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Zegarra v. John Crane, Inc.

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

October 31, 2016

MARIO ZEGARRA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN CRANE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GARY FEINERMAN JUDGE.

         Mario Zegarra brought this suit against his former employer, John Crane, Inc. (“JCI”), alleging race, color, and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and retaliation for complaining about the discriminatory denial of overtime. Doc. 1. Discovery is closed and a jury trial is set for February 6, 2017. Doc. 58. JCI has moved for summary judgment on all claims. Doc. 51. The motion is granted.

         Background

         JCI filed its summary judgment motion on March 18, 2016. Ibid. At Zegarra's request, the court set a very generous briefing schedule, with his response not due until June 13, 2016, nearly three months later. Doc. 57. On June 10, Zegarra moved to extend the deadline, Doc. 59, and the court extended the deadline to July 11, Doc. 61. On July 11, Zegarra moved for a further extension to August 12. Doc. 62. The next day, the court denied the motion for failure to comply with Local Rule 5.3(b), but on its own motion extended the deadline to July 21. Doc. 65. The order noted: “Given the extremely generous original briefing schedule …, the 28-day extension already given to Plaintiff …, and the impending pretrial and trial dates …, if Plaintiff does not respond to the summary judgment motion by 7/21/2016, the court will treat the motion as having been submitted and will rule forthwith.” Ibid. The court amended that order on July 13 as follows: “The 7/12/2016 order … is amended to state that [i]f Plaintiff responds to the summary judgment motion by 7/21/2016, Defendant shall reply by 8/4/2016.” Doc. 66.

         On July 20, Zegarra filed an “emergency motion to modify the July 12, 2016 order based on new extenuating circumstances.” Doc. 67. The motion asserted that due to an email error, Zegarra's counsel did not see the July 12 order until July 19. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. The court denied Zegarra's motion, noting that it did “not assert or even suggest that Plaintiff's counsel did not see the 7/13/2016 order … when it was issued”; that the July 13 order “highlighted the existence of the 7/12/2016 order and, in particular, explicitly referenced the 7/21/2016 due date for Plaintiff's response to Defendant's summary judgment motion”; and that Zegarra had not been deprived of an opportunity to respond to JCI's summary judgment motion, because “all told, he was given over four months to respond ….” Doc. 69. Zegarra did not respond to JCI's summary judgment motion by July 21, so JCI's motion is ready for decision. See Flint v. City of Belvidere, 791 F.3d 764, 768 (7th Cir. 2015) (“[C]ase management depends on enforceable deadlines …. In managing their caseloads, district courts are entitled to-indeed they must-enforce deadlines.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Raymond v. Ameritech Corp., 442 F.3d 600, 605 (7th Cir. 2006) (“Rule 6(b) … clearly gives courts both the authority to establish deadlines and the discretion to enforce them.”); Reales v. Consol. Rail Corp., 84 F.3d 993, 996 (7th Cir. 1996) (“The district courts must manage a burgeoning caseload, and they are under pressure to do so as efficiently and speedily as they can, while still accomplishing just outcomes in every civil action. … Necessarily, they must have substantial discretion as they manage their dockets.”); Shine v. Owens-Ill., Inc., 979 F.2d 93, 96 (7th Cir. 1992) (“[J]udges must be able to enforce deadlines.”).

         Consistent with the local rules, JCI filed a Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement of undisputed facts along with its summary judgment motion. Doc. 53. Each factual assertion in the Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement cites evidentiary material in the record and is supported by the cited material. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(a) (“The statement referred to in (3) shall consist of short numbered paragraphs, including within each paragraph specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon to support the facts set forth in that paragraph.”). The Seventh Circuit “has consistently upheld district judges' discretion to require strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1.” Flint, 791 F.3d at 767 (citing cases); see also Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880, 886-87 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Because of the high volume of summary judgment motions and the benefits of clear presentation of relevant evidence and law, we have repeatedly held that district judges are entitled to insist on strict compliance with local rules designed to promote the clarity of summary judgment filings.”); Cracco v. Vitran Express, Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009) (“Because of the important function local rules like Rule 56.1 serve in organizing the evidence and identifying disputed facts, we have consistently upheld the district court's discretion to require strict compliance with those rules.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the problem is not that Zegarra did not strictly comply with Local Rule 56.1, but rather that he did not comply at all. He did not file any response materials-no brief, no Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) response to JCI's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement, and no Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement of additional facts. Accordingly, the court accepts as true the facts set forth in JCI's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement. See Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir. 2015) (“When a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by the rule, those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the motion.”); Parra v. Neal, 614 F.3d 635, 636 (7th Cir. 2010); Rao v. BP Prods. N. Am., Inc., 589 F.3d 389, 393 (7th Cir. 2009); Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006); Raymond, 442 F.3d at 608.

         That said, the court is mindful that “a nonmovant's failure to … comply with Local Rule 56.1 … does not … automatically result in judgment for the movant. … [The movant] must still demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 884 (7th Cir. 2012). The court therefore will recite the facts in JCI's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement and then determine whether, on those facts, JCI is entitled to summary judgment. The court sets forth the following facts as favorably to Zegarra, the non-movant, as the record and Local Rule 56.1 allow. See Woods v. City of Berwyn, 803 F.3d 865, 867 (7th Cir. 2015). In considering JCI's motion, the court must assume the truth of those facts, but does not vouch for them. See Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N. Am., 805 F.3d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 2015).

         JCI manufactures, sells, and services engineered sealing systems for industrial markets. Doc. 53 at ¶ 3. Zegarra worked for JCI from December 19, 1988 through April 24, 2013. Id. at ¶ 1. During 2012 and 2013, Zegarra worked in JCI's Central Parts Warehouse. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 7. His primary job duties involved printing sales orders from a computer and placing them in designated buckets so that “pickers” could grab the orders and select parts. Id. at ¶ 6. Zegarra was the only employee in the Central Parts Warehouse with that primary duty. Id. at ¶ 7. Zegarra's race is Hispanic/Latino, his color is non-white, and his national origin is Peruvian. Id. at ¶ 2. At the time of his termination, Zegarra was 44 years old. Ibid.

         JCI's employee handbook outlines a three-step discipline process: (1) a written warning that “remains active in an employee's personnel file” for twelve months; (2) a final warning; and (3) termination. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. The handbook sets forth an “Employee Appeal Procedure” that permits employees to address workplace complaints with their supervisor, their supervisor's boss, the human resources department, and more senior leaders. Id. at ¶ 26. Zegarra acknowledged at his deposition that he received the handbook during the relevant time period; he did not recall seeing the Employee Appeal Procedure, but acknowledged that it was contained in the handbook that he received. Id. at ¶¶ 16, 27.

         On or about April 27, 2012, Jerry LaVigne, JCI's Manager of Warehouse and Logistics, spoke to Zegarra and issued him a written warning for having not worn “personal protective equipment” on at least eight occasions over the preceding eight months. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 19, 21. LaVigne issued the warning because Zegarra did not wear safety glasses and safety shoes in the warehouse. Id. at ¶ 20. Zegarra did not appeal the warning. Id. at ¶ 28.

         To anonymously report unsafe acts or work rules violations, JCI employees may use a “Hazard Identification Ticket” (“HIT”). Id. at ¶ 29. In April 2013, JCI received two HITs asserting that Zegarra was viewing pornography on his work computer during work hours. Id. at ¶ 30. Because JCI's Internet Access Policy forbids employees from using the internet to view sites containing sexually explicit material, LaVigne and Joe Vitetta, a shop floor supervisor in the Central Parts Warehouse, commenced an investigation. Id. at ¶¶ 13, 31, 40. Brett Zumsteg, an information technology specialist at JCI, reviewed the websites that Zegarra had visited and the images that he had viewed to determine if the HITs' allegations were true. Id. at ¶ 32. Based on Zumsteg's investigation, JCI concluded that Zegarra had accessed Craigslist.com, raising the possibility that he had viewed explicit images on his work computer. Id. at ¶ 33.

         Zegarra admitted that he viewed sexually explicit images on his work computer on multiple occasions, but contended that he did so unintentionally because the images would “pop up” on his computer screen. Id. at ¶¶ 35, 37-38. JCI's Internet Access Policy does not excuse the unintended viewing of sexually explicit material. Id. at ¶ 40. On or about April 12, 2013, LaVigne and Vitetta met with Zegarra to discuss the results of their investigation. Id. at ¶ 39. At the meeting, Zegarra was upset and threatened to “clean house.” Ibid.

         On April 16, 2013, Zegarra told Liway Irvin, a female coworker, that he would need to “strip search” her. Id. at ¶ 41. Irvin was offended by the comment-which Zegarra contends was a joke-and asked him to stop. Id. at ¶¶ 42-43. JCI's Sexual Harassment Avoidance Policy states that sexual harassment can include “teasing and joking.” Id. at ¶ 44.

         On April 23, 2013, with the April 27, 2012 written warning still in Zegarra's file, Vitetta issued Zegarra a final warning for willfully refusing to follow his instructions about printing sales orders and putting them in designated areas before leaving work each day, and also for distributing work to pickers, which was not part of his job. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 24. Prior to that warning, Zegarra had been counseled several times to place orders in designated areas before leaving work for the day. Id. at ¶ 23.

         As a cumulative result of these events-violations of the internet access and sexual harassment policies, and the final warning for insubordination-JCI terminated Zegarra on April 24, 2013. Id. at ¶¶ 48-51. LaVigne initially recommended Zegarra's termination; Vitetta and Cindy Majkowicz, JCI's Operations Manager and LaVigne's direct supervisor, were “involved” as well, and Erika Barrera, a Human Resources Generalist at JCI, reviewed and approved the request for termination. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 11, 46-47.

         On February 28, 2014, 300 days after his termination, Zegarra filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging discrimination and termination based on age, color, national origin, and race. Id. at ¶ 52; Doc. 53-3. As for age discrimination, Zegarra contended at his deposition that other “40 plussers” were terminated, including his former colleagues Raman Betgraviel and Amir Hermiz, although neither told Zegarra that age was the reason for their terminations. Doc. 53 at ¶¶ 54-55. Zegarra acknowledged at his deposition that nobody at JCI made any age-related comments to him, but he asserts that Danielle Lambert and Scott Peele were similarly situated younger employees who were not terminated. Id. at ¶¶ 56, 60. Zegarra indicated that he believed that Lambert received favorable treatment because she was (Zegarra believed) in a romantic relationship with LaVigne, and that Peele received favorable treatment because he and LaVigne were friends. Id. at ¶¶ 57-59. On May 23, 2013, a month after Zegarra's termination, JCI terminated Lambert for violating work rules, interfering with production, and engaging in horseplay. Id. at ¶ 61.

         With respect to color, race, and national origin discrimination, Zegarra contends that Lambert and Peele are white, non-Hispanic/Latino, and non-Peruvian comparators who should have been terminated based on their alleged violations of JCI's rules of conduct. Id. at ¶ 70. Zegarra further contends that discrimination resulted in his being regularly denied the chance to work overtime from roughly May 1, 2012 until his April 24, 2013 termination. Id. at ¶ 63. JCI assigns overtime based on departmental need; if the Central Parts Warehouse is behind in a particular area, employees who work in that area are asked to work overtime. Id. at ¶ 65. Only if additional employees are required are volunteers from other departments considered. Ibid. Zegarra asserts that “a lot of times” he would arrive to work on a Monday to find that other employees had worked overtime over the weekend. Id. at ¶ 64. He also asserts that “the majority of Spanish people weren't getting overtime and whites were.” Id. at ¶ 69.

         From May 1, 2012 through his termination, Zegarra worked 274.4 overtime hours. Doc. 53-20 at 18-19, 39. Over the same time period, Lambert worked more overtime (315.5 hours) than Zegarra did, and Peele worked slightly less (262.3 hours). Id. at 11-12, 15, 33, 35-36. This pattern was a partial reversal from the first four months of 2012, when Zegarra worked 91.5 overtime hours, Lambert worked 35.2 overtime hours, and Peele worked 22.1 overtime hours. Id. at 11-12, 15, 18-19.

         Zegarra alleges that on six occasions in 2012 and two occasions in 2013, he was subject to retaliation for complaining to LaVigne about being denied overtime, and that his termination was in retaliation for those complaints. Doc. 53 at ¶¶ 76, 78. According to Zegarra, the retaliation consisted of the further denial of overtime hours and the “constant looking over [Zegarra's] shoulder about work and sales order[s].” Id. at ¶ 77. Zegarra did not complain to human resources or file an employee appeal concerning his belief that he was denied overtime for discriminatory reasons. Id. at ¶ 79. LaVigne acknowledges that Zegarra spoke to him about the assignment of overtime, but he does not recall Zegarra complaining that he was denied overtime because of his race. Id. at ¶ 80.

         Zegarra alleges that beginning in 2012 and continuing into 2013, he experienced a hostile work environment based on his race, color, and national origin. Id. at ¶¶ 71, 74. According to Zegarra, LaVigne would pull Zegarra aside to tell him that someone “is complaining about [Zegarra] not doing this or doing this” and to “be more careful.” Id. at ¶ 72. Zegarra alleges that although LaVigne pulled Zegarra aside “maybe a handful of times” in 2012, those interactions “became such a constant thing that work became a very stressful place to be ….” Id. at ¶¶ 72-74. Zegarra never complained to human resources or filed an employee appeal with respect to the allegedly hostile work environment. Id. at ¶ 75.

         Discussion

         The complaint alleges that JCI discriminated against Zegarra on account of his age, race, color, and national origin by terminating him (Counts I-III); denied him overtime and subjected him to a hostile work environment on account of his race, color, and national origin (Count IV); and retaliated against him for complaining about the allegedly ...


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