten notes, Ex. 16 to Pl.'s 56.1.) The record does not show who authored notes or maintained the document, but the name David Adams appears at the top of the first page of these notes, and the names "Leonard [Obilor], David [Adams], Nikki [Bravo]" are listed in the left margin. The notes suggest that, as Plaintiff contends, there was a discussion of "payment vouchers and overrides" at this meeting, but the notes do not support Plaintiff's contention that he stated his disagreement with a methodology proposed by Bravo and Obilor. Plaintiff correctly observes that the unidentified note-taker made no record of Plaintiff's alleged statement (for which he was later disciplined, as described below), "I am not a secretary." The notes do include the following account:

Informed David in this meeting that mgmt will not be tolerating his behavior any longer. David was warned that his undesirable, annoying behavior during the course of this meeting would be the last one. David admitted understanding what I meant.

Plaintiff's Disciplinary History

Plaintiff characterizes his work performance for the DPD as excellent. (Id. ¶ 9.) As Defendant emphasizes, however, Plaintiff was the subject of discipline imposed by five different supervisors during the period from 2002-05. Plaintiff does not specifically challenge this assertion, though he notes that all of that discipline was imposed while Nikki Bravo was the overall supervisor of the Real Estate Division of the DPD. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff was a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ("AFSCME") during his employment. The collective bargaining agreement between the City and AFSCME calls for progressive discipline, but Plaintiff denies that the agreement "provides the requisites of applying progressive discipline." He cites the testimony of his co-worker, Rosendo Mota, who served as Union Treasurer, that supervisors "wrote him [Plaintiff] up for four or five different charges simultaneously," but does not specifically explain how the practice of issuing multiple charges is inconsistent with progressive discipline. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 10; Mota Dep., Ex. 4 to Pl.'s 56.1 Resp., at 19.) Defendant asserts that Plaintiff was entitled to file grievances, but Mota's testimony, and the language of the AFSCME agreement, support a finding that the right to bring a grievance was that of the union, not the individual employee. (Id. at 14-17; AFSCME agreement, Ex. 2 to Pl.'s 56.1 Resp., Article 21.)

On May 17, 2002, Jarese Wilson*fn4 gave Plaintiff a verbal warning that his work assignments were three to four weeks past due. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 11.) In a confirmatory memo, Ms. Wilson offered to discuss the need for assistance at weekly meetings but warned that absent improvement, there would be further disciplinary action. (Verbal Warning follow-up memo, Exhibit 9 to Adams' Dep, Exhibit C to Def.'s 56.1) Plaintiff points out that his workload had increased when the DPD had taken on responsibilities for the Real Estate Division, an observation confirmed by two co-workers. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 11, citing Drews Dep., Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 17-19 and Mota Dep., Pl.'s Ex. 4 at 10.)

Almost a year later, on April 8, 2003, Nikki Bravo issued a written reprimand charging Plaintiff with "discourteous treatment," "insubordination" and "conduct unbecoming." The written reprimand does not elaborate on the nature of the alleged wrongdoing, and Plaintiff denies having engaged in any discourtesy, but admits he did not file a grievance to challenge the reprimand. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 12.) Five months later, on September 5, 2003, Ms. Bravo issued a three-day suspension, citing the same kind of general misconduct and again providing no details concerning the incident(s) that generated the discipline. Plaintiff again denies any wrongdoing but acknowledges that he did not grieve the discipline. (Id.. ¶ 13.)

In January 2004, Kivu Robinson, who held the title "Program Auditor III" within the DPD, sent an e-mail message asking Plaintiff to provide him with "a status of all Acquisitions to date that DPD has PAID for any properties." Plaintiff's response began with the words, "Kivu, Actually, the Director of Acquisitions etc., etc., etc. should be tracking all CHA Acquisitions.... (but thats [sic] another tale)." (Adams Dep., Pl.'s Ex. 5, Ex. 13.) Defendant characterizes this response as "an improper e-mail to the Director of Acquisitions in the DPD's Real Estate Division." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 14.) Plaintiff denies that he was responding to an e-mail from the Director of Acquisitions (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 14), and the material Defendant cites does not support the assertion that Robinson was the Director of Acquisitions.*fn5 It is undisputed, however, that Plaintiff sent copies of his message to six other employees (Plaintiff asserts they were the same persons who had received copies of the original inquiry). (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff admits, further, that after a January 23, 2004 "pre-disciplinary meeting," he agreed to attend a counseling session (Plaintiff refers to this as a "PSP session") in lieu of discipline, and that he did not pursue a grievance regarding this episode. (Id.) Another performance episode occurred on April 5, 2004, when Nikki Bravo e-mailed Plaintiff to remind him to process vouchers promptly and to warn him that his behavior at a staff meeting was unacceptable (Plaintiff had taken his shoes off, put his feet up on a chair, and fallen asleep). In a response the court would characterize as unrepentant, Plaintiff explained that he understood it was an "informal meeting" and that cold medication had made him drowsy. He also accused Bravo of "intentionally trying to aggravate" him. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 15; E-mail exchange, Adams Dep., Ex. 31.)

In August 2004, Plaintiff again sent an e-mail message that drew the attention of his supervisors. (E-mail chain, Ex. 17 to Adams Dep.) On August 6, 2004, Blanca Beauchamp of the City's Real Estate Division sent Nikki Bravo a message in which she asked about the status of three checks. On August 12, Ms. Bravo promised Ms. Beauchamp a prompt status report, and Plaintiff in fact provided it the next day. His August 13 e-mail message furnished the requested information, but pointed out that "[I]f you [Ms. Beauchamp] would check with Julie Bengston you would find" the requested information. The message ended with the comment, "By the way, How do you track this information? I'm sure Julie Bengston makes you aware when she receives checks." (Id.) Plaintiff sent his message to all of the individuals who received copies of Ms. Beauchamp's original request. Jamie Rhee, the Deputy Director of the Real Estate Division, responded, explaining to Plaintiff that "Julie and Bianca do exchange info" but that getting check information from Plaintiff's division was nevertheless helpful. Mr. Rhee concluded his message by saying, "I am not sure why every time we ask for info from you we get a hostile response. I personally do not appreciate the way you respond and to all of the people some of them outside our dept.... [S]ince getting checks is your job I am not sure why it bothers you so [to provide information] and [why] you want to refer us a [sic] another dept." (Id.) In response to this incident, Obilor conducted a pre-disciplinary meeting, and issued a one-day suspension to Plaintiff for discourteous conduct, insubordination and "conduct unbecoming." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 22.)

Yet another incident occurred the following month. On September 23, 2004, Plaintiff left the office without Mr. Obilor's express authorization in order to pick up some checks from the Comptroller's office. Plaintiff claims he did tell Obilor that he was on this way to pick up checks, but that Obilor slammed a door in his face. Although he denies any misconduct, Plaintiff admits that Obilor issued a seven-day suspension for leaving the office without authorization, not following procedure when completing invoices, slamming the door, and yelling across the office when he received his pre-disciplinary notice. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 23.) He admits, further, that the discipline was imposed for violations of rules prohibiting leaving the office without authorization, discourteous conduct, insubordination, failure to complete assignments, incompetence and inefficiency, and "conduct unbecoming." (Id. ¶ 24.)

On November 22, Defendant conducted a predisciplinary meeting to address a number of infractions related to Plaintiff's failure to process and record certain vouchers and to complete an audit in a timely fashion. (Def.'s 56.1 ΒΆ ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.