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Reid v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

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

April 7, 2017

LONNITTA REID, Administrator of the Estate of INETTA BURNS, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge

         Inetta Burns filed suit against her employer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., alleging that the company and its employees discriminated against her based on her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Burns recently passed away, and the administrator of her estate has substituted as the plaintiff in this case. The Court will nonetheless refer to the claims in this case as Burns's claims.

         Burns's complaint includes only one count, but it appears to base her claim on three allegedly discriminatory actions or courses of conduct: disparate pay, failure to transfer, and failure to promote. Thus the Court will consider Burns to have made three separate claims. Wal-Mart has moved for summary judgment on all three claims. For the reasons stated below, the Court declines to enter summary judgment in Wal-Mart's favor on Burns's claim of disparate pay but otherwise grants Wal-Mart's motion.

         Background

         Burns lived in Chicago Heights, Illinois during the events relevant to this case. She had an associate's degree in computer information systems and worked as a manager at K-Mart for 15 years. In 2004, Burns learned that Wal-Mart was opening a store in Glenwood, Illinois, five blocks from her home in Chicago Heights. According to Burns, she began contacting managers at Wal-Mart, including district manager Lance Buser, specifically to express interest in a management position at the new store.

         Burns was hired directly into Wal-Mart's management in training (MIT) program. The MIT program lasts between six and eight weeks and provides on-the-job training. Burns says that while in the program, she become close with other trainees, including Jesus Valdez and Gewargis Tammo. According to Burns, the two men sometimes talked about their pay in front of her, and she learned that they received a higher salary than she did. She completed the MIT program and, in January 2005, was officially hired as an assistant manager at the Wal-Mart in Matteson, Illinois. Following an accident during her first few weeks at work, she was given a transfer to the store in Bradley, Illinois. During this time, Burns earned $1, 230.77 bi-weekly working as an assistant manager.

         Around May 2005, Burns reached out to Buser to request a transfer to the store in Glenwood. Burns states that Buser first told her to contact the person he thought was the current district manager, Chad Doneth. Buser later informed her that she needed to speak with J.D. Hacker, the new district manager. Burns contacted Hacker, who told her that she could not work in the Glenwood store because it is against company policy to have new assistant managers work in new stores. Hacker testified during his deposition in this case that the alleged policy is more of a preference and that it is not unheard of to put new managers in new stores.

         Burns continued to work at the Bradley store, where, she alleges, she was treated differently from male managers. Specifically, she states that she and the other female manager were required to unload the delivery trucks, while the male managers were given easier tasks. Burns states that because of this treatment-and the denial of her transfer request-she stepped down as assistant manager. By this time, the Glenwood store had opened, so she applied for the assistant manager position there. Instead, she was hired as a sales associate, a lower level position. When Burns began working at the Glenwood store, she discovered that Tammo was working in the Tire Lube Express (TLE) department of that store as an assistant manager.

         According to Burns, in 2009 she applied for a promotion to the position of support manager. She passed an online management assessment through Wal-Mart's Career Preference computer system and then indicated that she was interested in the support manager position. Burns alleges that Wal-Mart instead gave the position to a male employee.

         Burns also alleges that, while working at the Glenwood store, she learned that female Wal-Mart employees were consistently paid less than male employees. She says she learned that while working as assistant managers, she, Tammo, and Valdez each earned the same amount ($1, 230.77 per pay period), despite the fact that Tammo and Valdez both worked in the TLE department, which provides a lower salary. According to Burns, she was also paid less than similarly situated male employees while working as a sales associate. Douglas Gugudan began at the Glenwood store as a sales associate in 2005 and earned $10 per hour, whereas Burns initially earned $8.75. Richard Straton also worked as a sales associate at the Glenwood store around the same time. He was allegedly hired at $9.10 per hour and was soon given a raise to $9.65. Finally, Burns states that she earned less than William Kendrick, another MIT trainee and assistant manager. Kendrick entered the MIT program three years before Burns and earned $17.75 as a trainee. Burns earned between $11.10 and $14.43. After Kendrick left the program, he earned $1, 846.15 bi-weekly in his first job as an assistant manager; Burns earned $1, 230.77. While working as an assistant manager in the Bradley store in 2004, Kendrick earned $1, 884.62 bi-weekly.

         In May 2012, Burns filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that Wal-Mart discriminated against her because of her sex. She received a right to sue letter in December 2014. She then filed this suit.

         Discussion

         Wal-Mart has moved for summary judgment on Burns's claim of sex discrimination. As indicated earlier, Wal-Mart contends that the single count in Burns's complaint identifies three courses of conduct that Burns alleges were discriminatory: (1) the difference in earnings between Burns and other male employees; (2) the denial of her request to transfer to the Glenwood store: and (3) the denial of her application for promotion to support manager. Wal-Mart argues that Burns has failed-in any of these instances-to point to similarly situated male employees who received more favorable treatment. The company also argues that denial of a transfer request does not qualify as an actionable adverse employment action under Title VII. Wal-Mart has also moved to strike facts set out by Burns in her statement of material facts, arguing that she has not complied with Local Rule 56.1. In addition, Wal-Mart has moved to strike certain exhibits that Burns offers in response to its motion, arguing that Burns has not authenticated the exhibits. The Court considers the latter two motions first.

         I. Motions to strike facts and exhibits

         Wal-Mart firsts asks the Court to strike certain facts asserted by Burns in her response to Wal-Mart's statement of facts and in her own statement of facts. Wal-Mart argues that a number of Burns's statements violate requirements of Local Rule 56.1 because they are non-responsive, lack citation to admissible evidence, or improperly include additional facts. District courts have discretion in determining whether to strictly enforce the requirements of Local Rule 56.1. Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880, 886-87 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court declines to strike any of the facts Burns presents.

         Wal-Mart also asks the Court to strike a number of exhibits that Burns has used in opposing Wal-Mart's motion. The company argues that Burns has not authenticated the documents and therefore that they are inadmissible for consideration on summary judgment. The fact that these are Wal-Mart records that the company produced in discovery is, for present purposes at least, sufficient to authenticate them. United States v. Brown, 688 F.2d 1112, 1116 (7th Cir. 1982). The exhibits that Wal-Mart challenges are documents that it turned over to Burns during discovery. See Decl. of Janet M. Olawsky in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., dkt. no. 41 (indicating that the challenged exhibits have Bates numbers beginning with "WAL-MART"). Further, there is a reasonable basis for believing that these documents will ultimately be admissible as business records. The Court therefore finds that they have been sufficiently authenticated to be relied upon at the summary judgment stage.

         II. Motion for ...


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