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Rita L. Wilcox v. the Allstate Corporation

December 17, 2012

RITA L. WILCOX, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE ALLSTATE CORPORATION, A/K/A ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rita L. Wilcox ("Wilcox") filed suit against Defendant Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff is a former employee of Allstate and Pilot Catastrophe Services ("Pilot"), a contractor for Allstate, who was reassigned in 2008 from her position as a catastrophic litigation adjuster and terminated in July 2009. Plaintiff alleges Allstate retaliated against her based on her affiliation with her husband, Robert Wilcox, who also worked for Allstate and complained to his superiors of age discrimination in 2004 and 2008. Defendant moves for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

STATEMENT OF MATERIAL UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

Wilcox was employed by Allstate from 1998 to 2003. (Def. 56.1. St. ¶ 16.) As an Allstate employee, Wilcox reported to an Allstate supervisor, received her paycheck from Allstate, and received benefits directly from Allstate. (Id. ¶ 17.)

Allstate maintains a National Catastrophe Team ("CAT Team") to process personal, property, and litigation claims resulting from natural disasters and catastrophes. (Id. ¶ 2.) Members of the CAT Team are deployed to offices Allstate establishes near the site of the catastrophe to handle claims arising from catastrophic events. (Id. ¶ 3.)

To help process litigation claims resulting from catastrophic events, Allstate engaged in a contractual relationship with Pilot, an independent adjusting firm that assigned experienced and skilled adjusters to assist Allstate in the handling of claims. (Id. ¶ 6.) Pilot managers located on-site supervised Pilot employees performing services at Allstate, while Allstate managers supervised Allstate employees. (Id. ¶ 8.) The independent adjusting agreement ("Agreement") between Allstate and Pilot provides that "[n]either Pilot nor any of its employees or other agents shall be deemed an 'employee,' 'agent,' 'servant,' or 'joint employee' of Allstate." (Id. ¶ 7.) The agreement also states:

Allstate will have no control or influence over any of Pilot's employees or other agents. In that regard, Pilot shall have the sole discretion to hire and fire, discipline, evaluate, manage, train, maintain records of hours, handle payroll, provide insurance, and determine all other terms and conditions of employment for its employees. (Id.)

In 2005, Allstate established the Eastern Property Specialty Office ("ESPO") in Lake Mary, Florida. (Id. ¶ 4.) CAT Team members at the EPSO processed claims arising from hurricanes in Florida and later from Hurricane Katrina. (Id. ¶ 4.) Terri Coley ("Coley"), a Market Claims Manager for Allstate, oversaw the CAT Team's day-to-day operations at the ESPO. (Id. ¶ 5.)

I. Robert Wilcox's Employment With Allstate

Allstate employed Wilcox's late husband, Robert Wilcox ("Mr. Wilcox"), from approximately 1973 until September 24, 2009, when he committed suicide. (Id. ¶ 36.) On November 29, 2004, shortly after Coley was selected to lead the ESPO, Mr. Wilcox sent an email to his then-supervisor, Melvin Springer ("the 2004 complaint"). (Id. ¶ 41.) The email noted that Coley would lead the ESPO with the job title of Market Claim Manager, a bonus-eligible position, while Mr. Wilcox's job title had been changed from Market Claim Manager to a non-bonus eligible position. (Id. ¶ 42.) Mr. Wilcox requested "equal treatment via bonus restoration." (Id.) There is no indication that Springer discussed or forwarded the 2004 complaint to Coley or upper management at Allstate. (Id. ¶ 47.) In 2005, after being selected to lead the ESPO, Coley became Mr. Wilcox's supervisor. (Id. ¶ 37.)

On September 23, 2008, Mr. Wilcox emailed Coley stating that he "perceive[d] current and prior queries regarding [his] work scheduling, timekeeping, and expense accounts as questioning [his] integrity" and that "[t]he frequency and tone of these inquiries . . . created for [him] . . . a hostile and unacceptable work environment" (the "2008 complaint"). (Id. ¶ 48.) Mr. Wilcox did not refer to his age as being a cause of the alleged hostility. (Id. ¶ 50.) Rita Wilcox is not aware of any individuals who received the 2008 complaint other than Coley. (Id. at ¶ 49.)

II. Plaintiff's Employment at Pilot

In April 2006, about three years after Rita Wilcox's employment at Allstate ended, Wilcox began working for Pilot. (Id. ¶ 18.) Soon after Pilot hired Wilcox, Pilot assigned her to provide services at the ESPO as a catastrophic litigation adjuster. (Id. ¶ 20.) Wilcox did not request or express a preference to be assigned to Allstate. (Id. ¶ 21.) Though Pilot did not discuss with Wilcox how long her assignment at Allstate would last (Id. ¶ 21), Wilcox was aware that Pilot could reassign her to a different company at any time. (Id. ¶ 23.) Wilcox did not interview with anyone at Allstate prior to her assignment there, and does not recall reviewing or signing any Allstate employment policies. (Id. ¶ 22.) Wilcox understood the staffing of Pilot employees at Allstate corresponded with demand and that she would be assigned to Allstate for a limited duration, and observed that the number of Pilot employees providing service at Allstate increased when there was a higher number of pending claims. (Id. ¶¶ 24--25.)

As a Pilot employee assigned to provide services at Allstate, Wilcox reported to various Pilot managers, including Lloyd Billups, Jim Bergult, David Radigan, and Frankie Johnson. (Id. ¶ 26.) Wilcox received training and feedback on the quality of her performance from these Pilot managers. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 29.) Wilcox also directed questions regarding her claims to her Pilot managers. (Id. ¶ 28.) If Wilcox needed time off from work or needed to come in late or leave early, she would ask her Pilot managers for approval. (Id. ¶ 30.) In addition to her daily rate of pay, Wilcox received from Pilot a per diem payment to cover all expenses she incurred while living away from home. (Id. ¶ 32.)

III. Plaintiff's 2008 Re-Assignment and 2009 Termination

On or about September 6, 2008, Jim Bergult, a Pilot manager, provided Wilcox with two-weeks notice that her assignment to the CAT Team would be ending. (Id. ¶ 52.) Immediately after being released from the CAT Team, Wilcox was reassigned to Allstate's Department of Insurance Response Team ("DOI Team"), which allowed her to come back and work on the Allstate account at the ESPO. (Id. ¶¶ 52--53.) Coley was not involved in the decision to release Wilcox from her assignment at to the CAT Team in September 2008 and was unaware of any such change in Wilcox's assignment at that time. (Id. ¶ 56.)

The ESPO closed in May 2009. (Id. ¶ 60.) The staff working at the ESPO, including Wilcox and Mr. Wilcox, were relocated to Allstate's Centralized Property Specialty Office ("CPSO") in Woodridge, Illinois. (Id.) Allstate's objective for the relocation was to reduce the number of Pilot employees handling claims and to replace them with permanent Allstate adjusters. (Id. ¶ 62.) Pilot employees were given exit dates of 30, 60, or 120 days from the date of the transfer to the CPSO. (Id.¶ 64.) When the ESPO closed, Coley left the CAT Team and accepted a transfer to Allstate's St. Petersburg, Florida office. (Id. ¶ 61.) Coley did not retain any supervisory responsibilities over the employees who transferred to the CPSO. (Id.)

In 2009, Bruce Maly ("Maly"), a Pilot litigation adjuster, decided to leave the CPSO. (Id. ¶ 68.) Wilcox's supervisors made arrangements for Wilcox to take over Maly's litigation files. (Id.) However, Penny Howell ("Howell"), Allstate's Administrative Manager for the CAT Team, informed Pilot that based on the pending claim volume, the CPSO needed to release one Pilot employee from his or her assignment. (Id. ¶ 69.) Howell left the decision of which Pilot employee to release to the Pilot managers. (Id. ¶ 70.) Thomas Medina ("Medina"), a Pilot manager, decided that Maly's position would not be filled and that instead the claims Maly was working on would be absorbed by the remaining Pilot adjusters. (Id. ¶ 71.) Instead of being assigned to take over Maly's files, Medina released Wilcox from her assignment at Allstate on July 15, 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 72--73.) Neither Coley nor any other Allstate employee was involved in the decision to end Wilcox's assignment at Allstate.*fn2 (Id. at ¶ 74.)

V. Plaintiff's Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On January 7, 2010, Wilcox filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), claiming retaliation based on her association with her husband, Robert Wilcox, who engaged in a protected activity by complaining of age discrimination. (Id. ¶ 77.) Wilcox asserts that her reassignment in 2008 and termination in 2009 was in retaliation for her husband's complaints of an inhospitable work environment. (Id. ¶¶ 54, 78.) Wilcox maintains that although she was a Pilot employee in 2008 and 2009, Allstate is liable for the alleged retaliation because Allstate became a co-employer and was no longer allowing Pilot to make staffing decisions. (Id. ¶ 79.) According to Wilcox, it was Allstate's decision to terminate Wilcox from her assignment.(Id.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Bennington v. Caterpillar Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2513--14 (1986). However, the Court will "limit its analysis of the facts on summary judgment to evidence that is properly identified and supported in the parties' [Local Rule 56.1] statement." Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. Of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2000). Where a proposed statement of fact is supported by the record and not adequately rebutted by the opposing party, the Court will accept that statement as true for the purposes of summary judgment. An adequate rebuttal requires a citation to specific support in the record; an unsubstantiated denial is not adequate. See Albiero v. City of Kankakee, 246 F.3d 927, 933 (7th Cir. 2001); Drake v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 134 F.3d 878, 887 (7th Cir. 1998) ("Rule 56 demands something more specific than the bald assertion of the general truth of a particular matter[;] rather it requires affidavits that cite specific concrete facts establishing the existence of the truth of the matter asserted."). As the party opposing the motion for summary judgment, Wilcox "gets the benefit of all facts that a reasonable jury might find." Loudermilk v. Best Pallet Co., LLC, 636 F.3d 312, 314 (7th Cir. 2011). However, she cannot rely on mere conclusions and allegations to create factual issues. Bladerston v. Fairbanks Morse Engine Div. Of Coltec Ind., 328 F.3d 309, 320 (7th Cir. 2003). Nor can speculation be used "to manufacture a genuine issue of fact." Springer v. Durflinger, 518 F.3d 479, 484 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Amadio v. Ford Motor Co., 238 F.3d 919, 927 (7th Cir. 2001)).

DISCUSSION

I. Parties' Rule 56.1 Challenges

Both parties assert that the other has failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1 in filing its statements of undisputed facts. In order to clarify what is properly before the Court and what is not, the Court addresses these arguments before delving into a substantive analysis of Wilcox's claims, ...


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