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Tillie Fischer v. Caterpillar

March 13, 2012

TILLIE FISCHER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CATERPILLAR, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendant Caterpillar Inc.'s (Caterpillar) motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Tillie Fischer (Fischer) allegedly began working for Caterpillar in December 1973. In May 1997, Fischer allegedly took medical leave from Caterpillar for an angioplasty. Fischer contends that although her physician approved her return to work after three weeks of taking medical leave, Caterpillar refused to allow Fischer to return to work until one year following Fischer's angioplasty. Fischer claims that when she was allowed to return to work, she was placed in the medical group to do office work and that employees in the medical group were not eligible for raises or overtime. Fischer also contends that while she was in the medical group, she was discouraged by management from applying for any other positions within Caterpillar because of her medical restrictions. Around February 2007, Fischer allegedly took an inspection test in order to obtain employment outside the medical group. Fischer contends that she passed the test, but Caterpillar refused to provide her with a position outside the medical group. In January 2008, two of Fischer's medical restrictions were removed, and she was placed in an inspector position in the inspection employment group. Fischer contends, however, that she was not given a wage increase as quickly as other inspectors. It is undisputed that Fischer is still currently employed as an inspector for Caterpillar.

Fischer brought the instant action and includes in her complaint a disability claim brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Count I), an age discrimination claim brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (Count II), a sex discrimination claim brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count III), and a race discrimination claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Section 1981) (Count IV). Caterpillar moved to dismiss Counts I-III, and on August 23, 2011, this court granted the motion to dismiss. Caterpillar now moves for summary judgment on the Section 1981 race discrimination claim in Count IV.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56©; Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). A "genuine issue" of material fact in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, 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); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

Caterpillar argues that the Section 1981 claim is untimely, and that, even if the claim is timely, Fischer has failed to point to sufficient evidence to defeat Caterpillar's motion for summary judgment.

I. Statute of Limitations

Caterpillar argues that the Section 1981 claim was brought beyond the statute of limitations and that it is therefore untimely. Section 1981 claims are subject to a four-year statute of limitations. Sublett v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 463 F.3d 731, 735-36 (7th Cir. 2006)(citing Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co., 541 U.S. 369 (2004)). Fischer contends that in 1998, her supervisor told her that she would not be eligible to work overtime. ® SF Par. 17). Fischer also contends that in 1998 or 1999, her supervisor told her that she would not be able to bid on other jobs. ® SF Par. 17). In addition, Fischer claims that in 2006, a union representative told her that she could not work overtime or bid on other jobs. ® SF Par. 17); (Fischer Dep. 107-108). Fischer also contends that in February 2007, she passed the inspector test and bid on the inspector position. ® SF Par. 39). Fischer also contends that her bids for the inspection position were rejected in early March 2007, and that on March 7, 2007, she contacted the Move Coordinator to inquire why her bids for the inspection position had been rejected. ® SF Par. 41); (Fischer Dep. 117). Fischer did not initiate the instant action until March 9, 2011, and the undisputed evidence shows that the events that Fischer bases her race discrimination claims upon occurred prior to March 9, 2007, which is outside the statute of limitations period.

Fischer argues that her race discrimination claim is not untimely based upon the continuing violation doctrine. In National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), the Supreme Court "held that 'discrete, discriminatory acts are not actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges.'" Groesch v. City of Springfield, Ill., 635 F.3d 1020, 1027 (7th Cir 2011)(quoting Morgan, 536 U.S. at 113). Although the Supreme Court in Morgan indicated that the continuing violation doctrine can apply to Section 1981 claims, the Court did so in the context of a hostile work environment claim, noting that a hostile work environment claim is based upon conduct that "occurs over a series of days or perhaps years [], in direct contrast to discrete acts. . . ." Morgan, 536 U.S. at 115; see also Dandy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 388 F.3d 263, 270 (7th Cir. 2004)(stating that in Morgan the court "permit[ted] 'consideration of the entire scope of a hostile work environment claim, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period, . . . for the purpose of assessing liability, so long as an act contributing to that hostile environment takes place within the statutory time period'")(quoting Morgan, 536 U.S. at 105).

The conduct alleged by Fischer in this case involves discrete acts, such as when Fischer was allegedly told that she would not be eligible to work overtime and when she was denied the opportunity to bid on other jobs. The undisputed evidence shows that the discrete events that Fischer is relying upon in this case occurred outside the statute of limitations period. Fischer is bringing a race discrimination claim under Section 1981 and is not contending that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based upon the cumulative effect of various acts by Caterpillar. Thus, the continuing violation doctrine is not applicable in this case. Fischer has not shown that the Section 1981 race discrimination claim is timely. Nor has Fischer shown that any of the equitable tolling doctrines are applicable in this case. See Cada v. ...


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