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Brown v. Northern Illinois University

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

April 6, 2017

Preston Brown, Plaintiff,
Northern Illinois University, Defendant.



         For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion [64] for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Summary judgment is granted as to the Title VII claim set forth in Count I and denied as to the Equal Pay Act claim set forth in Count III. The Title VII retaliation claim set forth in Count II is dismissed per plaintiff's request. The parties are directed to contact Magistrate Judge Johnston within thirty days of the entry of this order to schedule a settlement conference or arrange for mediation.


         Plaintiff, Preston Brown, brings this action against defendant, Northern Illinois University (“NIU”), his former employer, claiming, in his amended complaint [48], discrimination based on race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. (“Title VII”) (Count I) and a violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206(d), 215(a), & 216 et seq., (Count III).[1] Defendant moves [64] for summary judgment.

         The facts are taken in the light most favorable to plaintiff, since he is the non-moving party. Jaburek v. Foxx, 813 F.3d 626, 630 (7th Cir. 2016). Plaintiff is an African-American male. He began working for defendant in February 2010. He worked as a graduate assistant from then until summer 2012. From July to November 2012 he worked as extra help. On December 1, 2012, he was appointed to the position of Research Associate to the Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management in the Department of Enrollment Management. His duties included retrieving and analyzing data, creating reports, providing recommendations regarding the reports, providing recommendations following review of the reports, attending meetings, working on hiring committees as assigned, and assisting the Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management with the duties of the office. He was supervised by Kimberly Buster-Williams from December 2012 to June 2014, Dr. Eric Weldy[2] from July 2014 to January 2015, and Dani Rollins from January 2015 to March 2015.

         In August 2013, plaintiff took the responsibilities of a half-time research associate in the department of testing services. Plaintiff met with the individual who was leaving the half-time research associate position, identified tasks that needed to be done, and notified his supervisor of the tasks that needed to be done. These duties included uploading data from the Hobsons software system[3], manually reviewing uploaded data for accuracy, and managing relationships with vendors. Plaintiff was directed by his supervisor, Kimberly Buster-Williams to perform these duties until they could be reassigned but the duties were never reassigned from plaintiff. In October 2013, plaintiff took over the duties of the Associate Director of Admissions handling the marketing efforts of the university, the management of the Hobsons software system, and the overall oversight of all of the software duties. From July 2014 through March 2015, plaintiff had two graduate assistants working for him. He did not supervise anyone but these two graduate students.

         Buster-Williams, an African-American woman, was initially hired as the Director of Admissions. After her first year, in 2012, she took on the additional position of Acting Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management. She held both positions simultaneously for one year. While she was working both positions she was paid an additional $20, 000 per year. She then moved to strictly being the Acting Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management for her final year at NIU.

         From some time in 2011 to October 2013 Michele Hill, a white woman, served as Associate Director of Admissions for Marketing and Hobsons at NIU. In October 2013, plaintiff took over the responsibilities of this position. Hill then supervised the call center. Hill's salary was not reduced after this change even though she had less responsibilities than previously. She continued to be paid $15, 000 per year more than plaintiff.

         Crystal Garvey, a white woman, was the Coordinator of University Admission Systems. In 2014 she also took over all the duties of the Director of Undergraduate Admissions in addition to continuing to work as the Coordinator of Undergraduate Admissions Systems. Garvey was given additional pay starting in June 2014 and continuing into 2015 for serving as the Director of Undergraduate Admissions. As Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Garvey supervised twelve to fifteen admissions counselors and other staff. Dr. Weldy testified that Garvey did not request additional pay for taking on these duties but that he decided to give her additional pay because he was asking her to do her current job as well as to do an additional job for a short period of time.

         Dr. Daniel House, the Director of Institutional Research, took on the additional duties of the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management when Buster-Williams left NIU. He continued to serve as the Director of Institutional Research while taking on these additional duties. As Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, Dr. House's duties included supervising plaintiff and collaborating with Dr. Weldy, the Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. Dr. House was given additional compensation for taking on these additional duties. Dr. House is a white man.

         Dr. Weldy had the ultimate say on signing off on requests for additional pay for employees in his division. Whether the employee ended up getting the additional pay had to be approved by Human Resources after Dr. Weldy signed-off on the request. Plaintiff requested additional pay from Dr. Weldy in September or October 2014 and again in January 2015. Dr. Weldy was unwilling to sign-off on plaintiff's request for additional compensation for performing the additional duties assigned to plaintiff. Plaintiff testified he worked approximately 37.5 to 45 hours per week in the period July 2014 to March 2015.

         Sharon Handelsman served as special assistant to Dr. Weldy and interim director of admissions beginning in August 2013. She testified in her deposition that she had asked that plaintiff be given additional money before taking over Hobson's responsibilities from Hill. She testified she asked for the additional compensation because of the overall amount of work plaintiff was doing. She testified that even prior to taking on part of Hill's responsibilities, he was doing a lot. Dkt # 72-1, p. 42.

         Handelsman also testified that though plaintiff did not officially report to her, after Buster-Williams left, he, in effect, reported to her. She testified she never had any problems with plaintiff's performance. Dr. Weldy testified in his deposition that Handelsman had given him negative feedback on plaintiff's job performance. He testified the negative feedback was “[j]ust really his general knowledge of the [Hobsons] analyst system or lack thereof. Also from the standpoint of his desire to do work and to follow through.” Dkt # 65-4, p. 54-55.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance with the university based on his not receiving additional compensation for the additional duties he was assigned. This grievance did not mention any discrimination based on race or gender. In connection with this grievance, plaintiff submitted time sheets showing his hours worked. Dr. Weldy testified in his deposition that he was concerned by the hours plaintiff listed as worked because “those were the hours that someone at a VP or presidential level would work.” Dkt # 65-4, p. 56-57. When asked if he believed the hours reported were true and correct and showed the amount that plaintiff worked during those time periods, Dr. Weldy responded: “Personally, no.” Dkt # 65-4, p. 58. In its LR56.1 statement of facts, defendant states that Dr. Weldy's response to plaintiff's grievance was “that the denial of the grievance was based on budgetary restraints of the university ...

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