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Jones v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 24, 2013



ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lavosha Jones has filed a complaint against her former employer, Illinois Bell Telephone Company, alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. (Count One), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count Two).

Defendant has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. For the reasons discussed below, defendant's motion is denied.


Plaintiff was employed by defendant as a customer account specialist (CAS) at defendant's National Credit Verification Center (NCVC) from December 2001 to April 2010. During the course of her employment plaintiff held various positions but returned to her role as a CAS in February 2009. While plaintiff held the position of CAS, her duties included handling inbound calls for credit verification and dealing with billing issues. Plaintiff was employed in a customer service capacity.

Defendant terminated plaintiff following an incident on March 30, 2010. Defendant alleges that plaintiff was terminated because she mistreated a customer and another employee during a phone call, and that she subsequently hung up on both and lied about having done so. Plaintiff alleges that she was fired in retaliation for filing a racial discrimination charge against her supervisor and a sexual harassment charge against a supervising associate director.

Both parties focus on the time period beginning when plaintiff returned to the CAS position in 2009 and ending with her termination on April 1, 2010. Shortly after plaintiff's return to the CAS position, plaintiff received two suspensions for violating defendant's Code of Business Conduct (COBC). The first occurred on February 25, 2009, when a supervisory employee asked plaintiff to open her phone line to receive incoming calls, and plaintiff declined to do so, apprising the supervisor that her break was scheduled in five minutes. The supervisor repeated her request, and plaintiff did not comply. As a result of this incident, on March 2, 2009, plaintiff was issued a disciplinary notice and a one-day suspension. Plaintiff admits that she was suspended but alleges that she was scheduled as a "reserve agent" on that date and not tasked with working on the phones. She further alleges that it was not defendant's practice to require a CAS to open her phone line shortly before her break.

The second incident took place on March 11, 2009, when plaintiff took a call from a Collections Representative asking plaintiff to speak to a customer to explain that the customer had received an adverse action letter in error. Plaintiff objected to taking the call and the Collections Representative asked to speak with plaintiff's manager. As a result of this incident, on March 16, 2009, plaintiff was issued a written disciplinary notice and received a three-day suspension. Plaintiff admits she was suspended but alleges that she refused to take the call because she was trained not to take those sorts of calls.

After these two disciplinary notices, plaintiff was transferred to a new team on a new floor in the NCVC where she was supervised by Ramona Shelton. On November 9, 2009, plaintiff received a first written warning from Shelton for unsatisfactory work performance. The warning was based on plaintiff's "compliance" rate, which was 95.71% and therefore under the standard[2] of 96%. Plaintiff alleges that other CASs in her department who were not African American had compliance figures below the target. On November 18, 2009, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights alleging race discrimination by Shelton in connection with the written warning she received.[3]

Plaintiff also alleges that from late 2008 to November 2009, Julian Adams, an associate director and one of her supervisors, sexually harassed her. She filed a charge of sexual harassment with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) in December 2009. In March 2010, the IDHR mailed a copy of the charge to Adams at the defendant's Oak Park facility. Adams and his supervisor, Denise Wilson, the Director of Credit and Collections, became aware of the charge on March 18, 2010.

Two days later, on March 20, 2010, plaintiff was scheduled to work. Plaintiff alleges that she anticipated being late to work due to weather and called her manager to adjust her start time so that she would not be marked tardy. Plaintiff subsequently called the NCVC once more to request a second adjustment to her start time and allegedly received permission. According to plaintiff, she was later informed that she did not have sufficient flex time available to cover the second extension and had been marked tardy. Plaintiff alleges that another individual told her that Adams made the decision to mark her tardy and alleges that she was disciplined in some manner for being tardy. Defendant denies that plaintiff received any discipline for being tardy or that Adams was involved in the incident.

On March 30, 2010, plaintiff received a call from a sales representative within the company named John Clark. Clark had a customer on the line who wanted to reinstate services but was behind in payment, and Clark called plaintiff to obtain an override code to reinstate the customer's services. Plaintiff reported the minimum payment due to Clark, and he brought the customer into the conversation to confirm her desire to make a payment. While Clark and the customer discussed the details, plaintiff remained on the line. After roughly one minute of this conversation, plaintiff broke in to say "so I'm going to drop off the line, okay?" Clark asked whether plaintiff would first take the payment from the customer because he still needed an override code from the NCVC. Plaintiff responded that Clark would not need the code, and Clark disagreed. Plaintiff suggested that Clark continue with the customer and call the NCVC back if he needed a code. Clark asked plaintiff once more to take the payment. Plaintiff asked Clark to put the customer on hold and Clark complied. Plaintiff explained that if she took the payment, Clark would need two override codes from NCVC. Clark advised that he was with the "Winback" Call Center and questioned why he would call back when he had the NCVC on the phone and plaintiff was able to take the payment and give the code. Plaintiff, who claims that Clark became irritated and acted improperly, began to respond and Clark interrupted to ask to speak to her supervisor. Plaintiff responded "not a problem." At that point, the call ended. Defendant alleges that plaintiff hung up on Clark. Plaintiff claims that she put the call on hold and did not hang up on Clark.

After the call ended, Clark redialed the NCVC and was connected to Juanita Ortiz. Clark told Ortiz that he had been on a call with another CAS, and that the CAS had hung up on him. Clark asked Ortiz to identify which CAS had handled his previous call, and Ortiz gave him plaintiff's employee ID number.

The next day, Clark's manager, Terry Stephens, contacted plaintiff's manger, Johnnie Edwards, regarding the call that had taken place between Clark and plaintiff. Stephens and Edwards reviewed a recording of the call on the Ultra/Verint system, which records all calls to the NCVC. Edwards then contacted Adams, her direct supervisor, who recommended that Edwards request a "cradle to grave" report to determine which party had ended the call.[4] Adams conferred with the human resources and labor relations departments ...

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