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Helbig v. Phillips 66 Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 14, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Phillips 66 Company's (“P66”) Motion [Doc. 18] for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed a Response [Doc. 20] and the Defendant filed a Reply [Doc. 21]. Local Rule 7.1(c) states that reply briefs are not favored and should be filed only in exceptional circumstance. Defendant has stated such circumstances and the Court will consider its reply brief.

         1. Background.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint [Doc. 1-2] in the Circuit Court, Third Judicial Circuit, Madison County, Illinois and the defendant removed to this court pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The complaint alleges one count of violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”)(775 ILCS 5/1-101, et seq.) in that the plaintiff was wrongfully suspended and terminated by P66 in retaliation for her reporting “harassment, discrimination and/or disparate treatment” and for “filing of a Charge with the IDHR.” [Doc. 1-2 at 7].

         Defendant's motion for summary judgment argues that plaintiff's claim fails because: (1) “[p]laintiff did not engage in statutorily protected activity supporting a retaliation claim”; (2) “[p]laintif cannot establish a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of a causal link between Plaintiff's alleged protected activity and her suspension and termination;” and (3) that “[p]laintiff also cannot establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether P66's stated reasons for suspending and terminating Plaintiff were a pretext for retaliation.” As such, defendant argues that summary judgment is appropriate as a matter of law.

         2. Standard.

         Summary judgment must be granted, “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 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

         The initial summary judgment burden of production is on the moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013). Where the non-moving party carries the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production in one of two ways. It may present evidence that affirmatively negates an essential element of the non-moving party's case, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), or it may point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party's case without actually submitting any evidence, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169. Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

         In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings, but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1168. A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of “some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if “a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         Finally, “[i]t is, of course, well established that, as a general matter, a district court exercising jurisdiction because the parties are of diverse citizenship must apply state substantive law and federal procedural law.” Windy City Metal Fabricators & Supply, Inc. v. CIT Tech. Fin. Servs., Inc., 536 F.3d 663, 670 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). As this court is exercising jurisdiction based on diversity, it will apply Illinois substantive law and federal procedural law.

         3. Analysis.

         “It is settled law in Illinois that an employee at will may be terminated by his employer at any time for any reason or none at all. A narrow exception to the “employment at will” doctrine has been established in those cases wherein an employee can demonstrate that he was terminated in retaliation for his actions.” Pratt v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 500 N.E.2d 1001, 1002 (Ill.App.3d Dist. 1986). “A valid claim for retaliatory discharge requires a showing that (1) an employee has been discharged; (2) in retaliation for the employee's activities; and (3) that the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy.” McCoy v. Maytag Corp., 495 F.3d 515, 520-21 (7th Cir. 2007)(citing Carter v. Tennant Co., 383 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir.2004) (quoting Bourbon v. Kmart Corp., 223 F.3d 469, 472 (7th Cir.2000)). The parties also agree that Illinois courts apply the analytical framework of Title VII to claims under the IHRA.

         In employment discrimination matters, the “legal standard . . . is simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or other proscribed factor caused the discharge or other adverse employment action. Evidence must be considered as a whole, rather than asking whether any particular piece of evidence proves the case by itself-or whether just the “direct” evidence does so, or the ‘indirect' evidence. Evidence is evidence. Relevant evidence must be considered and irrelevant evidence disregarded, but no evidence should be treated differently from other evidence because it can be labeled ‘direct' or ‘indirect.'” Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016).

         However, the burden-shifting framework created by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1073) remains applicable to discrimination cases. Id. Under the McDonnell framework, “[o]nce a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of disparate treatment, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the decision. If the defendant satisfies its burden, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to ...

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