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Wells-Griffin v. St. Xavier University

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 13, 2014


Page 786

For Debbie Wells-Griffin, Plaintiff: Marc Ethan Raven, LEAD ATTORNEY, Angela Michelle Weis, Viktoria Lovei, Sidley Austin LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Saint Xavier University, Defendant: Philip Stephens Holloway, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ford and Harrison, LLP, Chicago, IL; Suheily Natal, Ford & Harrison LLP, Chicago, IL.

Page 787


Joan H. Lefkow, U.S. District Judge.

Plaintiff Debbie Wells-Griffin, an African-American, sued her former employer Saint Xavier University (" SXU" ) alleging various claims of discrimination and retaliation based on her race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e, et seq. SXU moves for summary judgment on all claims.

Page 788

(Dkt. 39.) For the following reasons, SXU's motion is granted.[1]


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). A genuine issue of material fact exists if " the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). To determine whether any genuine fact issue 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). In doing so, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). The court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations. Omnicare, Inc. v. UnitedHealth Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir. 2011).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on bare pleadings alone but must designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). If a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.


In August 2005, SXU hired Wells-Griffin as a full-time secretary working for two departments, the Center for International Education (" CIE" ) and the Center for Educational Practice, later renamed the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Learning (" CATL" ). Both CIE and CATL reported to the provost of SXU.

Wells-Griffin's supervisors recommended her for a promotion during her first year and, in October 2007, Wells-Griffin was promoted to a higher grade secretarial position. In connection with the promotion, she ceased work for CIE and worked for CATL exclusively. Wells-Griffin was promoted again on January 1, 2008 to the exempt [2] position of " Coordinator of Faculty Development Initiatives and Information Specialist" for CATL. During the 2008-2009 school year, Christie Ahrens, a faculty member in the School of Education, was the director of CATL.

Page 789

Wells-Griffin began reporting to Ahrens in December 2008.

SXU was not spared the impact of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008. Between late December 2008 and early January 2009, SXU experienced falling enrollments and a resulting budget shortfall of $1.5 million. Due to the financial distress, SXU eliminated a total of 18 jobs in January 2009. Dr. Angela Durante, SXU's provost and the individual in charge of CATL, made the decision to eliminate five jobs from the Academic Affairs department. None of the employees terminated were African-American.

Also in January 2009, Durante decided to modify Wells-Griffin's position from full-time coordinator for CATL to half-time coordinator for CATL and half-time assistant for CIE. By taking on the two half-time positions, Wells-Griffin would be able to retain her status as an exempt full-time employee. On January 14, 2009, the assistant provost, Dr. Richard Venneri, met with Wells-Griffin to discuss the change to her position. Venneri and a member of the human resources department met with Wells-Griffin again two days later. At this meeting Wells-Griffin stated that the change to her position felt like an adverse employment action. Venneri raised his voice in response to her statement.[3] After the meeting, Wells-Griffin emailed Durante to report that Venneri spoke to her in a " rude and hostile manner" and " accused [her] of being defensive and of making threats." (Dkt. 41, ex. A (" Wells-Griffin Dep." ), ex. 6.)

On or around January 28, 2009, Wells-Griffin met with Durante and SXU's director of human resources, John Byrnes. Durante told Wells-Griffin she could either stay solely with CATL and be reduced to half-time or accept the responsibilities at CIE and continue as a full-time employee. Wells-Griffin responded that her current position in CATL had a full-time workload. Durante expressed doubt that the work in CATL was enough to keep Wells-Griffin busy all the time and said that she was fortunate to have exempt status without a college degree.[4]

Wells-Griffin sent a follow-up email to Durante regarding her workload on January 28, and Durante responded that her decision to reduce the CATL position to half-time was going forward. ( See Wells-Griffin Dep., ex. 9.) On February 16,

Page 790

2009, Durante sent Wells-Griffin a letter informing her that her position with CATL would be reduced to half-time effective March 31, 2009 and offering her the additional half-time support position with CIE beginning April 1, 2009. ( See dkt. 41, ex. C (" Durante Dep." ), ex. 53.) The letter gave Wells-Griffin ...

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