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Vicente Garcia v. Ta Operating LLC

January 12, 2011

VICENTE GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TA OPERATING LLC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

A. Introduction and Procedural Overview

Vicente Garcia worked in Mt. Vernon, Illinois as a technician for TA Operating LLC, which does business as Travel Centers of America (referred to herein simply as "TA"). TA operates service centers that offer diesel fuel, gasoline, restaurants, convenience stores, and truck repair/maintenance services. Garcia was one of sixteen automotive technicians working at TA's Mt. Vernon facility.

In his March 2010 amended complaint, Garcia alleged that TA refused him training needed to advance in his job and ultimately terminated his employment based on his race (Hispanic), thereby discriminating against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. The complaint also fleetingly references a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), 775 ILCS 5/1-101, et seq.*fn1

TA answered the complaint March 30, 2010. The case is set for jury trial January 24, 2011 with a January 21, 2011 final pretrial conference. The parties had an October 15, 2010 dispositive motion deadline. One timely-filed motion, fully briefed as of December 13, 2010, comes now before the Court -- TA's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 38). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion.

B. Standard Governing Summary Judgment Motions

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, discovery materials, and any affidavits show that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Turner v. The Saloon, Ltd., 595 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2010); Durable Mfg. Co. v. U.S. Department of Labor, 578 F.3d 497, 501 (7th Cir. 2009), citing FED.R.CIV.P.56(c). Accord Levy v. Minnesota Life Ins. Co., 517 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 2008); Breneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008), citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to, draw all legitimate inferences in favor of, and resolve all doubts in favor of the non-moving party. National Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). Accord Reget v. City of La Crosse, 595 F.3d 691 (7th Cir. 2010); TAS Distributing Co., Inc. v. Cummins Engine Co., Inc., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007).

When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, though, he must demonstrate the existence of a genuine fact issue to defeat summary judgment. Reget, 595 F.3d at 695. To survive summary judgment, the non-movant must provide admissible evidence on which the jury or court could find in his favor. See Maclin v. SBC Ameritech, 520 F.3d 781, 786 (7th Cir. 2008).

In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court may not evaluate the weight of the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. The court's only role is to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. National Athletic, 528 F.3d at 512, citing Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994). As the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals succinctly stated last month: "There is no genuine issue of material fact when no reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Van Antwerp v. City of Peoria, Illinois, -- F.3d --, 2010 WL 4923560, *2 (7th Cir. Dec. 6, 2010); quoting Brewer v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 479 F.3d 908, 915 (7th Cir. 2007).

Stated another way, summary judgment is the "put up or shut up" moment in litigation -- the point at which the non-movant must marshal and present to the court the admissible evidence which he contends will prove his case. Goodman v. National Security Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010), citing Everroad v. Scott Truck Systems, Inc., 604 F.3d 471, 476 (7th Cir. 2010), Eberts v. Goderstad, 569 F.3d 757, 767 (7th Cir. 2009), and AA Sales & Associates, Inc.v. Coni-Seal, Inc., 550 F.3d 605, 613 (7th Cir. 2008). With these principles in mind, the Court turns to the motion in the instant case.

C. Analysis

SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination in the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on an employee's "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In the instant case, Vicente Garcia asserts two race discrimination claims -- a failure-to-train claim and a discharge claim.

First, he alleges that from April 1, 2005 through July 17, 2008, TA refused to allow him to take classes needed to advance his position and increase his compensation, based on the fact he is Hispanic (Amended Complaint, Doc. 21, p. 3). Second, Garcia alleges that -- through the actions of supervisor Howard Chambliss -- TA terminated Garcia's employment on July 17, 2008, based upon his race (id.). Although the complaint only mentions one supervisor ("Howard Chamber"), apparently discovery clarified and broadened the allegation to include the actions of two supervisors. The parties' briefs focus on the actions of two TA managers -- Howard Chambliss (presumably the corrected name of "Howard Chamber") and Kevin Spain.

| UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS

The voluminous record before the Court, including deposition excerpts, sworn declarations, and numerous exhibits, disclose the following undisputed key facts.

The part of TA's Mt. Vernon facility that performs truck repair and maintenance is referred to as "the Shop." At the times pertinent to this lawsuit, Plaintiff Garcia worked in the Shop. The two Assistant Shop Managers in the Mt. Vernon Shop are Kevin Spain and James Ramirez. The General Manager of the Mt. Vernon Shop is Howard Chambliss. Chambliss reports to Roger Lister, the Field Manager, who oversees six TA locations. Lister reports to Mark Camp, whose title is Director of Truck Service.

Chambliss first met Vicente Garcia when visiting an AutoZone store as a customer. Garcia waited on Chambliss there. Chambliss later called Garcia and offered him a job at TA.

Garcia was hired in May 2005 as a Truck Service Advisor or "TSA," a position that involves working the parts counter, signing in trucks that come to the Shop for service, and running the cash register. Several months after starting work, Garcia expressed a desire to become a technician, despite the fact he had not had any formal training as a mechanic. To become a technician at TA, applicants must pass a test. Garcia did not pass the qualifying test on his first try. But Chambliss secured permission for Garcia to re-take the test. Chambliss also assigned Kevin Spain to assist Garcia in preparing for the test. Garcia passed the test on his second try, and he was offered the technician's job.

TA has seven levels of technicians, denominated "Tech 1" through "Tech 7." Tech 1s earn a commission of 38% of any labor sales they generate. The commission percentages rise by 1% per each higher tech level.

Garcia started as a Tech 1. His job duties included performing preventative maintenance (like oil changes) and tire service. Garcia received training on how to perform these services, and he was informed of the procedures and requirements for completing a certain checklist as part of any oil change -- the "PM Checklist."

Garcia was promoted to Tech 2, where he earned commissions of 39% of labor sales and was responsible for performing preventive maintenance, tire service and wheel service.Garcia's race discrimination claim based on failure to train rests on the premise that TA failed to promote him to Tech 3. Tech 3s earn commissions of 40% of labor sales.

To advance to Tech 3 (at the relevant time period to these allegations), a technician had to complete Department of Transportation training and attend a formal electrical class at a TA technician training location outside of Illinois ("Electrical Training Class").*fn2 TA's Corporate Training Department selected technicians to attend Electrical Training Class. That selection process was based on a system which, inter alia, gave priority to technicians who needed to satisfy requirements for the position they currently held (so-called "Catch Up" training). Vicente Garcia was not eligible for Catch Up training during his employment at TA, because he already had the required training for his current position. It remained possible for him to secure a spot in the Electrical Training Class, however, by being placed on a wait list, in case there was a last-minute cancellation for a class at a location within driving distance of the Mt. Vernon facility (see Doc. 39-7, Declaration of Mark DeLima).

In light of the fact that seats in these classes were limited, TA permitted technicians to be promoted to Tech 3 without attending Electrical Training Class, if they attained electrical certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence or "ASE." In fact, TA encouraged its technicians to obtain ASE certifications. If the technician passed a pre-test, TA paid the registration fee for the ASE test. And if the technician passed the ASE test, TA paid the technician a $125 incentive bonus. From May 2005 through May 2008, eleven employees at TA's Mt. Vernon facility passed ASE certification tests (see Doc. 39-7, p. 5).

As discussed further below, Garcia wanted to attend Electrical Training Class to get promoted to Tech 3 and earn more commission. In 2007, Kevin Spain emailed the Corporate Training Department requesting that Garcia and two other employees be permitted to attend Electrical Training Class. Garcia and the two co-workers were placed on the wait list for cancellations, but no seats opened up for the class within driving distance of the Mt. Vernon facility.Garcia never attempted to obtain his ASE certification (to secure promotion via that route, instead of through Electrical Training Class).

One of Garcia's duties was to perform oil changes. One step in this process involved the technician reinserting the oil pan plug and torquing or tightening it. The technician must have a second technician verify that the plug is properly torqued. Additionally, if the truck's driver is available, the technician should have the driver verify that the oil pan plug is tight.

Garcia was aware of these requirements and aware that, as part of an oil change, he must complete the PM Checklist. The PM Checklist has a spot where the second technician and truck driver signify their verification of the plug tightening. These requirements appear in TA's written policy regarding "Assurance Checks." Garcia acknowledged that this policy was explained to him in training he received and that he also ...


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