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Murray v. Colvin

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

September 19, 2014

DORIS MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Doris Murray ("Murray") brings this action against her current employer, the Social Security Administration (the "SSA"), alleging that her supervisor discriminated against her on account of her age, color, disability, and race, retaliated against her for filing inter-agency Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints, and assigned her an intolerable workload designed to force her to retire. The SSA has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Murray is a 70-year-old, dark-skinned, African-American woman who suffers from hypertension, a respiratory condition, knee and foot problems that require her to walk with a cane, and stress. She began her employment at the SSA in 1964 and currently holds the position of Technical Expert. In 2006, Murray was assigned to a position within the SSA's Center for Security and Integrity ("CSI"). Robert Coplin ("Coplin"), who serves as the CSI's director, is Murray's immediate supervisor. Coplin is approximately 54 years old and is African-American.

Initially, Coplin expressed some displeasure about having Murray placed on his team because of the circumstances in which she had left her previous position. According to Coplin, Murray had been "forced out" of her old team due to a problematic relationship with her supervisors. (Coplin Dep. at 25, ECF No. 48-1). Coplin conveyed his feelings about Murray at a meeting with two other individuals from his staff, during which he wondered aloud why Murray, "who ha[d] a long commute, is not in the best of health, [and] is up there in years, continue[d] to hold on to a job that [was not] giving her anything." ( Id. at 28). Coplin further stated his opinion that, since Murray had "maxed out" her pension benefits, she "should just go ahead and retire." ( Id. ).

Although Murray contends that Coplin also disclosed his intention to assign her a workload designed to "force her to retire, " the only basis for that allegation is a question her counsel posed to Coplin at his deposition. Coplin denied ever making such a remark, however, and because Murray was not present at the staff meeting and a lawyer's questions to a witness are not evidence, the Court finds Murray's allegation in that regard to be unsupported by the record. Accordingly, the alleged comment will be disregarded.

In any event, Murray claims that her workload was first adjusted sometime in mid-2010. Each year, CSI employees are responsible for completing security audits at various SSA regional field offices. In 2010, Murray was assigned field site visits at three offices in Michigan. After completing one of these site visits, however, she fell seriously ill and was hospitalized. Although Murray returned to work for a short period thereafter, she continued to take numerous sick days and eventually applied for extended medical leave. At a staff meeting on May 5, 2010, Coplin announced that he was unsure if Murray would be able to complete her audits in time for their deadline in August. Consequently, Coplin sought volunteers to cover Murray's remaining two site visits.

As a replacement for her previously assigned work, Coplin tasked Murray with the responsibility of managing six state agencies that the SSA contracts with to make medical determinations on disability claims. This assignment required Murray to oversee nine separate Disability Determination Services locations ("DDSs") comprised of a total of approximately 3, 000 employees. Although Murray contends that this level of responsibility ordinarily would be shared among several specialists, she did not voice any concerns to Coplin about her workload and there is no indication that she struggled to adjust to her new assignment. Indeed, Murray believes that she did an "outstanding job" and that the DDSs for which she was responsible are now running "better than... ever." (Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Resp. to Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ("Pl.'s 56.1 Resp.") ΒΆΒΆ 23-24, ECF No. 49).

Despite her apparent success, Murray alleges that her performance ratings suffered in 2010 because she completed fewer site visits than she had performed in previous years. While Murray's overall performance evaluation rating of "successful contribution" remained the same from 2009 to 2010, her ratings in two individual categories declined slightly: in 2009, she earned two 3's and two 5's on a scale of 5 for each performance category but, in 2010, she received all 3s. Coplin explained that, in 2010, he lowered Murray's ratings in the categories of "participation" and "achieves business results, " because of her frequent absences, late work assignments, and postponing and rescheduling of reviews.

Although Murray contends that her lower numerical average resulted in her no longer qualifying automatically for a performance-based monetary Recognition of Contribution ("ROC") award, she nevertheless did receive ROC awards in both 2009 and 2010. Her 2010 award was $120 lower but that was because ROC awards are divided evenly among all employees who qualify in a given year and the total prize money available varies from year to year.

Since joining the CSI, Murray has filed a number of inter-agency EEO discrimination complaints regarding Coplin. In 2006, Murray submitted a complaint alleging that Coplin had expressed an intention to force her to retire in retaliation for her filing a previous EEO complaint against him. Thereafter, in 2010, Murray filed a complaint alleging that Coplin's decision to reassign her two remaining site visits constituted unlawful workplace discrimination. In 2011, Murray filed yet another EEO complaint in which she alleged that Coplin had been hostile toward her and assigned her an "unfair" workload. Upon investigation, the SSA determined that both Murray's 2010 and 2011 complaints were meritless. Her 2006 complaint, however, remains pending before the SSA following a remand from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-movant must present evidence sufficient to demonstrate that a genuine factual dispute exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). In doing so, the non-moving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Sarver v. Experian Info. Solutions, 390 F.3d 969, 970 (7th Cir. 2004). Rather, it ...


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