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Otis Jackson v. Motorola

March 7, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


Plaintiff, Otis Jackson, sued his former employer, Motorola, Inc., for disability, age, and race discrimination and retaliation. Motorola has moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted on all counts.


Otis Jackson worked as an engineer for Motorola for twenty-one years. In 1999 or 2000, he became a Senior Engineer in the Systems Integration and Test ("SIT") Department at Motorola. Key personnel above him in that department were Dan Russ, a Lead Manager who was Jackson's immediate supervisor, Steve Vedra, Russ's boss who was an Engineering Manager, and Sheilah Quintana, another lead manager. Russ and Vedra are Caucasian. Quintana is Hispanic.

SIT is a department within Motorola's Networks and Enterprise ("N&E") unit. It is located in Schaumburg, Illinois. SIT builds and tests communications systems primarily for sale to public entities. Within SIT, Mr. Jackson's job was to develop "test cases" and then put those cases through functionality testing in a laboratory. Test cases are approved in Formal Technical Review ("FTR") meetings, the purpose of which is to peer-test the protocols. After FTR, systems in development are run through the test cases.

A. Back Injury and Condition

During the testing phase, engineers bend down, reach up, and lift equipment as needed. At the end of one of his test cases, while disassembling wires, Mr. Jackson injured his back. This incident occurred in 2001. On November 18, 2002, he took FMLA leave in connection with his back injury. Sometime in 2003, he was diagnosed with a herniated disc and had a surgery known as a "laminectomy" to repair it. He returned to work in October 2003. When he returned he was restricted by his physician to light work, with no lifting over twenty-five pounds and no repetitive bending at the waist. These restrictions were in place until November 21, 2003, when the physician relaxed the lifting restriction to thirty-five pounds. On February 9, 2004, Jackson's physician placed him on a permament fifty-pound lifting restriction and an order not to engage in "prolonged or repetitive" bending at the waist.

Mr. Jackson still finds lifting and bending difficult. He has an eleven year-old grandson. The boy helps Mr. Jackson lift and carry his groceries. Prior to the injury, Mr. Jackson would play in the grass with his grandson but now can only throw and catch a ball and other "limited" activities.

Though not limited by his physician, Jackson asserts that his condition inherently limits his walking. He experiences pain upon walking one or two blocks, at which point he stops to rest. He sometimes walks as much as two blocks to catch public transportation.

Jackson used to engage in substantial home upkeep like plumbing repairs and lawn mowing, but now only does minor repairs such as changing light bulbs and instead calls professional help for more substantial tasks.

Jackson is able to get into and out of bed, bathe and generally groom himself. Jackson can drive and shop. Getting dressed takes longer than before the injury. It now takes him roughly twenty minutes whereas it used to take him five to ten minutes.

B. Performance and Termination

From 1985 through 2000, Jackson received "Exceeds Standards," or the rough equivalent, as performance ratings in his annual reviews. In 2001 & 2002, the parties dispute what the ratings say. Jackson contends he received "SE" ratings in 2002, which he interprets as"Surpasses Expectations Meets Expectations." Motorola claims the reviews are actually ME, or "Meets Expectations," in 2001, and "MX," essentially the same thing, in 2002. Neither side cites to an exhibit supporting their claim, so the tie clearly goes to Jackson as the non-movant.

There is no dispute as to what ratings Jackson was given in 2004 and 2005, which was "Needs Improvement," though Jackson vigorously disputes the merits of those ratings.The 2004 review was completed by Russ with some input from Quintana. The reviews cited problems such as not thoroughly incorporating changes from the peer-review process into his test cases, taking longer than expected with tasks, a lack of self-sufficiency, and an inability to mentor new hires. The 2005 review cites similar problems, with a particular emphasis on his inability to accomplish tasks without resorting to help from other people. The report described this as the key "delta between Otis and his peer." According to the report, peers who have worked with similar systems "for less time require less support and complete tasks more timely." Both contemporaneously and in the context of this litigation, Jackson submitted his disagreements with substantially all of these assessments of his performance.

Because of his back-to-back "Needs Improvement" ratings in 2004 and 2005, Motorola placed Jackson on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP"). The PIP was commenced in a meeting with Lavine Douglas, Russ, and Vedra that took place on May 16, 2006. The PIP was supposed to run for ninety days. In that ninety-day period, Jackson was to accomplish specific tasks commensurate with someone in his pay grade who had two to three years experience in SIT. Jackson was given a mentor (he claims it was one, Motorola asserts it was two) and Dan Russ was to meet with him once weekly to track his progress. Jackson claims the "weekly" meetings only happened once per month during the PIP.

In 2006, Motorola announced the merger of two business units, the Government and Enterprise Mobility Solutions ("GEMS" ) unit and the Networksunit. The merger formed the N&E unit in which SIT is a department. As part of the merger, Motorola directed departments within N&E to commence a Reduction in Force ("RIF"). As Engineering Manager in SIT, Vedra was charged to implement the RIF. He consulted with Human Resources to identify people based on various criterion such as work performance within peer group, skill set, and criticality of work performed. Vedra claims these criterion alone informed his selections of persons to be laid off. Specifically, he has sworn via affidavit that the Needs Improvement rating and Jackson's performance in the PIP were his sole motivation for selecting Jackson. Jackson was informed of his selection for termination as part of the RIF on September 13, 2006. He was terminated on November 17, 2006.

C. Race and Age

Mr. Jackson is an African-American and was born on August 22, 1952, making him 54 years old on the date of his termination. According to Jackson, at the time of his termination SIT had "about 5 black employees" out of thirty-five to forty total employees in SIT.

At some point, Jackson began to feel that his declining performance reviews were related to his race, age, gender, or disability. Jackson wrote in response to his 2005 review that "[s]ince it's stated that I struggle and lack a detailed system understanding, I would hope in the future, direction training and the opportunity to grow would be made available to me (like it is to some) in SIT." He claims this was a veiled reference to discriminatory treatment.

As an example of opportunities not presented to him, Jackson describes an incident in 2004 in which he asked his supervisor, Sheilah Quintana, to receive training on a new technology called the "NICE" system. Jackson claims that in August of 2004, two other employees, both white and in their mid-20s (Eric Bohn and Julie, whose surname Jackson cannot recall) received training on NICE. Bohn, who shared a supervisor with Jackson, later received a raise and promotion which Jackson did not. Dan Chigi, Dan Posacki, and Suda (surname omitted) also were given raises and promoted while Jackson was not. Chigi and Posacki are white, Suda is Asian. All were in their twenties.

Jackson made an appointment to see Lavine Douglass for April 16, 2006. In that meeting, he complained of racial discrimination. Douglas said she would relay his charge to Russ and Vedra. Jackson heard nothing back.

In 1999 or 2000, a sixty-two-year-old black man was handed a broom and told to sweep in a corner. However, technicians are frequently told to clean up when equipment is moved around, including younger, non-minority technicians.

In 1989 or 1990, a former boss asked another employee "where's that nigger?," apparently referring to Jackson. Unbeknownst to the former boss, Jackson was in earshot. A similarly offensive term was overheard on ballfields near Motorola (where Motorola employees frequently gather) around the same time.

D. Proceedings

As mentioned above, Jackson was terminated on November 17, 2006. He filed a simultaneous charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department Human Rights and the EEOC on January 19, 2007. The EEOC issued a right to sue letter to Jackson on January 8, 2009. This lawsuit was filed on March 28, 2009.


Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence submitted in summary judgment briefing must be admissible at trial under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Hemsworth v., Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007). The court evaluates admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S 317, 324 (1986); Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 773 (7th Cir. 2005). The party who bears the burden of proof on an issue must affirmatively demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires a trial to resolve. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett; Springer v. Durflinger, 518 F.3d 479, 484 (7th Cir. 2008).


Two statements of fact are meaningfully contested. The first is Plaintiff's statement that he "only knows of one other individual in SIT that was terminated as [sic] Motorola's 'reduction in force', Ralph Simmons. He is African-American and about the same age as Jackson." Motorola objects to this assertion for lack of foundation because Plaintiff has not firmly established that Simmons was the only other African-American terminated through the RIF, only that Simmons is the only other layoff Jackson is aware of. Motorola's objection is sustained.

Second, Jackson asserts that shortly after he was terminated, he "was told" by two former colleagues that Motorola was hiring into SIT and that a white male was hired as a Test Engineer for SIT. This is, of ...

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