United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
FEINERMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bowen sued her former employer, the Board of Election
Commissioners of Chicago, in state court, alleging that it
discriminated against her on the basis of her race and sex in
violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
seq., that it discharged her in retaliation for not
performing illegal activities, and that it violated the
Illinois Whistleblower Act (“IWA”), 740 ILCS
174/20. Doc. 1-1. The Board removed the suit to this court.
Doc. 1. The court dismissed the retaliation and IWA claims,
leaving only the Title VII claims, Doc. 18, on which the
Board now moves for summary judgment, Doc. 72. The motion is
granted in part and denied in part.
following facts are stated as favorably to Bowen as permitted
by the record and Local Rule 56.1. See Woods v. City of
Berwyn, 803 F.3d 865, 867 (7th Cir. 2015). In
considering the Board's motion, the court must assume the
truth of those facts, but does not vouch for them. See
Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N. Am., 805 F.3d 278, 281 (7th Cir.
is an African-American woman. Doc. 13 at 2-3 ¶ 5. She
worked for the Board from 1990 until her termination in
November 2014. Doc. 82 at 1 ¶ 2. From 2004 through her
termination, Bowen was the Supervisor of Absentee Voting, a
position responsible for reviewing absentee ballots for
timeliness and overseeing and coordinating staff in
conducting that review. Id. at 1, 3 ¶¶ 3,
events giving rise to Bowen's firing took place during
the general election of November 4, 2014. Id. at 5
¶ 17. In the Board's view, Bowen did not properly
screen untimely absentee ballots that were dated November 5,
2014. Id. at 6 ¶ 18. While conceding that she
committed a “major mistake, ” Bowen contends that
she merely failed to verbally remind staff to check for
untimely ballots. Id. at 4-6 ¶¶ 13, 17,
19. The mistake involved nearly one hundred absentee ballots.
Id. at 7 ¶ 22; Doc. 82-2 at 35.
Board terminated Bowen on November 11, 2014. Doc. 82 at 9
¶ 26. The Board contends that the termination was based
on Bowen's failure to meet its expectations; Bowen
counters that her termination was based on her race and sex.
Ibid. Bowen acknowledges that some discipline, such
as a suspension, would have been warranted, but submits that
termination was too severe. Id. at 10 ¶ 29.
was replaced by Steven Cieslicki, a white male. Id.
at 13 ¶ 37. Cieslicki's salary in 2015 was $61, 488,
almost $10, 000 less than Bowen's $71, 364 salary at the
time she was fired. Id. at 3, 13 ¶¶ 9, 37.
Cieslicki later received a promotion and has been earning a
$73, 092 salary since 2016. Id. at 17 ¶ 21.
asserts that she experienced “gross
insubordination” from one of her staff members, Alfonso
Belt, who threatened physical violence. Id. at 14
¶ 5. The Board purports to dispute this fact, but its
response does not contradict the events Bowen describes;
instead, it states that efforts were made to ameliorate
Bowen's relationship with Belt and that Bowen was able to
maintain a productive relationship with him. Doc. 87 at
¶ 5. This adds context, but does not challenge the
occurrence of Belt's behavior, so this fact is admitted.
also asserts that during an altercation between two other
employees, one threatened to use a letter opener as a weapon
against the other, and that neither was terminated. Doc. 82
at 15 ¶ 8. The Board does not challenge these facts,
except for disputing the use or threatened use of a letter
opener as a weapon. Doc. 87 at ¶ 8. Upon reviewing the
record, the court agrees with the Board; the testimony cited
by Bowen supports only that there was a letter opener on the
floor, not that an employee used or threatened to use it as a
weapon. Doc. 82-3 at 9-10. The court thus accepts as true the
existence of the altercation, but not the use or threatened
use of a letter opener as a weapon.
further asserts that “[t]here were numerous incidents
of employee conduct that was worse than conduct alleged
against Plaintiff, for which employees were not
terminated.” Doc. 82 at 15 ¶ 10. In response, the
Board states that it “disputes the facts in this
paragraph, ” Doc. 87 at ¶ 10, but it does not
support its denial with “specific references to the
affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting
materials relied upon, ” as required by Local Rule
56.1(b)(3)(B). Normally, this would result in the court
deeming admitted Bowen's statement. See N.D.
Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) (“All material facts set forth
in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed
admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing
party.”); Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667
F.3d 877, 883-84 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[D]istrict courts
are entitled to expect strict compliance with Local Rule
56.1.”). However, Bowen's statement that unnamed
employees' misdeeds were “worse” than hers is
conclusory, not factual, and thus not proper under Local Rule
56.1. See Greer v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., 267 F.3d
723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001) (affirming the district court's
rejection of a Local Rule 56.1 assertion because it consisted
of “generalized self-serving legal conclusions, rather
than particularized statements of fact”). Accordingly,
the court accepts as true that other employees engaged in
misconduct, but does not accept as true that the misconduct
was worse than Bowen's.
also asserts that the absentee ballot department had an
assistant supervisor through 2009, but that the Board from
2009-2014 refused to fill the position. Doc. 82 at 17 ¶
18. (Bowen's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement actually
says “supervisor” instead of “assistant
supervisor, ” ibid., but that must have been a
typographical error.) Bowen supports this assertion with
averments in her own declaration that “every department
at the Board has supervisor and assistant supervisor
positions” and that she requested an assistant but was
told it was impossible for budgetary reasons. Doc. 82-1 at
¶¶ 4, 28. Bowen's declaration is based on
personal knowledge; as a long-time Board employee, she was in
a position to understand staffing policy. Accordingly, for
summary judgment purposes, the court will credit Bowen's
assertion that her position traditionally had an assistant,
but that she did not have one from 2009-2014.
Bowen avers that, “[b]etween 2009 and 2013, I was not
given pay increases, while other supervisors and management
employees received pay raises.” Doc. 82 at ¶ 19.
In disputing that assertion, the Board says that
“Plaintiff's income was significantly increased
over the 24 years that she worked at the Board, including in
2013.” Doc. 87 at ¶ 19. The record does reflect
that Bowen received a raise of approximately $2, 000 in 2013.
Doc. 82-2 at 16. But that does not contradict Bowen's
averment that between 2009 and 2013-that is, from
2009-2012- she did not receive ...