United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CRAIG D. BUTLER, Plaintiff,
NORTHEAST ILLINOIS REGIONAL COMMUTER RAILROAD CORP., doing business as METRA, JAMES M. DERWINSKI, in his individual and official capacity as Metra Chief Mechanical Officer, ART OLSEN, in his individual and official capacity as Metra Director of Milwaukee Western Avenue District Mechanical, and SHON GEORGE, in his individual and official capacity as Metra Superintendent of Milwaukee Western Avenue District Mechanical, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Rebecca R. Pallmeyer United States District Judge.
Craig Butler worked as an electrician for Defendant Northeast
Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation
("Metra"). In August 2013, Metra terminated
Butler's employment for violation of Metra's policies
on attendance and employee conduct, but Butler successfully
appealed his termination to the Special Board of Adjustment
and was reinstated. Then in April 2016, Metra again
terminated Butler's employment for attendance violations.
This time, Butler's appeal failed, and he filed claims
with the Illinois Department of Human Rights
("IDHR") and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission ("EEOC"). This lawsuit, filed in October
2017, followed. Butler asserts claims for race discrimination
and harassment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e et seq.; for retaliation in violation of
Section 1983 and Title VII; and for disability discrimination
in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,
42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.
court dismissed claims against individual Defendants,
dismissed Butler's harassment allegations, and dismissed
certain claims as time-barred . Metra moves for summary
judgment on Butler's remaining claims. For the following
reasons, the motion is granted.
parties have submitted competing statements of fact, as
required by Local Rule 56.1. Those submissions support the
following account. Butler is a 47-year-old African-American
man. (Amended Mem. in Supp. of Butler Opp. to Metra Mot. for
Summ. J. ("Butler Opp.") , 1.) He identifies
as disabled because he suffers from sleep apnea,
hypertension, high blood pressure, and anxiety. (See
Metra Reply to Butler Resp. in Opp. to Metra L.R. 56.1 Stat.
of Undisputed Facts ("Metra RSOF")  ¶
hired Butler as a journeyman electrician on November 14, 2011
and on December 19, 2011 awarded him the position of
electrician in Metra's Milwaukee District Mechanical
Department. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.) The terms and
conditions of Butler's employment were governed by two
sets of policies: (1) a collective bargaining agreement
("CBA") between Metra and the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, of which Butler was a
member, and (2) Metra's Mechanical Department Directives,
meaning internal employment policies and procedures
applicable to Mechanical Department employees. (Id.
¶¶ 2, 4; Metra Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J.
("Metra Mot.") , 2.)
August 16, 2013, Metra terminated Butler's employment for
violations of Metra’s attendance and employee conduct
policies. (See Metra RSOF ¶¶ 19-26.)
Butler appealed his termination to an administrative body
called the Special Board of Adjustment. (See Id .
¶ 27.) In a ruling dated September 5, 2014, the
Special Board reinstated Butler's employment effective
September 26, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28; Special
Board Award, Ex. E to Metra L.R. 56.1 Stat. of Undisputed
Facts [125-5], 2; Butler Employee Personnel Record, Ex. J to
Metra L.R. 56.1 Stat. of Undisputed Facts [125-10], 3.) The
ruling specified that the Special Board was granting Butler
"one last chance to be a safe and reliable employee . .
. ." (Special Board Award 2.) Referencing this
"last chance" condition, the Board further stated,
"[Butler] should understand that any future infractions
of the Carrier's rules, could result in the permanent
termination of his services." (Id.; see also
Metra RSOF ¶ 30.) The last chance condition of
Butler's reinstatement applied indefinitely.
(See Metra RSOF ¶ 33.) On April 22, 2016, Metra
again terminated Butler's employment, for violation of
the last chance condition. (Metra RSOF ¶ 54.) After
unsuccessfully appealing that decision (id.
¶¶ 55-56), Butler filed this lawsuit arising
out of his second termination and the events leading up to
Metra's Progressive Discipline Policy
Directive No. 7 sets forth Metra's "Progressive
Discipline Policy." (Metra RSOF ¶ 6.) The policy
sets forth five steps that carry escalating disciplinary
consequences up to and including termination, which is Step
Five. (See Id . ¶ 7.) At Step One, an employee
receives a letter of reprimand; at Steps Two, Three, and
Four, an employee is suspended from work for three, five, and
ten days, respectively; and at Step Five, an employee is
terminated. (See Id . ¶ 7.) For violations that
occur within less than two years of cumulative active
service, Metra assesses discipline one step at a time.
(Id. ¶ 11.) Each step carries a two-year
probationary period, meaning that an employee starts again at
Step One if he completes two years of cumulative active
service without incurring additional discipline.
(Id. ¶¶ 11-13.)
minor infractions, including absenteeism and tardiness, Metra
employees receive "verbal and superintendent
conferences" before they are charged with formal
"steps" of discipline. (Id. ¶ 9;
see also Id . ¶ 38 (stating that an employee
receives a verbal warning for a first occurrence, a
conference with a superintendent for a second occurrence
within a twelve-month period, and charges under the
progressive discipline system for additional violations
within a twelve-month period).) Under the CBA, an employee
has a right to a hearing before Metra assesses discipline
against him. (See Id . ¶ 8.) A "discipline
committee, " rather than the hearing officer or
witnesses, decides whether to assess discipline following a
hearing. (Id. ¶ 10.) Thereafter, an employee
has a right under the CBA to file a grievance. (Id.
¶¶ 15; Aff. of Danielle Gauthier, Ex. M to Metra
L.R. 56.1 Stat. of Undisputed Facts ("Gauthier
Aff.") [125-13] ¶ 11.) Alternatively, the employee
can appeal the decision to the Special Board of Adjustment,
which is comprised of a referee and neutral member, an
employee member, and a carrier (i.e., employer) member.
(See Metra RSOF ¶ 17; Gauthier Aff. ¶ 11;
Special Board Award 1; Metra Mot. 3.)
Butler's August 2013 termination and related
events that led to Butler's August 2013 termination began
in the first ninety days of his employment at Metra.
(See Metra RSOF ¶ 21.) During that time, Butler
violated Metra's absenteeism policies and Metra assessed
Step One discipline against him. (See Id .
¶¶ 19-21.) Butler again violated attendance-related
rules on March 2, 2012, March 9, 2012, and March 15, 2012.
(Id. ¶¶ 22-24.) After the March 2 and 9
violations, Metra assessed Step Three discipline against
Butler (see Id . ¶¶ 22-23), and after the
March 15 violation, Metra assessed Step Four discipline
against him. (See Id . ¶ 24.) Approximately a
year and a half later, on August 16, 2013, Metra determined
that Butler had violated a rule of employee conduct by
reading a newspaper after his scheduled break. (Id.
¶ 25.) Because Butler was in Step Four of the
progressive disciplinary policy at the time, the violation
resulted in termination. (See Id . ¶¶
25-26.) Butler denies that he violated the relevant rule of
employee conduct and, as noted, successfully appealed his
termination. (See Id . ¶¶ 25-27.) The
Special Board of Adjustment determined that although Metra
"had met its burden of proof . . . and had proper
justification for assessing discipline, " "the
discipline assessed for [the newspaper infraction] is
excessive." (Special Board Award 2.) The Special Board
reinstated Butler's employment, subject to the indefinite
last chance condition referenced above. (Id.) The
Special Board made its decision independently, but it was
Metra's responsibility to enforce the terms and
conditions of Butler's reinstatement, including the last
chance condition. (See Metra RSOF ¶¶ 29,
31, 32.) It is uncontested that the last chance condition
effectively put Butler on permanent Step Four status.
(See Butler Opp. 4, 7; Metra Reply in Supp. of Summ.
J. Mot. ("Metra Reply") , 7.)
Butler's April 2016 termination and related
his reinstatement on September 26, 2014, Butler was placed on
a medical leave of absence from October 3, 2014 through March
12, 2015, for a condition(s) undisclosed in the record.
(Metra RSOF ¶¶ 27, 34.) After Butler returned from
leave, he violated a Metra policy that "requires an
employee to provide valid documentation for an absence due to
illness" when he has already used his three allotted
sick days. (See Id . ¶¶ 35-39.) Those
violations were on March 27 and 30, 2015, which Metra treated
as one occurrence, and April 6, 2015, which Metra treated as
a second occurrence. (See Id . ¶ 39.) Butler
received a superintendent conference, rather than a
disciplinary step, for those occurrences. (See Id .
¶¶ 38-39.) One month after his return from leave,
on April 14, 2015, Butler again went on a medical leave of
absence, again for reasons not stated in the record.
(Id. ¶ 40.) Butler returned to work on or about
September 2, 2015. (Id.)
February 23, 2016, Butler had exhausted his three allotted
sick days. (Id. ¶ 41.) On that date, Butler
"called off work and requested use of a sick day."
(Id. ¶ 42.) Art Olsen, one of Butler's
supervisors, instructed him to provide "upon his
return" "medical documentation confirming he was
seen by a physician on February 23, 2016 to support his
absence due to illness." (Metra Mot. 4; Metra RSOF
¶ 43.) Butler did not in fact visit a physician on that
date, but at some point after February 23-on a date the
parties do not specify-he submitted doctor's notes dated
March 2, 2016 and March 29, 2016 to support the absence.
(Id. ¶¶ 44, 45.) Olsen informed Butler that
because the note dated March 2, 2016 did not reflect a
doctor's visit on the date of the absence, it did not
satisfy Metra's "valid documentation"
requirement. (Id. ¶¶ 46,
48.)"Valid documentation, " Metra
policy provides, is "anything that would justify an
employee's absence on a particular day that was
missed." (Id. ¶ 37.) Metra issued
Butler a notice of hearing concerning the February 23, 2016
absence and afforded him "additional time to submit
valid documentation" before the hearing. (Id.
¶¶ 47, 49.) The hearing commenced on March 24,
2016. (Apr. 15, 2016 Hearing Tr. 4:2-4.) During the hearing,
Butler requested a recess to retrieve supplemental
documentation. (See Id . ¶ 50.) As Butler was
crossing a street during the recess, he fell and injured his
knee. (Id. ¶ 50; see Ex. C to Am.
Compl. ("Attachments to EEOC Complaint") [37-1],
1.) Metra postponed the completion of the hearing as a result
of the injury. (See Metra RSOF ¶ 51.)
point before the hearing reconvened, Butler submitted the
second doctor's note dated March 29, 2016. In that note,
Butler's doctor wrote that Butler visited his office on
March 29 and had been under his care since March 21, 2012.
(Doctor's Notes, 2.) The rest of the note is illegible.
(See id.) Olsen testified during his deposition that
this note did not constitute valid documentation for
Butler's February 23, 2016 absence not only because it
failed to show that Butler visited a doctor on February 23,
but also because it was "too vague." (Olsen Dep.
50:18-24; Metra RSOF ¶ 48 (citing same).)
reconvened Butler's hearing on April 15, 2016. (Metra
RSOF ¶ 51.) Butler provided no additional medical
documentation to support his February 23, 2016 absence.
(Id. ¶ 52.) Accordingly, on April 22, 2016,
Metra disciplined Butler for violating the absenteeism
policy. (Id. ¶ 53.) Because the violation was
Butler's third within a twelve-month period, the
discipline took the form of a step (see Id . ¶
38) and violated the last chance condition of Butler’s
reinstatement. (Id. ¶ 54.) Metra, therefore,
terminated his employment; the record does not reveal which
Metra official made this decision. (Id. ¶¶
54, 56.) Butler appealed the termination directly to the
Special Board of Adjustment, and the Special Board affirmed
Metra's decision. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.) As
detailed below, Butler does not dispute that the basis for
his termination was the violation of Metra's absenteeism
policy, which itself violated the last chance condition of
reinstatement. Rather, Butler alleges that Metra imposed
unduly harsh discipline for the violation because of
Butler's race and disability, and in retaliation for
Butler's filing of an EEOC complaint against Metra in
15, 2016, Butler filed a complaint against Metra with the
IDHR and the EEOC. (Metra RSOF ¶ 59; Ex. B to Am. Compl.
("July 2016 EEOC Complaint") [37-1].) Butler
alleged that Olsen required him to provide doctor's notes
for the February 23, 2016 absence, and then determined that
the notes were inadequate, because of his race and
disabilities, and because Butler had filed an EEOC complaint
against Metra in 2013. (See Attachments to July 2016
EEOC Complaint.) Butler also alleged that Metra subjected him
to the last chance condition of employment indefinitely, and
applied that condition when he violated the absenteeism
policy in 2016, for the same reasons. (See id.) On
August 2, 2017, Butler received notice of his right ...