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Griffin v. Chicago Housing Authority

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

October 19, 2016

ANDREA GRIFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Andrea Griffin, who is African American, alleges claims of racial harassment and retaliation while working for Defendant Chicago Housing Authority (the “CHA”). She brings this lawsuit against the CHA for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The CHA moves for summary judgment. Because the Court finds no basis for employer liability on Griffin's racial harassment claim, the Court grants summary judgment for the CHA on that claim. As for her retaliation claim, Griffin has not introduced evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find that the CHA took adverse action against her because she reported racial harassment; thus, the Court grants the CHA summary judgment on that claim as well.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Griffin worked for the CHA from May 2004 through March 22, 2013, employed as the office manager in the General Counsel's Office from March 2006 until she left the CHA. During her tenure as office manager, she had four supervisors: Gail Neimann, Jorge Cazares, Scott Ammarell, and Melissa Freeman Cadoree. Throughout Griffin's employment at the CHA, the CHA's employee handbook provided that “[e]mployees must report incidents of discrimination, harassment or hostile work environment to the CHA's Ethics Officer or to any other CHA Management Representative.” Doc. 47-12 at 10.

         Griffin complains about one of her co-workers, George Brown, a Caucasian attorney in CHA's General Counsel's Office. Griffin did not report to Brown, and Brown did not review or supervise Griffin's job performance or have any input in her compensation, promotion opportunities, or benefits. Although Brown and Griffin did not interact on a regular basis, according to Griffin, Brown used racially offensive and harassing language toward her and others in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Brown also allegedly tossed file folders toward Griffin from across her desk, delivered his ARDC registration to her, tossed file folders onto a counter above where she was storing supplies, motioned as if he was throwing something in a trash can near her, and let a door close on her. Griffin did not report these incidents to her supervisors, the CHA's Human Resources Department, the Chief or Deputy Chief Legal Officer, the Ethics Officer, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Officer. Griffin also did not report any of these incidents to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) or the EEOC, despite being asked broadly about all incidents concerning Brown during the IDHR fact finding conference.

         Griffin did report one interaction she had with Brown (the “conference room incident”) to the CHA, however. On September 11, 2012, Griffin, Brown, and Audrey Wade, another CHA attorney, met in a conference room to discuss the CHA's Housing Choice Voucher program. During the meeting, Griffin and Brown got into a heated disagreement about who had responsibility to find space for the program's consultants to work. Brown pointed his pen at Griffin, saying it was Griffin's responsibility. Brown did not make any racially offensive or disparaging remarks or reference Griffin's race. But Griffin took offense and left the meeting to seek out Ammarell, the CHA's Chief Legal Officer at the time. Because Ammarell was unavailable, she spoke to his assistant and then returned to the meeting. Cadoree, the Deputy Chief Legal Officer and Griffin's direct supervisor at the time, who learned that Griffin was upset from Ammarell's assistant, then interrupted the meeting to speak with Griffin. Griffin explained to Cadoree what had occurred without mentioning anything race-related and indicated that she was fine returning to the meeting, which she then did. Cadoree met with Brown later that day to discuss the conference room incident.

         In addition to speaking with Cadoree, Griffin reported the conference room incident to Marilyn Jefferson, the CHA's Senior Director of Human Resources and Training and at the time the Vice President of Human Resources and Training. Jefferson then spoke separately with Brown and Wade to investigate further. Jefferson concluded the incident was merely a “communication conflict.” Doc. 47 ¶ 16. Cadoree, Jefferson, and Ammarell together also met with Griffin and Brown to discuss civility in the workplace, the importance of working together, and the need not to raise voices at each other.

         At no time during her employment at the CHA did Griffin report any of the other allegedly racially offensive or harassing interactions she had with Brown of which she now complains, including when she reported the conference room incident.[2] Nor did Griffin indicate she could not work with Brown at any time. Instead, she advised both Jefferson and Cadoree that she had no issues doing so and declined suggestions to limit interactions with him by, for example, placing a mailbox outside her office so people would not have to enter her office to drop things off or using an intermediary, such as Cadoree, between the two of them.

         Beginning in late 2012 and early 2013, Griffin claims that Cadoree, her immediate supervisor, began to more closely monitor her performance, changing her work process in a manner that she no longer operated as autonomously as previously. Griffin believed this kept her from being as efficient as possible, but she could not point to any specific decision she normally would have made autonomously but after the conference room incident required a different process for approval. Instead, she admitted that those decisions she claimed she would normally make autonomously required supervisor approval even before the incident.

         Griffin also complains that she did not receive a merit based raise in early 2013. She does not identify any other individual who received a similar raise during that same time period. Additionally, Griffin did not receive a merit based raise in 2010. In fact, she did not receive any pay raises after 2010.

         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. Compliance with Summary ...


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