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Smith v. Chicago Transit Authority

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

July 2, 2014

ROBERT E. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Robert E. Smith, filed a Third Amended Complaint on February 23, 2011, alleging that defendant, Chicago Transit Authority ("CTA") discriminated against him based on race when they terminated his employment and defamed him in an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune newspaper on February 8, 2007. CTA moves for summary judgment, arguing that Smith cannot establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination or disparate treatment under the undisputed facts and his defamation claim is untimely. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants CTA's motion for summary judgment.

Background

The following facts are undisputed except where noted.[1] Plaintiff, Robert E. Smith, is an African American man, who was employed by the CTA from 1986 until his termination on January 24, 2007. Since April 25, 2004, Smith held the position of Transportation Manager assigned to the North Park Garage. On October 29, 2005, Smith was laterally transferred to the Bus Service Management area until CTA terminated his employment. Smith was an at-will employee.

In 2004, the Chairman of CTA's Board of Directors, Carole L. Brown, issued Equal Opportunity ("EEO") policy statements that remained in effect for the duration of Smith's employment with CTA. The policy affirmed CTA's commitment to prohibiting workplace harassment, including sexual harassment defined as "[u]nwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" where submission to such conduct is made a term or condition of an individual's employment, either explicitly or implicitly" or "[s]uch conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the employee's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment". CTA communicated its EEO policies and the procedures to contact the CTA's EEO unit to its employees through training, workplace postings, and an administrative procedure. Smith was aware the CTA had an EEO Unit and recalls attending sexual harassment awareness training at CTA in December 2006. Smith was aware that sexual harassment was prohibited and, as a manager, he was expected to set an example by following the CTA's policy.

Pamela Beavers, an African American woman, managed the EEO Unit from approximately 1994 to June 30, 2009. In 2006-2007, the EEO Unit had three employees that investigated claims of violations of the CTA's EEO policy and reported to Beavers: Thelma Crigler (African American, now deceased); Salvador Ramirez (Hispanic) Senior Diversity Officer; and Alenda Young (African American) EEO Diversity Officer. CTA policy was for managers to report any incident that might be perceived as harassment to the EEO Unit. Ramirez taught managers that if an individual made a claim of harassment, they were to have the parties involved each complete a written report to forward to the EEO Unit, let upper management know of the claim, and then department management was to contact the EEO Unit. The parties agree that the EEO Unit was understaffed in 2006-2007. The EEO Unit received charges of violations of CTA policy directly from employees making the charge and from managers. Sometimes department managers would request the EEO Unit investigate.

Once the EEO Unit received a charge of a violation of CTA policy, the assigned investigator would determine whether it was EEO-related, have a written report from the work unit or unse an Inquiry Complaint (form) and have the work location management collect written reports from the person complaining of harassment, the accused, and any witnesses. The EEO investigator would then conduct interviews of anyone with information regarding the incident. The investigator would make an initial recommendation as to whether any of CTA's EEO policies had been violated and provide that recommendation to Beavers. Beavers would then make a final determination by reviewing the investigation file, including the documentation, interview notes, emails, and reports to managers. Beavers did not, as General Manager of the EEO Unit, conduct interviews or, otherwise investigate claims herself. Before making a final determination as to whether an individual violated an EEO policy, Beavers would discuss the file with the investigator assigned to the claim.

In the fall of 2006, Smith was a Transportation Manager in Bus Service Management, a work unit responsible for the movement of buses and monitoring bus service in the field. Robert McCullough started as Bus Supervisor in the fall of 2006. In 2006, Marcella Harvey-McCall ("McCall"), an African-American woman, was a bus operator. On October 28 and 29, 2006, McCall was assigned to assist McCullough. Smith was McCall's manager in October 2006.

Smith had worked with McCall previously, when he was Transportation Manager assigned to North Park Garage. McCall claimed in the EEO investigation that, while at work on October 28, 2006, Smith asked McCall to perform a striptease for his wife and to join Smith and his wife in a sexual relationship. McCall refused and refused again when Smith allegedly made the same proposition the following day. Smith testified that McCall had previously told him she was a stripper. McCall testified that she did not know where Smith got the idea that she was a stripper. McCall also testified that prior to 2006 McCall did not feel sexually harassed by Smith, but that he had made comments that made her uncomfortable. She did not report any of the comments made prior to 2006. McCall also alleged that on November 4, 2006, Smith threatened to report her for leaving early without permission. On November 6, 2006, McCall told Henry Bradford, Transportation Manager, about Smith's alleged conduct towards her.

Smith admits that he sat in the CTA vehicle assigned to him with McCall for two or three minutes while at the Howard Rail Terminal on October 28, 2006, but says it was because it was cold outside and he did not speak to her. Smith also admits to speaking with McCall about her schedule on October 29, 2006, McCall telling him she was leaving earlier than her assigned time and he told her she was not supposed to leave until several hours later. Smith also admits that he returned to the Howard Terminal after McCall had left on October 29, 2006, and McCullough told him McCall had left early and that McCall had accused Smith of sexual harassment. Smith next saw McCall on November 4 or 5, 2006, at the Forest Glen Garage and asked her why she had left early on October 29, 2006, and told her he should write her up for it. Smith testified that he was "just threatening her with that." Smith also testified that he asked McCall why she would lie about his approaching her with a sexual advancement.

Beavers first learned of the incident between McCall and Smith when she received a fax from Mary Beth Cobleigh-Beal, General Manager of the Forest Park garage, on November 6, 2006, attaching a four-page report from McCall. EEO investigator Alenda Young began the EEO Unit's investigation into McCall's claims by interviewing seven employees, including McCall, Transportation Manager Henry Bradford, Bus Service Management Pool Supervisor McCullough, Chief Clerk Cesar Lovera, and Transportation Manager II James Lachowicz on November 8, 2006, and she later spoke to Bus Clerk Valeda Springfield by telephone. Young interviewed Smith after conducting the other interviews due to scheduling conflicts. When Young met with Smith, she realized that he had made comments to her that she considered inappropriate at a Bus Service Meeting a few months before. Young proceeded with the interview despite this realization. At her deposition, Young could not recall whether CTA had a written policy that an investigator cannot conduct an investigation of someone that the investigator alleges behaved inappropriately. Young removed herself from the investigation and Ramirez took over as lead investigator.

According to Beavers, Ramirez could rely on Young's notes of her investigation and Young could document her interviews. Beavers did not believe Young's continued involvement created a conflict of interest. Ramirez provided Beavers with his initial recommendation. Beavers believes that Ramirez reached his own conclusion about McCall's claims. Beavers reviewed the investigation file and supporting documentation provided by Ramirez. Beavers requested follow-up with Valeda Springfield, a union employee who alleged that Smith had engaged in inappropriate conduct. Although Smith denies the allegations, Springfield told the EEO Unit that Smith had made an inappropriate comment of a sexual nature two years prior to the incident with McCall. Springfield did not report the incident or file a claim with the CTA's EEO unit but she told her union representative and Chief Clerk Cesar Lovera. Smith recalls apologizing to Springfield. He asserts that the apology was for a comment on her shoes and her boyfriend and was not for any inappropriate conduct.

Ramirez submitted an investigation summary that included the information provided by Springfield, and a recommendation that Smith had violated a CTA EEO policy on sexual harassment. Beavers made the final determination that Smith violated CTA's workplace sexual harassment policy. Once Beavers determined that Smith violated CTA's EEO policy regarding workplace sexual harassment, on January 4, 2007, she sent letters to Smith, McCall, and Smith's managers, Walter Thomas, and William Mooney. Any discipline for an employee found to have violated CTA's EEO policies was the responsibility of the employee's department management, not the EEO unit.

William R. Mooney, Sr. (Caucasian) was employed by CTA from June 2, 1975, until his retirement on January 1, 2010. He was Vice President, Bus Operations at CTA from November 3, 2002, through June 28, 2007, during which time he was the decision maker for discipline given to the Bus Operations managers who reported to him, including Smith. As a Vice President, Mooney did not discipline employees below the level of manager. Of the 164 managers who reported to Mooney in the fall of 2006, 101 were African American, 46 were Caucasian, 14 Hispanic, and three Asian individuals. There were 39 women and 125 men that reported to Mooney. While all CTA employees were required to follow CTA's EEO policies, the discipline Mooney gave managers who violated those policies was harsher than what a union employee might receive because Mooney expected managers to ...


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