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Hall v. AT&T

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

March 13, 2014

LASHUNDA HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T, a/k/a ILLINOIS BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES B. ZAGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff LaShunda Hall has brought this action against Defendant AT&T a/k/a Illinois Bell Telephone Company for retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff worked as a technician for Defendant until her employment was terminated on May 5, 2010. Plaintiff's supervisor, Christopher Gooch, was prompted to take disciplinary action against Plaintiff on five occasions in October 2008, on two occasions in November 2008, and on at least seven additional occasions between April 2009 and January 2010. In January 2009, Plaintiff filed her first of several employment discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). She filed her last EEOC claim in August 2010, alleging that the disciplinary actions and her termination were all in retaliation for filing the EEOC claims. This suit followed.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment should be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of triable fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Pugh v. City of Attica, Ind., 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

Once the moving party has set forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The nonmoving party must offer more than "[c]onclusory allegations, unsupported by specific facts" in order to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990)). A party will be successful in opposing summary judgment only if it presents "definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion." EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2000).

I consider the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and I draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir.2002). I will accept the non-moving party's version of any disputed fact, however, only if it is supported by relevant, admissible evidence. Bombard v. Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc., 92 F.3d 560, 562 (7th Cir. 1996).

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any of his or her employees or applicants for employment because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). This type of discrimination is commonly called retaliation. A plaintiff may prove retaliation by using either the direct method or the indirect, burden-shifting method. Tomanovich v. City of Indianapolis, 457 F.3d 656, 662 (7th Cir. 2006).

The direct method requires a plaintiff to show that (1) the employee engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) a causal link exists between the two. Majors v. General Elec. Co., 714 F.3d 527, 537 (7th Cir. 2013). The indirect method requires a plaintiff to first establish a prima facie case of retaliation by showing that (1) the employee engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) she was meeting her employer's legitimate expectations; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees who did not engage in statutorily protected activity. Id. If the plaintiff meets this burden, the burden of production then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its action. Tomanovich, at 457 F.3d at 663. If the employer meets this burden, the burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the employer's reason is pretextual. Id.

Here, Plaintiff endeavors to prove Title VII retaliation under both methods. The parties agree that Plaintiff engaged in statutorily protected activity when she filed the EEOC claims. The parties also agree that Plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action when she was terminated. Remaining under the direct method of proof is whether Plaintiff has shown a causal connection between the two.

Plaintiff offers no direct evidence of such a causal link. In the absence of direct evidence, a plaintiff must demonstrate a "convincing mosaic" of circumstantial evidence to satisfy the direct method of proving retaliation. Hobgood v. Illinois Gaming Bd., 731 F.3d 635, 643 (7th Cir. 2013). Plaintiff offers several pieces of circumstantial evidence, but the resulting mosaic is insufficient to survive Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff first asserts that the disciplinary action taken against her, ultimately culminating in her termination, did not begin until after she filed her first EEOC claim. As a preliminary matter, it is not clear that this is actually the case. As Defendant notes, Plaintiff was disciplined on several occasions in October 2008 and in November 2008, all of which were prior to her first EEOC filing in January 2009. Plaintiff pushes back by asserting that she contested the validity of those instances of disciplinary action (they were in fact the subject of the January 2009 EEOC filing). In any event, it is well-settled that suspicious timing between protected activity and a subsequent adverse employment action alone is not enough to establish a causal link between the two. Hobgood, 731 F.3d at 644.

Plaintiff also points anecdotally to an exchange between Mr. Gooch, Donna Ford (one of Plaintiff's prior supervisors), and Union Steward Jesus Ballesteros in the context of a meeting called in response to Plaintiff's violations. Mr. Ballesteros stated that the meeting should be investigatory rather than disciplinary, and Mr. Gooch and Ms. Ford stated that the meeting should be disciplinary in nature. Ms. Ford then stated that Plaintiff had previously filed an EEOC claim. Mr. Ballesteros inquired as to the relevance of that information, and apparently only silence ensued. The implication is that ...


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