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Ndremizara v. Zurich American Insurance Co.

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

March 28, 2014



EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jason Ndremizara brought this race and age discrimination action against Defendant Zurich American Insurance Company.[1] R. 8, Am. Compl. Ndremizara unsuccessfully applied for four actuarial positions at Zurich in October 2011. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 13; PSOF ¶ 10. According to Ndremizara, Zurich did not hire him for these positions because of his race and age. R. 32, Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 1. Zurich now moves for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons discussed below, Zurich's motion for summary judgment [R. 28] is granted.

I. Background

The Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, here Ndremizara, in deciding a motion for summary judgment.[2] Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). On October 26, 2011, Ndremizara, an African-American over the age of forty, applied for four actuarial positions at Zurich through Zurich's website. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 13; PSOF ¶ 10. Zurich identified these positions by "requisition" numbers. The positions that Zurich applied for were requisition numbers 25649 (Actuarial Analyst), 25648 (Actuarial Analyst), 25572 (Predictive Modeler), and 25573 (Actuarial Analyst - Predictive Modeling). Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 13. Zurich did not hire Ndremizara for any of these positions. PSOF ¶ 4; Def.'s Resp. PSOF ¶ 4. Ndremizara believes that he was not hired because of his race and age. Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 1.

In response, Zurich claims that two of these positions, 25572 and 25573, were cancelled: it did not hire anyone for either position. DSOF ¶¶ 18-19; R. 30-3, Def.'s Exh. 3, Graham Decl. ¶¶ 7-8. And for the other two positions, 25649 and 25648, Zurich claims that Ndremizara was not considered because he submitted his application after the company applied a random culling technique to reduce the number of applications it received to a more manageable number. DSOF ¶¶ 14-17. Zurich elaborates that after a requisition receives business approval from the company, the requisition is assigned to a recruiter, who posts the job and position details to several job boards. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 10. When Zurich receives more than fifty applications for a given position, the recruiter may use a data management technique (DMT) to randomly eliminate applicants from consideration. DSOF ¶ 11. After applying the DMT, the recruiter conducts initial screenings over the phone with the applicants who are still under consideration and then submits the qualified candidates' applications to the hiring manager. Id. ¶ 12. Finally, the hiring manager interviews select candidates and eventually decides who Zurich should hire. Id. Requisition 25649 attracted a total of 280 applicants, Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 16, and requisition 25648 attracted 225, id. ¶ 14. Therefore, because of the large number of applicants, the recruiters assigned to manage the requisitions applied a DMT to both positions on October 11, 2011. DSOF ¶¶ 14-17. Ndremizara, however, applied to both positions on October 26- after the DMT was applied-and was therefore not considered for the positions. Pl.'s Resp. DSOF ¶ 13.

Because he was not hired for these four positions, Ndremizara filed a pro se complaint in this Court, alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). See Am. Compl. ¶ 9.[3] After limited discovery, Zurich moved for summary judgment, arguing both that Ndremizara has failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination and that its reasons for not hiring Ndremizara were legitimate rather than discriminatory. Def.'s Br. at 5-9. As discussed more fully below, Ndremizara does not believe any of the explanations that Zurich has offered.

II. Legal Standards

Summary judgment must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). All facts, and any inferences to be drawn from them, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

A plaintiff seeking to prove race- or age-based discrimination may use either the direct or the indirect method of proof. Teruggi v. CIT Grp./Capital Fin., Inc., 709 F.3d 654, 659 (7th Cir. 2013) (age discrimination); Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 845 (7th Cir. 2012) (racial discrimination).[4] Under the direct method, the plaintiff can meet his burden by presenting either direct or circumstantial evidence. Teruggi, 709 F.3d at 659; Rudin v. Lincoln Land Cmty. Coll., 420 F.3d 712, 720 (7th Cir. 2005). "Direct evidence is evidence which, if believed by the trier of fact, will prove the particular fact in question without reliance upon inference or presumption." Rudin, 420 F.3d at 720 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). On the other hand, circumstantial evidence allows the trier of fact "to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker." Rogers v. City of Chicago, 320 F.3d 748, 753 (7th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds by Hill v. Tangherlini, 724 F.3d 965, 967 n.1 (7th Cir 2013). This may include evidence of "(1) suspicious timing; (2) ambiguous statements or behavior towards other employees in the protected group; (3) evidence, statistical or otherwise, that similarly situated employees outside of the protected group systematically receive better treatment; and (4) evidence that the employer offered a pretextual reason for an adverse employment action." Dickerson v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 522, 657 F.3d 595, 601 (7th Cir. 2011).

Under the indirect method, and McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), discrimination may be proven through a burden-shifting framework. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. This requires the plaintiff to show that "(1) he is a member of a protected class;

(2) he was qualified for the applicable positions; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly-situated persons not in the protected class were treated more favorably." McGowan v. Deere & Co., 581 F.3d 575, 579 (7th Cir. 2009). After the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. Finally, if the employer meets this burden, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's reasons are mere pretext for discrimination. Id. at 804.

As this Court described in Luster-Malone v. Cook Cnty., No. 11 C 09227, 2013 WL 6508070, at *3 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 12, 2013), the direct/indirect-method framework has "taken on a life of its own" since its creation. Numerous corollaries and rules have sprung forth from courts' application of the framework over time, resulting in confusion and, too often, the imposition of a too-high burden on plaintiffs. This has led to a growing consensus on the Seventh Circuit for replacing this framework: a majority of active-service Seventh Circuit judges have opined that the direct/indirect-method analytical structure has done more harm than good, and should be replaced with the more straightforward question of "whether a reasonable jury could infer prohibited discrimination." Hitchcock v. Angel Corps, Inc., 718 F.3d 733, 737 (7th Cir. 2013); see also Coleman, 667 F.3d at 863 (Wood, J., concurring). By simplifying the approach, the Seventh Circuit sought to return to the "statutory question of discriminatory causation, " see Good v. Univ. of Chi. Med. Ctr., 673 F.3d 670, 680 (7th Cir. 2012), thereby avoiding "the confusing snarls and knots' of this ossified direct/indirect paradigm, " Hitchcock, 718 F.3d at 737 (quoting Coleman, 667 F.3d at 863).[5] But the Seventh Circuit has not definitively jettisoned all application of the direct/indirect-method framework. See Alexander v. Casino Queen, Inc., 739 F.3d 972, 979 (7th Cir. 2014) (noting that the question is "ultimately" Hitchcock 's reasonable-jury analysis, but nevertheless applying in full the direct/indirect framework); Tate v. Ancell, Nos. 11-3252, 12-2694, 2014 WL 186353, at *8-10 (7th Cir. Jan. 17, 2014) (unpublished). So the Court therefore will evaluate Ndremizara's claims using both the direct/indirect framework and the more straightforward reasonable-jury analysis.

III. Analysis

Ndremizara argues that Zurich refused to hire him for all four positions because of his race and age.[6] Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 1. Ndremizara does not attempt to show discrimination-either race-based or age-based-under the direct method. Instead, he proceeds under the indirect method, arguing that all of Zurich's alleged nondiscriminatory reasons for not hiring him are pretextual. See id. ...

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