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Howard v. Value City Furniture

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

March 25, 2014

GERALD HOWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
VALUE CITY FURNITURE, et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN J. THARP, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Gerald Howard alleges that his employer, Value City Furniture, and his supervisor, Klint Duvall, discriminated against him on the basis of his race (African American) and subjected him to racial harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Value City Furniture moves for summary judgment on all counts of Howard's complaint. The Court grants Value City Furniture's motion in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Howard's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3) Response and Statement of Additional Facts

The Court must first address Howard's failure to comply with Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1, which provides litigants with instructions and procedures for properly filing and responding to motions for summary judgment. Under Rule 56.1(a), a party seeking summary judgment must file with its motion "a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle the moving party to a judgment as a matter of law." N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(a)(3). The defendants properly filed a Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Dkt. 31).

A party opposing summary judgment must comply with Local Rule 56.1(b), which requires:

a concise response to the movant's statement that shall contain... a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon, and... a statement, consisting of short numbered paragraphs, of any additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment, including references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.

N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(A)-(C).

As the defendants point out, Howard has failed to comply with these requirements. First, Howard has not responded-with a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement-to the defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts. Instead, Howard submitted a document which he titled "Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Undisputed Facts" (Dkt. 54); it sets forth additional facts which Howard adds are "in contrast to the Defendants' Statement of [F]acts." The reference to Rule 56.1(a)(3) is improper; Howard is not the moving party. Putting aside the title for the moment, Howard's submission appears to combine additional facts and responses to ("in contrast to") the defendants' facts. This is improper, as well. See Ciomber v. Coop. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 635, 643-44 (7th Cir. 2008) (affirming district court's refusal to consider plaintiff's submission because it simultaneously denied defendant's facts and presented additional facts). Local Rule 56(b)(3) requires a party opposing a summary judgment motion to file "a concise response to the movant's statement" that includes a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement and a statement of separately numbered paragraphs setting forth any additional facts, and supporting citations to record evidence, on which the party relies. The plaintiff's submission is also improper because it is replete with legal conclusions, unsubstantiated "facts, " and argument, as well as citations to affidavits that are themselves unsubstantiated. See Ciomber, 527 F.3d at 644 (affirming district court's disregard of long, argumentative paragraphs).

District courts are "entitled to expect strict compliance with Rule 56.1." Ammons v. Aramark Unif. Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Bordelon v. Chi. Sch. Reform Bd. of Trust., 233 F.3d 524, 527 (7th Cir. 2000)). Even "[s]ubstantial compliance is not strict compliance." Id. Further, district courts are not required to "wade through improper denials and legal argument in search of a genuinely disputed fact." Smith v. Lamz et al., 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Bordelon, 233 F.3d at 529). It is not too much to expect counsel to comply with straightforward procedures, clearly outlined in the rules; the alternative is to require courts to devote more time and resources to ferreting out factual information with which the parties are far more familiar, thereby delaying the resolution of not only the pending motion in this case, but also the pending motions in all of the other cases before the Court. These rules are not arbitrary; they are here for a reason: to improve the quality of justice for all litigants. If attorneys are permitted to ignore them, everyone will pay the price. The Court, therefore, declines to consider Howard's submission at Dkt. 54.

Because Howard has not responded properly to the defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts, the defendants' facts are deemed admitted to the extent they are supported by admissible record evidence. The facts asserted by Howard are disregarded. See Cichon v. Exelon Generation Co., LLC, 401 F.3d 803, 809-10 (7th Cir. 2005) ("A district court does not abuse its discretion when, in imposing a penalty for a litigant's non-compliance with Local Rule 56.1, the court chooses to ignore and not consider the additional facts that a litigant has proposed." (citation omitted)).

The Court nonetheless views the defendants' admitted facts in the light most favorable to Howard, the non-moving party, and draws all reasonable inferences in Howard's favor. See Smith v. Severn, 129 F.3d 419, 426 (7th Cir. 1997).

B. Relevant Facts[1]

American Signature, Inc., d/b/a Value City Furniture, has 126 retail furniture stores in the United States, and 12 stores in Illinois. Def.'s Facts (Dkt. 31) ¶ 1. Howard worked at the Calumet City store from October 2006 until September 2011 as a Home Furnishing Consultant (HFC). Id. ¶¶ 10, 12. He reported to the general manager of the store, Klint Duvall. Id. ¶ 3. Howard's job was to sell furniture to customers; he was paid with commissions, which were a percentage of the proceeds from his successful sales. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. In general, commissions at Value City Furniture are unpredictable because they are tied to individual customer desires and luck of the draw; one customer may simply ...


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