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Tashika D. Snorton-Pierce v. the Illinois State Tollway ) Authority

March 30, 2012

TASHIKA D. SNORTON-PIERCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE ILLINOIS STATE TOLLWAY ) AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Tashika Snorton-Pierce sued her former employer, the Illinois State Tollway Authority, alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.*fn1 The Tollway moves for summary judgment on all claims. R. 33. For the following reasons, the Tollway's motion is granted.

I.

In deciding this summary judgment motion, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to Snorton-Pierce. In October 2001, the Tollway hired Snorton-Pierce, an African American female, as a part-time toll collector. R. 32, Def.'s Stmt. of Facts (DSOF) ¶¶ 1, 17-18. During the interview process, the Tollway presented Snorton-Pierce with information about the position and certain conditions of employment. Id. ¶ 23. Before her employment began, Snorton-Pierce signed two forms indicating her understanding of the Tollway's availability policy. See id.; R. 33-3, Def.'s Exh. A (Snorton-Pierce Dep. Exh. 2). Specifically, Snorton-Pierce acknowledged that her interviewer "thoroughly explained" that she must be available to be called in to work on a twenty-four hours per day, seven-days per week basis. DSOF ¶¶ 6, 23. To this end, Snorton-Pierce agreed to have a "[t]telephone by which [she] can be reached at all times." R. 33-3, Def.'s Exh. A (Snorton-Pierce Dep. Exh. 2) (emphasis in original). The Tollway asserts that this employment policy is necessary because the Tollway operates twenty-four hours per day, seven-days per week. DSOF ¶ 5. If there are not enough toll collectors working the booths, the traffic can become congested and compromise safety. Id.

Snorton-Pierce was first assigned to work at Plaza 41. Id. ¶ 18. The District Supervisor for that plaza was Wardell Foreman.*fn2 R. 39, Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts (PSOF) ¶ 2. In 2002 and 2003, Snorton-Pierce received verbal and written warnings for violating the Tollway's attendance policy. DSOF ¶¶ 26-27. The April 2003 written warning (issued by the Plaza Supervisor, Kathy Herrington) lists over twenty attendance-related infractions, and warns that Snorton-Pierce's "attendance is far below [Tollway] Authority standards." Id. ¶ 27. Many of the documented infractions were the result of Snorton-Pierce being late for work or unavailable to be called in on the days that she was not scheduled to work. See R. 33-7, Def.'s Exh. E1. On January 5, 2004, Carrie Erwin, an Assistant Supervisor, issued a memorandum requesting additional discipline for Snorton-Pierce. PSOF ¶ 18. The memorandum states that "[t]he issue of being available on a 24-hour, 7-day a week basis . . . [has] been thoroughly explained on several occasions and are conditions of employment as a Toll Collector." R. 38-3, Pl.'s Exh. U (emphasis in original). The memorandum states that between December 12 and January 4, Snorton-Pierce was "not available" for additional hours or scheduling on three separate occasions, and "refused additional hours" on two other occasions. Id.
In January 2004, Snorton-Pierce and other African American toll collectors from Plaza 41 met with their union representative from Service Employees International Union Local No. 73. PSOF ¶ 16. According to Snorton-Pierce, the purpose of the meeting was to address the Tollway's alleged practice of disciplining African American toll collectors for non-existent and/or minor attendance-related infractions, whereas non-African American employees were granted more leniency and not disciplined for the same infractions.*fn3 Id. ¶ 15. Snorton-Pierce asserts that many of the African American employees were interested filing a class action lawsuit against the Tollway for discrimination.*fn4 Id. ¶ 17. When the Tollway did not respond to the African American employees' concerns, Snorton-Pierce requested a transfer to another plaza in order to escape the discriminatory treatment she was allegedly experiencing at Plaza 41. Id. ¶¶ 1, 17.

In February 2004, Snorton-Pierce was transferred to Plaza 36. DSOF ¶ 19. Her new supervisor was Robin Foreman, the wife of Wardell Foreman, who was the District Supervisor of Plaza 41. PSOF ¶ 3. Shortly after the transfer, Snorton-Pierce was again cited for attendance-related infractions. Id. ¶ 19. In April 2004, Vincent Volante (Toll Services Manager)*fn5 issued a ten-day suspension because Snorton-Pierce continued to be tardy for work and her attendance was not improving. Id. In June, a grievance hearing was held regarding the suspension. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Snorton-Pierce's union representative, Terri Barnett, appeared and disputed the discipline on Snorton-Pierce's behalf and requested that the ten-day suspension be removed from Snorton-Pierce's file. R. 38-2, Pl.'s Exh. I (Hearing Decision). Barnett argued that Snorton-Pierce had legitimate reasons for being tardy and those tardies should not be applied for discipline due to "human error." Id. After considering all of the information, the hearing officer decided to reduce the ten-day suspension to a five-day suspension, and reimbursed Snorton-Pierce for five days of pay. Id.

Snorton-Pierce's attendance problems persisted. In September 2004, Robin Foreman requested further discipline after Snorton-Pierce was tardy four more times after serving the April suspension. PSOF ¶ 22. Robin Foreman also noted SnortonPierce's attendance problems in the annual performance evaluation she completed for Snorton-Pierce in October 2004. DSOF ¶ 31. Out of the eight categories evaluated, Snorton-Pierce received a "needs improvement"rating in five of them: attendance, call-out response, job performance, quality, and initiative. R. 33-3, Def.'s Exh. A (Snorton-Pierce Dep. Exh. 3). As a result of her poor performance evaluation, Snorton-Pierce was denied a step increase in pay grade. DSOF ¶ 32. In a memo dated October 27, 2004, Vincent Volante explained that Snorton-Pierce's step increase was "denied on the basis of her poor job performance. In review of her appraisal, it has been noted that [Snorton-Pierce] is deficient in five (5) out of eight (8) categories, which is below [Tollway] Authority standards." R. 33-3, Def.'s Exh. A (Snorton-Pierce Dep. Exh. 3).

In March 2005, Miguel Sotomayor, the Plaza Supervisor for Plaza 36, submitted a disciplinary request regarding Snorton-Pierce's attendance. DSOF ¶ 33. Between November 2004 and March 2005, Snorton-Pierce had eleven attendance-related violations. R. 33-5, Def.'s Exh. C (Sotomayor Dep. Exh. 1). In response to Sotomayor's request, Volante recommended that Snorton-Pierce be fired for repeatedly violating the Tollway's attendance policy. DSOF ¶ 34. Snorton-Pierce was immediately suspended while the Tollway investigated the allegations that Snorton-Pierce had been "excessively unavailable for scheduling and tardy from work." DSOF ¶ 35; R. 33-3, Def.'s Exh. A (Snorton-Pierce Dep. Exh. 10). On March 25, after completing its investigation, the Tollway fired Snorton-Pierce for violating the Tollway's policy concerning excessive unavailability for scheduling and tardiness. R. 33-3, Def.'s Exh. A (Snorton-Pierce Dep. Exh. 11).

In December 2005, Snorton-Pierce filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, through the Illinois Department of Human Rights. R. 7 (Compl.). In September 2009, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter to Snorton-Pierce,*fn6 and this action followed. Id.

II.

Summary judgment must be granted "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). Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 37, 322 (1986). All facts, and any inferences to be drawn from them, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 756 (7th Cir. 2008).

III.

Snorton-Pierce alleges that the Tollway: (1) discriminated against her because of her race, color, and sex; and (2) retaliated against her for ...


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