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Goethe v. Village of Glenwood

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

September 20, 2017

Jennifer Goethe, Plaintiff,
Village of Glenwood, Defendant.


          Manish S. Shah United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jennifer Goethe worked at a golf club owned by defendant Village of Glenwood. After she complained that her managers had given her less desirable assignments because of her race, she found herself working fewer hours and short-staffed shifts. She brought this action pro se, alleging both race discrimination and retaliation by her employer in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Both parties move for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Goethe's motion is denied, and the Village's motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A court must “construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck, & Co., 735 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 2013). And on cross-motions for summary judgment, a court must draw inferences “in favor of the party against whom the motion under consideration was made.” McKinney v. Cadleway Props., Inc., 548 F.3d 496, 500 (7th Cir. 2008).

         II. Background

         The Village filed its motion for summary judgment, memorandum in support, and a Local Rule 56.1 statement of material facts, along with several affidavits and Goethe's deposition transcript. See [32]-[34].[1] In compliance with Local Rule 56.2, the Village also filed a document titled “Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing a Motion for Summary Judgment, ” which explains that responding to such a motion requires compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Rule 56.1. See [35]. Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) provides that a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must respond to each of the numbered paragraphs in the moving party's statement of material facts, and in the case of a dispute, she must provide “specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” Goethe did respond to the Village's statement of material facts and to each of the numbered paragraphs therein. See [39]. In some of those individual responses, she cited to relevant testimony from her deposition to explain how an assertion was in dispute. But most of her responses are argumentative and either cite to evidence that does not controvert the asserted fact or do not refer to any admissible evidence in the record at all.

         The Village requests that Goethe's response to its statement of material facts be struck in its entirety for failing to comply with the local rules. Goethe acknowledged that she had to comply with the procedural requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Local Rule 56.1 when she requested an extension of time to respond to the Village's motion. [37] at 1. That motion was granted, [38], and when Goethe filed her cross-motion and response more than two weeks after the new deadline, the delay was excused. [42]. Courts are entitled to expect compliance with federal and local procedural rules, even from pro se plaintiffs such as Goethe. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993); Collins v. Illinois, 554 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2009). But as a general rule, courts liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's pleadings, giving her “a break when, although [she] stumbles on a technicality, [her] pleading is otherwise understandable.” Greer v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, Ill., 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hudson v. McHugh, 148 F.3d 859, 864 (7th Cir. 1998)). Goethe's response will not be struck in its entirety. Rather, the facts submitted by the Village that are supported by the record and not properly controverted by Goethe are deemed undisputed.[2] The relevant undisputed facts follow.

         Goethe is African American and began working for the Village on September 6, 2013, as a part-time banquet bartender and server at the Glenwoodie Golf Club, which is owned by the Village. [39] ¶¶ 3-4. The Glenwoodie bar manager, Maureen Durkin, hired Goethe and, along with the Glenwoodie general manager Tim Donohoe, supervised her work.[3] [39] ¶¶ 5-6. As a banquet bartender and server, Goethe worked at large events with up to 350 guests. [39] ¶ 7. Her responsibilities as bartender included opening the bar, ensuring that it was properly stocked, preparing and serving drinks, handling cash, cleaning glassware and the bar area, and mopping the floor. [39] ¶ 7. When she worked as a banquet server, she had to set up tables, prepare and carry food, clear the tables, operate the dishwasher, and put away the silverware. [39] ¶ 7.

         In April 2014, Goethe began working at the Glenwoodie clubhouse bar and operating a beverage cart, in addition to her banquet assignments. [39] ¶ 8. Her clubhouse bar assignments required more cleaning work than her banquet bar assignments, and they involved more repeat customers who demanded individual attention. [39] ¶¶ 9, 14. She also had to ring up all of her sales at the clubhouse bar, whereas the banquets she worked typically included an open bar. [39] ¶ 16. Her beverage cart assignments involved stocking a cooler attached to a golf cart, driving the cart around the golf course, and selling drinks and candy to golfers. [39] ¶¶ 26- 28. She also had to fill out paperwork and receipts for the sales she made. [39] ¶ 22. Goethe received written instructions and in-person training for those new duties. [39] ¶ 22.

         Durkin and Donohoe stated in affidavits that, once Goethe began working her new shifts, they received complaints from clubhouse bar patrons about Goethe's slow service and poor attitude. [39] ¶¶ 15, 17. Donohoe stated in an affidavit that he thought Goethe was too slow to work at the clubhouse bar after observing her letting dirty dishes pile up, making customers wait to be served, and taking too long to ring up sales. [39] ¶ 16. Donohoe also stated that on one occasion, he saw her talking to and reading magazines with her boyfriend for ninety minutes while ignoring clubhouse bar patrons. [39] ¶ 19. Donohoe criticized her work on the beverage cart, as well. He stated in his affidavit that Goethe's sales on the golf cart were low relative to other employees. [39] ¶ 23. And he said that on May 17, she improperly recorded cash transactions as credit card purchases. [39] ¶ 24.

         On May 30, 2014, Goethe and another employee worked the beverage cart during an open-bar event for the Homewood Police Association. [39] ¶ 25. Goethe arrived to work ten minutes late without informing her supervisor. [39] ¶ 26. After stocking her cart, she began her route through the nine holes of the golf course to which she was assigned. [39] ¶ 26. But by the third hole, she ran out of one particular brand of beer that the golfers had been requesting, so she returned to the clubhouse kitchen to search for cold beer with which to restock her cart. [39] ¶ 26. Donohoe saw her return to restock the cart three times within the first couple of hours of the event and, given the cart cooler's 240-drink capacity, he assumed that she had not properly stocked her cart. [39] ¶ 27. While waiting for Goethe to return with more beer, several golfers complained to her supervisors about her delay and her attitude. [39] ¶¶ 28-30. In addition, the event coordinator from the Village of Homewood relayed to a Glenwoodie manager several complaints she had compiled from golfers and other people on the course. [39] ¶¶ 28-30. Durkin and another manager told Goethe that golfers had complained, and Goethe approached one group of golfers to discuss their complaint. [39] ¶¶ 28-30. When Donohoe was told that Goethe had confronted golfers who had complained about her, he sent her home early, telling her that he had received too many complaints, and that he would meet with her to discuss her performance two days later on Sunday, June 1. [39] ¶¶ 30-31. Durkin replaced her on the beverage cart for the remainder of Goethe's shift. [39] ¶ 31.

         The next day, on May 31, Goethe worked the beverage cart again. [39] ¶ 32. Again, Donohoe received complaints from golfers about Goethe's attitude and lack of service. [39] ¶¶ 32-33. At the end of her shift, Donohoe noted that Goethe's sales records and cart inventory did not match, and that Goethe had no credit card sales for the day. [39] ¶¶ 34-35. He also stated in his affidavit that Goethe had blamed her lack of credit card transactions on the fact that the mobile device used to conduct those sales had a dead battery, but that the device had been fully charged when he checked.[4] [39] ¶ 35. He believed that Goethe did not offer golfers the option to pay with a credit card because it was harder to leave a tip on a credit card payment, and because credit card transactions required more paperwork at the end of her shift. [39] ¶ 35. According to his affidavit, by the end of the day, Donohoe decided that Goethe should no longer be scheduled for beverage cart or clubhouse bar shifts. [39] ¶ 38. At that time, Goethe had not made any complaints of race discrimination. [39] ¶ 39.

         On June 1, Goethe met with Donohoe, Durkin, and a Village Trustee, Carmen Hopkins. [39] ¶ 40. At that meeting, Donohoe told Goethe that she was an excellent banquet server and bartender. [39] ¶ 40. He also told her that her performance in that role had led him to believe that she would excel at the beverage cart and clubhouse bar, but that he questioned her ability to multitask. [39] ¶ 40. Donohoe told Goethe that she would no longer work those assignments, because of her poor work ethic, her failure to engage customers, her inadequate sales, and the customer complaints he had received about her. [39] ¶ 41. Before she left the meeting, Donohoe and Hopkins told Goethe that if she had any complaints, she could submit them in writing. [39] ¶ 42. Over the next two days, Goethe submitted written statements to Donohoe and to the Village's Human Resources Department complaining of race discrimination. [39] ¶ 43. She also filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 26, 2014. [39] ¶ 43.

         In July, Donohoe relieved the banquet coordinator of her duties scheduling banquet employee shifts, and assumed those duties himself. [39] ¶ 53. He stated in his affidavit that several banquet servers and bartenders had complained to him that the banquet coordinator had not been assigning shifts fairly. [39] ¶ 53. Upon review of the schedule, he determined that the coordinator had been assigning more shifts to Goethe than to other employees because of their personal friendship. [39] ¶ 53. Donohoe took over scheduling duties (with Durkin's input) and, starting with the August 2014 schedule, tried to assign each employee an equal number of shifts. [39] ¶ 53. Donohoe and Durkin stated that they also considered staff availability and requests for time off, the size of the event, labor costs, and special requests from event hosts. [39] ¶ 56. Donohoe's involvement ended in July 2015. [39] ¶ 55.

         Donohoe also decided that the banquet coordinator's scheduling practices, such as granting too many staff requests for time off, led to staff shortages during events. [39] ¶ 71. As a result, Donohoe tried staffing events with temporary workers from an outside staffing agency to serve as banquet servers, beginning in August 2014. [39] ¶ 71. Banquet bartender shifts, however, were reserved for Goethe and her Glenwoodie coworkers. [39] ¶¶ 71-73. For a period of two to three weeks in September and October, the Village relied upon the outside staffing company exclusively for ...

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