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Harrison v. Illinois Department of Transportation

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

November 12, 2014



MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Marvin Harrison alleges that his employer, the Illinois Department of Transportation ("IDOT"), along with certain IDOT supervisors and officials, William Grunloh, Steve Travia, and Giovanni Fulgenzi, discriminated against him on the basis of his race and retaliated against him when he complained of the discriminatory treatment. Presently before us is Defendants' motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all claims. (Dkt. No. 115.) For the reasons set forth below, we grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.


We begin with the pertinent facts. Unless otherwise noted, the facts described herein are undisputed and culled from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements of fact and exhibits. To the extent that either party objected to certain statements of fact or exhibits, we shall rely on admissible evidence only for purposes of our analysis. See, e.g., Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.Com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007) ("The evidence relied upon in defending a motion for summary judgment must be competent evidence of a type otherwise admissible at trial."). We decline to address objections specifically unless warranted.


Harrison is an African-American man and has worked for IDOT in Emergency Traffic Patrol ("ETP") since 1995. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 2, 7.) Having served as a highway maintainer and lead worker, Harrison was promoted to the position of Highway Maintainer Lead/Lead Worker ("Lead/Lead") in 2007. ( Id. ¶ 7.) Harrison received this promotion after filing a previous discrimination lawsuit against IDOT and was the only African-American Lead/Lead at all times relevant to this action. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 1.) Following Harrison's 2007 promotion, several coworkers refused to work with him. ( Id. ¶ 2; Pl.'s Ex. 8 (12/26/07 Fulgenzi email noting that "Jose, Mark, and Mike have been calling in sick or refused overtime in lieu of working with Marvin").)

As a Lead/Lead at ETP, Harrison has many duties. According to IDOT's job description, the Lead/Lead patrols expressways and supervises incident management at accident or disabled vehicle sites. (Defs.' Ex. D, Fulgenzi Dep. at Ex. 1 (Job Descr.) at 1.) In that role, the Lead/Lead sets up safety devices, reroutes traffic, clears obstructions on the pavement, and evaluates situations to determine whether emergency assistance is needed. ( Id. ) The Lead/Lead alerts the IDOT communications center of any interruptions to traffic flow, reports any damage to State property, and works "to help restore normal traffic flow as quickly and safely as possible." ( Id. ) As Harrison described in his deposition, a Lead/Lead must "respond to anything and everything that affects the traffic on the highway, " from car fires, to debris in the road, to animals running amok. (Defs.' Ex. C, Harrison Dep. at 12.)

The Lead/Lead also supervises lead workers and highway maintainers, schedules employees staffed for ETP, determines assignments, issues work rule violations, prepares incident reports, and conducts training and inspections. (Job Descr. at 1; Harrison Dep. at 11-12; see Pl.'s Ex. 1 (12/18/13 Decl. of Marvin Harrison) ¶ 30 (stating that he was not responsible for the number of employees staffed).) Typically, Harrison supervises three lead workers and roughly a dozen highway maintainers on each shift. (Harrison Dep. at 13-14.) Harrison's duties involve at least two hours of office work per shirt, including personnel tasks as well as dealing with motorists, politicians, upper management, and subordinate employees. ( Id. at 15-16.) As a Lead/Lead, Harrison also ensures that equipment is available and functioning, and occasionally maintains equipment personally. ( Id. at 16-18.) In addition, he may handle special projects, such as coordinating a presidential motorcade. ( Id. at 13, 16 (testifying that he also coordinated the NATO summit and may arrange delivery of packages for state officials).)

As for his job performance, Harrison provided six annual evaluations, covering the 2005-2006 review period through the 2010-2011 review period.[1] (Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 2.) In each of the evaluations following his promotion to Lead/Lead, Harrison was rated either "Satisfactory" or "Highly Satisfactory" in all categories.[2] ( Id. ) Based on the record before us, Harrison appears to have been meeting IDOT's expectations, at least through June 30, 2011.[3]


The parties do not dispute that, on approximately March 22, 2010, Defendant Grunloh- IDOT's then-Chief of Staff-informed Harrison by phone that he was being reassigned out of ETP, over his objection. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 22; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 9.) Harrison was reassigned to work at the Kennedy Maintenance Yard ("the Yard"), where he remained for approximately six months. IDOT ultimately moved Harrison back to ETP, after his repeated requests. (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s SOF ¶ 11.) While these basic facts are agreed, the parties dispute the circumstances giving rise to Harrison's transfer, the scope of his duties at the Yard, and the consequences of the move.

A. Circumstances Surrounding Harrison's Reassignment

In early 2010, IDOT "was aware that personnel issues existed at ETP." (Defs.' SOF ¶ 10.) IDOT does not identify what events lead it to this conclusion. Harrison, however, states that in January 2010 he informed Marie Malek-Robinson-IDOT's Employee Assistance Program Manager-that he heard that other ETP employees had circulated a petition seeking his removal. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 16.)

1. Malek-Robinson's Investigation

Whatever the cause, IDOT instructed Malek-Robinson to conduct an investigation, called an Employee Dynamics and Outcomes Assessment, to determine the sources of discord at ETP. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 11.) For her investigation, Malek-Robinson interviewed ETP employees and essentially asked what they liked and disliked about their jobs.[4] (Defs.' SOF ¶ 13.) According to Defendants, though disputed by Harrison, Malek-Robinson received more than 90 negative comments about Harrison, more than any other employee mentioned. ( Id. ¶ 14.) The interviewed, anonymous employees also gave negative feedback about Anthony DiIacova and Bob Duda, both white managers at ETP who were senior to Harrison. ( Id. ¶¶ 14, 19-20.) Malek-Robinson prepared a report incorporating ETP employee comments, dated March 4, 2010. ( Id. ¶ 17; see id., Ex. G (8/1/13 Decl. of Marie Malek-Robinson) ¶¶ 17-20 & Ex. 1 attached thereto.)

IDOT asserts that, based on Malek-Robinson's report, it decided to move Harrison, DiIacova, and Duda out of ETP. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 19.) The record shows that IDOT permanently transferred DiIacova and Duda to other positions.[5] (Defs.' SOF ¶ 19; Defs.' SOF, Ex. H (11/14/13 Decl. of Steve Travia) ¶¶ 4-8; see Harrison Decl. ¶ 25.)

On February 5, 2010, Harrison filed an internal complaint against Malek-Robinson.[6] ( See Malek-Robinson Decl. ¶ 23; Defs.' SOF, Ex. N (2/5/10 Harrison Internal Discr./Harassment Compl.).) Harrison complained that he was forced to speak with Malek-Robinson without representation and without understanding the purpose of her investigation. (Defs.' SOF, Ex. N.) He alleged that this questioning constituted ongoing harassment on the basis of his race, as well as retaliation. ( Id. ) Malek-Robinson has stated that she did not know about Harrison's internal complaint when she performed her assessment. (Malek-Robinson Decl. ¶ 23.)

2. The Hate-Based Threat

Around the same time as Malek-Robinson's investigation, and approximately two weeks before his transfer to the Yard, Harrison received a phone call from Ellen Schanzle-Haskins, IDOT's Chief Counsel, and Elbert Simon, IDOT's Chief of the Bureau of Civil Rights. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 19; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 8.) In their conversation, Schanzle-Haskins informed Harrison that one or more of his subordinates had made a race-based threat on his life, on Facebook. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 19; Harrison Dep. at 31-34, 38-39.) Schanzle-Haskins told Harrison that IDOT had contacted the Hate Crimes division of the FBI to investigate. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 19; Harrison Dep. at 31-41.) Simon and Schanzle-Haskins then asked Harrison if he would be willing to transfer to maintenance. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 19; Harrison Dep. at 33-34; see also Defs.' SOF, Ex. K (7/19/13 Decl. of Ellen Schanzle-Haskins) ¶¶ 3-6.) Harrison declined to do so because he felt a maintenance position would involve less authority, he would lose money, and it was unfair that he should move rather than those who threatened him. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 20.)

Shortly thereafter, on approximately March 22, 2010, Grunloh called Harrison and told him that he was being transferred to the Yard against his wishes. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 21; Harrison Dep. at 33, 43-44.) Grunloh did not provide Harrison any concrete reason for the forced transfer, other than "operational needs." (Harrison Decl. ¶ 21.) It is undisputed that Grunloh typically did not deal with individual staffing and discipline issues at ETP. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 84.) Indeed, Grunloh testified that he made only two such phone calls as Chief of Staff, and the only call he ever made to a Lead/Lead about a reassignment was the call to Harrison. (Defs.' SOF, Ex. B, Grunloh Dep. at 12 (stating that the other call had been to ask the IDOT assistant secretary for his resignation).) Grunloh had never heard of Harrison until the Secretary of IDOT asked him to place the call on March 22, 2010, and Grunloh did not know that Harrison is African-American. ( Id. ¶ 85; Defs.' SOF, Ex. M (7/22/13 Decl. of William Grunloh) ¶¶ 3-7, 11.) According to his declaration, Grunloh also did not know personally about the "operational needs" at the Yard. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 85-86; Grunloh Decl. ¶ 7; see also Grunloh Dep. at 8, 11-15.)

Like Grunloh, Schanzle-Haskins also informed Harrison, though after his move, that he was reassigned because they needed help at the Yard. (Harrison Dep. at 41-42.) Yet Schanzle-Haskins stated in a May 20, 2010 email to Harrison that "we transferred you... for your safety due to the threats on your life that are part of an FBI hate crimes investigation." (Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 3 (5/20/10 Schanzle-Haskins email to Harrison, Grunloh, Simon and others) (further stressing that he was not being punished but that IDOT had an obligation to try and help him).)[7]

Soon after his transfer to the Yard, Harrison met with the FBI about the threat. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 32; Harrison Dep. at 34-41.) The FBI investigators showed Harrison the Facebook post that IDOT deemed to be threatening, but Harrison did not learn the identity or race of the poster. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 32-33; Harrison Dep. at 35-36.) On or by April 1, 2010, the FBI completed its investigation and concluded that the threat was unfounded. (Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 3 (Harrison's response to 5/20/10 Schanzle-Haskins email).)

IDOT did not transfer Harrison back to ETP at the conclusion of the FBI investigation. Rather, after Harrison's repeated requests, IDOT reassigned him to ETP after approximately six months at the Yard. (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s SOF ¶ 11; Harrison Decl. ¶¶ 23-25; see also Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 21 (assorted emails from Harrison requesting to return to ETP and to be made whole on missed overtime).) Harrison never received an explanation of the "operational needs" that allegedly necessitated his move to the Yard. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 26.)

B. Harrison's Employment at the Yard

While working at the Yard, Harrison retained his Lead/Lead title. (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s SOF ¶ 10; Harrison Dep. at 24.) Nonetheless, his job duties changed somewhat. While Harrison continued to supervise employees at the Yard, for example, he supervised one lead worker rather than three. (Harrison Dep. at 24.) Harrison stated in his declaration that the lead worker reported to the Yard Tech (or manager), rather than Harrison. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 22.) The Yard Tech gave Harrison assignments for each shift, which he delegated to the lead worker and highway maintainers. (Harrison Dep. at 25-30.) Harrison did not handle scheduling at the Yard and spent about one hour of each shift on paperwork. ( Id. at 24-26.)

For the rest of his shift, Harrison went out on assignment with the other maintenance employees and performed tasks such as cutting trees, cleaning sewers, picking up paper, and dispersing homeless people from underpasses. ( Id. at 23-24, 28-31.) Harrison did not patrol the highways, as he did at ETP, because maintenance employees are assigned particular tasks for the shift and also because they lack the proper equipment. ( Id. at 26-27.) Harrison drove a pickup truck while in maintenance, which was not equipped with the lights necessary to make stops for emergencies. ( Id. at 27-28.) Harrison testified that he performed the same work as the Yard's highway maintainers. ( Id. at 30; see also Harrison Decl. ¶ 22.) He was not responsible for the availability or functionality of equipment. (Harrison Dep. at 31.) On the whole, Harrison felt that his duties at the Yard were menial and that the reassignment "was humiliating." (Harrison Decl. ¶ 23; see also id. ¶ 22 ("I went from saving lives to cleaning up trash on the side of the road and it seemed like I was being punished for someone else's racism.").)

In addition to concerns about his duties, [8] Harrison complained to IDOT that he was losing overtime income while stationed at the Yard.[9] ( See, e.g., Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 21.) By March 26, 2010-at the very beginning of his reassignment-Harrison was inquiring about his benefits during his temporary reassignment to the Yard, including overtime. (Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 21 (at IDOT 41, 3/26/10 emails to Robert Anderson).) He filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on March 29, 2010, alleging that his benefits had been reduced as a result of the transfer. (Defs.' SOF, Ex. O.) About two months later, he emailed Schanzle-Haskins about the financial strain on his family, explaining that he was losing about $7000 a month in overtime that he would have earned at ETP. (Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 21 (at IDOT 117, 5/20/10 email to Schanzle-Haskins) (also asking to be reassigned to a location closer to his home).) In an email to Simon and others, dated June 4, 2010, Harrison reiterated that he was losing $6000 to $7000 per month in overtime. (Pl.'s SOF, Ex. 21 (at IDOT 480, 6/4/2010 email to Simon, Anderson, and Lance Jones).) Two weeks later, Harrison again requested to return to ETP, to receive all of his missed overtime pay, and to be reinstated with his vehicle, office, and shift. ( Id. )

In response to Harrison's complaints, IDOT issued Harrison payments for back wages, representing the overtime he missed while at the Yard from March 26, 2010 through September 2010. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 27.) By the end of that year, IDOT paid Harrison a gross total of $33, 735.76 in unearned overtime compensation. ( Id.; Defs.' SOF, Ex. I (7/16/13 Decl. of Holly Guppy) ¶¶ 3-6; Siano Decl. ¶¶ 4-7.) Harrison contends that this amount was less than it should have been, based on his own calculations. (Harrison Decl. ¶ 35; Harrison ...

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