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Travis v. City of Chicago

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

December 16, 2014

CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.


JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Anthony Travis ("Travis"), an employee of the City of Chicago ("City"), sued the City and individual defendants Michael Callahan ("Callahan"), Emmett O'Donnell ("O'Donnell"), Robert Anthony ("Anthony"), Debbie Biniak ("Biniak"), and Chuck Killman ("Killman"), alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. On September 30, 2014, this court issued an opinion ruling on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. In that opinion, the court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Travis's retaliation claim, but denied summary judgment as to Travis's discrimination and hostile work environment claims.

On October 31, 2014, individual defendants Callahan, O'Donnell, Anthony, Biniak, and Killman (collectively "Individual Defendants") filed a motion to clarify the court's order on summary judgment.


For the purposes of the motion for clarification, familiarity with the court's September 30, 2014 order is assumed. Thus, the court will briefly recap the relevant facts.

Travis, an African-American male, has been an employee of the Chicago Fire Department ("CFD") since December 1994. In January 1997, the CFD promoted Travis to his current position of Senior Air Mask Technician ("SAMT"). Travis's duties are to repair the safety equipment used by CFD members. From 1997 onward, Travis has reported to Biniak, the Supervising Air Mask Technician. Biniak reports to Anthony, the Deputy District Chief of the Air Mask Division. Anthony, in turn, reports to Deputy Fire Commissioner Callahan and District Chief O'Donnell.

Travis bases his claims in part on three separate disciplinary actions: (1) a three-day suspension in June 2009, (2) a six-day suspension in December 2009, and (3) a reassignment to the Support and Logistics Division ("SLD") from December to February 2009. Travis denies that either the suspensions or the reassignment was warranted, and asserts that they were the result of discrimination. Defendants state that Travis's suspensions and reassignment resulted from insubordination. Namely, defendants claim that Travis: told Biniak to "shut up"; responded "Am I the only one who can do this?" when asked to complete an assignment; failed to complete an assignment because he was working on something else at the time; and failed to enter his work on a daily basis on a computer database despite being ordered to do so. These incidents corresponded to Travis's suspensions and reassignment to SLD. He remained at SLD from December 21, 2009 until February 16, 2010.

The disciplinary system at the Fire Department is multifaceted and involves several individuals. Biniak admits in her deposition that she "initiated" all of Travis's discipline. (Pl.'s Exhibits, Biniak Depo. at 141:10-17, ECF No. 76.) With respect to Travis's suspensions, Biniak described the disciplinary process as follows: Killman presented disciplinary options for Travis to Biniak and Anthony to discuss, and Anthony made the final disciplinary decision. ( Id. ) With respect to Travis's reassignment to SLD, Callahan authorized the decision and Killman and O'Donnell contributed to the discussions concerning the decision. (Def.'s Memo at 32, ECF No. 80.) On February 12, 2010, following this string of disciplinary actions, Travis filed an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging discrimination on the basis of race in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 in connection with the disciplinary measures taken against him.

Travis alleges that the treatment he received at work, combined with the disciplinary actions taken against him and other supervisors' failure to take action against Biniak or intervene to stop the allegedly discriminatory conduct, is unlawful pursuant to the two statutes cited in his EEOC complaint. Specifically, Travis alleges that the discipline took place during a small window of a long period of Biniak making derogatory remarks about African-Americans. Travis alleges that Biniak referred to African-Americans as "shines" and stated that a nearby parking lot was a "shine" parking lot. He further alleges that Biniak told Travis that all African-Americans lived in the projects, were drug addicts, and were in gangs. Reportedly, Biniak made these types of comments for "a period of years, " "repeatedly, " and "for ten plus years at least." (Opinion at 12, ECF No. 100.) Biniak also allegedly spoke to Travis by changing her voice to what Travis describes as that of "an uneducated ghetto-type African-American person, '" and accused an African-American summer intern of belonging to a gang because of a design cut into his eyebrow. ( Id. at 6.) Travis also testified in his deposition that Biniak made disparaging remarks to him "all the time" and that he cannot "walk in the door of that place [of employment], even to this day, without her saying anything really derogatory and nasty to me." ( Id. )

Furthermore, Travis alleges that Biniak made hostile comments to him regarding a sewer drain. Travis's workstation is located above a sewer drain, and on several occasions, raw sewage backed up into his workspace. When he complained to Biniak about this, Biniak allegedly told him to brush his teeth with sewer water and jump out the window to avoid the sewage.


The court applies the summary judgment standard to clarify the September 30, 2014 opinion. Summary judgment is "appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and judgment as a matter of law is warranted for the moving party." Gross v. PPG Industries, Inc., 636 F.3d 884, 888 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).) "[A] factual dispute is genuine' only if a reasonable jury could find for either party." SMS Demag Aktiengsellschaft v. Material Scis. Corp., 565 F.3d 365, 368 (7th Cir. 2009). The court ruling on the motion construes all facts and makes all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).


The issue before the court is to clarify whether Individual Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the discrimination claim was granted or denied in the September 30, 2014 opinion. For the reasons discussed below, Individual Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to the discrimination claim is denied, and their ...

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