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Elliott v. Superior Pool Products, LLC

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

March 30, 2017

ADAM ELLIOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
SUPERIOR POOL PRODUCTS, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SARA DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are Plaintiff Elliott's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 43, and Defendant Superior Pool Product, LLC's (“SPP”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 44. Also before the Court are SPP's motion to strike certain exhibits filed in support of Elliott's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 45, and Elliott's motion to strike both SPP's motion for summary judgment and its response to his own motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 49. For the following reasons, SPP's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED, Elliott's DENIED, and his case is DISMISSED. The other motions are MOOT.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Elliott was hired as a “warehouse associate” at SPP's Morton, Illinois location on March 29, 2011. His initial rate of pay was $10 an hour, with overtime eligibility. Edward Eschbach, who was the manager of the Morton branch, made the decision to hire Elliott. On June 16, 2011, Elliott received a pay raise to $12 an hour, and on September 12, 2011, he was promoted to a warehouse manager position. This salaried job involved supervising the warehouse crew, ensuring material was properly placed for orders, and the overall organization of the warehouse. As manager, Elliott had some freedom to implement his own plans and make decisions. Elliott Dep. 49:1-11, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A, ECF No. 44-1.

         On December 5, 2011, Elliott was promoted from warehouse manager to operations manager, and received another pay raise. The new job included all of the same responsibilities as the warehouse manager job, and in addition, required Elliott to be in charge of “safety, haz-mat and numerous other duties.” Id. at 59:11-12. He had the ability to make independent decisions, and supervised the same warehouse crew as before. However, on January 23, 2012, Elliott was demoted back to warehouse manager. Eschbach stated that “Elliott was not ready for his new role as Operations Manager and required further training.” Eschbach Decl. ¶ 7, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B, ECF No. 47-17. Elliott maintains that he was doing a “stellar” job, Elliott Dep. 65:19, and that he was told by Eschbach that the move was temporary, although he allows that he was asked to “learn new things and stuff” about the job, id. at 66:2-3. Eschbach told Elliott that he would return to the operations manager position once the person promoted to fill it, Brian Devaney, had left to another branch of SPP. Id. at 117:2-19. Despite the demotion, Elliott's job responsibilities remained much the same. Id. at 61:19-63:10. His pay remained the same.

         On Elliott's recommendation, SPP hired Michael Cady on April 4, 2012, as a seasonal “warehouse associate.” Cady was fired on June 29, 2012, after an argument with Eschbach. Cady later filed an EEOC charge alleging discrimination by SPP on the basis of disability. Cady had sent some text messages to Eschbach during the course of his termination; after he was fired, Eschbach told Elliott, who had not been present, about the firing and spoke with Elliott about the text messages. Eschbach asked Elliott whether he agreed with the messages, and specifically with their allegations that he was a poor manager, and that he unfairly favored his relatives at work. Elliott Dep. 155:14-20. He also told Elliott that “words were exchanged, ” id. at 98:18, and that Cady had not been a “team player, ” id. at 100:2-7. Cady filed a lawsuit regarding the termination on November 13, 2013, before this Court. See Cady v. Superior Pool Products, 1:13-cv-01533-SLD-TSH (C.D. Ill. 2016).[2] At some point, Eschbach discussed Cady's lawsuit with Elliott. During these conversations, Cady “just kind of brushed [the lawsuit] off, ” because he did not want to appear to favor Cady, and worried about retribution from SPP. Elliott Dep. 176:5. When Eschbach asked Elliott if he was going to testify in Cady's case, he said that he was not sure. Id. at 176:20-21. At another point, Eschbach told Elliott that if he ran into Cady in a dark alley, he wasn't sure what he (Eschbach) would do to him (Cady). Id. at 177:1-3. For his part, while Elliott remained friendly with Cady, he did not testify in Cady's case, and his involvement with Cady's case was limited to “help[ing] him with office supplies for his legal work, if he needed ink or whatnot. If I had extra cash I would give it to him. I helped him with legal research if he needed me to look something up or use my computer.” Id. at 132:16-22.

         At some point in December 2012, SPP changed Elliott from a salaried to a wage employee, in such a way that his pay would amount to a similar yearly number (from $31, 000 a year to $14.91 an hour).[3] SPP made the change on the basis of an internal audit that raised a question about whether Elliott's position should be exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219 (“FLSA”).[4] See Tara Nichols Email Aug. 5, 2015, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C-18, ECF No. 44-18. On March 27, 2013, Elliott received another pay raise, to $15.28 an hour. On September 19, 2013, Elliott received and signed a “performance Improvement Plan, ” which noted that Elliott had “not been performing [his] assigned work in accordance with what is expected of a warehouse manager.” Performance Plan 1, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A-1, ECF No. 44-2. On October 4, 2013, Eschbach noted that Elliott had “shown great improvement in all areas, ” and that he was now satisfied with Elliott's performance. Elliott received another pay raise, to $15.58 an hour, on March 20, 2014.

         On May 19, 2014, Devaney, transferred to another SPP branch in Indiana. In Elliott's view, the position Devaney had vacated now ought to be his. However, as Elliott learned during the week of May 12, 2014, SPP had decided to promote another employee, Ethan Smith, to the operations manager job. The decision to replace Devaney with Smith was made by the regional manager, Chris Deutsch. Smith took the position on May 22, 2014. Smith was a graduate of Purdue University, had participated in a program SPP ran called the “manager in training” program, and had prior sales experience. Elliott had not participated in the program, and had work experience limited to forklift operations, being a material handler in a paint line department, being a yard man in a lumber business, and working in another warehouse.[5] Elliott has a G.E.D. that he obtained in 1998.

         On May 17, 2014, Elliott injured his elbow lifting a pool; on May 19, he hurt his knee, and on May 21, he hurt his back. On May 22, 2014, Elliott reported the back injury to Eschbach, and took a workers' compensation leave of absence. As it turned out, Elliott never returned to work. Elliott suffered from some type of back injury that prevented him from working, and for which he needed surgery that he has not yet received. Elliott Dep. 85:20-86:13, 221:12-23. On May 30, 2014, Elliott hired an attorney and filed claims with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission alleging that he had suffered work-related injuries on June 14, 2012, May 17, 2014, May 19, 2014, and May 21, 2014.

         On September 11, 2014, Elliott filled out a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) intake questionnaire. Intake Questionnaire, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A-8, ECF No. 44-11. This form indicates that Elliott has been denied a desired position, states that he hurt himself repeatedly on the job because SPP was understaffed, and alleges that Elliott has been harassed at work “due to a long time friend whom I referred for employment at our branch.” Id. at 5. On October 9, 2014, Elliott filed an EEOC charge of discrimination. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A-9, ECF No. 44-12. The charge states that Elliott was “disciplined, harassed, denied a promotion . . . and given a heavy workload, ” and claims that SPP has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17.

         On September 16, 2014, Elliott sent a rambling eleven-page letter to Manny Perez, the CEO of SPP. See Elliott Letter Sept. 16, 2014, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A-11, ECF No. 44-14. The letter is lengthily concerned with unfair favoritism shown at work to Eschbach's relatives. Of relevance to Elliott's claims as they appear to stand now are Elliott's allegation that he was treated “completely different after Michael Cady's termination, ” id. at 8; his claim that he was often asked after Cady was fired whether he had spoken with Cady (to which he replied no), id. at 7; and his claim that he injured his elbow working on Saturday, May 17, 2014, and suffered two more injuries “that week, ” id. at 9-10. The letter's climax arrives when Elliott is confronted with Smith, the new, usurping operations manager, on May 22, 2014. Smith's hiring “meant that I would not be receiving my promised position that I had trained for, for so long.” Id. at 11. The letter never states that Elliott has been denied leave for injury, or treated unfairly because of an injury. It closes with Elliott's prediction that, when he eventually returns to work, he will be fired “due to my involvement with Michael Cady's lawsuit against [SPP].” Id.

         At some point in the fall of 2014, Elliott reported SPP to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), citing dangerous work conditions at SPP's Morton branch. In winter 2014, he reported it to the Illinois Department of Labor (“IDOL”), alleging violation of the Illinois Wage and Payment Collection Act. He also filed a complaint with IDOL alleging violations of the Personnel Records Review Act. (The IDOL later concluded its investigation without any finding of wrongdoing. See Notice of Conclusion, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A-13, ECF No. 44-16.)

         On March 26, 2015, the EEOC declined to investigate further and issued Elliott a right-to-sue letter. Compl., ECF No. 1. Elliott filed the instant lawsuit on March 27, 2015, alleging violations of (I) the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213; (II) the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 ILCS 174/1-174/40; (III) the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (“IWPCA”), 820 ILCS 115/1-115/16; (IV) the Personnel Record Review Act (“PRRA”), 820 ILCS 40/0.01-40/13; and (V) the Slander and Libel Act, 740 ILCS 145/0.01- 145/3. Compl. 2. As a factual basis, Elliott alleged that SPP had failed to promote him, failed to stop harassment, retaliated against him, threatened and intimidated him, and slandered him. On August 25, 2015, Elliott amended his original complaint to include breach of an oral contract. Am. Compl. 3, ECF No. 15.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). 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); 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). “However, neither ‘the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ' nor the existence of ‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' is sufficient to defeat a [properly supported] motion for summary judgment.” Hoffman v. MCA, Inc., 144 F.3d 1117, 1121 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, and Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 47 ...


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