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House v. S&C Electric Co.

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

April 7, 2015



GEORGE M. MAROVICH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Victoria House was discharged from her job with defendant S&C Electric Company after defendant learned that she had been involved in an altercation in which her husband was stabbed by a knife House was holding. House filed suit alleging that she was discharged on the basis of her sex and race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

Local Rule 56.1 outlines the requirements for the introduction of facts parties would like considered in connection with a motion for summary judgment. The Court enforces Local Rule 56.1 strictly. Facts that are argued but do not conform with the rule are not considered by the Court. For example, facts included in a party's brief but not in its statement of facts are not considered by the Court because to do so would rob the other party of the opportunity to show that such facts are disputed. Where one party supports a fact with admissible evidence and the other party fails to controvert the fact with citation to admissible evidence, the Court deems the fact admitted. See Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Services, Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817-818 (7th Cir. 2004). This does not, however, absolve the party putting forth the fact of its duty to support the fact with admissible evidence. See Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 880 (7th Cir. 2012). Asserted "facts" not supported by specific pages of deposition testimony, documents, affidavits or other evidence admissible for summary judgment purposes are not considered by the Court.

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

Defendant S&C Electric Company ("S&C") designs and manufactures equipment (such as switches) for the transmission and distribution of electricity. During the relevant time period, S&C employed more than 1500 people, including both plaintiff Victoria House ("House") and her husband Dennis Vandergriff ("Vandergriff"). House is a member of two categories protected by Title VII: she is female, and she is African-American. Vandergriff falls outside of both of House's protected classes.

House was a minority at S&C. As of 2011, S&C employed only 39 African-American women. Back in 2000, S&C began an affirmative action plan to recruit women to nontraditional roles, including jobs in its internal maintenance department, which it calls "Department 914." S&C recruited House in November 2000. House was the first woman hired after the start of the affirmative action program.

The person who interviewed and hired House was Dennis Hattan ("Hattan"), S&C's Director of Production, Equipment Standards, Engineering and Maintenance. Hattan was in charge of Department 914, and he supervised the individuals who supervised House directly.

House's first job title was Mechanic C-Machine Tool in Department 914. The title of the position (but not its duties) changed to Technician B-Production Equipment in March 2002. House's job was to maintain, repair, troubleshoot and adjust S&C's production equipment. In House's first year, defendant rated House's performance "Needs Improvement." In 2003, defendant rated House's performance "Satisfactory." Defendant rated House's performance "Very Good" for the years 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. That is not to say that House's performance was flawless during those years. During those years, S&C gave House four corrective actions, notified her of five roadway safety and parking violations and counseled her for failing to keep her midriff covered.

In December 2011, S&C put House on what is essentially a last-chance agreement. The investigation leading thereto was triggered on November 5, 2011, when House drove her vehicle into the main gate of S&C's entrance. When it investigated the crash, S&C learned that House had been absent from work for more than an hour (her lunch break was supposed to be 30 minutes) without the permission of her supervisor. S&C then checked records from October and November 2011 and learned that, on six occasions, House had returned to S&C after her scheduled lunch break had ended, all without the permission of her supervisor. This prompted S&C to check records for the entire year, at which point S&C discovered that House had returned to S&C from lunch late, without permission, on 30 occasions.

House had other performance issues in November 2011. On November 11, 2011, House was late to a mandatory safety meeting. On November 14, 2011, House was late (by 45 minutes) to a mandatory pension meeting. On November 18, 2011, House was counseled for wearing inappropriate attire. (This was not the first time House was counseled for not keeping her midriff covered with cotton fabric at work.) On November 21, 2012, House arrived to work an hour late.

On December 22, 2012, Hattan and House's supervisor met with House to inform her that it was giving her a Decision-Making Day Corrective Action. At S&C, a Decision-Making Day Corrective Action is the most-serious step in its employee performance correction policy. When S&C issues an employee a Decision-Making Day Corrective Action, it informs the employee of the areas in which he or she is failing to meet S&C's expectations and gives the employee the following day off (with pay) to decide whether he or she prefers: (a) to quit; or (b) to make a firm commitment to meet S&C's expectations. If an employee chooses to remain an employee, then the Decision-Making Day remains active for a year, which is to say that if the employee fails to meet S&C's expectations during the year, he or she may be discharged. When Hattan and House's supervisor met with House on December 20, 2012, they informed House that she had failed to meet S&C's expectations with respect to attendance, punctuality and by taking excessive lunch breaks. They told House to take December 21, 2012 off from work (with pay) to decide whether she wanted to quit or return to work. When she returned on December 22, 2012, House informed Hattan and her supervisor that she wanted to return to work.

The next six or so weeks passed without incident. S&C was closed for its annual holiday shutdown from December 23, 2011 to January 2, 2012. Employees (including House) were paid for that time period. From January 2, 2012 until February 2, 2012, House was not counseled for any problems at work. February 2, 2012 was the first day of a disability leave that House took on account of an off-duty injury. (The parties do not say what the injury was or for what period of time House was expected to be out of work.)

On the morning of February 2, 2012, House and her husband Vandergriff got into an argument. The details are not clear, but it is clear that Vandergriff ended up with stab wounds and that House was holding the knife that wounded him. House has put forth disputed evidence that Vandergriff hit her and knocked her onto a countertop. It is undisputed that Vandergriff left the house (he went into the garage) and that House called the police. When the police arrived, House told Officer Janet Jones that she had cut Vandergriff with a knife. House also told the police ...

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