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Elizabeth A. Watlington v. Chicago Transit Authority

May 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Elizabeth Watlington brings this action against her former employer, the Chicago Transit Authority ("the CTA"). She alleges that the CTA discriminated against her on the basis of her race when it passed her over for a promotion in favor of a less-qualified white male employee. She also alleges that the CTA suspended her in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The CTA now moves for summary judgment, arguing that Ms. Watlington lacks factual support for both her failure to promote and her retaliation claims. For the reasons stated below, the court denies the CTA's motion as to the failure to promote claim, but grants the motion as to the remaining claims.


Before discussing the background facts relevant to the CTA's motion, the court first notes deficiencies in both parties' summary judgment filings. The CTA's memorandum of law contained no fact section at all, and Ms. Watlington's memorandum contained only a very brief fact section without any citations to the record. The court can only assume the parties meant for their Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) and (b)(3) statements to describe the underlying facts and refer the court to the relevant support in the record. But courts in this district have repeatedly made clear that Local Rule 56.1 statements are not substitutes for statements of facts contained in the parties' memoranda of law. See, e.g., Bixby v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. 10 C 405, 2012 WL 832889, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 8, 2012); Courtney v. Chi. Police Dep't, No. 10 C 2782, 2011 WL 1118874, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 24, 2011); Cleveland v. Prairie State Coll., 208 F. Supp. 2d 967, 972-73 (N.D. Ill. 2002). Omitting a narrative statement of facts from a brief makes the court's task in organizing and setting forth the undisputed facts significantly more difficult and time consuming, and it also allows a party to circumvent the page limit on briefs imposed by Local Rule 7.1 and this court. See RJB Prop. Inc. v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., No. 04 C 5226, 2006 WL 224101, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 24, 2006).

The CTA's omission of a factual background section forces the court to rely on the CTA's Rule 56.1 statement. That statement is, at best, carelessly written and, at worst, unintelligible. For example, Paragraph 22 (which mysteriously follows Paragraph 11) states: "As to analyzing that data which the buses were reporting back, taking that data and make it into action plan either based on historical data or later based on real live data, Stubbe at Champaign Urbana had done those types of things, on a smaller system, but had that technical knowledge." This is not comprehensible English. The confusion continues from there. Paragraph 35 (perhaps suffering an existential crises) states simply: "There is no paragraph 35." Paragraph 36 is then voiced in the first person: "While all Bus Service Management ('BSM') managers, including transportation managers I and II, use technology in their workday, my role has differed from that of the other BSM managers in that I have taken the role as the BSM/Bus Operations Technology Liaison." Instead of simply laying out the material facts, the CTA's statement meanders in time, tense and format, making it difficult for the court to achieve a basic understanding of the relevant events. By failing to include a fact section in its memorandum of law and submitting a largely incoherent Rule 56.1 statement, the CTA forced this court to expend unnecessary time and resources in resolving its motion.

Although Ms. Watlington included a factual background section in her memorandum, she ran afoul of the rules by failing to include any citations to either her Rule 56.1(b)(3) statement or the transcripts and other evidence she appended thereto (this court's Standing Order requires citation to both). That omission also frustrates the court's effort to indentify and set forth the undisputed facts. United States Neurosurgical, Inc. v. City of Chi., No. 02 C 4894, 2006 WL 752970, *3-4 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 21, 2006) (admonishing counsel for referring to facts in their memoranda without citing to the appropriate paragraph in their Local Rule 56.1 statement).

Because this is a relatively straightforward case, the court is able to identify and analyze purportedly undisputed facts despite the deficiencies noted above. That being said, the court instructs both parties to more carefully follow the Local Rules and the court's standing orders in the future. The court warns the CTA, in particular, that the court will immediately strike any future filing that is either noncompliant with the rules or unnecessarily draining on the court's resources.


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

Ms. Watlington, who is African-American, began her employment with the CTA on May 1, 1989. (ECF No. 26-2 ¶ 5.) On July 30, 2007, the CTA announced a vacant position for a Transportation Manager II. (Pl. Rule 56.1(b)(3) Statement (hereinafter "Pl. St.") ¶ 80.) At the time of that announcement, Ms. Watlington was a Transportation Manager I. She applied for the Transportation Manager II position. Ms. Watlington met the qualifications for a Transportation Manager II as listed in the CTA's position vacancy announcement.*fn1 (Pl. St. ¶ 80.) She also had a reputation as a good manager. (Pl. St. ¶ 79.)

The CTA denied Ms. Watlington the promotion and instead promoted another Transportation Manager I, Michael Stubbe, who is white. (Pl. St. ¶ 90.) Mr. Stubbe had not applied for the promotion, but the CTA offered it to him anyway. (Pl. St. ¶ 87.) Mr. Stubbe had been with the CTA since December 2006. (Def. Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement (hereinafter "Def. St.") ¶ 24.) Before joining the CTA, Mr. Stubbe had worked for the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit System for over eleven years. (Def. St. ¶ 18.) There, Mr. Stubbe gained technical experience in what he called a Computer Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location System and several integrated software applications. (ECF No. 49 at 97.) After joining the CTA, Mr. Stubbe was very involved in CTA's own automated bus tracking system, commonly known as "Bus Tracker." (Def. St. ¶ 8.) Bus Tracker allows CTA buses to automatically send data about their locations to computers monitored by supervisors, who then analyze the data and make real-time decisions about scheduling. (Def. St. ¶ 9-10.) The CTA uses Bus Tracker to avoid bus service delays and bus "bunching," which occurs when there is insufficient space between buses. (Def. St ¶ 6-9.) Mr. Stubbe had more technical experience with automated bus tracking than Ms. Watlington. (Def. St. ¶ 23.)*fn2

The CTA claims that it promoted Mr. Stubbe instead of Ms. Watlington because Mr. Stubbe had superior technical experience, which was a priority for the CTA. Ms. Watlington claims that the CTA's failure to promote her was discriminatory. On December 18, 2007, Ms. Watlington filed with the EEOC her charge of discrimination based on race. (Def. St. ¶ 5.)

About three months later, on March 4, 2008, the CTA temporarily suspended Ms. Watlington. The CTA claims that the suspension was discipline for Ms. Watlington's use of inappropriate language over the CTA's radio system. Specifically, on February 29, 2008, Ms. Watlington's general manager, Carlton Rutherford, reported on the radio that four buses were bunching in downtown Chicago. (ECF No. 26-4 at 80-83.) One of Ms. Watlington's subordinates, Supervisor "Z. Jones," responded to that radio call by communicating that he would intercept the buses and make whatever corrections were necessary to space them appropriately. (Id.) Ms. Watlington then stated on the radio that Z. Jones was the only supervisor in the downtown area, and he would not "baby-sit." (Id.) Ms. Watlington's supervisor, Leroy Tate, testified that he regarded Ms. Watlington's statement as insubordinate and her use of the term "baby-sit" as inappropriate. (Id.) He also testified that, if Ms. Watlington's staff was overextended, she should have traveled to the downtown Chicago area herself to address the situation. (Id.)

Ms. Watlington does not contest that the "baby-sitting incident" took place as described above. She claims, however, that the suspension was retaliation for her filing of the charge of discrimination, and that the CTA used the "baby-sitting" incident as pretext. On March 7, 2008, Ms. ...

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