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Anna M. Hall v. City of Chicago

September 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow


Plaintiff Anna M. Hall filed suit against the City of Chicago, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Before the court is the City's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the following reasons, the motion [#64] is granted.*fn1


Hall is an African-American woman who worked as a plumber for the City of Chicago from August 1995 to May 2007. This lawsuit arises from the treatment Hall received when she returned to work after a prolonged disability leave that lasted from 1999 to 2003. As of September 2003, and at all times relevant to this case, Hall's primary medical restriction was that she could not lift more than twenty-five pounds.

I. Hall's Work in the House Drain Inspectors Division

On September 11, 2003 Hall met with Mary Jo Falcon, a deputy commissioner of personnel, who told Hall that the City had an open position that would accommodate Hall's medical restrictions. Hall was then assigned to a light duty position in the House Drain Inspectors Division of the Department of Water Management (referred to herein as the "House Drain Inspectors Division" or the "Division"). Her supervisor in the House Drain Inspectors Division was Gregory Johnson, an African-American male. There was one other female in the Division, who was Johnson's secretary.

Hall had filed a Title VII discrimination suit against the City in 1998.*fn3 According to the deposition testimony of Robert Owens, one of the House Drain Inspectors under Johnson's supervision, there was "gossip around the district" regarding the lawsuit. Pl.'s Ex. C at 75. Owens wasn't sure if he heard about Hall's lawsuit from Johnson or from another employee, but he was certain that the case was the subject of "general conversation" among the 300 or 400 employees who worked in the same building as the House Drain Inspectors. Id. at 76. Hall also had a pending discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") when she started her assignment in the Division.*fn4

On September 16, 2003, Hall started work in the House Drain Inspectors Division. Her first assignment from Johnson was to alphabetize paperwork. Hall eventually came to believe that she was being asked to re-alphabetize the same papers over and over again. After she had been alphabetizing paperwork for about three weeks, Hall approached Johnson and asked if she could do "something a little bit more productive," such as accompany the House Drain Inspectors on site visits. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 88--89. Johnson told Hall that he would talk to his supervisor. Not long afterwards, Hall found a box of videotapes on her desk. Hall asked Johnson what she was supposed to do with the videos and he told her, "You figure it out. You are a plumber." Id. at 90. Hall watched the videos and "just started looking for things." Id. at 92. The videos showed sewer pipes that were clogged with fecal matter, sanitary napkins, and tampons. Hall took notes on the videos. Johnson never asked to review her notes or followed up with her about her work.*fn5

The tapes that Hall reviewed were filmed from the inside of sewer pipes that run from residential toilets to the City's main sewer line (referred to as "house drains"). The tapes were filmed by private contractors when a House Drain Inspector was sent to a residence to investigate a house drain that was obstructed or damaged. After an inspector finished at the job site, he brought the video back to the office. A supervisor then reviewed the tapes to determine whether the inspector had correctly assessed the obstruction and whether the drain repairs qualified for reimbursement under the City's private drain program. Usually, inspectors did not review the tapes after they turned them in at the office. If, however, a supervisor reviewed the video and did not understand what he saw, or questioned the inspector's report, the inspector might review the video again with the supervisor. Old tapes were stored in the office so that they could be referred to in case of a dispute about a particular job site. Johnson testified that the tapes that Hall reviewed came from the boxes of old tapes that had been stored in the office. He explained that Hall's review saved him time because he could refer to her notes when he needed to answer questions about an inspection.

A few days after Hall started working at the Division, Johnson asked her to leave a House Drain Inspectors meeting. He also instructed the House Drain Inspectors not to talk to her. After Hall had reviewed videos for about one month, Hall told Johnson that she thought she could use her skills as a plumber to do more productive work, such as schedule appointments for the House Drain Inspectors or explain inspection procedures to homeowners. Soon thereafter, Hall called the Personnel Division in the Water Department and requested a meeting with Falcon to discuss "the situation" with Johnson. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 100--01. Falcon arranged a meeting with Hall, John Zander, the Labor Relations Supervisor for the Department of Water Management, and two other supervisors in the Department of Water. At the meeting, Hall stated that Johnson had advised the other inspectors not to talk to her and excluded her from House Drain Inspector meetings. She also stated that she was not doing productive work and asked to be transferred to the Plumbing Division. Falcon accused Hall of being a "troublemaker" who had filed several lawsuits against the City and began to discuss "everything as far as [the] legal matters in [Hall's] personnel file." Id. at 109. Hall ended the meeting and then called her union to complain.*fn6

On October 22, 2003, Hall filed an internal employment complaint with the City alleging that Johnson had harassed and discriminated against her on the basis of her sex.*fn7 On November 26, 2003, Hall filed a charge of sex and race discrimination with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.*fn8 The complaint alleges that Johnson assigned her to do useless clerical tasks when she started work in the Division, excluded her from a department meeting on September 19, 2003, told other employees in the Division not to talk to her, and told her to review videotapes but never provided any instruction.

Hall's only assignment from October 2003 to approximately May 2005, when she was transferred to the Plumbing Inspection Division, was to review videos. Zander and Falcon both knew about the assignment and understood that it was Hall's light duty assignment under the City's "return-to-work" program that was aimed at reducing the large number of employees on duty disability. Hall, however, had "no idea" what she was looking for when she reviewed the tapes.*fn9 Thomas Cotton, one of the House Drain Inspectors, testified that Hall's "assignment . . . was like a non-assignment." Pl.'s Ex. D at 45. Cotton felt that Hall didn't "even [know] what she was looking at" and that she should have been doing office work rather than "sitting there watching videos that meant nothing to her." Id. Cotton conceded, however, that he didn't know the purpose of Hall's assignment. Owens similarly testified that he assumed that Hall was watching the videos to "[k]ill time," although he didn't know what her official assignment was. Pl.'s Ex. C at 47.

During her tenure at the House Drain Inspectors Division, Hall was not allowed to participate in multiple House Drain Inspector meetings. Johnson testified that he wanted to make sure that Hall was not doing the work of a House Drain Inspector. Even though the plumbers and the House Drain Inspectors belong to the same union, Johnson thought the union would object if Hall, a plumber, was doing inspection work.

Hall testified that she heard Johnson tell the House Drain Inspectors "several times . . . not to talk to me, not to advise me about anything, because I was a plumber and they were not a plumber." Def.'s Ex. 3 at 76. Cotton similarly testified that Johnson told him not to talk to Hall and that he heard Johnson give the same instruction to other House Drain Inspectors, although he wasn't sure why. Johnson testified that he told the House Drain Inspectors that they were "not there to chat with Anna Hall" because he noticed that she was "sitting around chitchatting" and disrupting the work in the office. Def.'s Ex. 9 at 63--64.

More than once Hall heard Johnson say to other employees that he "ought to go postal on that woman sitting out there" or that he "out to slap that woman sitting out there." Def.'s Ex. 3 at 76--77. She understood Johnson to be referring to her.*fn10 When the other employees were out of the office, Johnson sometimes stared at Hall and appeared to be trying to intimidate her. In addition, during Hall's first months at the House Drain Inspectors Division, Johnson said "your mother" when he walked past Hall. Hall considered "your mother" to be a provocative statement because "[i]n the black race, when you say a person, you say their mother, that's like provoking -- there is going to be a fight." Id. at 129. After Hall complained to the union, Johnson stopped making this comment for about a month but then continued making the comment "off and on." Id. at 131.

Johnson made several specific comments that Hall considered to be offensive and humiliating. First, on January 21, 2004, Hall heard Johnson refer to a woman on "The Jerry Springer Show" as a "slut." Second, on January 28, 2004, while Hall and Owens were sitting at a table outside Johnson's office, Johnson yelled to Owens, "Owens, listen to this," and then said that he could "go postal on that woman out there," and, "If I hit that woman, I get five days." Id. at 162--63. Johnson also said that he "could slap that woman and get a promotion." Id. at 163. Hall filed a Violence in the Workplace report, a complaint with the police, and complained to her union about Johnson's comments.*fn11 Third, on February 4, 2004, Johnson called Hall "stupid" while she was in the hallway next to the restroom. Pl.'s Ex. 1 at ΒΆ 5. Fourth, on February 10, 2004, Johnson made "threatening remarks" to Hall and then "bumped" Hall "hard enough to touch [her]" but not hard enough to knock her down. Def.'s Ex. 3 at 148--51, 176; Def.'s Ex. 4 at 208--09. Hall called the police, the ...

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