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Davis v. Brennan

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

September 29, 2016

SHARLEDA A. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Samuel Der-Yeghiayan United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Sharleda A. Davis (Davis) allegedly began working for the United States Postal Service in 2008. In October 2011, Davis allegedly became involved in a dispute with her co-worker Samuel Nkansah (Nkansah). Subsequently, Nkansah, acting as the auditor-in-charge for a certain project gave Davis coaching notes. In addition, the audit manager for Davis' work group, Nathaniel Adusei (Adusei), allegedly later issued Davis coaching notes and a Performance Expectation Memo (PEM), and placed her on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) due to her poor work performance. Davis contends that she was discriminated against, retaliated against, and harassed because of her race, national origin, sex and age. Davis includes in her amended complaint a race discrimination claim brought under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., a Title VII national origin discrimination claim, a Title VII sex discrimination claim, a Title VII hostile work environment claim, a discrimination claim brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., an ADEA hostile work environment claim, a Title VII retaliation claim, and an ADEA retaliation claim. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that 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(c); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). A “genuine issue” in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Administrative Exhaustion of National Origin Claim

         Defendant argues that Davis failed to administratively exhaust her Title VII national origin discrimination claim. A plaintiff seeking to bring claims under Title VII generally “may bring only those claims that were included in her original [administrative] charge, or that are like or reasonably related to the allegations of the charge or growing out of the charge.” Gawley v. Indiana Univ., 276 F.3d 301, 313 (7th Cir. 2001). A review of Davis' administrative charge shows that although she complained about alleged discrimination, she never complained about discrimination based upon national origin. (D. Ex. M). Nor do her allegations suggest national origin discrimination or indicate that such a claim might grow out of such charges. In response to the instant motion, Davis has not responded to Defendant's argument on this exhaustion issue. Although Davis now indicates that she is from the United States and Adusei and Nkansah are from Ghana, there is no indication that Davis was unaware of the national origin of Adusei and Nkansah when she filed her administrative charges. Davis did not indicate in her charges that she believed that Adusei and Nkansah acted against her based on her national origin. Davis has not provided justification for failing to pursue her administrative remedies and she is barred from now pursing a Title VII national origin discrimination claim in this case. The court also notes that even if Davis had exhausted her administrative remedies in regard to the Title VII national origin discrimination claim, Davis has failed to point to sufficient evidence to support such a claim and defeat Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Therefore, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the Title VII national origin discrimination claim is granted.

         II. Title VII Race and Sex Discrimination Claims

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on the Title VII race and sex discrimination claims. A plaintiff who is bringing a Title VII discrimination claim and is seeking to defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment may proceed under the Ortiz reasonable factfinder method or the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method. Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 2016 WL 4411434, at *4-*5 (7th Cir. 2016). In Ortiz, the Seventh Circuit, recently held that the district courts should not longer employ the “direct - and -indirect framework, ” which included the “two tests” that were known as the direct method of proof and indirect method of proof. Id. at *4-*5 (stating that the direct and indirect methods of proof “complicate[d] matters by forcing parties to consider the same evidence in multiple ways (and sometimes to disregard evidence that does not seem to fit one method rather than the other)”); see also Cole v. Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, 2016 WL 5394654 (7th Cir. 2016)(stating that the court must “look past the ossified direct/indirect paradigm”). The Seventh Circuit, however, also indicated that it was not barring a plaintiff from proceeding under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method, which was commonly referred to in the past as the indirect method of proof. Ortiz, 2016 WL 4411434, at *5.

         A. Ortiz Reasonable Factfinder Method

         Davis argues that she can defeat Defendant's motion under the Ortiz reasonable factfinder method. The Seventh Circuit held that a plaintiff can defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment under the Ortiz reasonable factfinder method by pointing to sufficient evidence to show that a reasonable factfinder could “conclude that the plaintiff's [protected characteristic] caused the . . .adverse employment action.” Ortiz, 2016 WL 4411434, at *5 (stating that “[e]vidence must be considered as a whole”); Cole, 2016 WL 5394654 at *8 (stating that “the critical question . . . is simply whether a reasonable jury could infer prohibited discrimination”)(internal quotations omitted)(quoting Perez v. Thorntons, Inc., 731 F.3d 699, 703 (7th Cir. 2013)).

         Davis contends that on October 5, 2011, Nkansah became angry with her at work when she he approached her to speak to her and she held up her hand to stop him from speaking. (RSF Par. 25-28); (SAF Par. 69-74). Davis further contends that later that day Nkansah told Davis that he believed that she had been disrespectful to him. (SAF Par. 75). Davis claims that Nkansah and Adusei “were born and raised in Ghana, and have worked together and known each other for almost twenty years.” (Resp. 1). According to Davis, once Nkansah felt as though he had been treated in a disrespectful manner by Davis, “Nkansah and Adusei launched a systematic campaign to get rid of her. . . .” (P Supp. 2). Davis clearly connects the alleged misconduct of Nkansah and Adusei to the one incident with Nkansah, stating that “[a]lmost immediately after reporting the incident, Davis received a flurry of negative, often petty and unfounded coaching notes from Nkansah, some with a very hostile tone.” (SAF Par. 82). Nkansah allegedly convinced Adusei to conspire to punish Davis by giving her the PEM, PIPs and unsatisfactory performance reviews. (P. Supp. 2). Davis mainly relies on her own testimony and personal speculation to support her version of events. However, even if the court credited Davis' testimony and Davis could show as she claims that Nkansah felt disrespected by her and in turn convinced Adusei to help take action against Davis in retaliation, that would not show that Nkansah or Adusei acted based on an unlawful animus. Although as Davis states that she believes that Nkansah and Adusei acted against her because of her sex and race, the facts she relates regarding the incident with Nkansah do not support such a conclusion. The evidence pointed to by Davis if found to be credible indicates only that Nkansah had a personal grudge against Davis and talked his friend, Adusei into conspiring to take retribution against Davis based on the grudge. Actions based solely on personal animosity is not prohibited under Title VII. Brown v. Advocate S. Suburban Hosp., 700 F.3d 1101, 1105 (7th Cir. 2012)(indicating that Title VII does not “protect[] against . . .personal animosity”); Shafer v. Kal Kan.Foods, Inc., 417 F.3d 663, 666 (7th Cir. 2005)(indicating that Title VII does not protect against mere “personal animosity”); United Ass'n of Black Landscapers v. City of Milwaukee, 916 F.2d 1261, 1267 (7th Cir. 1990)(concluding ...


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