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Johnson v. Chicago Transit Authority

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

March 24, 2017



          JOHN Z. LEE, United States District Judge

         Maurice Johnson (“Johnson”), a pro se plaintiff, has sued the Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that CTA discriminated against him on the basis of his gender and retaliated against him for engaging in statutorily protected activity. CTA has moved for summary judgment as to these claims. For the reasons stated herein, CTA's motion [88] is granted.

         Factual Background[1]

         CTA is a municipal corporation that provides public transportation. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 4, ECF No. 90. In February 2009, CTA hired Johnson as an administrative manager in its Bus Operations Department. Id. ¶ 5. In spring 2013, bus operators at Johnson's work location had to “re-pick their runs” as a result of an error that Johnson made. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10-11. Because his error caused this “re-pick, ” Johnson was suspended from work for three days as of May 1, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 8-12.[2]

         Johnson was suspended by his male supervisor, Adrian Lewis. Id. ¶ 12. According to Johnson, however, Lewis suspended him only because Lewis's female supervisor, Mersija Besic, instructed him to do so. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 12. Johnson believes he was suspended because Besic and another female employee, Monica McMillan-Robinson, thought Johnson had insulted them in meetings and therefore disliked him. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 15.

         On May 2, 2013, the day after he was suspended, Johnson sent a letter to then-CTA President Forrest Claypool. Id. ¶ 17. In his letter, Johnson stated that his suspension was the result of the “personal feelings” that Besic felt toward him. Id. ¶ 20. The letter did not claim that Johnson had been suspended because of his gender. Id. ¶ 22. Nor did it advance any allegations of discrimination. Id. ¶ 19.

         On June 21, 2013, several weeks after his suspension, Johnson filed a complaint with Bethany Drucker, an employee in CTA's Equal Employment Opportunity Unit. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. The parties disagree as to whether Johnson's complaint to Drucker involved allegations of discrimination in violation of Title VII. Id. ¶ 27; Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. ¶ 27.

         On September 11, 2013, CTA's Board of Directors passed an ordinance abolishing dozens of positions within CTA's workforce. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 32, 34; id., Ex. 12, at 1. Among other positions, the ordinance approved the abolishment of “[u]p to 7” positions with the title “Manager, Administration - Bus.” Id., Ex. 12, at 3. That same day, CTA notified all employees holding “Manager, Administration” positions within the Bus Operations Department-including Johnson-that their positions had been abolished. Id. ¶ 36.[3]

         After Johnson was notified that his position would be abolished, he applied for other CTA jobs at the encouragement of McMillan-Robinson-one of the same women who, according to Johnson, had played a role in Johnson's suspension several months prior. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 40. Johnson applied for the positions of Senior Manager and General Manager, but he was not hired. Id. ¶¶ 41, 43. Johnson's employment at CTA was therefore terminated on December 31, 2013. Id. ¶ 38.

         Legal Standard

         “The 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); see also Shell v. Smith, 789 F.3d 715, 717 (7th Cir. 2015). To survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and instead must “establish some genuine issue for trial such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in her favor.” Gordon v. FedEx Freight, Inc., 674 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2012).

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, courts “must construe all facts and reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Dorsey, 507 F.3d at 627. But “[i]nferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion.” Id. (quoting McDonald v. Vill. of Winnetka, 371 F.3d 992, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[S]aying so doesn't make it so; summary judgment may only be defeated by pointing to admissible evidence in the summary judgment record that creates a genuine issue of material fact.” United States v. 5443 Suffield Terrace, Skokie, Ill., 607 F.3d 504, 510-11 (7th Cir. 2010).


         I. Gender Discrimination Under Title VII and § 1983

         First, Johnson claims that CTA discriminated against him on the basis of his gender in violation of Title VII and § 1983 by suspending him for three days in May 2013 and later terminating his employment. Employment discrimination claims brought under Title VII and § 1983 are governed by the same legal standards. Steinhauer v. DeGolier, 359 F.3d 481, 483 (7th Cir. 2004); Hildebrandt v. Ill. Dep't of Nat. Res., 347 F.3d 1014, 1036 (7th Cir. 2003). Thus, to avoid summary judgment on his discrimination claims, Johnson must show that the evidence, considered as a whole, would permit a reasonable fact finder to conclude that his gender caused his suspension or termination. Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016); Steinhauer, 359 F.3d at 483.

         One of the ways-though not the exclusive way-that Johnson can make this showing is by using the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See David v. Bd. of Trustees of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 508, 846 F.3d 216, 224 (7th Cir. 2017). In a “reverse discrimination” case such as the present one, McDonnell Douglas asks the plaintiff to make a prima facie case of discrimination by establishing that: “(1) background circumstances exist to show an inference that the employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against whites [or men, ] or evidence that there is something ‘fishy' about the facts at hand; (2) he was meeting his employer's legitimate performance expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he was treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who are not members of his protected class.” Formella v. Brennan, 817 F.3d 503, 511 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Ballance v. City of Springfield, 424 F.3d 614, 617 (7th Cir. 2005)) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Gore v. Indiana Univ., 416 F.3d 590, 592 (7th Cir. 2005). If the plaintiff establishes these prima facie elements, the burden shifts to the defendant to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Formella, 817 F.3d at 511. In turn, if the defendant meets this burden, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the defendant's asserted nondiscriminatory reason is mere pretext for discrimination. Id.

         For the reasons explained below, with or without the McDonnell Douglas framework, no reasonable fact finder considering the evidence as a whole could conclude that CTA discriminated against Johnson on the basis of his gender. CTA is therefore entitled to summary judgment in its favor as to Johnson's discrimination claims.

         A. ...

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