United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Z. Lee United, States District Judge
Michael Watkins claims that his former employer, Defendant
Learn It Systems (“LIS”), terminated his
employment because of his race in violation of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. LIS has moved for summary
judgment . For the reasons given below, the Court grants
a company that provides educational services to low-income
children and children with special needs. See
Def.'s SOF ¶ 1, ECF No. 33. During the 2012- 2013
school year, LIS contracted with schools in Illinois to
provide Supplemental Education Services, a tutoring program,
to qualifying students. See Id. ¶¶ 7-8.
LIS employed two Supplemental Education Services teams in
Illinois. See Id. ¶ 12. Each team was led by an
Area Manager and staffed by two Program Managers. See
an African-American man, applied for a Program Manager
position with LIS in early August of 2012. See Am.
Compl. ¶ 1; Def.'s SOF ¶ 4. Program
Managers' responsibilities included delivering tablets
and Wi-Fi cards to students, monitoring each student's
progress, communicating with parents and students about
uncompleted lessons, retrieving tablets, and providing
technical support. See Id. ¶¶ 25-28. Some
of these obligations required visiting students' homes.
Watkins applied, one of the two Illinois Area Managers,
Trisha Irvin, an African-American woman, interviewed him and
emailed her supervisor in Miami, Christian Ruiz, to express
her strong approval of Watkins for the position. See
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 4, 13, 18, 59. Irvin then hired
Watkins for her team, and his employment began August 28,
2012. See Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 4, 13. Irvin
also hired another African-American man, Kendall Berry, to
fill the second Program Manager position on her team.
Id. ¶ 13.
other Illinois team was led by Area Manager Marlon Orozco, a
Hispanic man. Id. ¶ 14. His two Program
Managers were Ruby Magdaleno, a Hispanic woman, and Aaron
Jenkins, an African-American man. Id.
Area Managers, Irvin and Orozco, decided between them which
districts their teams would service. Id. ¶ 21.
Irvin selected the City of East St. Louis and some Southside
schools in the Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”)
system. See Id. ¶¶ 9, 22-23. Orozco
selected other Southside CPS schools as well as schools on
the Westside of Chicago and in the Chicago suburbs. Pl.'s
Resp. Def.'s SOF ¶ 57.
contracts with CPS and East St. Louis required services to be
provided to students outside of school hours. See
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 10-11. In his deposition for this
case, Watkins testified that working evening hours in the
neighborhoods he serviced was dangerous because of high rates
of crime. See Id. ¶ 33, 48, 56, 58-65. He also
testified that Orozco's team did not have to work late
hours in dangerous areas like East St. Louis. See
Id. ¶¶ 6, 48, 57-58, 60-61; Pl.'s SOAF
¶¶ 26, 28-31. He did not know what kind of hours
Orozco's team worked, but he believed that none of the
areas that team serviced were as crime-ridden as East St.
Louis. See Pl.'s Ex. 1, Watkins Dep. at 215-18.
That said, Watkins has not identified any objective evidence
that the areas he serviced were more dangerous than the areas
Orozco's team serviced, although he testified that he did
report his safety fears to Irvin. Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 27;
Pl.'s Ex. 1, Watkins Dep. at 52, 209. In response, Irvin
relayed to him that her boss, Ruiz, had said, “Hey, I
don't care. Dangerous or not, get it done. Do it.”
Pl.'s Ex. 1, Watkins Dep. at 210; see also
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 59-60.
the first two months of Watkins's employment with LIS,
Irvin twice thanked him via email for his contributions to
the team. See Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 22; Pl.'s
Ex. 6, 10/26/12 Email of Irvin to Watkins; Pl.'s Ex. 7,
9/29/12 Email of Irvin to Watkins. By November, however,
Irvin had begun sending emails to Watkins describing problems
with his performance and asking him to make
improvements.See Def.'s SOF ¶¶
36-39; Def.'s Ex. 11, 11/3/12 Email of Irvin to Watkins;
Def.'s Ex. 12, 1/22/13 Email of Irvin to Watkins;
Def.'s Ex. 13, 2/13/13 Email of Irvin to Watkins;
Def.'s Ex. 14, 2/13/13 Email of Irvin to Watkins.
February 2013, about six months after Watkins was hired,
Irvin presented him with a Corrective Action Plan.
See Def.'s SOF ¶ 16; Def.'s Ex. 15,
Corrective Action Plan. Chequita Whitaker, the Operations
Manager for LIS's Illinois office, attended the meeting
during which the plan was presented to Watkins. See
Def.'s SOF ¶ 16; Def.'s Ex. 15, Corrective
asked Watkins to sign the plan, but he refused. See
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 40- 41; Def.'s Ex. 15,
Corrective Action Plan; Pl.'s SOAF ¶¶ 23-24.
According to Whitaker, Watkins also called the plan
“bullshit” and crumpled it up. Def.'s Ex. 9,
Whitaker Dep. at 52. Watkins denies the profanity and the
crumpling, but he admits that he refused to sign. Pl.'s
Resp. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 42-43.
the meeting, Irvin sent an email to LIS's Human Resources
Manager, Erica Rivas, informing her that Watkins had refused
to sign the Corrective Action Plan. Def.'s SOF ¶ 43;
Def.'s Ex. 16, 2/25/13 Email of Irvin to Rivas. In an
affidavit, Rivas recounts that, “after Ms. Irvin
reported that Mr. Watkins had refused to sign his Corrective
Action Plan, ” Irvin “decided to terminate him
and recommended termination to me, as HR manager.”
Def.'s Ex. 10, Rivas Aff. ¶¶ 2-3. Whitaker
similarly attests that Irvin said she “wanted [Watkins]
gone” because “she just felt he wasn't
pulling his weight.” Def.'s Ex. 9, Whitaker Dep. at
days after Watkins's refusal to sign the Corrective
Action Plan, LIS terminated his employment. See
Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 35, 44. The termination took
place during a meeting attended by Irvin and Orozco, with
Ruiz and Rivas participating by phone. See
Def.'s SOF ¶ 44; Pl.'s Ex. 1, Watkins Dep. at
206. Watkins testified that Irvin and Rivas were the ones who
“did the talking, ” explaining to him simply,
“‘We feel that we're not gonna need your
services any longer.'” Pl.'s Ex. 1, Watkins
Dep. at 206.
after Watkins was fired, both Irvin and Ruiz were fired as
well. Def.'s SOAF ¶¶ 2-3. Neither of them was
deposed for this case.
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court gives “the non-moving
party the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and reasonable
inferences that could be drawn from ...