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Valerie Allen v. City of Chicago

March 15, 2011

VALERIE ALLEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Valerie Allen filed a one-count second amended complaint against defendant City of Chicago, her former employer, alleging retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Defendant has filed the instant motion for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the motion is denied.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Defendant employed plaintiff, an African-American woman, from 1986 until 2008. She worked as an Assistant to the City Treasurer from April 16, 2004, through April 3, 2008, when she was terminated by the Treasurer's Office Chief of Staff, Bill Thanoukos, because of alleged sick leave abuse, unsatisfactory completion of assignments, and insubordination. The Treasurer's Office has approximately 25 employees. Because the office is so small, the staff members were expected to handle a number of tasks. In addition to her human resources responsibilities, plaintiff also maintained the office timesheets and processed the office's payment vouchers.

Plaintiff had no disciplinary issues from 2000 through December 2006, when she worked for Treasurer Judy Rice. In 2007, Rice was succeeded by Stephanie Neely, who immediately declared her expectation that the office's performance should improve across the board. Plaintiff's supervisors also included Mark Mitrovich (through July 2007), and Thanoukos (from July 2007 through the time of her termination).

Beginning in 2006, and continuing to the time of her termination, Mitrovich and Thanoukos raised perceived problems with plaintiff's ability to timely process the Treasurer's Office vouchers. The Treasurer's Office consistently ranked near the bottom of all City offices in voucher processing time. Between July and December 2007, however, the Treasurer's Office processed vouchers at or near the City-wide benchmark of 21 days. Further, in the three months preceding plaintiff's termination, the Treasurer's Office ranked near the top of all City offices in voucher processing time. In each of the four months before her termination, plaintiff individually improved her voucher processing time.

In October 2006, Mitrovich and plaintiff failed to resolve a scheduling issue regarding plaintiff's performance review. On December 1, 2006, plaintiff filed a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"), accusing Mitrovich of harassment based on sex and race. In early 2007, Mitrovich denied plaintiff's request for a discretionary merit-based wage increase allegedly based on plaintiff's failure to participate in filling out review forms. On May 10, 2007, plaintiff filed another IDHR charge alleging that she was denied a scheduled steppay increase as retaliation for filing the December 2006 charge. In June 2007, plaintiff requested that she no longer be supervised by Mitrovich. Her request was granted.

In June 2007, Thanoukos, at Neely's direction, orally assigned a calendar project to plaintiff, asking her to provide information on employees' attendance and their anticipated versus actual absences. The assignment did not have a deadline. Neely and Thanoukos felt that plaintiff failed to timely complete the assignment, include pertinent information, and present the information in a readily understandable manner. In late July 2007, Neely sent plaintiff an e-mail clarifying her expectations, and plaintiff ultimately completed the assignment. Another calendar project, assigned in December 2007, resulted in similar issues. There was no set due date, and formatting was left to plaintiff's discretion. Neely nonetheless indicated that this assignment was unsatisfactorily and untimely completed.

A third project-related issue arose in February 2008 when the Treasurer's Office was filling a vacant position. The assignment required plaintiff to identify on a chart whether positions were union or non-union and Shakman-covered or Shakman-exempt.*fn2 Plaintiff's chart incorrectly identified a position's Shakman status and also contained the "typo." On March 5, 2008, plaintiff was suspended without pay for one day due to her failure to perform the assignment satisfactorily. On March 15, 2008, she filed a charge alleging that the imposition of a one-day suspension was retaliation for filing her previous charges.

In addition to the issues regarding her projects, Thanoukos cited a pattern of absences as a reason for termination. Between June 4, 2007, and February 28, 2008, plaintiff took 13.5 days of sick leave. Most of the absences fell at the beginning or end of the work week and, under City personnel rules, such patterns of sick leave may be considered abusive. Accordingly, Thanoukos issued a written reprimand on February 28, 2008. Plaintiff testified that, around the same time, Thanoukos told her that "the Treasurer was tired of [her] from filing [her] charges, because they had just received the [March 15 charge]"; defendant disputes that Thanoukos made this statement. Plaintiff requested clarification regarding her sick time abuse, but four days after Thanoukos issued the reprimand, she was terminated for her alleged failure to progress in her work performance. On April 7, 2008, plaintiff filed her fourth and final charge alleging that she was discharged in retaliation for filing IDHR charges.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the moving party to identify portions of the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, and affidavits that demonstrate an absence of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court's role "is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact." Doe v. R.R. Donnelly & Sons, Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Stewart v. McGinnis, 5 F.3d 1031, 1033 (7th Cir. 1993). This standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where issues of intent and credibility often dominate. Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).

Prima Facie Retaliation Case

Title VII's anti-retaliation provision makes it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against" an employee "because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice" by the statute or "because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in [a relevant] investigation, proceeding, or hearing." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). An employee may prove retaliation under either the direct or indirect method of proof. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 801-02 (1973) ...


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