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Felix Cornejo v. Chicago Transit Authority

August 17, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Maria Valdez United States Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez


Plaintiff Felix Cornejo's complaint alleges that Defendant Chicago Transit Authority unlawfully discriminated against him by terminating his employment on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VII. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (c). The matter is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 50]. For the reasons below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

I. Background Facts*fn1

The following facts are recounted in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, with relevant disputes noted. See Sow v. Fortville Police Dep't, 636 F.3d 293, 299--300 (7th Cir. 2011). Defendant Chicago Transit Authority ("CTA") hired Plaintiff Felix Cornejo ("Cornejo") as a part-time bus operator on February 5, 2007. Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def. Facts") ¶ 2. Probationary bus operators have a five month probationary employment period with the first 25-27 days of their employment devoted entirely to training and instruction on bus operations. Id. ¶ 4. If a probationary bus operator is unable to satisfactorily complete his or her training and instruction within that initial 25-27 day time period, the operator is administratively separated from employment. Id.

Cornejo's initial training and instruction was comprised of two phases. Id. ¶ 5. First, Cornejo received approximately two weeks of formal training on bus operations at the CTA's Chicago Avenue Training Center. Id. This training consisted of classroom instruction and wheel instruction on a CTA driving course under the supervision of a CTA bus instructor. Id. During this time, Cornejo received instruction on the fundamentals concerning safe operation of a CTA bus. Id. Cornejo had three exams during this period and received scores of 82.5 on "Fare Structure," 72 on "Standard Operating Procedures/General Information," and 87.5 on "Defensive Driving." Pl.'s Resp. to Def. L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Facts and Pl's L.R. 56.1 Proposed Findings of Fact ("Pl. Facts") Part II, ¶ 6.

After the formal training phase was completed, Cornejo began the practice instruction phase which involved driving a bus on an actual CTA route with passengers under the supervision of a "bus instructor" (an experienced CTA bus operator familiar with the route.) Def. Facts¶ 6. The bus instructor provides real-time instruction and critique of the probationary operator's performance. Id. His instructors commented that his performance was satisfactory for 10 out of his 13 practice sessions. Pl. Facts Part II, ¶ 7.

On February 20, 2007, Cornejo reported 35 minutes late to his practice instruction. Def. Facts¶ 7. In order to maintain the route schedule, Cornejo's instructor had to leave without him, disrupting that day's training schedule. Id. After this incident, Marie Stewart, Manager of Bus Instruction at the CTA's Chicago Training Center, began monitoring Cornejo's performance. Id. ¶ 19. Stewart is an African-American female. Id. ¶ 3.

On February 26, 2007, Cornejo was assigned to operate the Belmont Avenue #77 bus route. Id. ¶ 8. Al Parry, a Caucasian male, was his assigned bus instructor. Id. During the course of the instruction ride, Parry observed Cornejo do several things contrary to CTA bus operations, including: (1) driving too fast while attempting to turn; (2) not "covering the brakes"; (3) departing from a bus stop with the bus doors open; and (4) inaccurately judging distances between objects. Id. ¶ 9.

After Cornejo and Parry had completed approximately one half of their route, they were joined by CTA Line Instructor Mary Konzal. Id. ¶ 11. Konzal, a Caucasian female, was responsible for going into the field to observe both the probationary employee and the assigned bus instructor to ensure that the instruction is consistent with CTA expectations. Id. ¶ 12. On four separate occasions, Konzal observed Cornejo pull away from bus stops with the doors of the bus open, a serious safety hazard. Id. ¶ 13. Konzal also observed Cornejo fail to watch for cars pulling out of parking spaces, and entering an intersection when the bus clearly would not clear the intersection before a light change. Id. Due to these performance deficiencies, Cornejo was sent back to the Forest Glen Garage for "special driving" instruction which involved remedial instruction on safe driving practices. Id.

After Cornejo was sent back to Forest Glen by instructors Parry and Konzal, Stewart spoke with Key Instructor Leonard Woolfolk about Cornejo's performance. Id. ¶ 20. Woolfolk, an African-American, confirmed that Parry and Kozal both observed unsafe driving behavior by Cornejo. Id. Stewart instructed Woolfolk to assign Cornejo to different routes in the hope that driving different routes with different instructors would correct Cornejo's performance issues. Id.

On March 2, 2007 Cornejo was assigned to operate the Foster Avenue #92 bus route. Id. ¶ 14. Ramon Rios, a Latino, was his assigned bus instructor. Id. During the bus ride, there were issues with the speed at which Cornejo was driving.*fn2 Id. ¶ 15. Rios ordered Cornejo to return to the Forest Glen Garage.*fn3 Id. ¶ 17. After returning to the Forest Glen Garage, Cornejo proceeded to his home in Harvey, Illinois. Id. ¶ 18. Once Cornejo arrived home, he received a telephone call from the Training Center instructing him to report to Stewart at the Chicago Avenue Training Center. Id*fn4

After Cornejo failed to complete his route with Rios, Stewart again spoke with Woolfolk. Id. ¶ 21. Woolfolk confirmed that Rios had reported experiencing the same problems previously related by Parry and Konzal -- that Cornejo was an unsafe driver who resisted any attempts to be instructed on CTA bus operations. Id. During Stewart's meeting with Cornejo, she asked him about his drive with Rios and whether it was true that Cornejo was driving too fast and arguing with Rios about how to drive a bus.*fn5 Id.¶ 23. Stewart gave Cornejo the option of resigning but he refused. Id. ¶ 23, 24. Afterwards, Cornejo was terminated from employment with the CTA. Id. ¶ ...

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