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Oliver v. Joint Logistics Managers, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division

February 24, 2017




         Before the Court are a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 28, and a Motion for Hearing, ECF No. 29, by Defendant Joint Logistics Managers, Inc. (“JMLI”) on Plaintiff Anthony Oliver's claim for race discrimination in employment and retaliatory discharge under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         JMLI hired Anthony Oliver, an African-American man, as a semi-truck driver on July 2, 2012. Oliver's employment was governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) entered into by JMLI and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 371. The two bargaining units to which JMLI employees belong, identified as “seniority units” included 1) Motor Vehicle Repair Employees - Mechanic, Mechanic Helper, Battery Servicer and 2) Motor Vehicle Operation Employees - Truck Driver (T/T), truck driver (heavy), shipping/receiving clerk, tractor operator/vehicle cleaner. Seniority under the CBA accrues only within the specific seniority unit in which the employee works. CBA 7.1, Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B, ECF No. 28-3 at 40. At all relevant times, the CBA contained provisions by which employees subject to a reduction in force (identified in the CBA as a “reduced employee”) could displace-or, colloquially, “bump”-less senior employees, or fill in an existing position within the same seniority unit. CBA 7.3. Bumping was only allowed when the reduced employee was deemed “qualified as determined by the company, ” and no reduced employee was entitled to bump an employee outside of his seniority unit. Id.

         Oliver's initial position was within the Motor Vehicle Operation Employees (“Transportation”) unit. On September 30, 2013, Oliver was laid off. Oliver filed a grievance because he felt that JMLI did not provide the two weeks' notice of the layoff required by the CBA. He lost this grievance in arbitration. Oliver stated that he was chosen for the layoff in 2013, because he was “lowest as far as seniority.” Pl.'s Dep. Dep. 58:23-24, Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C, ECF No. 28-4.

         On January 17, 2014, Tyler Farr, a white employee in the position of tractor operator/vehicle cleaner, was terminated. Farr grieved the termination, but in the meantime, Oliver was recalled by JMLI to work in Farr's position-still in the Transportation Unit- beginning February 3, 2014. While working in Farr's position, Oliver sustained an injury when a piece of machinery rolled over his ankle. Rocky Vance, a white male, was hired as a temporary employee in April 2014, to replace Oliver while he was out due to his injury.

         Oliver was released back to work in the same position on July 7, 2014, and he returned to work on July 9, 2014. On July 8, 2014, JMLI, via project manager Scott Schneider, offered Vance a mechanic position that required five years of experience. Oliver filed a grievance because the position was not publicly listed. The grievance was upheld, and Schneider notified Vance that the offer was rescinded. JMLI posted the position publicly on July 15, 2014, and both Oliver and Vance applied. Neither employee had seniority for the position because both were members of the Transportation Unit and the mechanic position was in the other seniority unit. The application required submission of a resume and a questionnaire administered by Schneider. Oliver had never been employed as a mechanic prior to applying for the position. The parties dispute whether Oliver's resume indicated that he had mechanic experience. On September 8, 2014, Schneider hired Vance to the position. JMLI informed Oliver around that time that he was not qualified for the position. Pl.'s Dep. 103:25-104:6. Schneider stated that in his deposition he was unable to verify that Oliver had five years of mechanic experience. Oliver filed a grievance in regard to Vance's hiring on September 10, 2014.

         At some point after Vance's promotion to mechanic, Oliver alleges that Vance called him a “thief” and a “f**king n***er” when he picked up a set of keys off of Vance's work station at the behest of his supervisor.

         After an arbitrator concluded in August 2014, that Farr was wrongly terminated, JMLI was ordered to reinstate him to his previous position. Farr bumped Oliver because Farr had seniority over him. The parties dispute whether it was necessary to bump Oliver: JMLI stated that it had “no choice” Def.'s UMF ¶ 15, because it needed to reduce staffing, id. at ¶ 20, while Oliver argues that the retirement of another employee in the unit left a position open that Oliver could have filled. Pl.'s UMF ¶ 15.

         Oliver filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on August 25, 2014, alleging discrimination and retaliation based on race, color, and disability. The charge included allegations that Vance was wrongly promoted over Oliver, that the test for the mechanic position was racially biased, and that he endured a hostile work environment; the charge included that Vance had “yelled” at Oliver but not that he had used racial insults. EEOC Charge, ECF No. 28-4 at 99.

         Oliver was laid off from September 2014 until he received a recall notice in June 2015, to work temporary duty as a semi-truck driver while the regular driver was off on disability leave. Oliver physically returned to work in August 2015. He worked until he was laid off on September 29, 2015, when the regular driver returned from disability leave without advance notice to JMLI. In November 2015, Oliver was recalled to work as a battery servicer. As of Oliver's last filings with the Court, on May 18, 2016, he remained employed as a truck driver. Pl.'s UMF ¶ 30.

         Two other temporary mechanics were hired after Vance at some point in fall 2014: Patrick Paige, a white male with eight or nine years of experience as a mechanic in the Marine Corps, and Medgar Harris, who is black and had at least some experience as a mechanic. Rocky Vance was terminated in January 2015, after violating company policy several times.


         I. Legal Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

         At the summary judgment stage the court's function is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial[- that is, whether] there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict” in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); see Patel v. Allstate Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 365, 370 (7th Cir. 1997). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         II. 42 U.S.C. § 1981 Discrimination Claim

         Oliver contends that JMLI discriminated against him on the basis of race when it chose to hire a white mechanic instead of him, and argues that JMLI engaged in “disparate treatment” when it allowed white truck drivers without certain qualifications to stay on the job when Oliver was laid off. Am. Resistance 1-2; 15.

         a. Legal Standard For Discrimination Claims Arising Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981

         Section 1981 “protects the right of all persons ‘to make and enforce contracts' regardless of race, ” Carter v. Chicago State Univ., 778 F.3d 651, 657 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a)). To prevail on a Section 1981 claim, the plaintiff must prove that he has been the victim of intentional discrimination, Melendez v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co., 79 F.3d 661, 669 (7th Cir. 1996), and may utilize the Title VII's methods of proof. Humphries v. CBOCS West, Inc., 474 F.3d 387, 403-04 (7th Cir. 2007). At the summary judgment phase, the plaintiff must either provide a sufficient basis for a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the evidence, as a whole, indicates that the plaintiff's race “caused the discharge or other adverse ...

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