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Banks v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

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

July 15, 2019

CICELY BANKS, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY d/b/a CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN ROBERT BLAKEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Cicely Banks sues her employer, Defendant Illinois Central Railroad Company, d/b/a Canadian National Railway Company, alleging race discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Count I) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II), and gender discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Count III). [1].[1]Defendant moves for summary judgment. [39]. For the reasons explained below, this Court partially grants and partially denies Defendant's motion.

         Additionally, Plaintiff moves to: (1) strike all declarations used and submitted by Defendant in support of its motion for summary judgment based upon untimeliness, [45]; and (2) deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment for violating of Local Rule 56.1, or in the alternative, strike Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement of undisputed material facts, [46]. For the reasons explained below, this Court denies both motions.

         I. Background

         The following facts come from Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement of material facts, [41], Plaintiffs response to Defendant's statement of material facts, [57], Plaintiffs statement of additional facts, [58], and Defendant's response to Plaintiffs statement of additional facts, [67].

         A. Plaintiffs Motions

         i. Plaintiffs Motion to Strike All Declarations

         Plaintiff moves to strike all declarations used and submitted by Defendant in support of its motion for summary judgment, based upon untimeliness. [45]. Plaintiff maintains that on June 15, 2018, Plaintiff propounded her first sets of interrogatories and requests for production of documents, asking for all “statements, oral or written, of any individual with knowledge, information and/or who witnessed the discrimination Plaintiff complains of in this action” and any “other documents which relate to the Defendant's responses, denials, and/or defenses” in Defendant's answer that “have not otherwise been requested and produced.” [45] ¶¶ 2-4. Additionally, Plaintiff states that several other requests called for documents pertaining to the positions Plaintiff applied for and Defendant's reasons for not selecting Plaintiff for those positions, among other matters. Id. ¶ 5.

         According to Plaintiff, in “early November 2018, ” Plaintiffs counsel spoke with Defendant's counsel over the phone, and at this time Plaintiffs counsel asked whether she had obtained any statements or declarations from any witnesses. Id. ¶ 6. Defendant's counsel stated that she had not. Id. On November 21, 2018, Defendant then filed its motion for summary judgment, and in support submitted seven declarations from various witnesses, which Defendant had not produced in response to Plaintiff's discovery requests. See Decl. of Sue Adzgowski [43-4] (Ex. 13); Decl. of Steven Albright [43-4] (Ex. 12); Decl. of Patrick Crain [43-1] (Ex. 8); Decl. of Rolando Jimenez [43-4] (Ex. 10); Decl. of Katie Roop [43-4] (Ex. 14); Decl. of Duane Spears [43-4] (Ex. 9); Decl. of David Sprankle [43-4] (Ex. 11).

         Defendant counters that as of the close of discovery on November 1, 2018, none of the above seven declarations existed. [48] at 2. Defendant also notes that its Mandatory Initial Discovery Responses, served in September 2018, identified all of the witnesses who made the above declarations with the exception of Katie Roop, who Plaintiff identified in June 2018. Id.

         Moreover, Defendant states that Plaintiff's counsel is mistaken about the date and circumstances of the phone conversation at issue; according to Defendant, counsel for both parties spoke on or around October 11, 2018, at which time Plaintiff's counsel asked whether Defendant could resend its document production from September 27, 2018 in the form of one combined PDF document, rather than in separate documents. Id. At this time, Plaintiff's counsel also asked whether the production contained any statements or declarations. Id. The September 27, 2018 production did not, and Defendant's counsel relayed this fact to Plaintiff's counsel. Id. Defendant's counsel does not recall having any conversation with Plaintiff's counsel between November 15, 2018 (when the first declaration listed above was signed) and November 21, 2018, when Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment. Id. at 2-3; [48-1] ¶ 6.

         Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the phone call, this Court denies Plaintiff's motion to strike, [45]. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) governs motions to strike and instructs that that courts “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Defendant's declarations do not constitute pleadings, and thus Plaintiff's motion is improper under Rule 12(f). See, e.g., Hall v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co., No. 10-CV-0012-MJR, 2011 WL 1256836, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Apr. 4, 2011) (“The document at issue, a declaration in opposition to [defendant's] motion for summary judgment, is not considered to be a pleading, so a motion under 12(f) is not a proper proceeding.”).

         And considering the underlying merits of Plaintiff's request, she notably fails to identify any prejudice created by the timing of the declarations, given that the parties had identified all the relevant witnesses prior to close of fact discovery, as well as the exhibits upon which they based their declarations. See generally [45]. Accordingly, this Court cannot find this case constitutes the rare scenario in which a motion to strike is warranted. See Redwood v. Dobson, 476 F.3d 462, 471 (7th Cir. 2007) (“Motions to strike disserve the interest of judicial economy. The aggravation comes at an unacceptable cost in judicial time.”); Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff's motion to strike, [45], is denied.

         ii. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's LR 56.1 Statement

         Plaintiff also moves to deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment for violation of Local Rule 56.1, or in the alternative, strike Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement of undisputed material facts, [46]. She argues that Local Rule 56.1 requires Defendant's statement of material facts to consist of short, numbered paragraphs, whereas Defendant included “compound, convoluted and very lengthy paragraphs that contain several separate and distinct material facts” to circumvent the rule's 80 statement limit. Id. ¶ 3. This Court disagrees.

         This Court maintains broad discretion to enforce the local rules governing summary judgment. See, e.g., Petty v. City of Chicago, 754 F.3d 416, 420 (7th Cir. 2014); Benuzzi v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., 647 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2011). Courts “are not, however, obligated to require strict compliance.” See Maher v. Rowen Group, Inc., No. 12 C 7169, 2015 WL 273315, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 20, 2015); see also Kelly v. Chambers, 07 C 1005, 2009 WL 765267, at *3 n.11 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 23, 2009) (denying a motion to strike paragraphs that plaintiff argued were too long and contained multiple facts).

         Local Rule 56.1(a) requires only that Defendant's Rule 56.1 statement “consist of short numbered paragraphs, including within each paragraph specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon to support the facts set forth in that paragraph.” Nothing in Rule 56.1 instructs parties to include only one fact per paragraph. And while some of Defendant's paragraphs contain multiple facts, such facts “are logically grouped and the combinations make sense in context.” Maher, 2015 WL 273315, at *7 (citing Portis v. City of Chi., 510 Supp. 2d 461, 463 (N.D. Ill. 2007)); see, e.g., [41] ¶ 74.

         Moreover, many of the paragraphs to which Plaintiff objects are long in part because: (1) they contain lengthy citations to multiple pieces of record evidence, see, e.g., [41] ¶ 74; and (2) Plaintiff failed to initially clarify the positions at issue in this suit, as this Court discusses below, see, e.g., id. ¶ 49.

         Absent any indication that Plaintiff could not understand or otherwise sufficiently respond to Defendant's LR 56.1 statement of facts, this Court declines to strike the entirety of Defendant's statement or deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment based upon what constitute, at most, technical violations of LR 56.1. Maher, 2015 WL 273315, at *7; Kelly, 2009 WL 765267, at *3 n.7. Plaintiff's motion to strike, [46], is denied.

         B. Plaintiff's Work History

         Plaintiff-an African-American woman-worked in a variety of transportation clerk jobs for Defendant since 2008. [41] ¶¶ 9, 16. Her resume lists the following duties under the heading of “Transportation Clerk” for “2008-Present”:

• Billing
• Special Charges (Setbacks, IPSW and BNSF delays)
• Order Cars from Fleet Management
• Heavy Customer Service
• Optional Services
• Error Deliveries from Foreign Railroads
• Train Reporting (Waterloo, Glen yard, Hawthorne and Intermodal)
• Interchanges
• Crew Calling
• Tower (Dispatching)

[43-1] (Ex. 2) (Sub Ex. 5).[2] Prior to working for Defendant, she spent one year working for Navistar International Corporation as a Payroll Pension Administrator. Id. Before working at Navistar, Plaintiff worked at LaSalle Bank for seven years as an ARP operations associate, fraud analyst, and trust and pension clerk. Id. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Roosevelt University. Id.

         Over the course of Plaintiff's employment with Defendant, she applied for various management positions in search of an “office setting” position. [41] ¶ 13. When applying to these positions, Plaintiff concedes that she never tailored her resume to the specific job or role, nor did she have an interest in working in a particular field. Id.

         In total, Plaintiff's response memorandum identifies 11 positions for which she claims she applied and was unlawfully rejected based upon race and gender. See [55] at 4. At the parties' motion hearing on March 5, 2019, however, Plaintiff clarified that her discrimination claims arise only out of the following three positions: (1) Benefits Administrator - Attendance Management; (2) Administrative Assistant - Police Services (4871BR); and (3) Officer Crew Lodging (5507BR). [69]. Accordingly, this Court analyzes these three positions for purposes of Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         C. Benefits Administrator -- Attendance Management

         Plaintiff applied for a variety of Benefits Administrator - Attendance Management position openings throughout her employment with Defendant: once on January 4, 2013 (listing 2348BR), [41] ¶¶ 19, 24; once on December 3, 2013 (listing 3542BR), id. ¶¶ 19, 63; and once on July 4, 2014 (listing 4502BR), id. ¶¶ 19, 33. For clarity, this Court refers to each position by their listing number.

         Benefits Administrator - Attendance Management employees manage Defendant employees' leave and attendance. Id. ¶ 24. When Plaintiff first applied for the 2348BR listing in January 2013, she interviewed by telephone later that month. Id. ¶ 25. The notes from this interview-completed contemporaneously by recruiter Stephanie Rogers-reflect that Rogers consistently ranked Plaintiff as a 2 or 2.5 out of 5 in every question category and evaluated her overall as “somewhat worse” than other candidates. Id. ¶ 27; [43-1] (Ex. 8) (Sub Ex. 8); [43-1] (Ex. 1) at 129. In response to questions about Plaintiff's motivations and interest in the job, the interviewer initially noted that Plaintiff “has Benefits background [and] wants to get back into it.” [41] ¶ 27; [43-1] (Ex. 8) (Sub Ex. 8). But, in response to questions about Plaintiff's relevant work experience, the interviewer subsequently noted that she “did some payroll work previously, but not really Benefits.” Id. At the end of the interview notes-beside the box Rogers checked to not recommend Plaintiff for further selection steps-Rogers wrote that Plaintiff appeared “not highly motivated, ” had “no HR or Benefits background, ” and “didn't take [the] interview very seriously.” Id. Defendant did not select Plaintiff and notified her of this decision on February 7, 2013. Id. ¶ 19.

         Ronaldo Jimenez served as the hiring manager for both the 4502BR and 3542BR listings to which Plaintiff subsequently applied. Id. ¶¶ 33, 63; [43-4] (Ex. 10) ¶ 3. According to Jimenez, he declined to interview or select Plaintiff for either position because he “understood that she had not interviewed well” for the earlier 2348BR listing. Id. Jimenez also explained that no one had recommended Plaintiff to him for further consideration. [43-4] (Ex. 10) ¶¶ 3, 7. Defendant notified Plaintiff of her rejection for the 4502BR position on September 10, 2014, and the 3542BR listing on January 13, 2015. [41] ¶ 19. Jimenez hired Gerardo Torres-a Hispanic male-and Tasha Willoughby-an African-American female-for the 4502BR listing. Id. ¶ 34. Jimenez hired Armando Flores-a Hispanic male-and Worth Phillips-a White male-for the 3542BR listing. Id. ¶ 64.

         D. Administrative Assistant - Police Services (4871BR)

         On September 26, 2014, Plaintiff applied for the position of Administrative Assistant - Police Services (4871BR). Id. ¶ 68. The position constituted a Grade 12 position, with a salary range of $37, 000 - $56, 300. Id. ΒΆ ...


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