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Katti v. SGS North America Inc.

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

March 13, 2014

DREW KATTI, Plaintiff,
v.
SGS NORTH AMERICA INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

REBECCA R. PALLMEYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Drew Katti was employed by Defendant SGS North America, Inc. ("SGS"), for nine months as a manager. In this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, Katti alleges that he was the victim of discrimination on the basis of his sex and national origin, and in retaliation for his complaints. Katti believes that his direct supervisor, Gayle Velez "hated men, " gave women preferential treatment, and ultimately terminated him, purportedly for performance reasons, while retaining women with worse records. SGS has moved for summary judgment on all of Katti's claims, and has provided Katti with the appropriate Local Rule 56.2 notice [105]. Katti's response is disappointing; he has failed to respond to the individually numbered paragraphs of Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement, and has relied in many instances on inadmissible material in an effort to establish disputes of material fact. The court nevertheless concludes, for reasons explained briefly here, that Katti has presented circumstantial evidence that satisfies the court, if barely, that his sex discrimination claim may proceed. His claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation are dismissed.

FACTS

As contemplated by the court's rules, Defendant SGS has submitted a Local Rule 56.1 Statement in brief, numbered paragraphs, supported by citations to record materials. (Def.'s Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts [106], hereinafter "SGS Statement.") Though he is not represented by counsel, Plaintiff Katti holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, and could be expected to comply more carefully with the court's rules for summary judgment briefing. Instead, Katti has not responded directly to Defendant's statement of facts, but has offered his own additional description of events, supported only in part by admissible evidence. (Pl.'s Declatory [sic] Statement [115-1], hereinafter "Pl.'s Resp.") The court adopts SGS's factual account, where it is properly supported and unrebutted, but has otherwise construed the record in the light most favorable to Katti, the non-moving party.

Defendant SGS performs "a wide range of analytical, bioanalytical and clinical trial testing services" for the pharmaceutical industry. (SGS Statement ¶ 2.) Early in 2011, SGS sought to hire a new manager of analytical services for its chemistry department at its Lincolnshire, Illinois location, one of several managers reporting to the department's director, Gayla Velez. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 13; Katti Dep. [103-2], at 124; Velez Decl. [103-4] ¶ 2.) Plaintiff Drew Katti, who holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering/Analytical Chemistry and had been employed in the academic world, was selected for the position and began on September 15, 2011. (SGS Statement ¶¶ 20, 22.) When hired, Katti received a copy of the employee handbook, which sets forth SGS's equal employment and anti-harassment policies and directs employees to make complaints of discrimination or retaliation to their direct supervisors or to the next higher authority. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-29; Katti Dep. at 144, 146-7.) Initially, Katti had no staff reporting directly to him. ( Id. ¶ 25.) Defendant asserts that this was consistent with its practice for any "new management hire" ( id. ), but Katti testified at his deposition that Richard Bunnell, General Manager of SGS' Lincolnshire location and Velez' supervisor, had assured him in his interview he would have staff reporting to him within two weeks of starting the job. (Katti Dep. at 131, 152.) He noted, further, that the female who later replaced him did have two staff reporting to her. ( Id. at 189.)

Katti's initial assignments involved "writing reports and troubleshooting projects." (SGS Statement ¶ 30.) In late October or early November 2011, Velez assigned Katti to perform what she calls (without elaboration) a "validation, " a project she expected would take him two to three weeks to perform. Velez noted that the "data pack" generated by this project was larger than she expected, which "suggested to [her] that Katti spent too much time on that task." ( Id . ¶ 34.) She also noted that Katti used his own format for a report, rather than adhering to the template she had given him. ( Id. ¶¶ 35, 36.) Katti consulted Velez "on almost a daily basis, " seeking more assistance than she deemed appropriate and generating concerns about Katti's leadership ability. ( Id. ¶¶ 37-39.) Velez was also concerned because an analyst, Pam Hecht ("Hecht"), complained that Katti's instructions were unclear, and because Katti had admitted that on one occasion he had "failed to contemporaneously record his development, a task required in order to be cGMP compliant."[1] ( Id. ¶¶ 40-43.)

In early 2012, Hecht performed experiments, with instructions from Katti, on a topical anti-inflammatory drug, but those "experiments could not improve the method." (SGS Statement ¶¶ 44-47.) Katti met with Velez and with General Manager Richard Bunnell to discuss this project in March 2012; after that meeting, he disappointed Velez by demonstrating unfamiliarity with some "basic calculations" and by simply repeating the same unsuccessful experiments. ( Id. ¶¶ 48-54.) Velez and Bunnell were also disappointed by Katti's performance working with a piece of equipment (referred to as the "Elemental Analyzer Project") in February 2012. Specifically, Katti failed to meet "multiple deadlines" and was unable to answer Velez's questions about the equipment. ( Id. ¶¶ 55-59.)

Late in March, Bunnell met Don Castle, a Senior Vice President at SGS, to discuss a cost-cutting and reorganization initiative. ( Id. ¶¶ 60-61.) Based on his own experience with Katti and on information he had received from Velez, Bunnell concluded that Katti was inefficient, unable to follow directions or manage time, and not worthy of his $80, 000 salary. ( Id. ¶ 62.) In a March 2012 e-mail to SGS' human resource department, Bunnell identified Katti and three women as appropriate for layoff. ( Id. ¶ 64; E-mail from Bunnell to Durst, 3/2/2012, Ex. D to Bunnell Decl. [103-5].) In his e-mail, Bunnell described one of the other employees targeted for layoff, a female assistant manager under Gayla Velez's direction, as "weak in managing important clients" and noted that she "does not adequately monitor and manage the work of the lab to ensure critical client work" is handled appropriately. ( Id. ) At some point after that e-mail message, however, Bunnell discussed the assistant manager's situation with Velez, who told him that the employee was "a longtime SGS employee with a history of good performance evaluations." Bunnell withdrew the recommendation that this female employee be laid off. (Supplemental Decl. of Richard Bunnell [120] ¶ 3.) Ultimately, Katti and a male hourly worker of East Asian origin were the only chemistry department employees laid off, along with three other workers, in June of that year. (SGS Statement ¶ 66.) Although SGS asserts that Gayla Velez "did not select or otherwise have any influence over the five employees who were part of the payroll reduction, " Bunnell's account demonstrates that Velez did influence the decision with respect to her female assistant manager. Moreover, Velez's own sworn declaration states that she had no influence over the selection of any employees "[o]ther than Katti or the [hourly worker]." (Velez Decl. [103-4] ¶ 20 (emphasis added).)

Bunnell's (or Velez's) selection of employees for layoff did not result in immediate action. In May 2012, Velez assigned Katti to the task of managing the testing for a client's dental products, an assignment she characterizes as a "last chance effort to determine Katti's ability as a manager." ( Id. ¶ 21.) The client forwarded the "protocol" (evidently, a written proposal for the work to be performed) to Katti, who later agreed to the client's request for expedited performance. Because Katti did so without warning the client that there would be an increased fee, SGS was required to forfeit the additional payment in order to preserve the client relationship. (SGS Statement ¶¶ 71-75.)

As noted, Katti has not responded, paragraph by paragraph, to Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement. He has, however, presented facts that, in his view, support his belief that he was the victim of discrimination at the hands of Gayla Velez. Plaintiff notes that over the course of his tenure with SGS, he was "never written up nor spoken to about performance" except for one instance in the late winter of 2011 during which Gayla Velez warned Plaintiff she would write him up "for some trivial matter" but did not follow through. (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 1; Katti Dep. at 159-60.) Plaintiff asserts that Ms. Velez never discussed any performance issues with him, and never gave him a written performance improvement plan or performance evaluation. ( Id. ¶¶ 2, 6.) Notably, Bunnell and Velez appeared to recognize that such feedback could be constructive: although he has not placed copies of the relevant documents in the record, Katti's memorandum in opposition to summary judgment quotes from a series of e-mails, exchanged weeks after the layoff decision, in which Bunnell and Velez discussed preparation of a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") for Katti. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [115] at 8-9.) Yet such a plan was apparently never furnished.[2] Nor did Plaintiff receive what he perceives to be appropriate oral feedback. In contrast with the women who reported to her, with whom Ms. Velez "spent hours in her office, " Plaintiff claims, Ms. Velez "hardly spent 20 seconds at any moment speaking with" him. ( Id. ¶ 7; Interrog. Answers at 12; Katti Dep. at 181-82.)

Plaintiff complains, further, that Gayla Velez did not assign work to him "that contributed to the bottom line financially, " instead directing him to work on projects that had languished for months without progress. (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 8.) According to Katti, he achieved good results on these projects (identified as the "fluocinonide project" and "2 other method development projects"), but Velez identified them as work the company was required to complete to maintain good customer relations, and acknowledged that "we don't make any money on these projects." ( Id. ) Katti claims he also performed well on a "Performance Qualification" project involving an oxygen analyzer and on a project referred to as the "Malvern project" or the "Colgate project." ( Id. ¶¶ 9, 10; Katti Dep. at 138-9.) Just two weeks before his termination, Katti contends, he met with Gayla Velez in her office, pointed out that "every week someone is let go for performance" and asked her whether he "ha[d] anything to be worried about." Velez responded, "No." ( Id. ¶ 11; Interrog. Answers at 12; Katti Dep. at 200.)

In interrogatory answers submitted in opposition to summary judgment, Katti has provided more detail concerning his difficulties with Gayla Velez. He claims that in his first few days on the job, Ms. Velez "stormed into" his office and announced that she would not train him. (Interrog. Answers, at 6; Katti Dep. at 147, 148, 150, 170.) On another occasion, Katti claims, Velez commented that "men don't multi-task as well as women" and she had "a whole lab full of people" to prove it. (Katti Dep. at 171.) She specifically refused to allow Katti to supervise another worker on spectroscopy equipment with which he was familiar. (Interrog. Answers at 6.)

Plaintiff claims Velez demonstrated hostility toward other men, as well. He observed that she "screamed at" Bunnell (her supervisor) during meetings and sat at lunch only with women. ( Id. Interrog. Answers at 7.) On some unspecified date, Katti testified, Bunnell told Katti that Gayla Velez intimidated Bunnell himself, and that he dreaded going to her office to speak to her. ( Id. at 9; Katti Dep. at 172.) In September 2011, another male, Robert Payson, the manager for "Metrology/Facilities, " asked Plaintiff how he was able to tolerate the harsh tone Gayla Velez used in communicating with him. (Interrog. Answers at 9; Org. Chart [103-4] at 18.) Payson and two other workers told Plaintiff, in the fall of 2011, that Gayla Velez was intimidating and that it appeared to them that she treated women more favorably than men. ( Id. at 10; Katti Dep. at 177.) In November or December of 2011, Payson told Plaintiff that he was "terrified" of Ms. Velez and that he would never want to be in a position of reporting to her. (Katti Dep. at 175, 176.) A worker named Soja told Plaintiff, on an unidentified date, that he should "be careful of Gayla she gives the white women in the Chromatography group first opportunity to do the best assignments." (Interrog. Answers at 13.) In the spring of 2012, when Katti approached Len Wojtowictz, the male director of Quality Assurance, for assistance in getting Gayla Velez's signature on a document, Wojtowictz told Katti that he, too, was "afraid ...


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