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Houzenga v. City of Moline

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

April 14, 2014



JAMES E. SHADID, Chief District Judge.

This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment [22] is granted.


Plaintiff, Scott Houzenga ("Houzenga"), began his employment with the Moline Fire Department (the "Department") on September 8, 1997. On May 17, 2004, Heather Oepping ("Oepping") was hired as the first female firefighter on the Department. During his September 2008 annual evaluation, Houzenga commented that he felt he was subject to a hostile work environment from Oepping because he had given her poor evaluations of her work. In December 2008, he was offered a promotion to fire engineer at the central station, but declined because he did not want to work directly and on the same shift with Oepping and Battalion Chief Todd Allen ("Allen"), which whom Oepping was allegedly involved. In March 2009, Houzenga accepted a promotion to the position of fire engineer.

Following a verbal exchange with Allen on June 6, 2009, Houzenga made a verbal complaint that Allen was trying to cause an altercation. On August 21, 2009, Houzenga made another verbal complaint about a text message that Allen had sent. These complaints were conveyed to the union representative, Mike Strandlund, and reported to Chief Ron Miller.

On August 28, 2009, Oepping filed a sexual harassment complaint with Lieutenant David Schrock regarding a culmination of workplace incidents that made her feel intimidated. The City began investigating the complaints by both Oepping and Houzenga; the investigations were ultimately completed by Attorney Arthur Eggers. Houzenga's complaint was reduced to writing on November 6, 2009. On December 23, 2009, the investigation of Oepping's complaint concluded with a finding of no violation of the City's policies. There was, however, the recommendation of additional training for the fire department and particularly for Houzenga. On February 19, 2010, the investigation of Houzenga's complaint concluded with the finding of no violation of the City's policies by Allen.

On June 12, 2012, Houzenga filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Rock Island County, Illinois alleging claims of: (1) discrimination on the basis of gender; (2) retaliation; and (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Complaint was removed to federal court, and Defendants have now moved for summary judgment. The motion is fully briefed, and this Order follows.


Summary judgment should be granted where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence on record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. SMS Demag Aktiengesellschaft v. Material Sciences Corp., 565 F.3d 365, 368 (7th Cir. 2009). All inferences reasonably drawn from the facts must be construed in favor of the non-movant. However, any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1142 (7th Cir. 1988); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009).

It is not the Court's function to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment. The moving party has the responsibility of identifying portions of the record or affidavits that demonstrate the absence of a triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party may meet its burden of showing an absence of disputed material facts by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. If the evidence on record could not lead a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, then no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. McClendon v. Indiana Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997). At the summary judgment stage, however, the "court may not make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts." Washington v. Haupert, 481 F.3d 543, 550 (7th Cir. 2007).


Discrimination Claim

Although Houzenga makes stray references to a hostile work environment in his Complaint, his cause of action is gender discrimination in the form of differential treatment between himself and Oepping. The two methods for analyzing discrimination based on gender are the direct and indirect methods. "Under the direct method, the plaintiff may avoid summary judgment by presenting sufficient evidence, either direct or circumstantial, that the employer's discriminatory animus motivated an adverse employment action." Coleman v. Donahoe, 2012 WL 32062 at *5 (7th Cir.2012). See United States Postal Service Board of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 716 (1983)("There will seldom be eyewitness' testimony as to the employer's mental processes."). Evidence under the direct method has been divided into two categories: "(1) ambiguous statements or behavior toward other employees in the protected group that taken altogether allow an inference of discriminatory intent and (2) evidence of systematically better treatment of employees outside the protected class." Coffman v. Indianapolis Fire Department, 578 F.3d 559, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). Houzenga does not argue that he has direct evidence of gender discrimination.

Under the indirect or burden-shifting method, the plaintiff must first make a prima facie showing that: (1) he was a member of a protected class; (2) he was meeting legitimate employment expectations; (3)she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated employees outside the protected class were treated more favorably than he was. Benuzzi v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, 647 F.3d 652, 662 (7th Cir. 2011). Additionally, in a reverse discrimination case such as this, the plaintiff must show background circumstances suggesting that the employer has a reason or inclination to discriminate against men. Mills v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 171 F.3d 450, 456-57 (7th Cir. 1999); Gore v. Indiana University, 416 F.3d 590, 592-93 (7th Cir. 2005). Once that showing is made, the burden shifts to the employer to proffer a non-discriminatory reason, and if it does, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show the reason is a pre-text. Id . It is ...

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