United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VIRGIN A M. KENDALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Beverly Butler-Burns brings suit against her former employer
Defendant City Colleges of Chicago alleging that she was
discriminated against and ultimately terminated on the basis
of her age and race in violation of the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (Count
I); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq. (Count II); and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 (Count III). Currently before the Court is
Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 53). For
the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is
granted in part and denied in part.
is a community college district established pursuant to the
Illinois Public Community College Act, 110 ILCS 805/1-1
et seq., that operates seven community colleges in
Cook County, Illinois. Plaintiff, an African-American woman,
began working for Defendant in November 2010 when she was 56.
Plaintiff first held two part-time positions at the Harold
Washington Institute before she accepted a position as Labor
& Employee Relations Specialist-DO (“LERS”),
a full-time position in Human Resources at the District
Office, in December 2012. Her starting salary was $60, 000.
(Dkt. 55) at ¶¶ 14, 15. As a LERS, Plaintiff was
hired and supervised by Aaron Allen, an African-American man
over forty years of age. Allen reported to Stephanie Tomino,
the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources.
description for the LERS position listed eleven
“qualifications” for the position, including:
1. Master of Science degree from an accredited college or
university with a concentration in Labor Relations, Employee
Relations, Human Resource Administration or similar field.
Juris Doctorate preferred, or a combination of training and
2. At least (3) three years of professional experience in
labor relations, employee relations, or human resources
3. Must possess familiarity with employment laws and the
ability to assess evidence and arrive at a fair conclusion in
accordance with the District's Equal Opportunity Policy
and other policies, work rules, and applicable laws.
possess excellent verbal and written communication skills.
(Dkt. 55-2) at 47-49 (City Colleges of Chicago Job
Description for Labor & Employment Relations
Specialist-DO Revised 7/31/12); see also Id. at
50-52 (City Colleges of Chicago Job Description for Labor
& Employment Relations Specialist-PT Revised 2/16/12)
(listing the same qualifications). Plaintiff has a
Master's Degree in Human Resource Management and
Development, and she held human resource management positions
at CNA Financial, Coca-Cola, and Sherwin Williams
continuously from 1996 to 2010. (Dkt. 62) at ¶¶
2-3; see also (Dkt. 62-1) at 22-24 (Butler-Burns
resume). The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff met the
minimum qualifications for the LERS position. See
(Dkt. 62) at ¶ 1.
Plaintiff's time as a LERS, three other employees also
held this position: Konstantina Christopoulos, Sarah
Levee-Nau, and Leia DeVita. Christopoulos was a part-time
LERS who was hired in 2009 at a salary of $40/hour. She was
28-years old when she was hired (making her 33 when Plaintiff
was discharged in September 2014), and she is not African
American. In addition, Christopoulos has a law degree. (Dkt.
55) at ¶¶ 8, 10; (Dkt. 56) at ¶ 10. Levee-Nau
was hired as a full-time LERS with a starting salary of $72,
000 in March 2013, when she was 35-years old (making her 36
when Plaintiff was discharged). Levee Nau is not African
American and she has a law degree. (Dkt. 55) at ¶ 17;
(Dkt. 56) at 17. Finally, DeVita was hired as a full-time
LERS with a starting salary of $60, 000 in April 2013, when
she was 27-years old (making her 28 when Plaintiff was
discharged). DeVita is not African American and she has a law
degree. (Dkt. 55) at ¶ 18; (Dkt. 56) at ¶ 18.
Accordingly, in September 2014, Plaintiff was the longest
serving full-time LERS, and she was also the only LERS
without a law degree.
the job responsibilities for a LERS were investigating
alleged violations of Defendant's Equal Opportunity
policy, investigating employee relations complaints,
preparing investigative reports with findings and recommended
outcomes, and conducting supervisory training. (Dkt. 55) at
¶ 7. Although Plaintiff did not receive any feedback
critical of her work or behavior and, despite Defendant's
admission in this proceeding that Plaintiff was
satisfactorily performing her job duties ((Dkt. 62) at ¶
12), Defendant contends that her performance was substandard.
Specifically, Allen testified in his deposition that he
believed that she had a “lower level of analytical
skills, ” she did not grasp employment laws, she was a
“weaker performer” than her peers, her writing
was not as focused or accurate as it should have been, and
she was not performing as much work as the other LERS.
Id. at ¶¶ 23-25, 41. Accordingly, Allen
chose not to assign certain duties to Plaintiff, including
grievance hearings and contract negotiations. Allen testified
that he felt that Plaintiff could not “competently
perform” those duties and/or that Plaintiff had
demonstrated a certain lack of abilities and skills.
Id. at ¶ 23. On at least one occasion, Allen
told Tomino that Plaintiff was slow to complete her
investigation reports. Tomino as well believed that Plaintiff
had a low skill level and was a weak LERS. Id. at
16, 2014, Defendant hired Dewayne Howard, an African American
man over forty, as Associate Vice Chancellor of Human
Resources. In this role, Howard supervised Allen and reported
to Tomino. Id. at ¶ 28. His primary oversight
included (1) labor relations and (2) talent (i.e.,
recruitment), including talent acquisition and performance
management. Id. at ¶ 32. At some point, Howard
decided that he wanted to “strengthen the talent side
of his team in order to build up certain areas including the
performance review process.” Id. at ¶ 33.
This involved “allocating additional resources to
talent management and acquisition rather than Labor &
Employment Relations.” Id. at ¶ 44.
September 2014, Defendant announced that it needed to
eliminate one LERS position in the District Office. Howard
engaged in a staff review, during which he met with all of
the office employees including Plaintiff. Defendant asserts
that Howard was not left with a “strong
impression” of Plaintiff and that he reviewed her work
product and found it lacking. Id. at ¶¶
35-36. After speaking with Allen, Howard decided to eliminate
Plaintiff's position. Tomino approved of the decision.
(Dkt. 55) at ¶ 45. On September 25, 2014, Allen and
Howard told Plaintiff that her position was being eliminated.
Id. at ¶ 47. She was 60 and her salary was $61,
500 at that time. In a November 10, 2014 meeting, the Board
of Trustees officially approved of Plaintiff's
termination. Id. at ¶ 48. No other Human
Resources Department employees were separated at this same
time, and Plaintiff's open cases were reassigned to the
other, non-African American and substantially younger LERS.
Id. at ¶ 50; (Dkt. 62) at ¶ 25. Not long
after Plaintiff's position was eliminated, on October 17,
2014, Leeve-Nau was promoted to Associate Director of Labor
& Employee Relations (a newly created position) and her
salary was increased to $85, 000 annually. (Dkt. 55) at
¶ 51; (Dkt. 57) at ¶ 29.
October 31, 2014, Defendant posted a job opening for a new
position in the Direct Office titled Human Resources
Coordinator. Plaintiff contends that this position involved
some of her job duties, although Defendant asserts that it
did not involve any of the substantive duties of a LERS.
Nicole Dax, a 29-year old white female who graduated law
school in 2013 was hired for this position at a starting
salary of $45, 000 in January 2015, and she was promoted to
fulltime LERS on July 13, 2015 by Allen, Howard, and ...