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Jeffrey Davis v. Metroplex

March 28, 2012

JEFFREY DAVIS, JESSIE RANDOLPH, DONALD WASHINGTON, AND RANDALL NOBLE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
METROPLEX, INC.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs are four African-American men formerly employed as security guards at the Marshall Field Garden Apartment Homes ("MFGAH"), a subsidized housing project. Plaintiffs are suing Defendant Metroplex, Inc., the property manager for MFGAH, alleging that two of its supervisory employees discriminated against Plaintiffs because of their race. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that Defendant: (1) created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count I); engaged in race-based discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II); and wrongfully terminated them because of their race in violation of Title VII (Count III). Defendant has moved for partial summary judgment on Count III only, challenging Plaintiffs' allegations that race discrimination motivated their terminations and alleging that it had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for discharging all four Plaintiffs.*fn1 For the reasons explained herein, the court grants the motion with respect to Plaintiffs Noble, Randolph, and Washington, but denies the motion with respect to Plaintiff Davis.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Until their terminations in 2008 and 2009, Plaintiffs Jeffrey Davis, Randall Noble, Jessie Randolph, and Donald Washington worked as security guards at MFGAH, a ten-building complex occupying two square city blocks. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 1, 5.) Plaintiffs first worked under the direct supervision of Director of Security Robert Thorne and then under his replacement, Diana Woznicki. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 11, 12.) Defendant hired Woznicki, a white woman, on or about April 9, 2008, shortly after Thorne, a black man, retired. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12, 14.) Woznicki's immediate supervisor was Darlene Sand, the property manager for MFGAH and also a white female. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 11, 12.) Sand, in turn, answered to Management Supervisor Trudy Nelson, who oversaw operations at MFGAH, as well as several other properties, and participated in staffing decisions for those properties. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 7, 24.) John Kennedy, the Director of Human Resources and Vice-President of Operations and General Counsel, was responsible for establishing employment policies and for making company-wide staffing decisions related to hiring and firing. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 2, 8, 24.) Nelson and Kennedy, too, are white. (Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 2.)

The security staff at MFGAH is comprised of roughly sixty part-time employees, the overwhelming majority of whom are African-American. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 9, 10.) Indeed, to the extent that Plaintiffs were replaced after their terminations, the new hires were all African-American.*fn2

(Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 79.) All employees receive copies of Metroplex's anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies which "obligate employees to immediately report perceived harassment or discrimination to [Kennedy]." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 22.)

I. Plaintiff Jeffrey Davis

Davis worked as a security guard at MFGAH from 1999 until his termination in October 2008. For the last two years of his employment, he held the title of Assistant Director of Security. (Davis Decl., Ex. A to Pl.'s App. of Materials in Supp. of its Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J., ¶¶ 2, 3; Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 13.) Prior to Woznicki's hiring as Director of Security on April 9, 2008 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12), Davis had received only one disciplinary report during his nine-year tenure at MFGAH. (Davis Decl. ¶ 11.) In the six months between Woznicki's hiring and Davis's termination, he was written up three times. (Davis Decl. ¶ 12.)

His increasingly frequent incident reports were not the only indicator that Davis's relations had soured with management: he, and his co-Plaintiffs, allege that Sand and Woznicki routinely used racial slurs around the workplace. (See, e.g., Davis Decl. ¶¶ 6, 10.) Specifically, Davis alleges that he heard Sand refer to black tenants as "nigger" and "black bitches." (Davis Decl. ¶ 6.) He also heard Sand call him a "black bastard." (Davis Decl. ¶ 6.) Davis alleges, further, that Woznicki, like Sand, used "racially inflammatory language" with respect to blacks, and that she had referred to black female tenants as "black bitches." (Davis Decl. ¶ 10.) Moreover, co-Plaintiff Jessie Randolph states that he once overheard an exchange between Sand and Woznicki about Davis in which one of the women (he does not say which one) said she was "'gonna fire his black ass and teach him a lesson.'" (Randolph Decl., Ex. C to Pl.'s App., ¶ 4.)

While Davis alleges his termination resulted from Sand's and Woznicki's racial animus, Defendant maintains that it terminated Davis' employment because of his violation of an important Metroplex policy that requires officers to deny individuals entry to MFGAH if they do not enter a security code or if they are on the "barred" visitors list. (Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Partial Summ. J., at 5-6.) On April 7, 2008, Sand circulated a memo to MFGAH security staff reminding them of this policy. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 28.) The memo also emphasized that an employee caught violating the policy "could be terminated immediately." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 28.) Nevertheless, on October 2, 2008, Davis instructed two lower-ranking security officers to grant access to a visitor despite the visitor's status on the "barred" list. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 30.) Davis does not deny that he granted access to a "barred" visitor (Davis Dep., Ex. E to Def.'s App. of Materials in Supp. of its Mot. for Partial Summ. J., 9:7-8), but he explained that he granted the exception in return for "pertinent information" from the visitor that he insists helped prevent a violent crime later that same evening. (Davis Dep. 10:3-21.) Davis maintains that because he "was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the security department," he had the authority to make exceptions to Metroplex policy. (Davis Dep. 13:15-23.)

Metroplex management disagreed. After viewing security tape footage that confirmed the incident's occurrence, Woznicki reported it to Sand, Nelson, and Kennedy. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 34.) There is some inconsistency concerning who is responsible for the subsequent decision to terminate Davis. In pleadings before this court, Defendant states that Nelson made the preliminary decision, but that Kennedy made the ultimate decision to terminate Davis after reviewing the management reports and the written statements made by the lower-ranking guards working with Davis that night. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 40, 41.) But in Metroplex's response to Davis's EEOC charge, Kennedy wrote that "Woznicki, Sand, and Nelson made the decision to terminate [Davis's] employment" and listed both Sand and Woznicki as parties "involved in the decision or recommendation to discharge [Davis]."*fn3 (Jan. 22, 2009 Letter Re: Jeffrey Davis v. Metroplex, Inc., EEOC Charge No. 440-2009-01512, Ex. H to Pl.'s App., at 6, 7.) Additionally, Metroplex maintains that, although it would have discharged Davis based on the "barred" guest incident alone, Kennedy also considered a second incident where Davis authorized another security officer to work twelve additional hours.*fn4 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 35-38, 42.) Subsequently, on October 20, 2008, Sand informed Davis of his termination. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 43.)

II. Plaintiff Randall Noble

Plaintiff Randall Noble had worked as a security officer at MFGAH for almost ten years before his August 2008 termination. (Noble Decl., Ex. B to Pl.'s App., ¶ 2.) Like Davis, Noble reports hearing both Sand and Woznicki use racially inflammatory language. (Noble Decl. ¶¶ 6, 9.) Noble also heard Sand refer to black people as "niggers," and alleges that she once said to him, "'[Y]our black ass is too friendly with these fucking niggers, you must not want your job.'" (Noble Decl. ¶ 6.) When Metroplex ultimately terminated Noble's employment, he refused to sign his termination agreement; he claims that Sand responded by calling him a "fucking nigger" and Woznicki told him to "get [his] black ass out of [there]." (Noble Decl. ¶¶ 6(c), 9.) He too asserts that race discrimination by Sand and Woznicki led to his discharge.

Metroplex, however, states that it fired Noble because he allowed a young man to enter an apartment where he was not a resident and had no permission to enter; the female tenant who lived in the unit was "very upset" when she came home to find an intruder in her home without her consent. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 46-47.) The female tenant lodged a complaint with Woznicki, who investigated the matter by speaking with Raymond Trunzo, the supervisory officer on duty the night of the incident. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 46, 48.) Trunzo told Woznicki that, despite Trunzo's warning that the tenant had to authorize the young man's entry, Noble had insisted that he knew the tenant, that she would consent to the young man's entry, and that he would "take the heat" if the tenant was upset. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 49.) Noble believed the young man to be the tenant's son and thus, his entry acceptable, but Noble was mistaken; the young man was not the tenant's son and he did not reside in the unit to which Noble granted him access. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 51, 52.)

Noble did "take the heat" for the incident. Woznicki and Sand brought the matter to the attention of Nelson, who then made a preliminary determination to discharge Noble. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 53.) When Nelson sought input from Kennedy about her decision, he suggested that she corroborate Woznicki's version of events (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 54), so Nelson obtained a written statement from the tenant stating that Noble had permitted an unauthorized guest to enter her apartment. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 55.) Thereafter, Kennedy decided to terminate Noble, and Sand met with Noble to inform him of his termination on August 6, 2008. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 56, 57.) As ...


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