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Simpson v. Donahoe

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

April 27, 2015

BENESSE R. SIMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

SARA L. ELLIS, District Judge.

Current United States Postal Service ("USPS") employee Benesse R. Simpson, who is African American, filed suit against Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe for racial discrimination, retaliation, and harassment she allegedly suffered while working at USPS' Romeoville, Illinois facility in 2011. Simpson also claims USPS failed to promote her because of her race. Before the Court is Donahoe's motion for summary judgment [41][1] and Simpson's response to that motion [45], which was filed as a cross-motion seeking summary judgment in her favor.[2] Because Simpson cannot establish a prima facie case of race discrimination or show pretext with respect to the May 13, 2011 bathroom incident or the June 18, 2011 early dismissal incident, summary judgment is granted for Donahoe on those claims. Similarly, because Simpson has not demonstrated that her supervisor was aware of her protected activity before the June 18, 2011 incident and that incident does not qualify as an adverse action, judgment is entered for Donahoe on Simpson's retaliation claim. Finally, as Simpson does not present any argument with respect to her hostile work environment claim and there is no material dispute in the record as to any of the elements of that claim, summary judgment is granted for Donahoe on Simpson's hostile work environment claim as well.

BACKGROUND[3]

Simpson began working at USPS in 1990 as a clerk at USPS' main post office location in Chicago. Over the years, she worked at various USPS locations as a city carrier and mail processing clerk. In May 2010, Simpson transferred to the Romeoville Post Office as a part-time flexible mail processing clerk. As a part-time clerk, the USPS guaranteed her only two hours of work per shift. Her responsibilities included preparing the mail carriers and ensuring mail was ready to leave the facility for dispatch. Her immediate supervisor at the Romeoville Post Office was Carol Johnson, who reported to the Postmaster, Chuck Keeney. Both Johnson and Keeney are Caucasian. From the beginning, Simpson believed Johnson was harassing and discriminating against her, including by singling Simpson out for being late to work.

On May 13, 2011, Simpson was working a lobby detail, assisting customers with a new point of sale machine. She had been in this detail position for approximately a month and was the only mail processing clerk selected for the assignment. While Simpson was working in the lobby, Johnson approached her and instructed her to use the supervisor's bathroom by the manager's office instead of the bathroom on the workroom floor. When Simpson asked about this change, Johnson told her that she was doing too much walking across the workroom floor. The supervisor's bathroom was closer to the lobby than the workroom bathroom, which was inside the employees' locker room. The bathrooms were otherwise equivalent. Simpson believed, however, that Keeney was behind the change, as she had seen him watching her when she used the workroom bathroom. Keeney had also spoken to Simpson about a month before the change about her talking to other employees during work hours and instructed her not to talk to drivers while they were bringing in mail.

Simpson filed an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint after the May 13, 2011 incident. She also met with Keeney to complain about being told to use the supervisor's bathroom. She believed that she was being singled out for her behavior, as other Caucasian mail processing clerks were allowed to walk together and talk on the workroom floor without reprimand. Nonetheless, Simpson used the supervisor's bathroom for a week until her lobby detail ended. Her job duties and pay did not change, and none of her employment benefits were impacted by the bathroom incident.

About a month later, on June 18, 2011, Simpson was scheduled to work from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Around 8:00 a.m., after she had already worked approximately four hours, Simpson was sent home by Johnson after the two of them had a disagreement on the workroom floor. The disagreement started because Simpson refused to help a Caucasian co-worker, Shawn Griffin, take gurneys containing parcels out to the mail carriers. But Griffin had originally refused to help Simpson process parcels. When Griffin saw that Simpson was done processing parcels and had moved onto processing missent mail, Griffin asked her to help him, which Simpson refused to do. Griffin then informed Johnson of Simpson's refusal and Johnson, in turn, told Simpson to help Griffin. When Simpson asked for an explanation, Johnson told her instead to clock out and go home. Johnson later explained that she ordered Simpson to help Griffin because the work he was doing was the most critical at that time of day, while what Simpson was doing at the time (processing missent mail) could wait until later. She sent Simpson home because Simpson protested her directions and argued with her on the workroom floor. Additionally, Simpson had asked to leave early that day because she was beginning vacation the next day.

Simpson filed another EEO charge with respect to this incident, alleging race discrimination and retaliation for making the May 2011 EEO charge. But Johnson claims to have first become aware of Simpson's EEO charges around July 13, 2011, when she received an email from USPS' ADR specialist. In the process of investigating Simpson's EEO charges, Johnson identified two employees she previously sent home early for failing to comply with instructions. One of those employees was Caucasian, while the other was African American.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to identify specific material facts that demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

ANALYSIS

I. Race Discrimination Claims

A plaintiff claiming race discrimination can prove her case under the direct or indirect method of proof. Antonetti v. Abbott Labs., 563 F.3d 587, 591 & n.4 (7th Cir. 2009) (race discrimination). Simpson has not set forth any admissible direct evidence of discrimination, and thus the Court will proceed to analyze her claims under the familiar indirect method of proof set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under this approach, Simpson must show that (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she was meeting USPS' legitimate expectations, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) similarly situated employees outside of her protected class were treated more favorably. Naficy v. Ill. Dep't of Human Servs., 697 F.3d 504, 511 (7th Cir. 2012). If Simpson establishes a prima facie case, USPS must present evidence showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action. Id. Simpson must then present evidence showing that USPS' stated reason is pretextual. Id. at 511-12.

USPS does not contest that Simpson is a member of a protected class. For purposes of summary judgment, it accepts that she was meeting USPS' legitimate expectations. But USPS argues that Simpson cannot establish that USPS subjected her to an adverse employment action, that USPS treated similarly situated employees of a different race more ...


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