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Mamie L. Love v. Community Nutrition Network

December 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment [57] filed by Defendant Community Nutrition Network ("CNN") and a cross motion for summary judgment [62] filed by Plaintiff Mamie Love. For the following reasons, the Court grants CNN's motion [57] and denies Plaintiff's motion [62]. Judgment is entered in favor of CNN and against Plaintiff Mamie Love.

I. Background

A. Factual History*fn1

CNN is a nonprofit organization receiving its funds from the State of Illinois and private contributions. It runs 19 nutritional centers in the Chicago area and is affiliated with Meals On Wheels. At its centers, it prepares and serves lunch to senior citizens. Meals On Wheels delivers meals prepared in centers to seniors at their homes. CNN employs about 45 part-time and full-time employees and typically in a year will have approximately 600 volunteers at its Centers.

Plaintiff started volunteering at CNN's Rich Township Nutrition Center in approximately May of 2009, when she started coming in to have lunch with her mother who was, and apparently still is, a patron. As a volunteer, Plaintiff assisted in service of lunch to 30 or 40 elderly people. In early June, the center manager, Sandra O'Neill, offered Plaintiff employment as a food service assistant. Plaintiff accepted, and filled out an employment application on June 12. She also went through a background check (which delayed the start of her employment), visited CNN's corporate office to complete paperwork on June 29, and started work as an employee on or about July 1, 2009. She was paid for a total of 72 hours of employment at the rate of $8.00 an hour through her leaving employment on July 14, 2010. According to Defendant's statement of facts (and not contested by Plaintiff), CNN actually paid her for more hours than she worked.

For the first two weeks of her employment at CNN, until the July 14 incident described below, Ms. O'Neill was satisfied with Plaintiff's performance. She did not have any complaints with Plaintiff, and Plaintiff did not complaint to her about any issues or persons on the job.

1. CNN's Rich Township Nutrition Center

CNN's Nutrition Center is located within the Rich Township Senior Citizen Center. CNN serves lunch to the seniors who engage in various recreational activities at the Senior Center or who just come in for lunch. CNN employs two people at the Rich Township Center. Ms. O'Neill, a Caucasian, is the manager of the center, and she also employs one food service assistant. She has been a CNN Manager since 2002. Several volunteers assist CNN's two employees with cooking, serving, and cleaning up from the lunches served five days per week. In addition, Ms. O'Neill's daughter, Patricia Ryan, is a floating manager employed by CNN. When CNN needs an employee to fill in at the Rich Township Center, Ms. Ryan often performs that function. The kitchen operation and the dining room at the center are immediately adjacent to each other in an open layout so that activities in one area are visible to persons in the other.

2. The July 14 Incident

On July 14, 2009, Ms. O'Neill was absent from work because of medical issues. Around midday, she received a telephone call from Sandi Fuhrman, the Rich Township Senior Center's Director. Ms. Fuhrman informed her that there had been an incident involving Ms. Love and the volunteers and that the seniors were very upset. Ms. Fuhrman told Ms. O'Neill that Ms. Love had very loudly, repeatedly, and forcefully told the volunteers, in front of all the volunteers and patrons: "When I get respect from you, you will get respect from me." She forbade the volunteers from getting near the oven or the refrigerator (which they had to do as part of their duties). Also, Ms. Fuhrman told Ms. O'Neill that the incident was so loud and disruptive that Rich Township's Senior Center employees had come out of their offices to see what was going on. Ms. Love admitted at her deposition that she had announced to the seniors words to the effect of "we are all adults here and we all need to respect one another," and that there had been some name calling. She also admitted that she might have told volunteers to "step back" from the oven where they were taking food out.

Ms. O'Neill then telephoned Ms. Love. According to Ms. Love, Carol O'Brien, Ms. O'Neill's boss, had phoned her, not Ms. O'Neill.*fn2 Regardless of who contacted Ms. Love, the message was more or less the same. According to Ms. O'Neill, she asked her what had happened and she said "nothing." Ms. O'Neill told her to go home, and not come back to work until Ms. O'Neill returned so they could talk about it. According to Ms. Love, Ms. O'Brien told her that she had created a disturbance and that she should not come back to work until Ms. O'Neill returned.

When Ms. O'Neill returned on July 21, she telephoned Ms. Love at the telephone number on file, but the number had been disconnected. Ms. Love did not contact Ms. O'Neill again.*fn3

Plaintiff was replaced as food service assistant by another ...

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