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Baldon v. Avis Rent A Car Systems

August 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George W. Lindberg


Plaintiff Roy Baldon's second amended complaint alleges claims of racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

I. Factual Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. Defendant is a car rental business. In August 2003, defendant hired plaintiff as a part-time shuttle driver at defendant's rental location at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. As a shuttle driver, plaintiff was responsible for moving defendant's rental vehicles between the O'Hare facility and defendant's other rental locations. Plaintiff's direct supervisor was Fleet Distribution Manager Mary Lafata, who in turn reported to City Manager Bill Rogers.

When plaintiff was hired, he signed a document titled "Some Examples of Behaviors that are Unacceptable at Work," acknowledging that he had read and understood it. In that document, defendant lists "some examples of serious behaviors that are contrary to [defendant's] Values and which may result in immediate termination of employment." The listed behaviors include theft from defendant; unauthorized use of company tools, equipment or property; and dishonesty.

A. Plaintiff's December 3, 2003 Complaint

On December 1, 2003, plaintiff joined a crew of shuttle drivers to move a number of cars. When plaintiff sat in the front seat of the van the crew was to use, another shuttle driver, Charles Bailey, told plaintiff that he had been sitting in that seat, and asked plaintiff to move. Bailey, who, like plaintiff, is African-American, then told plaintiff to "get your ass out of my seat before I kick your black ass," and called plaintiff a "black motherfucker." Plaintiff immediately reported the incident to his supervisor, Mary Lafata.

Lafata called Bailey and the lead driver of the shuttle van into her office for a meeting with plaintiff. During the meeting, Lafata told plaintiff that he knew Bailey had been sitting in the seat, instructed plaintiff to apologize to Bailey, and directed him to find out where the other drivers were sitting before getting in the van in the future.

On December 3, 2003, plaintiff called defendant's confidential employee complaint hotline. During this call, plaintiff reported, among other things, that Bailey had "addressed him with a profane, racial comment" and "called him a 'black mother f--cker'." Plaintiff complained that it was unfair that Lafata had blamed plaintiff for the incident.

B. December 10, 2003 Incident

On December 10, 2003, at 2:34 p.m., defendant's O'Hare Distribution Dispatcher, Harold Luchtman, assigned plaintiff to take a silver Chevrolet Impala from the O'Hare facility to defendant's rental location in Highland Park, Illinois. On the same day and at approximately the same time, Luchtman assigned two other shuttle drivers to take two other cars from O'Hare to Highland Park.

Defendant's shuttle drivers generally are expected to complete their assignments without stopping. Under defendant's policies and procedures, if a shuttle driver on an assigned route needs to stop to use the bathroom, get coffee, or eat lunch, the driver is expected to get permission from his distributor or manager to do so.*fn1

At approximately 3:05 p.m., an off-duty lead shuttle driver, Tim Giffin, was near the Gene & Jude's hot dog stand, which is approximately five miles from O'Hare Airport in the opposite direction from Highland Park. According to a written statement Giffin prepared later, Giffin saw an Avis shuttler getting into a silver Avis Impala at the hot dog stand at that location. Giffin called defendant's O'Hare facility and told dispatch clerk Angel Reyes that he had observed an Avis shuttle driver in the Gene & Jude's parking lot. Luchtman then called Giffin back and asked "if he was sure it was Roy & an Avis car"; Giffin responded "yes."

Luchtman then called Becky Clark, the agency operator at defendant's Highland Park facility, and asked her if the shuttle drivers had delivered the three cars to Highland Park. According to Clark, the other two drivers had arrived at 3:15 p.m, but plaintiff had not yet arrived.*fn2 Luchtman asked Clark to inspect plaintiff's car for food when he arrived.

Plaintiff arrived at the Highland Park facility approximately half an hour after the other two drivers.*fn3 According to Clark, plaintiff and the car smelled like hot dogs, and there were food wrappers in the car. According to Luchtman's December 13, 2003 written statement, Avis rental sales agent Ashwani Kashwap also told him that plaintiff's car smelled like food; however, Clark does not recall Kashwap being at the Highland Park facility that day.

After he delivered the car to Highland Park, plaintiff returned to the O'Hare facility. Luchtman called plaintiff into his office, told him that someone had seen him at Gene & Jude's, and asked him whether he had stopped there. Plaintiff told Luchtman that he had not stopped.

C. Plaintiff's Suspension

On December 11, 2003, Lafata and human resources representative Cheryl Reinwald met with plaintiff. At that meeting, plaintiff drafted and signed a written statement denying that he had stopped at Gene & Jude's the previous day. Lafata and/or Reinwald then suspended plaintiff, pending an investigation. As part of the investigation, statements were obtained from various individuals, including plaintiff, Luchtman, Clark, Giffin, ...

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