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Jarrett v. Nobel Learning Communities, Inc.

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

April 21, 2014

TYI JARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
NOBEL LEARNING COMMUNITIES, INC. Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Defendant Nobel Learning Communities, Inc.'s (Nobel) motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

Nobel owns and operates a preschool called Chesterbrook Academy (Chesterbrook). Plaintiff Tyi Jarrett (Jarrett), an African-American female, became employed as the cook at Chesterbrook on August 1, 2006. Jarrett was also permitted to work as needed as a "teacher helper" assisting other teachers in the classroom or relieving them on breaks. In June of 2011, Jarrett notified Administrators at Chesterbrook (Administrators) that she was pregnant and that she was restricted from performing certain functions of her job. As a result of Jarrett's medical restrictions, Administrators accommodated her needs and adjusted her work duties and provided assistance to her. On July 11, 2011, Jarrett presented additional and stricter medical restrictions from her physician that prevented Jarrett from performing many of the essential functions of her job. In view of such restrictions, Jarrett could not perform her job and no other positions were available at that time. Due to Jarrett's medical restrictions, Jarrett was notified by Nobel personnel on July 13, 2011 of her placement on leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 28 U.S.C. § 2615 et seq., effective July 14, 2011. Jarrett began FMLA leave on July 14, 2011, and on July 19, 2011, Jarrett submitted a certificate from her health care provider that contained medical restrictions that prevented her from performing the majority, if not all, of the duties of her job. Jarrett remained on FMLA leave and gave birth to her child on September 16, 2011. After Jarrett's FMLA leave expired on October 6, 2011, Jarrett was not cleared to return to work by her physician. Jarrett requested to take a personal leave of absence from October 7, 2011 through November 20, 2011 and Nobel granted her request. In addition, Administrators informed Jarrett that since she had chosen to take a personal leave of absence, she would not be guaranteed full-time hours when she returned to work.

On November 18, 201, Jarrett's physician cleared Jarrett to return to work without restrictions, and on November 21, 2011, Jarrett returned to work at Chesterbrook with part-time hours as she was previously advised when she chose to take personal leave. When Jarrett returned to work on a part time basis, Administrators offered Jarrett other opportunities to work additional hours, but Jarrett declined such offers. After returning to work and while working on a part-time basis, between November 21, 2011 and April 25, 2012, Jarrett was absent from work on multiple occasions, she arrived late for work, she left work early without permission at times, she did not sign in and out for work, she violated work policies, she did not follow state health regulations, and she failed to perform routine job duties like cleaning the dishes and putting the food away. Based on her poor performance, on April 25, 2012, Nobel terminated Jarrett's employment.

Jarrett includes in her amended complaint a claim alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., (Count I), a claim alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Section 1981) and Title VII (Count II), a claim alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count III), and claims of interference and retaliation in violation of the FMLA (Count IV). Nobel now moves for summary judgment on all claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). A "genuine issue" of material fact in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

Jarrett initially appeared pro se in this matter and the court granted continuances at the request of Jarrett to give her an opportunity to find an attorney. An attorney eventually filed an appearance on May 13, 2013, on behalf of Jarrett and on May 14, 2013, at a status hearing the court set discovery and dispositive motion deadlines. On August 27, 2013, the court extended the deadlines and on October 29, 2013, the court extended the dispositive motions deadline to December 6, 2013, with answers due on January 10, 2014, and replies due on January 24, 2014. On December 6, 2014, Nobel filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Jarrett's answer was due on January 10, 2014. However, on January 7, 2014, Jarrett's attorney noticed up a motion to withdraw due to irreconciliable differences and Jarrett indicated to the court that she would proceed pro se or might obtain another attorney. On that date, the court granted Jarrett's attorney leave to withdraw and since the answer to Nobel's motion for summary judgment was due three days later, the court granted an extension until January 24, 2014, for Jarrett or a newly retained attorney to answer the motion for summary judgment, and the court adjusted the reply date to February 7, 2014. Also, since Jarrett at that juncture was proceeding in the litigation pro se, the court ordered Nobel to give the appropriate notice to a pro se plaintiff pursuant to Local Rule 56.2.

I. Failure to Respond to Nobel's Statement of Material Facts

On October 29, 2013, the court stated that dispositive motions in this case were to be filed by December 6, 2013, and that responses to dispositive motions were to be filed by January 10, 2014. On December 6, 2013, Jarrett's attorney, Denise Mercherson, was granted leave to withdraw as Jarrett's attorney by this court. On December 6, 2013, Nobel filed the instant summary judgment motion, statement of material facts, and supporting documents. On that same date, the court ordered Nobel to give notice to Jarrett pursuant to Local Rule 56.2, and the court also gave Jarrett until January 24, 2014 to file her response to Nobel's motion for summary judgment. The court's docket reflects that on January 9, 2014, Nobel served Jarrett with a Local Rule 56.2 Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment, along with a copy of Nobel's motion for summary judgment, statement of material facts, and supporting documents.

The deadline for responding to Nobel's motion for summary judgment passed, and Jarrett failed to file an answer in opposition to Nobel's motion for summary judgment or a response to Nobel's statement of material facts. Therefore, pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, all facts contained in Nobel's statement of material facts are deemed to be undisputed. LR 56.1; see also Judson Atkinson Candies, Inc. v. Latini-Hohberger Dhimantec, 529 F.3d 371, 382 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008)(stating that "a district court has broad discretion to require strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1").

II. Title VII Sex Discrimination Claim (Count I)

Nobel moves for summary judgment on the Title VII sex discrimination claim. The court notes that Jarrett describes her Title VII discrimination sex claim as a "[p]regnancy and/or [s]ex discrimination claim." (A. Compl. Par. 3-4). Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k), does not create a separate discrimination claim based on a woman's pregnancy. See Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2011)(stating that the PDA merely clarifies that under Title VII, "discrimination based on a woman's pregnancy is, on its face, discrimination because of her sex.")(internal quotations omitted)(quoting Hall v. Nalco Co., 534 F.3d 644, 646 (7th Cir. 2008)).

A plaintiff who is bringing a Title VII sex discrimination claim and who is seeking to defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment can proceed under either the direct or indirect method of proof. Makowski v. Smith Amundsen LLC, 662 F.3d 818, 823-24 (7th Cir. 2011).

A. Direct Method of Proof

Nobel maintains that Jarrett cannot proceed under the direct method of proof relating to her Title VII sex discrimination claim. (Mem. 6-10). To proceed under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff must show "through direct or circumstantial evidence, that the employer's decision to take the adverse job action against her was motivated by an impermissible purpose, such as sex." See Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 548 (7th Cir. 2011). To proceed under the direct method of proof with circumstantial evidence, a plaintiff must show that there is ...


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