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Doris Keeton v. Morningstar

May 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge:


On December 12, 2010, Plaintiff Doris Keeton filed a five-count First Amended Complaint against her employer Defendant Morningstar, Inc. ("Morningstar") alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Before the Court is Morningstar's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). For the following reasons, the Court grants Morningstar's motion and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.


Morningstar, a corporation doing business in Chicago, Illinois, is a leading provider of independent investment research. (R. 36, Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) Since August 2002, Morningstar has employed Keeton, who is African-American, in its legal department as a Compliance Consultant. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 4.) Morningstar employs two other Compliance Consultants, Lisa Derner and Rita Bentzler, who are white. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.) All Compliance Consultants report to Scott Schilling, Morningstar's Chief Compliance Officer. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 6.) Morningstar assigns each Compliance Consultant to one of its three subsidiaries that are registered investment advisors. (Id. ¶ 8.) Keeton's assigned subsidiary is Ibbotson Associates. (Id.) Compliance Consultants are responsible for ensuring that their respective subsidiary complies with all applicable federal securities laws. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 8.)

Morningstar does not maintain any formal policies or practices for determining the base salaries of its Compliance Consultants and does not factor employee seniority at Morningstar into salary decisions. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 11.) Instead, Morningstar makes initial salary offers based on market factors, including the availability of qualified candidates and their salary requirements. (Id. ¶ 10.) Keeton, Bentzler, and Derner were all lateral hires with several years of experience at other firms before joining Morningstar. (Id. ¶ 12.) Morningstar offered all of the Compliance Consultants a higher base salary than what they were making at their prior employers. (Id.) At the time Derner was hired in April 2008, Keeton had a base salary of $68,000, and Bentzler had a base salary of $65,000. (Id. ¶ 13.) Derner, who was making $68,000 at her previous job, demanded a base salary of $70,000 to come to Morningstar -- a demand Morningstar met. (Id. ¶ 14.)

In February 2010, Morningstar's General Counsel Richard Robbins sought input from Schilling regarding potential salary increases for his direct reports, including Keeton, Bentzler, and Derner. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.) Schilling recommended that Keeton, Derner, and Bentzler all receive salary increases based on their 2009 performance evaluations, but recommended the smallest increase for Keeton because her performance review identified several areas in which she needed improvement. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 33, 34.) The Compliance Consultants were awarded the following base salaries as of July 1, 2010 -- $70,000 for Keeton, $73,000 for Derner, and $70,150 for Bentzler. (Id. ¶ 35.) Since March 10, 2010, Keeton has been on disability leave for medical reasons unrelated to this lawsuit, and Morningstar's salary adjustments took effect nearly four months after Keeton commenced her medical leave of absence. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 36.)

In June 2010, Keeton filed an EEOC charge alleging that "[d]uring my employment I discovered that I am being paid less than a non-Black co-worker with less seniority and less qualifications." (R. 4, EEOC Charge at 2.) On June 11, 2010, the EEOC issued Keeton her right-to-sue letter. (Id. at 1.) Keeton filed the present lawsuit on August 31, 2010, and thus it is timely.


Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).*fn2 A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if "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, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). In determining summary judgment motions, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). After "a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (quotation omitted).


I. Race Discrimination -- Counts I and III

In Counts I and III of her First Amended Complaint, Keeton alleges that Morningstar intentionally discriminated against her based on her race in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See Swearnigen-El v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 602 F.3d 852, 860 n.6 (7th Cir. 2010) (courts apply the same standards for establishing race discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981). Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). To avoid summary judgment on her race discrimination claim, Keeton may use either the direct method or indirect method of proof pursuant to the familiar McDonnell Douglas framework. See Naik v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., 627 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2010); Egonmwan v. Cook County Sheriff's Dept., 602 F.3d 845, 849-50 (7th Cir. 2010). Because Keeton has not filed a Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Statement of Additional Facts, she has not presented any direct evidence of race discrimination, therefore, the Court turns to the indirect method of proof.

To establish a prima facie case under the indirect method of proof, Keeton must show that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) her job performance met Morningstar's legitimate expectations; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) Morningstar treated similarly situated individuals outside of her protected class more favorably. See Egonmwan, 602 F.3d at 850; Swearnigen-El, 602 F.3d at 860. If Keeton establishes these four prima facie elements of race discrimination, the burden then shifts to Morningstar to offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See Naik, 627 F.3d at 600. If Morningstar meets this burden, Keeton must demonstrate that the proffered reasons are pretext for discrimination. See Egonmwan, 602 F.3d at 850.

Courts often merge the second prima facie element, namely, whether the employee was performing to the employer's legitimate job expectations, with the pretext question because the issue of whether a plaintiff performed her job in a satisfactory manner lies at the heart of both questions. See Hague v. Thompson Distribution Co., 436 F.3d 816, 822-23 (7th Cir. 2006). Here, Keeton cannot establish that she was performing to Morningstar's legitimate job expectations in the context of the July 2010 salary increases. See Lucas v. PuraMax, Bank, FSB, 539 F.3d 661, 666 (7th Cir. 2008) (unapproachable, unproductive employee with poor attitude did not meet employer's legitimate job expectations). More specifically, not only is undisputed that both Derner and Bentzler had better performance reviews than Keeton, Keeton's peer reviews reflect that she had problems with interpersonal skills, that she had a negative attitude, and that she was abrupt or abrasive in her approach with others. (See Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 19-24.) Moreover, Schilling's performance review of Keeton specifically identified several areas of improvement, including cultivating better relationships. (Id. ¶ 27.) Based on these undisputed facts, Morningstar has proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for giving Keeton the smallest pay increase in July 2010. See Naik, 627 F.3d at 600. In addition, Keeton has failed to offer any evidence that Morningstar's proffered reason is pretext for discrimination. See Egonmwan, ...

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