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Henson v. Canon Business Solutions, Inc.

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

September 23, 2014

Lisa Henson, Plaintiff,
Canon Business Solutions, Inc., Defendant.


VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lisa Henson filed a pro se complaint against Defendant Canon Business Solutions, Inc., (now known as Canon Solutions America, Inc.), her former employer, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Dkt. No. 1). Specifically, Henson alleged that Canon retaliated against her for filing a complaint with the EEOC and discriminated against her based on her race. Canon moved for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 35), at which point the Court appointed counsel for Henson. (Dkt. No. 45). The Court granted Henson's motion to reopen discovery in order to respond adequately to the summary judgment motion. (Dkt. No. 60). Canon renewed its motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 89), and Henson cross-moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 103).

For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and denies Henson's cross-motion for summary judgment.


The facts in this section are undisputed, unless otherwise noted. Defendant Canon is a supplier of networked office systems, copiers, printers, and related services to business customers. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 1; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 3). Canon employs salespeople, termed Major Accounts Executives ("MAEs"), to sell its products directly to its business customers. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 3; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 3). Beginning in mid-November, 2007, Canon employed Plaintiff Henson as an MAE in its Schaumburg, Illinois sales office. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 3; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 2). In her role as an MAE, Plaintiff received a base salary of $45, 000 and earned commissions based on sales. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 4; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 7).

In early 2008, Canon offered Plaintiff the temporary position of New Business Executive ("NBE"). (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 9-10; Pl. St. ¶9). The position was expected to last between twelve and eighteen months. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 10; Henson Dep. 44: 11-13). Henson now disputes that she understood the temporary nature of the NBE program until January, 2009. (Pl. Resp. 56.1 St. ¶ 10). Henson testified in her deposition, though, that her understanding as of February, 2008 was that Canon expected the NBE position to last between twelve and eighteen months. (Henson Dep. 44: 11-13). While Henson was frustrated that she had difficulty obtaining written confirmation of the position's details, there is no doubt that she understood the NBE role was temporary. ( Id. 43-44). The purpose of the position was to generate new business for Canon with companies with which Canon did not historically have a business relationship. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 11; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 9). Because the position involved dealing with unestablished accounts, the position carried a higher base salary and did not allow for the possibility of commissions. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 12; Pl. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 12).

On April 21, 2009, while still an NBE, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC, that she had been placed on a performance improvement plan in retaliation for complaints to her supervisor about working conditions. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 21; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 17). The EEOC dismissed the complaint. The complaint followed a conversation between Plaintiff and her supervisor, Kevin Sander, about concerns regarding the quality of her work and her concerns about working conditions at Canon. Canon took no formal disciplinary action following the meeting. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 20; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 16). There is some dispute as to whether Sander was aware of the EEOC charge. Canon maintains that Sander was not aware of the EEOC filing, relying on Human Resources representative Shannon Heidkamp's testimony that policy was not to disclose EEOC interactions to supervisors. (Def.'s Resp. 56.1 ¶ 18). Henson offers Sander's deposition testimony that he knew "something" involving Henson was going on because Human Resources had begun to inquire about their working relationship. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 18).

On May 19, 2009, Canon informed Plaintiff in a meeting with Sander and Heidkamp that it was discontinuing the NBE program and that she would be returning to her previous role as an MAE. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 23-4; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 26). During the meeting, the three discussed the terms of Plaintiff's transition. While she would return to the lower MAE base salary, she was to receive a commission guarantee of $3, 500 per month for her first three months in order to guarantee that her take-home pay would not decrease in the short term. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 26-7; Pl. Resp. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 26-7).

On her return to the MAE position, Henson became responsible for servicing a specific book of customer accounts. Sander was responsible for assigning accounts to Henson. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 34-6; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 27). Prior to her return, Sander gave Henson the opportunity to create a list of twenty accounts that she would most like to have. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 34; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 24). Sander assigned to Plaintiff sixteen of those twenty accounts. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 36; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 27). The parties disagree about the significance of the accounts not given to Henson. Henson claims that these four accounts were substantial, "run rate revenue" accounts with the potential to earn large commissions. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 27). Canon maintains that the accounts were not assigned to Henson as part of the routine practice of providing new accounts to newly hired MAEs. (Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 27). The parties agree that responsibility for any given account often rotated among MAEs. (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 39; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 22).

Canon also required that Henson make regular activity reports, and be in the office during business hours at least three days per week. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 39, 44; Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 39). While these requirements were consistent with Canon policy, Canon did not enforce this policy uniformly across its team of MAEs. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 39; Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 39). The parties disagree as to the motivation for the inconsistent application of the attendance policy. Henson alleges that she was held strictly to the policy in retaliation for her EEOC filing (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 40-42), while Canon claims that it was simply enforcing its policy and any deviation from that policy was the exception rather than the rule. (Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 39). As to activity reporting, Henson again alleges that she was held to a stricter reporting standard than other employees due to her EEOC filing. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 44). Canon admits that MAEs did not report their activities uniformly, but deny that the EEOC filing had anything to do with the way it applied its policy. (Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 44).

Almost two months after Plaintiff returned to the MAE role, Canon Sales Director Scott MacDonald (Sander's supervisor), commented in reference to Plaintiff that he did not want a "Dennis Rodman" or a "Terrell Owens" on his team. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 57).[1] The parties disagree about what MacDonald meant be these comparisons. Plaintiff suggests that the references were racially charged (both Rodman and Owens are well known African American athletes), while Canon argues that both Rodman and Owens are examples of "successful individuals who are not team players." (Def. Resp. ¶ 32). He further complained that of Plaintiff's use of "Ebonics", specifically using the word "axe" instead of "ask." (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 33). Canon terminated MacDonald's employment on November 4, 2009 following complaints from another employee. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 61; Dkt. # 119, Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s MSJ at 20 n.4).

On August 17, 2009, Henson filed a second complaint with the EEOC, alleging discrimination based on her race and retaliation for engaging in protected activities. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 55; Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 55).

Plaintiff resigned from Canon on July 26, 2010 (Def. 56.1 St. ¶ 44; Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 65). Plaintiff did not receive a separation package. Other Canon employees who left the company did. (Pl. 56.1 St. ¶ 68; Def. Resp. 56.1 ¶ 68). The parties dispute whether Henson was similarly situated to the employees who received separation packages. After Henson had left Canon, she inquired into why she had not received a separation package. Jayne Arndt, a Canon employee in the Human Resources department informed Henson that she did not receive a ...

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