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Evans v. Illinois Department of Human Services

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

June 15, 2017

DIANNAH EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Diannah Evans, a fifty-five year old woman, filed suit against Defendant Illinois Department of Human Services (“IDHS”) for violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Evans alleges that while she was employed by the IDHS, she suffered age discrimination and retaliation for her complaints regarding that discrimination. IDHS moves for summary judgment [42]. Because Evans has failed to establish the elements required for her discrimination and retaliation claims, the Court grants summary judgment on both claims.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Evans is employed by IDHS, an Illinois state agency. She began working at IDHS in July 2013 as a Social Services Career Trainee at the IDHS call center located on North Broadway (the “Broadway Call Center”). At that time, Evans was fifty-one years old.

         Evans has testified that during her initial training in July 2013, her co-workers called her names and made comments about her age and appearance. The co-workers called Evans “beejee” and stated that “she thinks she's too good” and that she is “too old for certain clothes.” Evans also stated that her co-workers would follow her during breaks to see where she went. Evans testified that once she completed her initial training, her co-workers continued to make comments about her age, stating that she “doesn't do anything” and “doesn't talk to anybody” and asking “how old is she?” and “does she have kids?” and “how can she be this age and her child is that age?” One co-worker stated that Evans “must be getting an adoption check” and “can't have a child that age.” These comments were not made directly to Evans but were said in her presence so that she could hear them. According to Evans, these comments were made on a daily basis. Evans also testified that one of her supervisors, Sandra Cartagena, asked Evans how old she was. One co-worker also threatened to beat up Evans.

         On August 6, 2013, Evans filed a complaint with the IDHS Bureau of Civil Affairs. Evans did not include her name on the complaint but her phone number was written on the complaint. Evans sent the same or a similar complaint to the IDHS Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”). On September 6, 2013, Evans filed a complaint with the Office of the Executive Inspector General (“OEIG”). She did not include her name on the complaint but her address, phone number, age, and gender were included on the complaint. Neither complaint specifically stated that Evans was being discriminated against because of her age.[2] Three of Evans' IDHS supervisors, Jeffrie Hall, Ruby Powell, and Cartagena, testified that they were not aware of these complaints. However, Evans testified that she believes Hall knew about the complaints and told another manager, Rose Norris. Evans testified that she believes Cartagena also knew of the complaints because she was a co-manager with Hall. According to Evans, she also reported the conduct of her co-workers to her managers and supervisors on a daily basis. Hall, Powell, and Cartagena testified that Evans never complained of harassment or age discrimination to them directly.

         Evans testified that while she was employed by IDHS, she applied to a total of 13 positions at various state agencies, including one position at IDHS. Evans believes she did not get these positions because of age discrimination. According to Evans, she exceeded the qualifications for each position but did not have timely evaluations from IDHS to submit with her applications. Evans believes she should have received quarterly evaluations during her employment with IDHS. However, Evans is not aware of any IDHS policy requiring quarterly evaluations. Evans testified that other co-workers received evaluations before her and that she heard other co-workers talk about receiving quarterly evaluations. Evans received one evaluation in June 2014 and one evaluation in October 2015. Evans also testified that her supervisor constantly lost her vacation requests or refused to sign her vacation requests, but she could not state any time when the supervisor denied her request. According to Evans, on one occasion, she was docked for three hours of pay for forgetting to sign out. Evans believes she received harsher punishment for this infraction because other employees who forgot to sign out were not docked pay. However, on five occasions when Evans forgot to sign out, she did not lose any of her pay.

         In September 2015, Evans requested a hardship transfer to another IDHS office located in East St. Louis to better care for her family members. Evans also made a hardship transfer request earlier in 2015. Evans believed that hardship transfer requests were granted on the basis of seniority, but she subsequently received clarification that hardship transfer requests were granted based on the availability of positions. IDHS granted Evans' September 2015 transfer request on November 10, 2015.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to identify specific material facts that demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

         ANALYSIS

         I. ADEA Discrimination Claim

         The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because of the person's age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). The ADEA applies only to persons who are forty years of age and older. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). To survive a motion for summary judgment, Evans must produce evidence that would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that her age was the cause of a materially adverse employment action. David v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. College Dist. No. 508, 846 F.3d 216, 224 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016)); Ripberger v. Corizon, Inc., 773 F.3d 871, 880 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Fleishman v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 698 F.3d 598, 604 (7th Cir. 2014)). Evans attempts to do so by establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the burden-shifting test laid out in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 688 (1973). To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, a plaintiff must show that (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was performing her job satisfactorily; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the employer treated similarly-situated employees outside of the protected class more favorably. Hutt v. AbbVie Prods. LLC, 757 F.3d 687, 693 (7th Cir. 2014).

         A. Adverse Employment Action

         A materially adverse employment action is an action that involves “a significant change in employment status, ” Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 917 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Andrews v. CBOCS W., Inc., 743 F.3d 230, 235 (7th Cir. 2014)), and is “more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities, ” Nichols v. S. Ill. Univ.-Edwardsville, 510 F.3d 772, 779 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Rhodes v. Ill. Dep't of Transp., 359 F.3d 498, 504 (7th Cir. 2004)). Adverse employment actions generally fall into three categories: “(1) termination or reduction in compensation, fringe benefits, or other financial terms of employment; (2) transfers or changes in job duties that cause an employee's skills to atrophy and reduce future career prospects; and (3) unbearable changes in job conditions, such as a hostile work environment or conditions amounting to constructive discharge.” Barton v. Zimmer, Inc., 662 F.3d 448, 453- 454 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Evans argues that she suffered the following adverse actions because of her age: denial of a transfer request, denial of promotions, denial of quarterly evaluations, and a hostile work environment.

         1. Denial of Transfer

         Evans argues that she suffered an adverse employment action when IDHS ignored or denied her January 2015 transfer request, which caused her “to endure more undue stress and subjected her to further ridicule, bullying and discriminatory comments by her co-workers and managers.” Doc. 51 at 8. IDHS argues that the Court should not consider Evans' alleged January 2015 hardship transfer request because it is included in her Statement of Additional Facts but contradicts or is omitted from her deposition testimony. The Court finds that there is support for the assertion in Evans' deposition testimony and therefore considers the January 2015 hardship transfer request. See Doc. 44-2 at 35.

         The denial of a lateral transfer request, without additional indicators such as a change in salary, benefits, or material responsibilities, is not a sufficiently adverse employment action to warrant ADEA protection. Benedict v. Eau Claire Pub. Schs., No. 97-2513, 1998 WL 60374, at *8 (7th Cir. Feb. 10, 1998); see also Han v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 44 F.Supp.3d 769, 787-788 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (holding that failure to grant lateral transfer requests was not an adverse action). Evans offers no evidence to establish that the transfer would have provided a change in salary, benefits, or material responsibilities. Evans asserts that because her January 2015 transfer request was denied, she was exposed to ridicule, bullying, and discriminatory comments at the Broadway Call Center for a longer period of time. However, as set forth below, the Court finds that Evans' claims of bullying and discriminatory comments do not rise to the level of an actionable hostile work environment. See Section I(A)(4). Therefore, Evans cannot establish that the failure to transfer was an adverse action based on the additional period of time that she spent employed at the Broadway Call Center.

         2. ...


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