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Claar v. Graphic Packaging International, Inc.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 25, 2013

MARY CLAAR, Plaintiff,
v.
GRAPHIC PACKAGING INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter comes before the Court on (1) defendant Graphic Packaging International, Inc.’s (“Graphic”) motion for summary judgment (Doc. 23) to which plaintiff Mary Claar responded (Doc. 27); (2) Claar’s motion to strike Tammie Taylor’s declaration (Doc. 28) to which Graphic responded (Doc. 31); and (3) Graphic’s motion to strike paragraphs six, seven and twelve of Claar’s affidavit (Doc. 29) to which Claar responded (Doc. 32). For the following reasons, the Court denies Graphic’s motion for summary judgment, denies Claar’s motion to strike, and grants in part and denies in part Graphic’s motion to strike.

1. Background

Claar’s claim arises out of her employment termination by Graphic which she contends was in retaliation for her exercise of rights protected under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act (“IWCA”). Graphic is a global supplier of beverage packaging and consumer folding cartons. Claar worked for Graphic at its Centralia, Illinois plant from October 7, 2004, until her termination on February 10, 2012. In her position as a “roll tender/catcher” Claar “dipped ink, tended a roll, filled coating, caught cartons, put them on skids, made tape bars, checked cartons, [and] folded cartons.” Doc. 24-1, p 14.

On January 30, 2012, Claar sustained a shock from a machine while she was working causing pain in her arms. Claar reported the accident to her supervisor who informed Deborah Holle, Graphic’s Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator, of Claar’s injury. Holle scheduled an appointment for Claar to see a physical therapist and a doctor. Tammie Taylor, Graphic’s Human Resources Manager, accompanied Claar to the doctor’s appointment, and Claar observed Taylor roll her eyes during the examination. The doctor diagnosed Claar with a strain to her left forearm and wrist, and directed her to wear a wrist splint. Eleven days later Claar was terminated after she arrived late to work.

Graphic employed an attendance policy that resulted in the accumulation of points for unexcused absences and late arrivals. Graphic terminated employees who accumulated sixteen or more points. Graphic assigns points as follows: two points for an unexcused absence from an eight-hour shift, three points for an unexcused absence from a twelve-hour shift, eight points for an absence in which the employee did not call in, one point for arriving thirty minutes or less late to work, and three points for failing to use the automated call in system (the “ADP system”) to report a late arrival or absence (in addition to the points assessed for the late arrival or absence).

To report a late arrival or absence, Graphic requires employees to call an automated number operated by ADP, Inc., and input the employee’s identification and pin numbers. After an employee successfully inputs this information and reports their absence or late arrival, the ADP system generates an automated email sent to Graphic’s human resources personnel notifying them of the employee’s late arrival or absence. On at least some instances, employees have reported problems using the ADP system. Pursuant to unwritten company policy at the date of Claar’s termination, Taylor had some discretion in assessing points when there was evidence of an ADP malfunction. The extent of this unwritten policy on February 10, 2012 is not clear; however, Taylor did testify that if she witnessed an employee’s difficulty logging in to the ADP system she would not assess points for failure to use the system.

On February 10, 2012, Claar arrived approximately ten minutes late to work. Prior to leaving for work, Claar attempted to call the ADP system, but was unable to report her absence through the system. It is unclear whether the system malfunctioned or Claar improperly used the system. The parties, however, do not dispute that Claar attempted to utilize the ADP system. When she arrived at work, she borrowed a co-employee’s phone and again attempted to report her late arrival through the ADP system in the presence of the co-employee. This attempt was also unsuccessful.

Claar reported her unsuccessful attempts to utilize the ADP system to Chad Keigley, her immediate supervisor on the date in question. Kiegley instructed Claar to begin work without using the ADP system because she would only be assessed one point for a late arrival. On that day, Kiegley was filling in for another employee. Keigley was not familiar with all of Graphic’s policies, such as the policy that assesses additional points for failure to report a late arrival through the ADP system. Approximately thirty minutes later, Keigley instructed Claar to report her late arrival through the ADP system. Kiegley provided Claar with the ADP call in number and observed her difficulty using the system. Eventually, Graphic’s help desk reset Claar’s pin number, and she was able to report her late arrival time.

Thereafter, the ADP system generated an email to a human resources employee who reviewed Claar’s points. Prior to February 10, 2012, Claar had accumulated twelve points. After receipt of the ADP email, a human resources employee assigned Claar one point for arriving late and three more points for failing to report her late arrival through the ADP system prior to the start of her shift. This brought Claar’s total points to sixteen. Taylor then reviewed Claar’s points and decided to terminate Claar. Pursuant to Taylor’s instruction, the department manager and Kiegley notified Claar of her termination. If Claar had reported her late arrival prior to the start of her shift, she would only have been assessed one point and would not have been terminated. Also, if Taylor had used her discretion pursuant to the aforementioned unwritten policy to account for ADP system malfunctions, Claar would not have been terminated.

Pursuant to Claar’s request, Paul Delong, the plant manager, instructed Taylor to investigate the termination. As part of her investigation, Taylor received information that other employees were able to utilize the ADP system around the same time that Claar reported problems, but Taylor could not definitively say that the ADP system was working correctly at the time Claar attempted to report her late arrival. Taylor and Delong ultimately determined Claar’s termination was appropriate. The evidence shows that both Taylor and Delong were aware of Claar’s exercise of rights protected under the IWCA prior to her termination.

Claar filed her complaint against Graphic in the Circuit Court of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Marion County, Illinois, alleging workers’ compensation retaliation in violation of 820 ILCS 305/4. Graphic removed the case to this Court based on diversity of the parties. Thereafter, Graphic filed the instant motion for summary judgment in which it argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) it articulated a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for Claar’s termination, and (2) Claar cannot show that Graphic’s legitimate non-retaliatory reason for Claar’s discharge was pretextual. The Court will now consider the parties’ motions to strike and Graphic’s motion for summary judgment in turn.

2. Motions to Strike

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(4) “[a]n affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” A court cannot consider parts of an affidavit that fail to ...


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