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Gail anderson v. Jewel Food Stores

August 5, 2011

GAIL ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEWEL FOOD STORES, INC., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On August 10, 2010, Plaintiff Gail Anderson ("Anderson") filed a two-count Complaint against her former employer Jewel Food Stores, Inc. ("Jewel") alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Before the Court is Jewel's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b). For the following reasons, the Court grants Jewel's summary judgment motion and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

I. Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1

Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 assists the Court by "organizing the evidence, identifying undisputed facts, and demonstrating precisely how each side propose[s] to prove a disputed fact with admissible evidence." Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. of Trs., 233 F.3d 524, 527 (7th Cir. 2000). "The Rule is designed, in part, to aid the district court, 'which does not have the advantage of the parties' familiarity with the record and often cannot afford to spend the time combing the record to locate the relevant information,' in determining whether a trial is necessary." Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires the moving party to provide "a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue." Cracco v. Vitran Exp., Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009). "The opposing party is required to file 'a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon." Id. (citing N.D. Ill. R. 56.1(b)(3)(B)). Also, Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) requires the nonmoving party to present a separate statement of additional facts that requires the denial of summary judgment. See Ciomber v. Cooperative Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 635, 643-44 (7th Cir. 2008).

The purpose of Rule 56.1 statements is to identify the relevant admissible evidence supporting the material facts, not to make factual or legal arguments. See Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1060 (7th Cir. 2006) ("statement of material facts did [] not comply with Rule 56.1 as it failed to adequately cite the record and was filled with irrelevant information, legal arguments, and conjecture"). Moreover, the requirements for responses under Local Rule 56.1 are "not satisfied by evasive denials that do not fairly meet the substance of the material facts asserted." Bordelon, 233 F.3d at 528. Meanwhile, it is well-established that "district courts are entitled to expect strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1." Raymond v. Ameritech Corp., 442 F.3d 600, 604 (7th Cir. 2006); see also Delapaz, 634 F.3d at 899 ("the obligation set forth in Local Rule 56.1 'is not a mere formality.'") (citation omitted). With these standards in mind, the Court turns to the relevant facts of this case.

II. Relevant Facts

Jewel is an Ohio Corporation that operates grocery stores and is registered to do business in Illinois. (R. 20, Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) Anderson, born in 1955, is an individual who resides in Oswego, Illinois and worked at several Jewel locations in Illinois at various times during a twenty-eight year time period. (Id. ¶¶ 2-4; R. 24, Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. Facts ¶ 1.) In May 2008, Jewel transferred Anderson to the Eola Jewel store in Aurora, Illinois to be the Bake Shop Manager. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 7.)

Jewel maintains that it terminated Anderson's employment on June 4, 2008 because she violated Jewel's coding and food handling policies. (Id. ¶ 8.) To clarify, Jewel maintains detailed procedures for handling food products, including bakery items, and Jewel supervisors train employees on the policies and procedures for maintaining fresh products. (Id. ¶ 11.) Jewel's "Bakery Freshness Dating Procedures" specifically state: "Do not change the original product freshness date at anytime; Do not freeze fresh Bakery products." (Id. ¶ 12.) Relevant to this lawsuit, Jewel brownies remain frozen until they are ready to be put out for sale. (Id. ¶ 13; Pl's Stmt. Facts ¶ 5.) When the store is ready to use the brownies, bakery employees remove the brownies from the freezer to thaw, ice the brownies, and then cut them into packs labeling them with a three-day freshness code. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 14.) If the brownies have not been sold at the end of three days, they must be discarded. (Id.) As a Bake Shop Manager, Anderson was responsible for knowing the bakery policies, implementing the policies, and training Jewel employees who worked for the Bake Shop about the policies. (Id. ¶ 15.)

The events leading to Jewel terminating Anderson's employment concern Jewel's "brownie break Monday" promotion. (Id. ¶ 17; Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 4.) Specifically, on Tuesday, May 12, 2008, Eola Store Director Dave Negron discovered a considerable amount of leftover brownies in an aisle by the Bake Shop. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 18.) Anderson was not working on that day, so when she returned to the store on Wednesday, May 13, 2008, Negron asked her why there were so many leftover brownies. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20; Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 25.) The parties dispute that Anderson told a Bake Shop employee to put the leftover fresh brownies back in the freezer with a new code. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 21, 22; Pl.'s Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 25, 26.) In any event, Anderson admitted that she refroze fresh brownies because she had been trained to do so. (Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 24, 25.) Anderson also admitted that there is no Jewel policy or procedure suggesting that refreezing the brownies was an appropriate practice. (Id. ¶ 27.)

Thereafter, Negron reported the situation to Associate Relations Manager Rich Ray, who directed Loss Prevention Manager John Sulak to perform an investigation. (Id. ¶ 28.) Sulak met with Anderson and questioned her about her "brownie break Monday" practices. (Id. ¶ 33.) Anderson provided Sulak with a written statement explaining her practice, namely, "the remaining packages from the table [] could be made into trays and a 18 day code would be used to the tray (party tray) [and then] put in our cake freezer." (Id. ¶¶ 33, 34.) Jewel put Anderson on suspension during this investigation and while on suspension, Anderson met with Sulak two other times and they discussed her written statement. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39, 40.) Sulak asked Anderson if she wanted to change anything about her statement and she said no. (Id. ¶¶ 39, 40.)

Sulak's investigation did not reveal any support for the claim that Anderson had been trained to refreeze product. (Id. ¶ 41.) Sulak concluded that Anderson took fresh brownies that had a three-day freshness code, put them in new packages, gave them a new code, and then put them back in the freezer. (Id. ¶ 42.) Sulak reported these findings to Associate Relations Manager Ray after which Ray decided to terminate Anderson's employment for violating Jewel's coding and food handling policies. (Id.) On June 4, 2008, Negron told Anderson that she was being terminated for this violation. (Id. ¶¶ 43-46.)

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

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). 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 that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d ...


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