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Chatman v. Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP

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

April 14, 2015



ANDREA R. WOOD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Versie Chatman, who is proceeding pro se, was employed as a legal secretary by Defendant, the law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP ("Morgan Lewis"). Chatman alleges that Morgan Lewis improperly disciplined her and terminated her employment on the basis of her age (she was born in 1955) and race (she is African-American). Chatman further alleges that Morgan Lewis paid her less because of her race, subjected her to a hostile work environment, engaged in unlawful retaliation after she complained of the unlawful discrimination, and violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Morgan Lewis has filed a motion for summary judgment (the "Motion"). (Dkt. No. 90.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the Motion in its entirety.


Chatman filed her initial complaint in this action on July 27, 2010. The Court granted her leave to file an amended complaint, and she subsequently filed what she styled as her Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"). The SAC asserts the following claims: (i) race discrimination, hostile work environment discrimination, unlawful retaliation, and race discrimination in pay, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Counts I-IV); (ii) race discrimination, hostile work environment discrimination, unlawful retaliation, and race discrimination in pay, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. (Counts V-VIII); (iii) violations of FMLA (Count IX); and (x) violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (Count X). Morgan Lewis answered the SAC, and the case proceeded through discovery, which closed on March 22, 2013.

On April 26, 2013, Morgan Lewis filed the Motion, along with supporting materials. Chatman, after missing her deadline to respond and being granted an extension, made a series of filings in opposition to the Motion, which included dozens of duplicative exhibits. ( See generally Dkt. Nos. 109-132.) But Chatman's memorandum of law in opposition to the Motion failed to cite a single fact in support of her legal arguments. ( See Dkt. No. 125-1.) And so the Court, on its own motion, granted Chatman leave to supplement her response "in order to cite evidence necessary to cure any procedural defects and comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Rule 56.1." (Dkt. No. 139.) Chatman filed her supplemental response materials (the "Supplemental Filings") three days after the deadline for her to do so, which the Court had already extended upon Chatman's request. ( See Dkt. Nos. 141-158.) The Supplemental Filings consisted of numerous (at times duplicative) exhibits, several memoranda of law, and other supporting materials.

In light of Chatman's numerous duplicative filings, the Court will consider only the last-filed version of any particular document. These collectively represent the most complete set of Chatman's filings. Accordingly, the Court considers only the arguments and evidence set forth in (1) Chatman's amended supplemental memorandum of law ("Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum") (Dkt. No. 158); (2) Chatman's supplemental responses in opposition to Morgan Lewis's Local Rule 56.1 statement of facts ("Plaintiff's Supplemental Responses") and the statement of additional facts set forth therein (Dkt. No. 142-1); (3) the affidavit filed by Chatman with her supplemental materials ("Plaintiff's Supplemental Affidavit") (Dkt. No. 142-2); and (4) the exhibits that Chatman filed as part of her Supplemental Filings.[1]


A. Chatman's Employment with Morgan Lewis - 2006-2009

Chatman began working for Morgan Lewis in its Chicago office on September 1, 2006 as an evening floater secretary. (Def.'s Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SOF" or "Statement of Facts") ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 91.) As an evening floater, Chatman usually worked 1:00-9:00 p.m., although her schedule was subject to minor adjustments for various reasons, including accommodating classes she was taking. (Id. ¶ 8.) Chatman's general duties as the evening floater secretary were to support all of the attorneys and paralegals in the Chicago office as secretarial needs arose, particularly after 5:00 p.m. when all other legal secretaries had left for the day. (Id. ¶ 9.) Chatman was the only Morgan Lewis employee in the evening floater position. (Id. ¶ 49.)[3] All legal secretaries in the Chicago office reported directly to Morgan Lewis's Human Resources Manager Chanel Johnson. (Id. ¶ 5.)[4] Johnson is African-American and was born in 1973. (Id. )

Morgan Lewis was generally pleased with Chatman's performance from 2006 until 2009. All of the written annual reviews received by Chatman prior to August of 2009 included an overall rating of "Fully Meets Expectations" or "Fully Meets."[5] (Def.'s Suppl. Reply to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts ("SAF") ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 166.) By Spring 2009, however, Chatman was receiving more critical evaluations of her work: in her April 2009 review, Chatman received an overall rating of "Fully Meets Expectations" (Def.'s SOF ¶ 13, Dkt. No. 91), but the review also included a number of comments critical of Chatman's work. Examples include the following statements:

For the most part, Versie's work is accurate. However, there were a few occasions this review period when given an assignment outside of her routine responsibilities, Versie did not provide the finished product that the attorneys expected....
There have been some occasions this year where Versie may have been asked to perform more complex revisions or analysis where Versie's work did not fully meet the mark. Taking time to review her work thoroughly and asking more questions up front to ensure a full understanding of the assignment will help ensure that Versie can perform all tasks accurately and meet the expectations of the attorneys....
She should also try to keep in mind her role in the bigger picture i.e. understand that routine, tedious work is necessary to meet the needs of the lawyers in order for them to provide the highest level of service to firm clients....

(Id. )

B. August 27, 2009 Performance Counseling Memo

Chatman's relationship with Morgan Lewis began to unravel in August 2009. On August 27, 2009, Johnson gave Chatman a Performance Counseling Memorandum (the "August 2009 Memo") relating to an assignment for which Chatman was asked to assist another secretary, Christine Clarke, in preparing a legal document (the "August 2009 Incident"). (Id. ¶ 14.) Clarke is Caucasian and was born in 1959. (Id. ) The August 2009 Memo states, in part, that the document Chatman prepared "contained a number of spelling errors, formatting issues and inappropriate references to plaintiff's counsel, " that Chatman had told Johnson that Chatman did not proof the document because she "assumed it was free of errors, " and that Johnson was "concerned that [Chatman] felt the need to have [Clarke] prepare a sample document to use as a guide for the assignment, " because "as a legal secretary, [Chatman was] expected to have an understanding of basic legal documents and should have known how to properly prepare" this one. (Id. ¶ 15.) Chatman admitted that the legal document she submitted contained errors but insisted that she was simply following Clarke's instructions. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Chatman refused to sign the August 2009 Memo in acknowledgement of its receipt and instead submitted to Johnson a written "Answer to Performance Counseling, " which made no reference to race or age. (Id. ¶ 19.) Chatman also verbally complained to Johnson that she thought it was unfair that she was receiving discipline for this incident when Clarke was not; Chatman perceived this as being "discrimination and unfair treatment, " but she did not mention race during this conversation. (Id. ¶ 20.)[6] Chatman also verbally complained to then-managing Morgan Lewis partner Barry Hartstein that she received discipline for following Clarke's instructions regarding the August 2009 project but Clarke did not receive discipline. (Id. ¶ 21.)[7]

C. April 2010 Performance Review

In April of 2010, Johnson gave Chatman her performance review for the prior calendar year (the "April 2010 Review."). Chatman received an overall rating of "Inconsistent, " which represented a lower rating than the "Fully Meets" overall rating she had received the prior year. (Id. ¶ 22.)[8] The narrative portions of the consensus review also included the following comments:

[Versie] is usually able to complete short term needs promptly, but longer term assignments i.e. filing and organizational projects, tend to take longer to complete than expected. As our evening floater, the bulk of Versie's work begins after 5pm, there should be ample time between her start time of 1pm and 5pm for her to complete longer term projects....
There have been times, however, when she has missed the mark on more complex assignments and/or not taken full ownership of assignments as addressed in a performance counseling memo in August 2009....
There are times, however, when she is hesitant or skeptical when asked to complete certain tasks or assist certain people....
Versie needs to take more ownership and think through assignments and consider how her part of the assignment fits into the big picture. Versie tends to only follow instructions rather than think through an assignment and ask questions when necessary....
[Versie] needs to work on ensuring that she is able to meet the non-routine, more complex work that typically arises during the workday.... To gain the confidence of the attorneys, Versie needs to use her time more efficiently and be more responsive, knowledgeable, efficient and consistent in the quality of her work.

(Id. )

On April 23, 2010, Chatman filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") Charge of Discrimination No. 440201003718 (the "EEOC Charge"), alleging race and age discrimination and claiming she had "been subjected to increasing harassment and biases." (Id. ¶ 10.) On April 28, 2010, the EEOC issued a right to sue letter. (Id. )

D. June 2010 Performance Counseling Memorandum

On May 27, 2010, Chatman sent an email of approximately four single-spaced pages to Brandy Norman, another Morgan Lewis secretary, and copied approximately 18 other people, including Johnson, two staff members, and all Chicago legal secretaries. (Id. ¶ 24.) She sent the same four-page email to the same group of individuals again on June 1, 2010. (Id. ). Chatman intended these emails as a response to an email Norman had sent Chatman-and only to Chatman-on March 19, 2010. (Id. ) Norman is an African-American woman who was born in 1979. (Id. )

On June 14, 2010, Johnson gave Chatman a Performance Counseling Memorandum (the "June 2010 Memo") relating to the sending of inappropriate emails on May 27 and June 1, "which on both occasions, was disruptive to the office." (Id. ¶ 25.) The June 2010 Memo further noted that "[d]istributing this email twice to 17 people is an inappropriate use of the Firm's email systems and is indicative of your inability to handle difficult situations effectively. It also demonstrates a lack of judgment, an area which has been discussed with you [on three occasions]." (Id. ) Chatman refused to sign the Performance Counseling Memorandum in acknowledgement of its ...

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