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Curtis v. City of Chicago

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

August 12, 2019

DOLL CURTIS, Plaintiff,


          John Z. Lee, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Doll Curtis has sued the City of Chicago (“the City”) for race discrimination (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as failure to accommodate (Count III) and retaliation (Count IV) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Curtis also alleges that the City's actions violated the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1 et seq., (Count V). The City moves for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, the City's motion [93] is granted.

         Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1

         As an initial matter, the City points out various issues with Curtis's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Statement of Additional Facts. The City contends that Curtis's Statement of Additional Facts contains (1) citations to exhibits (specifically, “B, ” “C, ” “E, ” and “H”) that do not correspond to exhibits within the record, (2) citations to excerpts of Curtis's deposition that have not been provided, (3) citations to the entire record of a previous lawsuit without specifying to which parts of the record she refers or entering those documents into the record of this case, and (4) citations to an entire deposition without specifying the portions to which she cites. See Def.'s Reply Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 3-4, ECF No. 127. Additionally, the City argues, Curtis's Statement of Additional Facts contains argumentative and conclusory assertions. Id.

         Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 requires a party opposing summary judgment to file a statement of “additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment, including references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” N.D.Ill. LR 56.1(b)(3)(C). If the nonmoving party fails to file such a statement or otherwise controvert the moving party's statement of facts, “[a]ll material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed admitted.” Id.

         The purpose of statements submitted under Local Rule 56.1 is “to identify for the Court the evidence supporting a party's factual assertions in an organized manner.” Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 585 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Accordingly, these statements must contain specific references to the record. “‘[S]pecific reference' means including proper Bluebook citations to exact pieces of the record that support the factual contention contained in the paragraph. In other words, citations must include page (or paragraph) numbers, as opposed to simply citing an entire deposition, affidavit, or other exhibit document.” Id. at 583. The Court is entitled to require strict compliance with this rule, as “district courts are not obliged in our adversary system to scour the record looking for factual disputes.” Id. (quoting Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir. 1994)). “Factual allegations not properly supported by citation to the record are nullities.” Id.

         The Court agrees that Curtis's citations to the record leave much to be desired. Curtis filed two documents entitled “Plaintiff's 56.1(b)(3) Statement of Additional Facts” (“Pl.'s SOAF”). See ECF Nos. 118, 119. Attached to the first document are Exhibits 1-10 from Curtis's deposition.[1] ECF No. 118. Attached to the second document is what appears to be a complete refiling of the exhibits included with the City's Statement of Facts, with several additional documents tacked on. Compare Def.'s Exs., ECF Nos. 94-1-94-3, with Pl.'s Exs., ECF Nos. 119-1-119-5. In Curtis's filing, as in the City's, Exhibit B is the sworn declaration of Ramona Hallihan, the City's Deputy Director of Finance and Administration, and Exhibit C is the sworn declaration of Brian Devereaux, Curtis's former supervisor. But separately, Curtis filed the depositions of Charles Brown (a former colleague and supervisor) and Katina Buzanis (another former colleague), to which she appears to refer, respectively, as Exhibits B and C. See Pl.'s Add'l Exs., ECF Nos. 123-123-3; Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 1. Despite this confusion, the Court is able to discern when Curtis is citing to the Brown and Buzanis depositions as opposed to the Hallihan and Devereaux declarations, and apparently the City was similarly capable. See Def.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Resp. Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 1, ECF No. 126. Accordingly, the Court declines to strike Curtis's references to Exhibits B and C.

         Exhibits E and H, however, are a different story. Curtis cites to an “Exhibit E, ” described as “Plaintiff's Answers to Interrogatories.” Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 23. But the only “Exhibit E” in the record is Volume II of Curtis's deposition. See Pl.'s Ex. E, Curtis Dep. Vol. II, ECF No. 119-2. Accordingly, Curtis's references to interrogatory responses that are not contained in the record are stricken. Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 23.

         Similarly, although Curtis cites to an “Exhibit H, ” there is no exhibit labeled as such in the record. Furthermore, “Exhibit H” appears in some places to refer to part of a deposition; however, the documents appended to Curtis's exhibits after “Exhibit G” contain no such deposition. See Pl.'s Exs., ECF Nos. 119-3-119-5. Accordingly, Curtis's references to the deposition in “Exhibit H” are stricken. Pl.'s SOAF ¶¶ 27, 29. That said, Curtis also refers to an email written in December 2015 as “Exhibit H.” Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 30. The six pages appended after “Exhibit G” do contain such an email. Accordingly, the Court does not strike this fact and considers the cited email and responses to be “Plaintiff's Exhibit H.” See Pl.'s Ex. H, December 2015 Emails, ECF No. 119-5.

         Next, the City is correct that Curtis cites to pages of her deposition that are not provided in the record. See Pl.'s SOAF ¶¶ 3, 8, 12 (citing Curtis Dep. at 80), 13, 16, 17 (citing Curtis Dep. at 166-67), 18-19, 20 (citing Curtis Dep. at 126), 22 (citing Curtis Dep. at 166-67), 30. Because Plaintiff has failed to support these facts with citations to the record, they are stricken.

         Furthermore, Curtis improperly cites to the entire record of her previous lawsuit against the City, Curtis v. City of Chicago, No. 12 C 7557 (N.D. Ill. filed Sep. 21, 2012). See Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 5. This citation does not point the Court to any particular part of that record; nor has Curtis submitted any documents from that record into evidence in this case. Accordingly, the cited facts are stricken. See Id. Additionally, Curtis cites to the City's Answer in No. 12 C 7557 to support the propositions that (1) she was reinstated to her position after that lawsuit and received backpay, and (2) the City knew she had certain disabilities for which she needed accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 3, 28. The Answer does not support these facts, so Curtis may not rely on it. See id.; Def.'s Am. Answer ¶¶ 9, 15, No. 12 C 7557, ECF No. 43.

         Curtis also improperly cites to the entire deposition of her former colleague Iris Fojt without specifying a page number. See Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 32. The City has done the same thing, see Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. Facts (“Def.'s SOF”) ¶ 51, ECF No. 94. Accordingly, the citations of both sides to that deposition are stricken.

         Finally, the Court rejects the City's invitation to strike a number of other statements in Curtis's Statement of Additional Facts as being conclusory or argumentative. The Court reviews each statement of fact submitted by the parties to ensure that it is properly supported by admissible evidence and will rely only on factual statements based on admissible evidence.

         Factual Background[2]

         Curtis, who is African-American, first began working for the City in 2000 as an “Auditor I” in the Tax Division of the Department of Finance. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 1, 30. She was promoted to “Auditor II” in December 2002, and then to “Auditor III” in January 2008. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Curtis worked as an Auditor III in the Tax Division until December 2017. Id. ¶ 1. During that time, she says, she suffered from lower pelvic disorder, tendinitis, bipolar disorder, depression, respiratory and musculoskeletal problems, asthma, left knee pain, and low back pain. Id. ¶¶ 57-58. She also made several complaints of discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and settled a previous lawsuit against the City claiming discrimination. Id. ¶¶ 45-46, 48.

         I. Structure of the Tax Division & Applicable Policies

         The role of auditors in the Tax Division is to “determine if [a] taxpayer/collector is in full compliance with the City's tax ordinances and ensure that all monies due and owing the City have been remitted in accordance with the City's tax ordinances.” Id. ¶ 7. Auditor III is a senior auditing position that reports to an Audit Supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 7, 32. As an Auditor III, Curtis was responsible for reviewing taxpayers' financial records, which sometimes involved traveling to taxpayer sites to retrieve and review the files.[3] Id. ¶ 32.; see Def.'s Ex. A, Curtis Dep. Vol. I at 33:17-39:23, ECF No. 94-2.

         Auditors are assigned to different sections of the Tax Division and given tax-enforcement assignments by their supervisors. Def.'s SOF ¶ 18. Their tax-enforcement caseloads are determined at the beginning of each calendar year and consist of new case assignments and cases that were assigned the previous year but not completed. Id. ¶ 20. Audit Supervisors analyze each auditor's caseload to determine the number and type of cases that should be completed each year (a “target assessment”). Id. ¶¶ 20, 22. Target assessments vary among auditors and factor in the tax type and complexity of each case. Id. ¶ 22.[4] Audit Supervisors determine the amount of time each case should take. Id. ¶ 20.

         The Tax Division uses the “Time Metric System” to measure the work performed by each auditor. The System is a set of guidelines used to measure how much time auditors spend on cases, which is then compared to the target assessments set by the Audit Supervisor. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 20-21. At the beginning of each year, auditors are given memoranda explaining their target goals for the upcoming six-month review period. Id. ¶ 24. Written performance evaluations then are conducted every six months using the “Performance Management System, ” which measures auditors' compliance with productivity and quality standards. Id. ¶ 25. Performance ratings fall on a five-point scale: 1.0 to 1.9 (unsatisfactory), 2.0 to 2.7 (requires improvement), 2.8 to 3.4 (good), and 3.5 to 4.0 (very good). Id. Failure to meet the time metric goals may result in an auditor being placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Id. ¶ 27. A PIP is “designed to monitor the performance of the auditor by setting clear and detailed expectations for their performance and provid[ing] them a date by which they are able to meet those expectations.” Id.

         The Tax Division is governed by a collective bargaining agreement. Id. ¶ 14. This agreement establishes a progressive discipline policy under which, at the employer's discretion, disciplinary action may consist of “an oral warning, written reprimand, suspension (up to 30 days) or discharge, depending . . . upon various factors, such as, but not limited to, the severity of the offense or the employee's prior record.” Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Before disciplinary action is taken, it must be reviewed and approved by upper management and labor relations officials. Id. ¶ 26.

         II. The City's Reasonable Accommodations Policy

         The City's Disability Officer is responsible for reviewing and granting all requests for accommodations by City employees. Id. ¶ 59. Jennifer Smith was the Disability Officer until June 2017, when Kathryn Perry-Hopkins succeeded her. Id. ¶¶ 58-59, 62.

         As part of the accommodation process, a qualifying employee could agree to be reassigned, and he or she would be referred to the Reassignment Team. Id. The Reassignment Team then searches for a vacant City position (of lesser or equal rank to the employee's current position) for a period of 90 days. Id. ¶¶ 59, 61. The vacant position must be one for which the employee is qualified and able to perform the essential functions, taking into account medical restrictions. Id. ¶ 61. The employee does not have to interview for the position, and the new department must accept the reassigned employee. Id. The Reassignment Team may extend the 90-day period as needed. Id.

         III. Chronology of Events

         In March 2014, Curtis settled her prior lawsuit against the City. Id. ¶ 48. Shortly thereafter, she was assigned to a new Audit Supervisor, Brian Devereaux, who recently had been promoted to the position. Pl.'s SOAF ¶¶ 4, 6. Curtis believes that she should have been promoted to the Audit Supervisor position instead of Devereaux. Id. ¶¶ 4-5; see also Def.'s SOF ¶ 52.

         In August 2014, Devereaux reviewed Curtis's performance for the first half of the year and noted that she had received a 2.5 time metric rating and a 2.8 overall rating. Def.'s SOF ¶ 38; see Def.'s Ex. C, Devereaux Decl., Ex. 2, 2014 Performance Records at 25, ECF No. 94-3.[5] Because of Curtis's low time metric rating, Devereaux placed her on a PIP. Def.'s SOF ¶ 38; 2014 Performance Records at 25.

         Curtis filed her first EEOC charge relating to this case on January 5, 2015. Def.'s SOF ¶ 45. In the charge, she alleged that she had been discriminated against based on her race, disability, and in retaliation for having previously engaged in protected complaints about discrimination. Id.

         On February 27, 2015, Curtis received her performance evaluation for the second half of 2014. 2014 Performance Records at 27. For the period from July to December 2014, Curtis received a 2.7 time metric rating and a 2.3 overall rating. Def.'s SOF ¶ 38; 2014 Performance Records at 27. Devereaux noted that the “hours on [Curtis's] submitted time reports [did] not always match the time allocated on [her] audit programs, ” and that her case hours were approximately 54% over her target assessment. Def.'s SOF ¶ 38; 2014 Performance Records at 27. Because Curtis had not met her target assessments and had received a low time metric score, she was again placed on a PIP. Def.'s SOF ¶ 38; 2014 Performance Records at 28.

         A month later, in March 2015, Devereaux suspended Curtis for ten days. Def.'s SOF ¶ 42; see Def.'s Ex. C, Devereaux Decl., Ex. 6, Pl.'s Disciplinary Records at 62- 63, ECF No. 94-3. He explained that Curtis had failed to meet the performance standards of her position from July 1 to December 31, 2014. Pl.'s Disciplinary Records at 63. In particular, although Curtis was expected to complete ten tax assessments during that period, she completed only six-despite the fact that she had been on a PIP. Id. Curtis's disciplinary notice explained that she had previously received discipline, including written and oral reprimands and suspensions. Id. at 62.

         On August 4, 2015, Curtis filed a second EEOC charge related to this lawsuit. Def.'s SOF ¶ 46. She again claimed she had experienced discrimination due to her race and in retaliation for filing previous complaints. Id. Curtis did not notify anyone at the City, including Devereaux, that she had filed either the January or August charges. Id. ¶ 47.

         On August 31, 2015, Curtis received her performance review for the first half of 2015. Def.'s SOF ¶ 39; see Def.'s Ex. C, Devereaux Decl., Ex. 3, 2015 Performance Records at 37, ECF No. 94-3. For the period from January to June 2015, Curtis received a time metric rating of 2.3 and an overall rating of 2.7. 2015 Performance Records at 37. She was again placed on a PIP. Id.

         In December 2015, Curtis wrote to Disability Officer Smith, seeking to modify previous accommodations she had been granted. See Def.'s LR 56.1(b)(3)(B) Resp. Pl.'s SOAF ¶ 30; Pl.'s Ex. H, December 2015 Emails. Curtis explained: “I'm having difficulty with the accommodation that has been granted i.e. making multiple trips to and from my vehicle to carry in the city owned equipment and etc.” Pl.'s Ex. H, December 2015 Emails. Smith responded that “the best course of action . . . at this point is to request another accommodation since you believe that the previously granted accommodation is not efficient.” Id.

         Accordingly, on February 10, 2016, Curtis submitted to Smith a formal accommodation request. Def.'s SOF ¶ 58. She listed her impairment as “respiratory and musculoskeletal” and requested “reassignment to a non-field audit position i.e. an office position.” Id.; see Def.'s Ex. E, Curtis Dep. Vol. II, Ex. 30, Request for Reasonable Accommodation at 2, ECF No. 94-3. She explained that making multiple trips to and from her car to carry work-related equipment and documents “create[d] a respiratory issue” for her. Request for Reasonable Accommodation at 2. Curtis did not inform Devereaux about this accommodation request. Def.'s SOF ¶ 65.[6]

         Smith responded the same day, asking Curtis to confirm whether she wanted to participate in the reassignment process, which would involve referring her to the Reassignment Team. Id. ¶ 59; see Def.'s Ex. G, Perry-Hopkins Decl., Ex. B, Accommodations Correspondence at 154, ECF No. 94-3. Curtis agreed to participate in reassignment. Def.'s SOF ΒΆ 59. And, in response, Smith sent Curtis a Determination Notice finding that Curtis could not perform the essential functions of her ...

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