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Mustafa v. State of Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board

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

September 17, 2014

William Mustafa, Plaintiff,
State of Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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William Mustafa, Plaintiff, Pro se, Chicago, IL.

For St of IL Property Tax Appeal Board, Defendant: S. Ann Walls, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Chicago, IL.

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Hon. JOHN Z. LEE, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff William Mustafa (" Mustafa" ) has sued his former employer, the State of Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (" PTAB" ), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (" Title VII" ). Mustafa claims that PTAB discriminated against him based upon his race and religion, and then retaliated against him when it became aware he had filed a charge of discrimination. For its part, PTAB contends that Mustafa's performance was never satisfactory during the time he worked there, that PTAB's concerns about his performance were communicated to him long before he filed his

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charge of discrimination, and that his subsequent termination was causally related to and entirely consistent with these prior issues. After the conclusion of discovery, PTAB moved for summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons set forth herein, PTAB's motion is granted, and judgment is entered in its favor.

Local Rule 56.1

Motions for summary judgment in the Northern District of Illinois are governed by Local Rule 56.1. " The obligation set forth in Local Rule 56.1 'is not a mere formality.' Rather, '[i]t follows from the obligation imposed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) on the party opposing summary judgment to identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue for trial.'" Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted) (quoting Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 924 (7th Cir. 1994)). The Seventh Circuit has " routinely held that a district court may strictly enforce compliance with its local rules regarding summary judgment motions." Yancick v. Hanna Steel Corp., 653 F.3d 532, 537 (7th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted).

Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) requires the nonmovant to file 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." See Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B). Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) also " requires specifically that a litigant seeking to oppose a motion for summary judgment file a response that contains a separate 'statement . . . of any additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment.'" Cichon v. Exelon Generation Co., L.L.C., 401 F.3d 803, 809 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Local Rule 56.1).

The failure of a nonmoving party to abide by the rule's requirements carries significant consequences. " All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party." Local Rule 56.1(b)(3); Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003) (" We have consistently held that a failure to respond by the nonmovant as mandated by the local rules results in an admission." ). " This rule may be the most important litigation rule outside statutes of limitation because the consequences of failing to satisfy its requirements are so dire." Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 584 (N.D. Ill. 2000). This rule applies with equal force even where a plaintiff is proceeding pro se. See Coleman v. Goodwill Indus. of Se. Wis., Inc., 423 F.App'x 642, 643 (7th Cir. 2011) (" Though courts are solicitous of pro se litigants, they may nonetheless require strict compliance with local rules." ).

PTAB argues that Mustafa has frequently failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1 in his response to the summary judgment motion. While the Court declines to strike Mustafa's Local Rule 56.1 statement or response in its entirety, where he fails to comply with the rule, the Court will disregard the statement of fact or denial as appropriate.

Factual Background[1]

Mustafa is an African-American male and a religious Muslim. Def.'s L.R. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. (" Def.'s LR 56.1 Stmt." ) ¶ 2. In February 2011, PTAB hired Mustafa to work in its Des Plaines office as an Appraisal Specialist III (Administrative Law Judge) on a probationary basis. Id.

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¶ ¶ 2-4. Appraisal Specialists such as Mustafa are expected to conduct hearings and draft decisions involving complex property tax assessments for residential, commercial, and industrial properties, with minimal training and minimal supervision. Id. ¶ 6. Therefore, when hired, Appraisal Specialist IIIs are expected to have thorough knowledge of the laws and principles relevant to real estate appraisal and assessment, and to be capable of presenting written analyses of these issues. Id. ¶ 8. Under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement with the State of Illinois, a probationary employee's original six-month probation period may, but need not, be extended for six additional months to allow the employee additional time to demonstrate an ability to successfully perform the duties and responsibilities required of the position.[2] Id. ¶ 5.

New Appraisal Specialist III hires are trained to process appeals by senior, experienced staff who review their work and provide feedback. Id. ¶ 9. To assist Mustafa in acclimating to PTAB and to acquaint him with the appeal process, senior staff members Katherine Patti (" Patti" ) and Jennifer Vesley (" Vesley" ) were assigned to review the agency rules and the Property Tax Code with him and to provide him with simple, uncontested residential appeals for his first draft decisions. Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 13. Patti and Vesley, both licensed attorneys, were expected to review Mustafa's work and provide feedback regarding his draft opinions. Id. ¶ ¶ 11, 13. Robert DaPrato (" DaPrato" ), another Appraisal Specialist III, also was assigned to assist Mustafa. Id. ¶ 12. PTAB authorized additional off-site training for Mustafa on numerous occasions, and Mustafa does not dispute that he attended these sessions. Id. ¶ ¶ 15-16. Between his hiring date and August 15, 2011, the day before he filed his charge of discrimination, Mustafa never requested any additional training from anyone at PTAB. Id. ¶ 17. Mustafa also admits that PTAB never denied him training opportunities because he is African-American or because he is Muslim. Id. ¶ 18.

While working at PTAB, Mustafa's duties consisted primarily of reviewing non-complex residential appeals and preparing draft orders. Id. ¶ 19. On several occasions prior to August 15, 2011, Mustafa received negative feedback from senior staff concerning his job performance, including criticism about his writing skills and the manner in which he developed cases. Id. ¶ ¶ 20-22. Moreover, senior PTAB staff members observed that Mustafa became argumentative and uncooperative when receiving constructive criticism and inappropriately aggressive when given instruction with which he did not agree. Id. ¶ 23.

A few months into his probationary period at PTAB, in approximately June 2011, Louis Apostol (" Apostol" ), the Executive Director of PTAB, told Mustafa that his office was being moved next door to Apostol's office. Id. ¶ ¶ 72, 75. Later that month, Apostol emailed Mustafa asking him to " keep the noise levels down," because Apostol could hear his conversations through the wall and found it distracting. Id. ¶ ¶ 76-77. Apostol had previously asked at least one other staff member to keep the noise ...

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