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Nancy Haddad v. City Colleges of Chicago

October 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


This is an employment discrimination case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII, and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant paid her a lower salary, assigned her a disproportionate amount of work, and ultimately terminated her employment on account of her race. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant retaliated against her for complaining about discriminatory treatment and taking medical leave, both of which are protected activities under federal law. Defendant moves for summary judgment on all counts, arguing that Plaintiff cannot make a prima facie showing of race discrimination or retaliation, or show that its proffered non-discriminatory explanation for her termination-budgetary cuts-is pretextual. For the following reasons Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


Plaintiff is an African-American woman who began working for the Washburne Culinary Institute ("WCI") in August 2006. WCI is a division of Defendant City Colleges of Chicago that provides instruction in the culinary arts. WCI also provides catering services and operates two restaurants in Chicago, the Parrot Cage and Sikia. At all times relevant to this suit, William Reynolds ("Reynolds"), a Caucasian male, served as Provost of WCI. In this position, Reynolds was responsible for WCI's overall management and operations.

In August 2006, WCI hired Plaintiff to serve as General Manager of Dining Services. Her starting salary was $50,000. Despite her title, Plaintiff primarily functioned as a Restaurant Manager at the Parrot Cage, where she was responsible for overall operations of the restaurant. As manager of the Parrot Cage, Plaintiff worked Tuesday through Saturday from approximately 2:00 pm until the restaurant closed, usually between 12:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. She reported to Business Manager Allen Illiac ("Illiac") as well as Reynolds.

In February 2007, Plaintiff discovered through a public Board Report that another General Manager of Dining Services, Christine Gallagher (Caucasian), was being paid over $7,000 more than Plaintiff. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff complained to Reynolds about the pay disparity. Reynolds told Plaintiff that he would discuss it with her at a later time. Plaintiff alleges that shortly after this meeting, Reynolds began treating her in a "nasty," mean-spirited manner. Plaintiff also claims that Reynolds significantly increased her duties and responsibilities in May 2007 by assigning her catering duties previously performed by Gallagher, who resigned the same moth because she was overwhelmed by her workload.

In September 2007, Plaintiff told Illiac that she wanted to work more daytime hours so that she could be at home in the evenings with her son.*fn1 In response to her request, Plaintiff was moved to a liaison role between Defendant's restaurant and catering departments. For the first three months following her transition, Plaintiff maintained some of her management responsibilities at the Parrot Cage.

In January 2008, Plaintiff told Reynolds and Emma Ortiz ("Ortiz"), who replaced Illiac as Business Manager in late 2007, that she was under significant stress as a result of her new responsibilities and needed help. In February 2008, Plaintiff's salary was increased to $52,900. In March 2008, Reynolds hired Yolanda Comanse ("Comanse ") (Hispanic) to "split the catering manager role" with Plaintiff. DSOF ¶ 13. Comanse's official title was "General Manager of Dining Services" and she began with a starting salary of $55,000.

On April 11, 2008, Plaintiff complained to Ortiz about the fact that Comanse was paid more than her, and told Ortiz that she believed Reynolds treated her poorly because of her race. On April 15, 2008, Plaintiff met with Ortiz and Reynolds and again complained that Comanse was making roughly $2200 more than Plaintiff. Plaintiff also expressed her belief that Gallagher and Comanse were unqualified for their positions, or, at any rate, were not as qualified as Plaintiff. Reynolds told Plaintiff he was unaware of the salary disparity and that Plaintiff's salary would be increased by $2,200 "effective immediately." Plaintiff was also transferred out of her liaison role into the position of Catering Manager. As part of this move, Ortiz agreed to assume some of Plaintiff's administrative duties to reduce Plaintiff's workload. In a letter dated April 15, 2008, Defendant informed Plaintiff that her salary would increase to $55,000.

The record is not clear on the exact date but it appears that in July 2008 Plaintiff's salary was increased to $54,746. At some point between March and October 2008, Comanse's initial salary of $55,000 was increased to $57,200.

In August 2008, Plaintiff contacted Rene Alvarado ("Alvarado") in City Colleges Human Resources Department and told him that she felt she was being treated unfairly on account of her race. Alvarado suggested that she contact Danielle Kerry ("Kerry"), an attorney in City Colleges Human Resources Office regarding her complaint. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff called Kerry and told her she felt she was being treated less favorably than her non-African American co-workers with regard to her workload and pay.

On September 10, 2008, Plaintiff began a six-week FMLA leave for a scheduled medical procedure. Plaintiff claims that during her FMLA leave, Reynolds called her and requested that she "bring him up to speed on all catered events." Plaintiff says she told Reynolds that Comanse could bring him up to speed by logging into Plaintiff's computer account at work, but that Reynolds was not satisfied with this answer.*fn2 After this conversation, Plaintiff began working from home during her FMLA leave. On September 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against City Colleges alleging race discrimination.

On October 3, 2008, Plaintiff received an email from Ortiz which stated in relevant part, "It is not our intention to have you work from home during this time. That said, effective immediately, please refer all business related e-mails and phone calls to . . . my attention . . . Please write an away message on your voicemail doing the same . . ." Despite this email, Plaintiff says she continued to work from home during FMLA leave because, in Plaintiff's words, "I am a responsible person, I am not going to drop the ball." (Pl. Dep. at 116:20-21).

Plaintiff returned to work in late October 2008. On November 17, 2008, Kerry met with Plaintiff to discuss her race discrimination claim. At the meeting, Kerry asked Plaintiff, "[I]f we pay you the money that you were promised, will this all go away?" It does not appear that Plaintiff gave an answer to this question. Instead, she asked Kerry what money she was referring to and who would follow up with Plaintiff about it. It is not clear from the record how Kerry responded to this. Kerry then asked Plaintiff about her relationship with Mr. ...

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