United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. Tharp, Jr. United States District Judge.
Darlene Jones alleges that she was fired from her job because
of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). Her employer has
moved for summary judgment on the ground that Jones has not
provided evidence that her age was the cause of her firing.
The Court agrees and grants summary judgment for the
summary judgment, the Court construes all facts and draws all
reasonable inferences in favor of Jones as the non-movant.
Roberts v. Columbia Coll. Chi., 821 F.3d 855, 861
(7th Cir. 2016). Plaintiff Darlene Jones, a resident of
Chicago, Illinois, was born in 1947. Def.'s Statement of
Facts (“DSOF”) ¶ 1. Jones worked for
defendant J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. (“J.B. Hunt”)
from approximately 1988 until her 2015 termination. See
id. at ¶¶ 3, 16.
Hunt is an international “containerized transport
company” that moves commodities throughout North
America. DSOF ¶ 10. Its industry is “both highly
competitive and intensively time sensitive, ” making
the timely delivery of cargo critical to its business.
Id. at ¶ 11. The company employs a variety of
individuals in a hierarchy to ensure that freight is loaded,
unloaded, and transported in a timely fashion. Id.
at ¶ 12.
began working at J.B. Hunt in 1988 as a dispatcher and was
promoted to Fleet Manager in approximately 1990. DSOF ¶
16. Fleet Managers oversee “all aspects of the driver
operation” for 22-32 drivers each and are responsible
for ensuring that loads are timely delivered. Id. at
¶ 12-13. Fleet Managers are also responsible for
receiving and sending messages to drivers and customers,
identifying and solving potential impediments to prompt
delivery, assuring driver compliance with government
regulations, and identifying and rectifying safety issues.
Id. at ¶ 12-15. One of the safety-related tasks
Fleet Managers perform is to monitor “hard
braking” events (that is, occasions when drivers are
required to suddenly and forcefully apply the vehicle's
brakes; these are tracked by equipment on the truck) and to
counsel or discipline drivers who show an excessive number of
hard brakes (which can indicate aggressive driving or close
following and thus serve as risk indicators). Id. at
trouble began for Jones when she received a Corrective Action
Notice on March 3, 2009 for failing to document safety events
in a timely manner. DSOF ¶ 18. One month later,
Jones's manager gave her a mixed performance review,
noting that drivers had complained about waiting for messages
and that the Fleet Manager position had “evolved from
more of a dispatcher position to a true managerial position,
” causing Jones to struggle with multi-tasking and time
management. Id. at ¶ 19. The manager stated in
the evaluation that he believed Jones “would be better
suited moving to another position within the office without
as much responsibility.” Id. The evaluation also
contained a few positive comments, such as that Jones got
“along well with her drivers.” See Ex. A
Dep. Ex. 12 at 76-78. Jones responded to her performance
review that she felt her manager “lack[ed] the
managerial experience that allows him to conduct a fair and
unbiased review, ” that the problem was just that
certain “individuals do not work well together, ”
and that “an employee is only as good as the leadership
he or she receives.” Id. at 78.
10, 2009, manager Gary Lofgren issued an “Employee
Challenge” which stated Jones must show improvement in
multi-taking and improve the timeliness of her safety reports
within 60 days. DSOF ¶ 21. The notice warned that
“further performance issues will result in further
disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
Id. An “employee challenge” is intended
as a “learning tool” and Jones was deemed to have
completed the challenge within the 60 days. Pl.'s Resp.
to DSOF (“PSOF”) ¶ 21. However, further
“performance deficiencies” relating to scheduling
failures were noted by her managers in November and December
2009. DSOF ¶ 23.
January 2010, Director of Operations Don Ingersoll and Vice
President of Operations Ken Miller decided to transfer Jones
to the position of Driver Services Representative
(“DSR”) rather than terminate her for her
continued performance issues. Id. at ¶ 24.
Jones notes that she was told she was being transferred
because the new position would be a better fit (and not
explicitly that the transfer was a result of poor
performance). PSOF ¶ 24. The new Fleet Manager was
younger than Jones and had less experience. Id. J.B.
Hunt asserts Miller transferred Jones because of her
performance failures, not her age. DSOF ¶ 35.
did not make a claim for age discrimination at the time,
although she knew the procedure for making such a complaint
and that J.B. Hunt had an anti-discrimination policy. DSOF
¶¶ 17, 32. Jones believed, however, that her
transfer was based on age (rather than performance) because
she had the most seniority in her department and was the
oldest. She also felt that Ingersoll and a manger named
“Sean” had a certain attitude, and that Ingersoll
sent Sean to stare at her after she became the DSR.
Id. at ¶ 32. She described Ingersoll as
“smiling, ignoring me, not getting back with answers
and coming and sending Sean around to where I was working
just to stare and grin and walk off.” Id. at
¶ 33. She also testified that she felt Ingersoll acted
like her transfer was a joke. Id. She could not
think of any specific examples of Ingersoll displaying this
attitude. Id. Jones further testified at her
deposition that Sean (her immediate supervisor) would come to
her office and make comments like “are you busy back
here?” and “you don't get many phone calls
back here?” DSOF ¶ 34. Jones “assumed”
these were jokes and took them to be a comparison between the
DSR and Fleet Manager positions. Id.
new job, as DSR, focused on ensuring that a “daily
physical inventory” was taken of the yards at J.B.
Hunt's Chicago facility to ensure their tracking system
accurately showed which loads had been delivered and which
were waiting. DSOF ¶ 25. The DSR's main job is to be
the last line of defense against shipment tracking errors.
Id. The DSR also had other miscellaneous duties,
like passing out keys and maintaining courtesy cars
(including logging the cars and keeping them fueled so they
are always available). Id. at ¶ 26-27. There is
only one DSR per facility, so the DSR's “attendance
is also critical” to the functioning of each terminal.
Id. at ¶ 28.
result of her transfer, Jones was no longer eligible for a
bonus. DSOF ¶ 31. When she learned this, Jones
questioned Human Resources, Ingersoll, and Miller.
Id. Ingersoll said he would check and get back to
her, the others confirmed her new position was not bonus
eligible. Id. After learning this, Jones objected to
being asked to do any duties she had done as Fleet Manager
and told her manager (Rachel Christensen) that she expected
to receive a bonus if those duties became a larger share of
her time. Id. at ¶ 36. After she complained,
however, she was not asked to do those tasks except in
emergencies. Id. After the bonus issue, Jones
alleges Christensen made comments about her decision not to
do Fleet Manager work, which Jones took to mean Christensen
had taken the refusal personally. DSOF ¶ 37. Christensen
says she did not take the issue personally, and that when
they discussed bonus eligibility, it was because Jones would
ask about it and Christensen would remind her that the DSR
position was not bonus eligible. Id. at ¶ 38.
also alleges that Christensen would occasionally make
comments about her health or appearance, such as “you
look tired, ” “are you feeling well?” and
“are you up to the job?” DSOF ¶ 39. Jones
does not recall the frequency of the comments or any specific
context. Id. Christensen admits she made the
comments when Jones appeared tired or sluggish because she
was concerned for Jones's health and welfare.
Id. at ¶ 40. Christensen stated she would make
similar inquiries for any employee, regardless of age,
because it is her job to make sure her employees are okay and
“able to perform their jobs.” Id.
April 2013, Christensen provided Jones with her annual
review, which flagged a number of deficiencies in
communication, problem-solving, and record organization
(although it was not entirely negative about other aspects of
Jones's performance). DSOF ¶ 42. Christensen also
criticized Jones's attendance, as she had five
“call offs” (absences) in the first four months
of 2013. Id. at ¶ 43. This began a series of
attendance-related write ups by her managers in January 2014
and June 2014 along with fifteen absences or tardiness
incidents in 2015. Id. at ¶¶ 45, 46, 50.
Jones viewed these notices as “slightly petty”
and “frivolous” although she acknowledges they
are correct and that she did not know if she was being
treated more harshly than anyone else. Id. at ¶
47. Typically J.B. Hunt considered attendance ...