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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Cognis Corporation

May 23, 2012

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, PLAINTIFF, STEVEN WHITLOW, INTERVENOR PLAINTIFF,
v.
COGNIS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY U.S. District Judge\

E-FILED

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012 03:42:03 PM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motions for Summary Judgment (#38; #40) filed by the Plaintiff, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and the Intervenor Plaintiff, Steven Whitlow ("Whitlow"). This court has carefully reviewed the arguments of the parties and the documents filed by the parties. Following this careful and thorough review, Plaintiffs' Motions for Summary Judgment (#38; #40) are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 12, 2011, this court entered an Opinion (#35) denying the Motion for Summary Judgment (#29) filed by the Defendant, Cognis Corporation ("Cognis"). In the Opinion (#35), this court concluded that Cognis was not entitled to summary judgment because Cognis failed to establish that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs' claims of retaliation. This court granted Plaintiffs leave to file a motion for summary judgment solely on the issue of liability. Plaintiffs accepted this opportunity and filed Motions for Summary Judgment (#38; #40) on January 6, 2012. Plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability with regard to Whitlow, and each of the other employees*fn1 who were required to sign Last Chance Agreements ("LCAs") as a condition of continued employment with Cognis. On February 6, 2012, Cognis filed a Response (#41) arguing that factual questions on material elements of Plaintiffs' retaliation claims prevent an entry of summary judgment in Plaintiffs' favor.

FACTS

The relevant facts in this case remain unchanged, therefore this court adopts the factual summary contained in this court's prior Opinion (#35). However, when this court considered Cognis's Motion for Summary Judgment (#29), this court construed the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs and drew all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. In ruling on Plaintiffs' Motions for Summary Judgment (#38; #40), this court is now required to construe the evidence in the light most favorable to Cognis and draw all reasonable inferences in Cognis' favor.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate "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). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a district court "has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial." Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). In making this determination, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Burwell v. Pekin Cmty. High Sch. Dist. 303, 213 F. Supp. 2d 917, 929 (C.D. Ill. 2002).

Therefore, the nonmoving party cannot rest on mere allegations or denials to overcome a motion for summary judgment; "instead, the non-movant must present definite, competent evidence in rebuttal." Butts v. Aurora Health Care, Inc., 387 F.3d 921, 924 (7th Cir. 2004). Summary judgment "is the 'put up or shut up' moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events." Koszola v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 385 F.3d 1104, 1111 (7th Cir. 2004). Conclusory allegations not supported by the record are not enough to withstand summary judgment. Basith v. Cook Cnty., 241 F.3d 919, 928 (7th Cir. 2001).

ANALYSIS-RETALIATION CLAIMS

I. Title VII Retaliation Standard

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for complaining about discrimination that violates Title VII. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-3(a). The ...


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