United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Wood United States District Judge.
Wallace Arnold claims that his former employer, Defendant
VisionTek Products, LLC (“VisionTek”), subjected
him to a hostile work environment because of his race and
then retaliated against him for complaining about the
mistreatment by terminating his employment, in violation of
42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000
et seq. Specifically, Arnold alleges that his
supervisor repeatedly threatened him with unwarranted
disciplinary action, assigned him impossible tasks to
complete, and forced him to use only the back door to enter
and exit VisionTek's facility-all because he is black.
Arnold further alleges that VisionTek terminated his
employment after he complained to his supervisor that he was
being treated differently on account of his race and that his
civil rights were being violated. Now before the Court is
VisionTek's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 77.)
For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.
following facts are gleaned from the parties' summary
judgment filings. As one would expect, many of the facts are
disputed. For purposes of VisionTek's summary judgment
motion, the Court considers the record in the light most
favorable to Arnold as the non-moving party, resolving all
evidentiary conflicts in his favor and according him the
benefit of all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from
the record. See Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835,
842 (7th Cir. 2012).
was hired by Hartford Computer Group-VisionTek's
predecessor company-in 2002. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s
Additional Stmt. of Facts (“DRPASF”) ¶ 1,
Dkt. No. 90.) In 2006, VisionTek became a separate company
and Arnold began working there. (Id.) VisionTek
manufactures and sells computer products, such as graphics
cards, memory cards, and power supplies. (Pl.'s Resp. to
Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Facts (“PRDSUF”)
¶ 2, Dkt. No. 83.) During the relevant time period,
Arnold worked as part of the production team at
VisionTek's warehouse facility in East Dundee, Illinois.
(Id. ¶¶ 4, 13.) He was primarily
responsible for packing boxes of products to be shipped to
customers. (Id. ¶ 21.) The production team,
which in addition to Arnold consisted of Bennie Gipson, Edwin
Mangosing, Sanjiv Amin, and Jose Torres, was supervised by
Wendell Calip, Vice President of Operations and Information
Technology at VisionTek. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14.)
Arnold was ultimately terminated from VisionTek on August 3,
2012. (DRPASF ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 90.)
to VisionTek, Arnold was terminated as a result of a pattern
of misbehavior and poor performance that began in or around
2011. (PRDSUF ¶ 36, Dkt. No. 83.) To support its version
of the events leading to Arnold's firing, VisionTek
points to a February 14, 2011 email from Michael Innes, the
company's President and Chief Operating Officer,
identifying a number of examples of Arnold's
“unprofessional behavior and poor attitude, ”
each of which was corroborated during discovery in this
litigation by deposition testimony from Arnold's
co-workers. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 37; Def.'s
Stmt. of Undisputed Facts (“DSUF”) Ex. N, Dkt.
No. 78-19.) The email, which was sent to Calip and
Andra Morgan, VisionTek's Vice President of Finance and
Director of Human Resources, references an altercation
between Arnold and a temporary worker; Arnold's
propositioning of Edna Garcia, an employee of Encore, a
company that shares VisionTek's warehouse space at the
East Dundee location; and a confrontation between Arnold and
Jeff Anderson,  another Encore employee. (PRDSUF
¶¶ 10, 37, 44, Dkt. No. 83.) The email also
mentions an incident in which Arnold was seen surrounded by
police at a bus stop being questioned for inappropriate
public behavior. (Id. ¶ 37.)
respect to the first altercation described in the email,
Arnold purportedly advised a temp-who was assigned to assist
and reported to Gipson-of a safety issue. (Id.
¶¶ 38-39.) The temp “snapped” and
Arnold walked away. (Id. ¶¶ 39, 42.)
However, Arnold approached the temp after work because the
earlier confrontation “kept eating at [him], ”
and the situation escalated until Calip intervened.
(Id.) According to Gipson, the altercation occurred
because Arnold was improperly attempting to instruct the temp
on how to perform his job. (Id. ¶ 42.)
Arnold's interactions with the female Encore employee, he
offered to give her gas money or take her out to lunch after
she gave him a ride. (Id. ¶ 44.) Arnold's
co-workers testified that he brought Garcia food, flowers,
and other presents on numerous occasions and that she was
uncomfortable with Arnold's advances. (Id.
¶¶ 46-48.) When Arnold observed Anderson speaking
with Garcia, he assumed Anderson was telling her bad things
about him. (Id. ¶¶ 49-50.) So Arnold
responded by threatening Anderson, who he viewed as
competition for Garcia's attention. (Id.
¶¶ 49-51.) After discussing the situation with
Calip about the situation, Arnold left work angry.
(Id. ¶ 37.) The next day, he showed up to work
two hours late without calling to notify VisionTek of his
late arrival. (Id.)
Innes sent the February 14, 2011 email discussed above,
Arnold was issued a written disciplinary warning notice
regarding his behavior towards Anderson. (Id. ¶
53.) The notice, dated February 16, 2011 and signed by
Arnold, states that he made “negative verbal comments
toward another employee on the work floor.”
(Id.; DSUF Ex. O, Dkt. No 78-20.) The notice also
indicates that Arnold was given a “verbal warning that
these actions cannot happen in the work place” and that
he would face dismissal if he failed to correct his behavior.
(Id.) Arnold received and signed a separate
disciplinary warning notice, also dated February 16, 2011,
for showing up to work late and failing to call. (PRDSUF
¶ 54, Dkt. No. 83; DSUF Ex. P, Dkt. No. 78-21.)
beginning in or around early 2012, Arnold, who had become
active with the Occupy Wall Street movement and in protesting
the killing of Trayvon Martin, began making and displaying
political picket signs at work. (PRDSUF ¶ 26, Dkt. No.
83.) He made the signs using VisionTek materials-including
boxes, two-by-four posts, and markers-during normal business
hours when he should have been working. (Id.) As
Arnold admits, the language on the signs was vulgar and
inappropriate for the workplace. (Id. ¶ 28.)
For instance, Arnold himself testified at his deposition that
one sign read “fuck America.” (Id.)
VisionTek asserts-and Gipson testified-that another sign read
“F whitie, ” or “fuck whites, ”
although Arnold denies making signs with any such language.
(Id. ¶ 29.) Innes and Calip both saw and
received complaints about signs containing inappropriate
language, including a sign that was derogatory towards
lawyers and bankers. (Id. ¶ 30.) VisionTek
asserts that Arnold intentionally displayed the signs, such
as by carrying the signs in a manner to be seen when he
entered and exited the warehouse. (Id. ¶ 31.)
Moreover, Arnold's construction of the signs while at
work had a significant impact on his productivity and on his
working relationships with the other members of the
production team. (Id. ¶ 33.) His co-workers
testified that he became a slower worker, which caused
bottlenecks on the production line. (Id.
¶¶ 33-35.) They further testified that they had to
pick up Arnold's slack and that they began to resent him
because he was not working as hard as they were.
March 26, 2012, Calip issued Arnold a third disciplinary
warning notice, this time regarding the signs. (Id.
¶ 27; DSUF Ex. Q, Dkt. No. 78-22.) The notice states as
[Calip] observed a sign that was being displayed in the
production area that had vulgar language written on it.
[Calip] asked [Arnold] to take down the sign[, ] stating that
it was inappropriate in the workplace. [Arnold] reacted by
stating that [Calip was] violating his civil rights. [Calip]
stated that the workplace is not a place to display such
signage. [He] was worried that a customer [might] come
through or another employee [might] be offended.
(Id.) The notice indicates that there had been at
least one prior verbal discussion with Arnold regarding the
signs. (Id.) It also warns that “[c]ompany
property is not a place to solicit personal and/or political
views with signage” and that if Arnold continued
“to use the workplace as a political forum or audience
for his views by displaying signage, he [might] be docked pay
or even terminated from his position.” (Id.)
the warning, Arnold continued making signs and was terminated
as a result. (PRDSUF ¶ 31, Dkt. No. 83.) Arnold's
notice of employment separation states that he
“fail[ed] to be a team member, ”
“distan[ced] himself from [the] team[, ] causing
friction in [the] production area, ” and
“continued to work at [a] slow pace when [the team was]
busy[, ] causing bottlenecks during peak shipping
hours.” (Id. ¶¶ 2-3; DSUF Ex. M,
Dkt. No. 78-18.)
of course, tells a very different story. He claims that the
“non-African-American” management of VisionTek
discriminated against him by subjecting him to a hostile work
environment. First, he asserts that Calip demeaned and
humiliated him by forcing him to come and go from work only
through the back door of the facility, singling him out from
his co-workers. VisionTek contends that this assertion is
rebutted by an August 25, 2010 email from Innes to all
VisionTek employees, which states in relevant part that,
“[s]tarting today all warehouse employees must leave
& enter through the rear door[.]” (PRDSUF ¶
68, Dkt. No. 83; DSUF Ex. R, Dkt. No. 78-23.) Arnold denies
receiving the email or being aware of its contents and
suggests that this purported policy was not uniformly
enforced against all employees. (PRDSUF ¶ 68, Dkt. No.
83.) VisionTek points out that Gipson (who is also black),
Magnosing, and Amin all testified that beginning in or around
August 2010 and continuing through August 2012 (when Arnold
was terminated), they exclusively entered and exited the
warehouse facility through the rear door. (Id.
response, Arnold maintains that “he was singled out for
coming and going through the back door of the
warehouse.” (Id.) Arnold claims that for at
least some period of time, he was the only employee required
to use the back door, until, after product was stolen from
the warehouse, all employees began using the rear entrance.
(DRPSAF ¶ 35, Dkt. No. 90.) During his deposition,
Arnold could not recall specific dates when this occurred,
but he stated that it was after VisionTek discovered his
protest signs that they made him use the back door. (DSUF Ex.
A-2 at 184-85, 188-89, Dkt. No. 78-2.) He initially testified
that he was singled out because he was carrying
politically-motivated signs (Id. at 190.) He then
stated that “it could be because I am black,
too.” (Id.) Arnold claims that Gipson, who is
also black, did not have to go through the back door.
(Id.) However, as noted above, Gipson, Magnosing,
and Amin all testified that during the relevant time period,
they entered and exited the warehouse facility through the
rear door. (PRDSUF ¶ 70, Dkt. No. 83.)
further claims that Calip gave him impossible tasks-which
were not assigned to any other employees-and then chastised,
reprimanded, and humiliated him for failing to complete them.
VisionTek asserts that Arnold was unable to substantiate this
claim during his deposition, failing to identify a single
“impossible” task that Calip assigned to him or
even any task that Calip would not have assigned to other
members of the production team. (DRPSUF ¶ 72, Dkt. No.
Indeed, other members of the team testified that Arnold was
actually given simpler assignments because he worked slowly.
(See Id. ¶¶ 73-74.) For example, Mangosing
said that he was given more difficult assignments than
Arnold, and that when he completed those assignments, he
would then help Arnold complete his simpler tasks. (DSUF Ex.
I at 116-17, Dkt. No. 78-14.) In addition, Gipson testified
that Calip never yelled at or ridiculed Arnold for failing to
complete an assignment on time. (DSUF Ex. H-2 at 160, Dkt.
No. 78-13.) In response, Arnold simply states that
“[a]ll employees were assigned tasks of varying
difficulty at different times.” (DRPSUF ¶¶
73-74, Dkt. No. 83.)
Arnold claims that Calip threatened him with unwarranted
disciplinary notices, threatened to keep a secret file on
him, and harassed him by making statements such as “I
will make life difficult for you.” (DRPSAF ¶ 11,
Dkt. No. 90.) In support, Arnold cites to his own deposition
testimony. (See id.) He also points to the March
2012 disciplinary incident discussed above in connection with
which he told Calip that he believed his civil rights were
being violated. (Id. ¶ 21.) In addition, Arnold
asserts that in July 2012, “following one of [ ]
Calip's verbal harassments, ” he told Calip,
“you wouldn't be doing this to me if I wasn't
black.” (Id. ¶ 37.)VisionTek contends
that there is no evidence, aside from Arnold's own
deposition testimony, that he ever made that statement.
(PRDSUF ¶¶ 59-65, Dkt. No. 83.) Calip does not
recall Arnold making the statement and none of his co-workers
heard it. (Id. ¶¶ 62-65.) Arnold maintains
that he made the statement directly to Calip (although he
does not indicate what Calip's response was, if he had
any), and claims that his termination was in direct
retaliation for his complaints of discrimination.
(Id. ¶ 62.) Therefore, according to Arnold,
there was no causal connection between the disciplinary
warning notices he received and his discharge. (Id.
¶ 24.) Indeed, Arnold takes issue with each of
VisionTek's proffered reasons for his termination.
Arnold does not completely repudiate the complaints about his
behavior described in Innes's February 14, 2011 email and
the deposition testimony, he does offer his own point of
view. First, with respect to his altercation with the temp
worker, Arnold denies that he was improperly attempting to
instruct the worker how to perform his job; he contends that
he was simply trying to give the temp worker safety advice.
(Id. ¶¶ 37, 42.) Arnold asserts that the
temp worker “snapped” at him during their initial
confrontation and that, when he approached him after work
that day, the situation escalated because the temp worker
kept yelling and getting louder and louder. (Id.
Arnold denies making any advances toward Garcia, the female
Encore employee. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 44, 47.)
Rather, after she gave him a ride to the bus stop, he offered
to give her gas money or buy her lunch as a gesture of
gratitude. (Id.) When she declined that offer, he
brought her breakfast and a flower instead. (Id.
¶¶ 46-47; DRPASF ¶ 32, Dkt. No. 90.) Arnold
denies bringing her food, flowers, or other presents on any
other occasion and asserts that she did not appear to be
uncomfortable when he brought her breakfast. (Id.)
Arnold (citing only his own deposition testimony and
affidavit) denies threatening Anderson, the Encore employee
he observed speaking with Garcia. (PRDSUF ¶¶ 49-50,
Dkt. No. 83.) Arnold testified that Garcia told him that
Anderson had advised her to stay away from him and that he
spoke with Calip about the situation. (DSUF Ex. A-1 at
147-50, Dkt. No. 78-1.) But he denies confronting
Anderson and does not recall leaving work angry
after his conversation with Calip. (Id. at 151-54.)
Arnold admits that he showed up to work late the next day and
did not call, but he asserts that this was a common
occurrence given his long commute and that he typically did
not call when he was going to be late. (Id. at
129-30, 154, 159-60.)
Arnold acknowledges that he had a conversation with police at
the bus stop, but he “disputes the nature of the
encounter as characterized in Innes['s] email.”
(PRDSUF ¶ 37, Dkt. No. 83; see also Id.
respect to the two disciplinary warning notices he received
on February 16, 2011- one related to the altercation with
Anderson and one for showing up to work late and failing to
call-Arnold denies that he was given any verbal warning and
contends that, although his signature is present on the
notices,  he did not have the opportunity to
review or understand their contents. (Id.
¶¶ 53-54; see also DRPASF ¶ 28, Dkt.
No. 90; DSUF Exs. O & P, Dkt. Nos. 78-20 &
78-21.) According to Arnold, Calip did not warn
him that he was required to call if he was going to be tardy.
(DSUF Ex. A-2 at 160, Dkt. No. 78-2.) And Arnold testified
that he does not even know what the other warning notice is
about, since the only altercation he recalls is the one with
the temp worker. (Id. at 161-62.)
the political picket signs, Arnold disputes nearly all of the
facts proffered by VisionTek. First, he claims that he never
displayed the signs at work. (PRDSUF ¶ 26, Dkt. No. 90.)
He admits that he brought the signs to and from work, but
asserts that he kept them out of sight during the work day.
(Id.) Arnold also disputes VisionTek's
contention that he purposely carried the signs in a manner to
attract attention; he contends that he carried the large,
unwieldy signs in the most convenient fashion and immediately
stored them out of sight underneath a work bench when he
arrived at his work station. (Id. ¶ 31; DRPASF
¶ 23, Dkt. No 90.) In addition, Arnold claims that he
made signs while at the warehouse on only five or six
occasions and then only during his lunch break or other
breaks throughout the day. (DRPASF ¶ 15, Dkt. No. 90.)
He insists that he never made signs during periods that he
should have been working. (Id.) Arnold also insists
that he used only cardboard from the trash and other bits of
garbage and scrap materials to make the signs. (Id.
¶ 16.) As to the content of the signs, as noted above,
Arnold generally admits that the language was vulgar and
inappropriate for the workplace. (PRDSUF ¶ 28, Dkt. No.
83.) He acknowledges making signs in support of the Occupy
Wall Street movement that contained offensive language
critical of bankers but disputes that any of his signs were
critical of lawyers. (Id. ¶ 30.)
flatly rejects VisionTek's position that his sign-making
had a negative impact on his productivity. (See, e.g.,
Id. ¶ 32.) He denies that he was working slowly and
claims that the bottlenecks referenced in his notice of
employment separation were created by breakdowns in machinery
or by rush orders from management that required stoppage on
the regular production line. (Id. ¶¶
32-33.) Indeed, Arnold claims that he was fully meeting
VisionTek's expectations and that between February 2011
and the time of his termination, his behavior and work
productivity were not substantially different than they had
been over the prior ten years. (DRPASF ¶ 36, Dkt. No.
90; Arnold Aff. ¶ 13, Dkt. No. 84-12.) He states that he
never received any oral or written warnings regarding his
productivity. (PRDSUF ¶¶ 35-36, Dkt. No. 83.) And
with respect to the disciplinary warning notice he received
about the signs on March 26, 2012, Arnold asserts that the
notice-which makes no mention of reduced productivity- was
for displaying signs, not making them. (Id. ¶
27; DRPASF ¶ 18, Dkt. No. 90.) In addition, Arnold
asserts that during his discussion with Calip regarding the
signs (referenced in the notice), he was told only that he
could not display political signs in the workplace. (DRPASF
¶ 17, Dkt. No. 90.) Calip did not raise any issues with
respect to making signs, and he did not express any concern
regarding Arnold's productivity. (Id.) Moreover,
Arnold claims that he stopped making signs at work ...