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Van v. Peters

June 24, 2010

VIHN T. VAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARY E. PETERS, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Vihn Van has been employed by the United States Department of Transportation ("DOT") as an electrical engineer since 1985. She began her career at the DOT as a Grade 7 engineer and, after more than 20 years with the DOT, was promoted to a Grade 12 engineer.*fn1

Dissatisfied with her failure to obtain a promotion to Grade 13 and upset by interactions with her supervisor, Ms. Van filed a three-count complaint under Title VII alleging discrimination based on her race (Asian), sex (female), and national origin (Vietnamese) arising from her employment at the DOT. The DOT's motion for summary judgment is before the court. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

I. Background

A. Local Rule 56.1

Under Local Rule 56.1, a party seeking summary judgment must submit a statement of material facts, consisting of short numbered paragraphs accompanied by citations to admissible evidence. Loc. R. 56.1(a). The opposing party must submit a concise response to the movant's statement, admitting or denying each paragraph in the movant's statement and citing to supporting evidence. Loc. R. 56.1(b)(3). Failure to include "specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon" in support of a denial may cause the movant's facts to be deemed admitted to the extent that they are supported by the record. See id.; Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997); Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 924 (7th Cir. 1994). Failure to comply with the local rules governing the form of summary judgment motions is not a "harmless technicality." Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 924 (7th Cir. 1994).

In this case, Ms. Van frequently responds to the DOT's facts by contending they are misleading, irrelevant, or argumentative or adds additional facts. For example, paragraph 20 of the DOT's facts provides, "[i]n June 2007, Van was speaking in her native Vietnamese language while on a company phone. Ex.1, pg.25, ln. 19-24." In response, Ms. Van states:

Response: Objection as misleading, Van was talking on the phone with a co-worker in Washington.

Q: I thought it was June 2007. I thought you told [sic] It was June 2007?

A: The incident when I filed a complaint on June 2007. I filed a complaint because the incident happened on June 2007, and when I was talking on the phone with the worker in Washington, yeah. (Van Deposition page 23, Lines 18-24)

This fails to respond to a simple declarative statement by DOT: was Ms. Van speaking Vietnamese on a company phone in June of 2007? To the extent that Ms. Van fails to admit or deny the DOT's facts by providing non-responsive responses, the DOT's facts are deemed admitted. See Loc. R. 56.1(b)(3)(C). Similarly, to the extent that Ms. Van contends that the DOT's facts are misleading, irrelevant, or argumentative, but does not provide specific citations to the record that support her position, the DOT's facts are deemed admitted. Id.; see also Keefe v. Mega Enterprises, Inc., No. 02 CV 5156, 2005 WL 693795, at *1 (N.D. Ill Mar. 23, 2005) (objecting to statements of facts on relevance grounds is inappropriate). Finally, for both sides, where objections are mere semantic quibbling and the fact asserted is supported by the record, the fact is deemed admitted. With this understanding, the following facts are derived from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements and are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

B. Facts

1. The Parties

Plaintiff Vihn Van immigrated from Vietnam to the United States in 1979 at the age of 21. After she graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1985, the DOT hired Ms. Van as an entry-level electrical engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA"). Ms. Van began her career at the DOT as a Grade 7 engineer, and through promotions over the years reached the Grade 12 level.

John Welzenbach is Ms. Van's immediate supervisor at the DOT. Angel Cuadrado is another supervisor at the DOT. Al Sampra and Tom Stanonis are DOT engineers who work at the Grade 13 level. Phil Chung is Vietnamese and one of Ms. Van's co-workers at the DOT. Joe Nakanishi is another co-worker at the DOT and is also Ms. Van's union representative.

2. Events Leading up to Van's EEOC Charge

In her complaint, Ms. Van points to four alleged instances of race, sex and national origin discrimination.

a. Cell Phone in the Stairwell

The first allegedly discriminatory action occurred in November of 2006, when Angel Cuadrado, another DOT supervisor, complained to Mr. Welzenbach that Ms. Van was talking on her cell phone in the stairwell for 20-30 minutes. Mr. Cuadrado believed that Ms. Van was ...


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