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Carter v. Thompson Hotels

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

May 3, 2013

KELLY CARTER, Plaintiff,

Page 831

For Kelly Carter, Plaintiff: Thomas Francis Padgett, Timothy John Coffey, The Coffey Law Office, P.C., Chicago, IL.

For Thompson Hotels, doing business as Sax Chicago, Defendant: James J. Zuehl, Jeffrey Scott Nowak, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lindsey M. Marcus, Franczek Radelet P.C., Chicago, IL.


Page 832


JOAN HUMPHREY LEFKOW, United States District Judge.

Kelly Carter filed this lawsuit against Thompson Hotels (" the hotel" ) alleging race discrimination and retaliation while employed at Thompson's SAX Chicago location, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq . [1] Presently before the court is the hotel's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's amended complaint. [2] For the reasons that follow, the hotel's motion for summary judgment is granted.


Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a). To determine whether any genuine issue of fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) & advisory committee notes (1963 amend.) While the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), where a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).


I. Carter's Employment Duties at the Hotel

Carter, who is African-American, began working for the hotel's predecessor as an

Page 833

engineer in 1999. The events at issue occurred during the summer and fall of 2010. [4] During this period, the hotel employed six full-time engineers, of whom Carter was the most senior. The engineers' job duties included performing maintenance and repairs within the hotel. Engineers performed many of the same duties although their individual areas of skill and experience differed. Carter's skill was in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). In addition, Carter worked on kitchen equipment and ice machines. All hotel employees were subject to an employee handbook, which Carter acknowledged receiving and understanding. Julie Vasic, the hotel's director of human resources, had authority to discipline employees for rule violations enumerated in the employee handbook. Vasic consulted as she deemed appropriate with Michael Carsch, the hotel's general manager, when deciding whether to discipline employees. Ray Kemph, the hotel's chief engineer, could recommend that an employee receive discipline. Kemph provided the engineers with a job description, a guide on proper guest room entry procedures, a guide on proper preventive maintenance procedures, and a guide on lunch period relief for the house call engineer. The hotel applied " progressive discipline," starting at counseling, proceeding to verbal warning, written warning, final written warning, and termination. Warnings were classified as related either to performance or behavior.

II. Carter's Work Performance History

In March, Carter received a performance review fro Vasic and Bruce Hermann, the chief engineer preceding Kemph. The review stated that Carter's job performance needed improvement in the areas of (1) job knowledge; (2) quantity of work performed; (3) quality of work performed; (4) interpersonal skills; (5) attendance/punctuality; and (6) adherence to standards and policies. Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 11. The review explained, " [Carter]'s quality of work is below average. [Carter] needs to be reminded frequently to do things that are part of his job. He needs to produce more work output during his shifts. He needs to be more cognizant of the systems that he is responsible for checking and maintaining on a regular basis."

III. Carter's Discipline in August 2010 through November 2010

A. Attendance Issues

The hotel's attendance policy required employees to give at least three hours notice of absence or tardiness and warned that " unexplained or excessive absenteeism or tardiness can lead to disciplinary action or dismissal." Pl. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 12. [5] On July 25, August 11 and August 12, Carter was absent; he arrived late for work on August 4 and was on the premises on August 8 when he was not scheduled to work, which was a rule violation. As a result, on August 16, Carter received a written warning for attendance issues.

Carter responded that he had been on approved vacation on August 11 and 12 and filed a grievance. Carter explained he came to the hotel on August 8 because he

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was not sure about the approval of his vacation days and came in to check the schedule. Carter believed that his tardiness was not subject to discipline because he had called in more than three hours in advance. Although the record is not clear whether the hotel was persuaded by Carter's defenses, the hotel seems to admit that Carter was on approved vacation on August 11 and 12. The hotel reduced the discipline to a verbal warning.

B. The Dishwasher Incident

Between August 9 and August 13, a dishwasher was not working properly. Kemph assigned another engineer to fix it. That engineer examined the dishwasher but could not remedy the problem. On August 15, 2010, Carter examined the dishwasher by running a cycle and watching the process for 15 minutes but he too could not determine the problem. Carter informed Kemph that the hotel would need to hire an outside mechanic. On August 18, after a second report, Carter examined the dishwasher again but was unable to make the repair. On August 19, Kemph e-mailed Carter stating that he was now aware that Carter was " not capable of performing this repair or any other repair on this type of equipment" and apologized for expecting Carter to perform this type of repair. Pl. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 73. A less experienced engineer, Thomas McManus, ultimately fixed the dishwasher by tightening a loose screw. Kemph subsequently asked Carter to provide him with a list of his skills so Kemph could assign Carter tasks that better suited his strengths. Carter responded to Kemph in an email stating, " You can go to [Vasic] and ask for my resume if you want to see my experience." Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 35. On August 25, 2010, Vasic gave Carter a verbal warning for failing to make an acceptable effort to address the fourth floor dishwasher.

C. The Locked-Out Guest Incident

On September 16, at approximately 6:45 to 6:50 a.m., the night manager radioed Eric Johnson, an engineer, about a guest that had been locked out of his room. Johnson, the only engineer on duty, answered " one minute please," but did not follow-up with the night manager. Pl. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 78. Approximately five minutes later, the night manager radioed Johnson again. Johnson responded that his shift was over so he was going home. Johnson asked Carter, whose shift started at 7:00 a.m., to respond to the call. Neither Carter nor Johnson responded to the call and the guest waited 25 minutes before being let into his room. The hotel did not formally discipline Carter or Johnson for their failure to respond to the call but placed notes in their respective personnel files documenting the incident.

D. The Ice Machine Incident

On October 5, Carter was working on a broken ice machine and incorrectly concluded that the cause of the problem was a defective controller. Carter and Kemph worked on the ice machine together but could not fix the problem. The next day Kemph fixed the ice machine in approximately 30 minutes. Carter acknowledged that he did not perform the repair correctly, and on October 14 the hotel issued Carter a written warning for failing to make an acceptable effort to complete the task. Carter filed a grievance with his union. Instead of signing the hotel's written warning, Carter wrote, " Again all lies to set me up for termination." Def. L.R. 56.1 ¶ 54.

On October 21, the hotel held a grievance meeting with Vasic, Kemph, Carter, and a union representative. During the meeting, ...

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