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Erika Renee Riley-Jackson, et al v. Casino Queen

March 2, 2011


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


A. Introduction and Procedural Overview

On September 4, 2007, Plaintiffs filed a three-count employment discrimination action against Casino Queen, Inc., under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., as amended, the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/1-109, et seq., and state common law (the latter claims based on this Court's pendent jurisdiction). Additional Plaintiffs joined the suit via a November 12, 2007 Second Amended Complaint. Three other amended complaints followed.

Plaintiffs, African-American employees and former employees of the Casino Queen, allege that they were subjected to unlawful racial discrimination, harassment and a hostile work environment as a result of the Casino Queen's unlawful conduct. Plaintiffs seek an award of compensatory damages for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses, as well as punitive damages.

Now before the Court is Defendant Casino Queen (CQ)'s motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff Janelle Quarles (Doc. 150). CQ seeks summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Quarles has filed a specific response in opposition (Doc. 217). Defendant CQ otherwise rests on its Master Reply (Doc. 331), and Plaintiff rests on her Master Surreply (Doc. 353).

B. Analysis

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). AccordAlabama v. North Carolina, -- U.S. --, 130 S. Ct. 2295, 2308 (2010); 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).

What the undersigned may not do in deciding a summary judgment motion is 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).

A factual dispute is genuine "only if a reasonable jury could find for either party," and disputed facts must be outcome-determinative to be "material" and preclude summary judgment. Montgomery v. American Airlines, Inc., 626 F.3d 382, 389 (7th Cir. 2010). See also Van Antwerp v. City of Peoria, Illinois, 627 F.3d 295, 297 (7th Cir. 2010). But, as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reiterated just days ago, in assessing the record before him, the undersigned Judge bears in mind that "the party opposing the motion gets the benefit of all facts that a reasonable jury might find." Loudermilk v. Best Pallet Co., LLC., -- F.3d --, 2011 WL 563765, *2 (7th Cir. Feb. 18, 2011).

In the instant case, Plaintiff Janelle Quarles claims she was deprived her right to the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms and conditions of her employment contract, as is enjoyed by white citizens, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Doc. 325, pp. 234-236 (Fifth Amended Complaint, Count 104)). Plaintiff Quarles commenced working for CQ in 2000 as a banquet server; she was terminated on or about July 25, 2005, purportedly because her Illinois Gaming Board license had been revoked (see Doc. 150-1, p. 185). The evidence in the record reflects that Quarles's gaming license was not terminated or suspended. Plaintiff contends that her termination and the events surrounding her termination are examples of CQ's practice of disciplining and harassing African American employees, when similarly situated white employees were not disciplined. CQ notes that there was evidence that Plaintiff was in possession of marijuana on CQ property (see Doc. 150-1, p. 188 Sworn Statement of Maurice Whitfield). CQ also contends that, aside from the revocation of Plaintiff's gaming license, Plaintiff had also received multiple reprimands, and immediately preceding her termination, Plaintiff had admittedly solicited charitable donations and sold raffle tickets and shirts in violation of company policy.

CQ maintains that summary judgment is appropriate because: (1) Section 1981 claims regarding acts prior to July 7, 2004, are barred by the four year statute of limitations; (2) Plaintiff's Section 1981 claim fails under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting model; (3) Plaintiff has filed to establish a claim for a racially hostile environment; and (4) CQ qualifies for the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, because it has an anti-harassment policy with clear reporting procedures, which plaintiff unreasonably failed to utilize.

1. The Statute of Limitations

Plaintiff Quarles correctly points out that September 4, 2003, is the proper cutoff date for the applicable four year statute of limitations ...

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