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Gonzalez v. Tape Case Ltd.

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

July 25, 2018

RITA L. GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
TAPE CASE LTD., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Rita L. Gonzalez has sued her former employer, Tape Case, Ltd. She alleges that Tape Case terminated her on the basis of her age, race, and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). Gonzalez also asserts a state law claim based on Tape Case's violation of its employee handbook. Tape Case has moved for summary judgment on Gonzalez's claims. Both parties have also moved for sanctions.

         Background

         Tape Case contends that Gonzalez submitted a statement of facts that did not comport with Local Rule 56.1, as some of the factual statements contained improper argument or were unsupported by the cited evidence. The Court takes note of these issues and relies on the underlying record. On a motion for summary judgment, the Court reviews the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, without vouching for the accuracy of those facts. Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N. Am., LLC, 805 F.3d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Gonzalez is a former employee of Tape Case, a manufacturing company that distributes specialized adhesive tapes. It receives customer orders, prepares the tapes to the customer's specifications, and readies them for shipment. Al Brunner, the plant manager, hired Gonzalez on December 14, 2015 to work as a bagger. She was responsible for reviewing customer orders and placing the finished products in a plastic bag, which a machine then sealed.

         While carrying out these responsibilities, Gonzalez received a great deal of criticism from her immediate supervisor, Phyllis Franz. Franz told her that she was incompetent, she would not keep her job, she needed to count better, and she needed to use her brain. D.E. 25, Pl.'s Ex. 3 at 19-21 (Gonzalez Dep.).[1] Franz "yelled all the time" at virtually all the employees. Id. at 20. Franz also threw tape at Gonzalez and pushed a cart towards her. Because Tape Case did not write up every reprimand given to an employee, there is no written record of Franz's comments to Gonzalez. However, Gonzalez was written up twice by Tape Case for incurring ten absences over her first six months.

         Gonzalez found Franz's criticisms very distressing. On October 13, 2016, after Franz again critiqued her work, Gonzalez gathered her jacket and left the warehouse before the end of her shift. Other Tape Case employees testified that as Gonzalez was leaving, she announced that she quit; Gonzalez denies saying that. Gonzalez went to her car and called the owner of the company to tell him about her interactions with Franz, who Gonzalez believed was violating Tape Case anti-harassment policies. The owner said he would call Gonzalez back but never did. The next day, Gonzalez returned and spoke to a supervisor, who asked her to return the following day so that she could speak with Brunner, the plant manager who hired her. On October 15, Gonzalez and Brunner spoke. He told her she had quit on October 13 when she walked off her shift; Gonzalez denied that she quit; and Brunner told her that, in any event, he could not re-admit her to Tape Case. As Gonzalez stated, "he told me, you know, you quit when you walked out the door saying you quit. I told him I didn't quit. I was upset and I couldn't believe what happened and that I tried to get in contact with the owner of the company and he never responded to me." Id. at 29.

         Gonzalez, who is Asian-American and over the age of 40, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Gonzalez's EEOC charge describes her as Hispanic, but Gonzalez contends that was an error on the part of an EEOC employee who helped her fill out the charge form. As indicated earlier, Gonzalez asserts violations of Title VII, the ADEA, and a claim for breach of promises in the Tape Case employment handbook.

         Discussion

         Tape Case has moved for summary judgment on Gonzalez's discrimination and contract claims. To prevail on its motion, Tape Case must demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party." Egonmwan v. Cook Cty. Sheriff's Dept., 602 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted).

         I. Title VII / ADEA

         First, Tape Case seeks summary judgment on Gonzalez's Title VII race and national origin discrimination claims, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and her ADEA age discrimination claim. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). Courts apply the same "analytical framework" for Title VII and ADEA claims, so the Court considers these claims together. Nagle v. Village of Calumet Park, 554 F.3d 1106, 1114 n.3 (7th Cir. 2009). The issue is whether Gonzalez has presented enough evidence to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that her age, race, or national origin caused her termination. Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court first addresses whether Gonzalez has established a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework. Next, the Court "assess[es] cumulatively all the evidence" Gonzalez presented to determine whether a reasonable jury could find in her favor. See David v. Bd. of Trs. of Cmty. Coll. Dist. No. 508, 846 F.3d 216, 224 (7th Cir. 2017) (employing the McDonnell Douglas framework first, then reviewing all evidence together per Ortiz).

         A. McDonnell Douglas

         Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, Gonzalez must show (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) her job performance met Tape Case's legitimate expectations, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) another similarly situated employee who was not in the protected class was treated more favorably. Khowaja v. Sessions, 893 F.3d 1010, 1014-15 (7th Cir. 2018). Although there are subsequent steps in the McDonnell Douglas analysis, the Court concludes that Gonzalez cannot make out a prima facie case, as she has ...


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