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Dabney v. Illinois Department of Natural Resources

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 30, 2019

JAMES DABNEY, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on dueling motions for summary judgment. The first motion was filed by Defendant Illinois Department of Natural Resources (“IDNR”) on February 21, 2019 (Doc. 35). Instead of filing a response to IDNR's motion, Plaintiff James Dabney, Sr. (“Dabney”), filed his own Motion for Summary Judgment on March 13, 2019 (Doc. 41). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the IDNR's motion for summary judgment and denies Dabney's motion.

         Factual Background

         Dabney initially filed this pro se employment discrimination action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on May 8, 2017 (Doc. 1). Dabney claims that the IDNR unlawfully discriminated against him on account of his race when IDNR did not select him for Site Superintendent II, a promotional position (Doc. 1). Shortly after the case was filed, the Court directed Dabney to file an Amended complaint and attach a copy of any Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) discrimination charge or right to sue notice issued by the EEOC (Doc. 5). Dabney filed his amended complaint with attachments on August 14, 2017 (Doc. 6).

         Dabney, who was hired by the IDNR in 2006 (Doc. 36-1, p. 12), alleges that in May 2015 he applied for an available Site Superintendent II position but was not selected to fill the vacancy. Dabney claims that he was informed he was not selected for this higher level position because he did not possess a bachelor's degree, but asserts that “there are many Caucasian[]” superintendents who do not hold a bachelor's degree or have any experience. Dabney claims that, including him, “[t]here are only two black employees[, ]”within the IDNR (Doc. 6, p. 3). He believes he was not selected for the site superintendent position because the IDNR discriminated against him based on his race- black-in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) (Doc. 6, pp. 2, 3). After learning he was not selected, Dabney filed a complaint with the EEOC in November 2015 (Doc. 6-1, p.10). He received a right to sue notice from the EEOC in late February 2017 (Doc. 6-1, pp. 1, 5). He then filed this action on May 8, 2017, within ninety days of receiving the EEOC right to sue notice (Doc. 1).

         In early October 2017, the IDNR filed its answer and affirmative defenses to the amended complaint (Doc. 12). The IDNR denies that its failure to promote Dabney was based on his race or that it violated his civil rights under Title VII in any way. The IDNR also denies that many Caucasians are hired without any experience or degrees and that the IDNR only had two black employees agency-wide (Id. at 3).

         In February 2019, after discovery closed, the IDNR filed its motion for summary judgment (Doc. 35). IDNR argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Dabney's Title VII claim fails as a matter of law and is not supported with evidence. It asserts that the record shows (1) Dabney was not qualified for the superintendent position he sought; (2) the IDNR did not reject him for the superintendent position; and (3) there was no employee selected as superintendent (Id. at 1). The IDNR specifically points out that it took no adverse action against Dabney because of his race (Doc. 36, p. 2). Rather, the IDNR explains that as part of the application process for the Site Superintendent II position, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (“CMS”) assessed Dabney's grade for the vacant Site Superintendent II position and issued the decision that he was ineligible for the position (Id. at 5). The IDNR asserts that it was not involved in the grading process for which CMS is responsible (Id. at 5, 6). Further, the IDNR points out that CMS explained to Dabney that he did not have enough training and experience for the superintendent position; it was not because Dabney lacked a bachelor's degree (Id. at 13). Upon filing its motion and memorandum of law (Docs. 35, 36), the IDNR also filed a “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 Notice” for Dabney (Doc. 37).

         Instead of filing a response in opposition, Dabney filed his own motion for summary judgment (Doc. 41). In the cross-motion, Dabney restates allegations made in his amended complaint that the IDNR did not consider him for the Site Superintendent II position because of his race. He then alleges new facts that two other IDNR employees, both Caucasian, were offered a temporary assignment to the vacant superintendent position, but that he was not despite having more experience than one of the employees approached (Id. at 1). Additionally, Dabney, for the first time, identifies a third IDNR employee working at another location, who also initially was deemed ineligible for a site superintendent position by the CMS. Dabney claims this third IDNR employee was temporarily assigned to the superintendent position at the other location so that this employee could obtain enough experience to receive an eligible grade from the CMS (Id.). Dabney claims he was not afforded the same opportunity as this third employee.

         Finally, Dabney's motion includes a new claim against the IDNR for retaliation (Id. at 2), something that was not alleged in either version of his complaint or the EEOC discrimination charge (Docs. 1, 6, 6-1, p. 10). Among the various documents attached to Dabney's motion is what appears to be a new employment discrimination and retaliation complaint dated March 12, 2019, which only sets forth facts surrounding retaliation (Doc. 41, pp. 3-4, 7-8). The remaining documents consist of what appear to be portions of Dabney's EEOC file, including correspondence, memoranda, partial IDNR responses to the EEOC complaint, union materials, and parts of Dabney's IDNR personnel record (e.g., leave requests, time sheets, official reprimands, etc.) (Id. at 9-22). Dabney did not supply the Court with any affidavits or other testimonial documentation, nor did he cite to the record with regard to his allegations.

         The IDNR responded to Dabney's motion for summary judgment on May 7, 2019 (Doc. 48). The IDNR argues that Dabney failed to address any of its statements of material facts, so the Court should consider the IDNR's facts admitted under Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Id. at p. 2). The IDNR again reiterates that Dabney is not entitled to summary judgment on his discrimination claim in the context of failing to promote because Dabney cannot carry his burden of making a prima facie case (Id.). Specifically, the IDNR argues that he cannot produce evidence that a similarly situated non-African American comparator was treated more favorably than he was (Id.). The IDNR also argues that this Court should disregard statements by others that Dabney repeated in his motion because those statements constitute inadmissible hearsay, and that regardless of the statements being inadmissible hearsay, the three individuals Dabney mentions are not comparators (Id. at 3-4). Last, the IDNR asserts that Dabney cannot produce evidence tending to show the IDNR's given reasons for its decision not to promote Dabney was a pretext for unlawful discrimination (Id. at 4).

         Legal Standard

         The court shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Spurling v. C & M Fine Pack, Inc., 739 F.3d 1055, 1060 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). Once the moving party has set forth the basis for summary judgment, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party who must go beyond mere allegations and offer specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 232-24 (1986). Stated another way, the nonmoving party must offer more than “[c]onclusory allegations, unsupported by specific facts, ” to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).

         In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. Bennington v. Caterpillar Inc., 275 F.3d 654, 658 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Anderson v. LibertyLobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, no issue remains for trial “unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. See Faas v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 532 F.3d 633, 640-41 (7th Cir. 2008). The nonmovant cannot simply rely on its pleadings; the nonmovant must present admissible evidence that sufficiently shows the existence of each element of its case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Midwest Imports, Ltd. v. Coval, 71 F.3d 1311, 1317 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Serfecz v. Jewel Food Stores, 67 F.3d 591, 596 (7th Cir. 1995); Greater Rockford Energy and Technology Corp. v. Shell Oil Co., 998 F.2d 391, 394 (7th Cir. 1993)). “If a party fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). So, when the evidence is ...


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