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Rogers v. Ford Motor Co.

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

July 6, 2018

DAVID ROGERS, ALTHEA DEMPS, RUSSELL SPALDING, MARK FRANKLIN, and CARLINE DUNLAP, [1] Plaintiffs,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff David Rogers (“Rogers”) contends that his employer, Defendant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”), discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his race (African American). Rogers further contends that Ford retaliated against him because he complained about the discrimination. Ford has filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking summary judgment on the claims brought by Rogers.

         Ford argues that Rogers lacks sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Ford contends that Rogers has failed to identify specific occasions when he was denied overtime and that Rogers has not pointed to sufficient evidence that shows that he was denied overtime because of his race. Ford also contends that Rogers cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation. Ford argues that Rogers has failed to show that he suffered an adverse action and has failed to point to sufficient evidence to show that any adverse action was retaliation because of a protected activity. For the following reasons, Ford's motion for summary judgment is denied in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Rogers began working for Ford in 1995. In April 2008, Rogers became classified as an industrial lift truck operator (“ILTO”). As an ILTO, Rogers worked for several supervisors, including Bill Rentschler (“Rentschler”) and John Grzych (“Grzych”). Rogers contends that although he requested overtime, his requests were denied and that overtime was instead given to Caucasian co-workers. According to Rogers, his supervisors discriminated against him and against his African American co-workers in a similar fashion. Rogers and his African American co-workers filed complaints with the Ford Labor Relations Department regarding the alleged discrimination. Rogers also filed a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. In August 2008, Rogers and his African American co-workers also went to the EEOC to file a complaint. Dunlap was chosen to act as the representative and charging party at the EEOC.

         Rogers contends that after making the complaints about discrimination, he was retaliated against at work. According to Rogers, after filing the complaints, African American ILTOs were rushed, were closely scrutinized, and were loaded with more work by supervisors as part of an effort to make their jobs more difficult and to harass them. On September 5, 2008, Rogers allegedly returned to his work station and found what he believed to be a noose hanging from his work station. Rogers understood the noose to be connected to his race and an attempt to intimidate and threaten him.

         Plaintiffs include in their amended complaint claims alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”) brought by all Plaintiffs (Count I), claims alleging race discrimination in violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. brought by all Plaintiffs (Count II), Title VII hostile work environment claims brought by all Plaintiffs (Count II), Title VII retaliation claims brought by all Plaintiffs (Count II), and a breach of settlement agreement claim brought by Dunlap (Count III). On August 4, 2017, this court adopted the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation and dismissed all claims brought by Plaintiff Mark Franklin without prejudice for lack of prosecution. [212]. On September 14, 2017, the court granted the motion by the bankruptcy estate of Russell Spalding (“Spalding”) to dismiss all of Spalding's claims with prejudice. [218]. On November 16, 2017, the court granted the motion by the bankruptcy estate of Althea Demps (“Demps”) to dismiss Demps' claims with prejudice. [233]. In regard to Dunlap, the record reflects that the trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Dunlap reported to the magistrate judge that he has settled Dunlap's claims with Ford. [191]. Rogers' claims are thus the only remaining claims in the instant action. Ford now moves for summary judgment on Rogers' claims.

         II. ANALYSIS

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show 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 fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Burton v. Downey, 805 F.3d 776, 783 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute is genuine where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The moving party's burden “may be discharged by ‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

         A. Race Discrimination Claims

         Ford moves for summary judgment on the race discrimination claims. Ford argues that Rogers has failed to identify specific occasions when he sought overtime and his requests were refused. Ford also argues that Rogers has failed to show that any decision to deny Rogers overtime was made based on Rogers' race. Title VII provides in part that “[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer-- . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Section 1981 provides that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Courts generally apply the same analysis to Title VII and Section 1981 discrimination claims. Lane v. Riverview Hosp., 835 F.3d 691, 695 (7th Cir. 2016) (stating that the Court “analyze[s] Title VII and § 1981 claims under the same framework”).

         In Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d 760 (7th Cir. 2016), the Seventh Circuit “held that the ‘direct' and ‘indirect' methods should no longer be treated as distinct legal standards.” Golla v. Office of Chief Judge of Cook Cty., Illinois, 875 F.3d 404, 407 (7th Cir. 2017) (stating that “[i]nstead of separating evidence under different methods of proof, [the Court] held that [e]vidence must be considered as a whole, rather than asking whether any particular piece of evidence proves the case by itself-or whether just the ‘direct' evidence does so, or the ‘indirect' evidence”) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Ortiz, 834 F.3d at 765). The ultimate question at the summary judgment stage in a Title VII race discrimination case is “simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's race . . . caused the . . . adverse employment action.” Golla, 875 F.3d at 407 (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Ortiz, 834 F.3d at 765). Nonetheless, the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method of proof “remains a means of organizing, presenting, and assessing circumstantial evidence in frequently recurring factual patterns found in discrimination cases.” Golla, 875 F.3d at 407 (internal quotations omitted) (quoting David v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 508, 846 F.3d 216, 224 (7th Cir. 2017)); see also Austin v. City of Chicago, No. 14-CV-9823, 2018 WL 1508484, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 27, 2018) (explaining that “[t]he Seventh Circuit's decision in Ortiz . . . did not alter the burden-shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)”).

         1. Specific Incidents of Discrimination

         Ford contends that Rogers has not identified any specific incidents of racial discrimination. Ford also argues that the specific instances of discrimination referenced in Rogers' affidavit in support of his response to Ford's motion for summary judgment (‘Rogers Affidavit”) should be disregarded as self-serving allegations that are inconsistent with his deposition testimony.

         a. Ability to Recall ...


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