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Brown v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co.

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

July 27, 2017

STEPHANIE BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Z. Lee United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Stephanie Brown (“Brown”) has sued Defendant Illinois Bell Telephone Company (“Illinois Bell”) pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., for discriminating against her on the basis of her race. Brown, an employee of Illinois Bell, claims that she was not offered a specific position because she is African American. Illinois Bell has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, Illinois Bell's motion [55] is granted.

         Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1

         Motions for summary judgment in the Northern District of Illinois are governed by Local Rule 56.1. “The obligation set forth in Local Rule 56.1 ‘is not a mere formality.' Rather, ‘[i]t follows from the obligation imposed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) on the party opposing summary judgment to identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue for trial.'” Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 924 (7th Cir. 1994)). The Seventh Circuit has “routinely held that a district court may strictly enforce compliance with its local rules regarding summary judgment motions.” Yancick v. Hanna Steel Corp., 653 F.3d 532, 537 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires the party moving for summary judgment to provide “a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle the moving party to a judgment as a matter of law.” LR 56.1(a)(3). In addition, where the nonmovant is pro se, Local Rule 56.2 requires the movant to provide a “Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment.” LR 56.2. The nonmovant, whether pro se or not, must then file “a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” LR 56.1(b)(3)(B). In addition, the nonmovant must present a separate “statement, consisting of short numbered paragraphs, of any additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment.” LR 56.1(b)(3)(C).

         “When a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by [Local Rule 56.1], those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the [summary judgment] motion.” Cracco v. Vitran Express, Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009); accord LR 56.1(b)(3)(C). Furthermore, district courts, in their discretion, may “choose[ ] to ignore and not consider the additional facts that a litigant has proposed” if the litigant has failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1. Cichon v. Exelon Generation Co., LLC, 401 F.3d 803, 809-10 (7th Cir. 2005). Although pro se plaintiffs are generally entitled to lenient standards, they are required to comply with local procedural rules governing motions for summary judgment. See, e.g., Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Upon moving for summary judgment, Illinois Bell filed and served a “Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment” as required by Local Rule 56.2. See Def.'s Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opp. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 59. The notice detailed the requirements of the local rules governing summary judgment, and it warned Brown that her failure to controvert the facts set forth in Illinois Bell's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement would cause those facts to be deemed admitted. See Id. Despite these admonitions, Brown failed to properly respond to Illinois Bell's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement or submit her own statement of additional facts. Instead, she filed a response brief with her own version of certain events but without any citations to the record or supporting documentation. See Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Notice to Pro Se Litigate [sic] Opp. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 60. Because Brown's filing is not compliant with Local Rule 56.1, the Court is entitled to disregard the facts and objections set forth therein.[1] Cichon, 401 F.3d at 809-10. That said, because Brown is proceeding pro se, the Court has independently reviewed the facts that Brown asserts in her response to confirm whether they are supported by the record. The facts set forth in Illinois Bell's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement are deemed admitted to the extent they are supported by evidence in the record. See Cracco, 559 F.3d at 632.

         Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed or have been deemed admitted. Brown began working for Illinois Bell on April 10, 1995. See Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 20, ECF No. 57. She was also a member of a union, which negotiated a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that governed Illinois Bell's hiring and firing procedures. Id. ¶¶ 21, 27. By 2012, she was a Customer Account Specialist at a facility in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Id. ¶ 25. In November of that year, Illinois Bell announced it would be closing that facility. Id. ¶ 26. Following this announcement, Illinois Bell followed the procedures laid out in the CBA for relocating the employees at Chicago Heights. See Id. ¶¶ 36-37.

         Pursuant to the CBA, Illinois Bell first offered Brown a lump sum payment to leave the business. Id. ¶ 37. Brown, however, declined the payment and instead submitted a form indicating her desire to stay with the company and transfer to a different facility on Grace Street in Chicago. Id. ¶¶ 38-39. Because Brown was the second-longest-serving employee in the Finance category requesting transfer, she was matched with the Finance category position occupied by the second-longest-serving employee who had taken the lump sum payment. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. This position was for a Sales Consultant role. Id. ¶ 40. On January 28, 2013, Illinois Bell offered Brown this position, and she accepted the next day. Id. ¶ 42.

         Brown was dissatisfied, though, because she wanted a Service Representative job. Id. ¶ 62. Service Representatives and Sales Consultants were both in the Finance category and had identical duties, with the only difference being that the two positions had different compensation plans. Id. ¶ 47; see also Id. ¶¶ 39-40. Service Representatives had a more stable pay structure, in that their compensation was not contingent on their job performance. See Id. ¶ 47. By contrast, although Sales Consultants were paid a lower weekly base rate than Service Representatives, they were additionally compensated through a “target incentive plan” that provided them an opportunity to earn more than Service Representatives. Id.

         Brown wanted the Service Representative position because she preferred its more stable pay structure. See Id. ¶¶ 47, 62. Illinois Bell, however, followed the transfer policy detailed in the CBA and thus matched the Finance category employees from the Chicago Heights facility with open Finance category positions in the Grace Street facility by order of seniority. See Id. ¶¶ 39-40. Because the second-most-senior outgoing employee was a Sales Consultant, Brown was offered that position. Id. ¶ 40. The most senior and third-most senior outgoing employees, though, were Service Representatives. Id. As a result, the Service Representative position was offered to the people directly above and below Brown in the seniority hierarchy. Id. The most senior transferring employee was a white woman. See Id. ¶ 57. The third-most senior transferring employee was an African American woman. See Id. ¶ 58.

         On March 5, 2013, Brown filed a complaint of race discrimination against Illinois Bell with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Id. ¶ 1. Illinois Bell then placed Brown in a Service Representative position on May 9, 2013. Id. ¶ 64. Several months later, on November 25, 2013, Brown received a right-to-sue notice from the EEOC. Id. ¶ 3. This notice informed Brown that she had ninety days from receipt of the notice to file a lawsuit. Id. The EEOC also explained this ninety-day deadline to her during its investigation of her complaint. Id. ¶ 2.

         Brown did not file her lawsuit until November 14, 2014. Id. ¶ 4. During this time, she did not communicate with the EEOC, and no one from either the EEOC or Illinois Bell told her the deadline could be extended beyond the ninety days specified in the right-to-sue notice. Id. ¶ 5. On the same day she filed her lawsuit, Brown also filed an application with the court to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP application”). Id. ¶ 8. In her IFP application, Brown claimed under penalty of perjury that she was not married and had received no more than $200 in either salary or wages in the preceding twelve months. Id.; see also IFP Application at 2, ECF No. 4. This Court then granted the application. Def.'s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 9; see also Order of 1/8/15, ECF No. 5. During her ...


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