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Vassileva v. City of Chicago

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

October 10, 2019

Tinka Vassileva, Plaintiff,
City of Chicago, Defendant.



         For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment [37] is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff's motion for leave to file more than forty additional facts instanter [52] is granted. The parties shall appear for a status hearing on October 23, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. in order to set a trial date.


         Before setting forth the facts of the case, the Court addresses Defendant's assertions of procedural improprieties. Specifically, Defendant spends most of its reply challenging Plaintiff's statement of additional facts and responses to Defendant's statement of facts, asserting that they misstate or are unsupported by the record, are immaterial or conclusory, or contain inadmissible hearsay. Defendant also seeks to strike Plaintiff's statement of additional facts to the extent that the facts exceed the forty allowed by LR 56.1(b)(3)(C). Some of the objections are well-taken, and certain offending responses or statements of fact by either party have not been taken into account if the Court deems the objection to be misplaced or itself immaterial. With respect to Plaintiff's setting forth more than forty additional facts, the Court does not condone flouting Local Rules without express prior permission from the Court; nevertheless, if an additional statement of fact, whatever its number, is relevant to the inquiry, the Court has considered it. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion for leave to file more than forty additional facts instanter is granted.


          Tinka Vassileva, a 54-year-old woman from Bulgaria, is an employee with the City of Chicago Department of Water Management (“DWM”). (Def.'s Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 39, ¶ 1.) Plaintiff began working for DWM as a Filtration Engineer (“FE”) II at the Jardine Water Purification Plant (“JWPP”) in July 2001. (Id. ¶ 2.) In January 2009, Plaintiff was laid off but was immediately transferred into an equally-rated, vacant FE II position with DWM and continued to work. (Id.) On July 16, 2009, Plaintiff was again laid off as the result of City-wide layoffs due to a lack of funds. (Id.) The City recalled Plaintiff to her FE II position on May 16, 2011, and she currently remains in that title. (Id.)

         DWM is divided into five bureaus, one of which is the Bureau of Water Supply (“BWS”).

         BWS operates two purification plants, the JWPP and the Sawyer Water Purification Plant (“SWPP”), which treat and remove impurities from raw water and transmit clean water to the 12 pumping stations throughout the City. (Id. ¶ 5.) JWPP is further divided into four sections: (1) Operations; (2) Mechanical; (3) Chemical Inventory; and (4) Instrumentation. (Id. ¶ 6.) Operations is responsible for overseeing the Control Center (“CC”) and the chemical laboratory (“Control Lab”); Mechanical is responsible for the maintenance of major equipment, e.g., basins and low-lift pumps; Chemical Inventory is responsible for inspecting chemical tank control devices and completing chemical feed reports; and Instrumentation is responsible for calibrating filter turbidity meters, outlet chlorine residual instruments, and the SCADA system. (Id.) Former Managing Deputy Commissioner Alan Stark headed BWS until his retirement in September 2018, and all BWS employees ultimately reported to him. (Id. ¶ 7.) Below Stark on the organizational chart were Deputy Commissioner John Pope, Engineer of Water Purification Eduardo Salinas, and the Chief FE, a position that has been vacant as of 2016. (Id.)

         Yadi Babapour, a 66-year-old male Iranian who is 66 years old, was the FE V in charge of Operations, and Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 8.) The FE job series is a technical one. (Id. ¶ 9.) The FEs are responsible for taking data generated by the chemists from the Control Lab and making decisions regarding the water purification and treatment process based on the data. (Id.) The bulk of such decisions are made in the CC, which operates around the clock and is where monitoring all aspects of the plant and the entire water purification and treatment process occurs. (Id. ¶ 10.) The FE III is in charge of the CC and must maintain the reservoir and header water levels at the appropriate amount; maintain required chemical dosages, feeds, and residuals; and monitor the SCADA screen and wall alarm board for any potential problems. (Id. ¶ 11.) In comparison, the FE II assists the FE III and does not work unsupervised while in the CC. (Id.)[1]

         Depending on personnel, the CC has been staffed with either: (1) a FE III and a FE II (“2-person operation) or (2) a FE III (“1-person operation”). (Id. ¶ 12.) The CC was a 2-person operation from January 27, 2017 to April 14, 2018 and a 1-person operation from January 1, 2016 to January 26, 2017 and April 15, 2018 to present. (Id.) Before each of these staffing changes, the City notified the Union. (Id.) In 2016, the City filled several FE IV vacancies, which created a shortage of FE IIIs. (Id. ¶ 13.) Therefore, with the Union's agreement, BWS continued to use the newly-filled FE IVs in the CC from January 2016 to January 2017. (Id.) Working the CC is not considered to be outside of the FE IV's duties and responsibilities. (Id.)[2] The City also used Acting FE IIIs (FE IIs acting up as FE IIIs) in the CC to supplement the shortage of FE IIIs starting around April 2018. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         According to Defendant, Plaintiff did not adequately perform her FE II duties in the CC and was not well-versed in basic filtration engineering terminology and plant operations, such as knowing how hydraulics work; how to read the SCADA computer feedback; the difference between dislodging versus backwashing; and the difference between concentration versus dosage. (Id. ¶ 15.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff frequently made mistakes; repeated the same mistakes even after counseling; and often became argumentative and defensive when counseled by her supervisors. (Id.) Because of her attitude, Plaintiff's supervisors found it difficult to train her. (Id.) Plaintiff's mistakes in the CC have included:

• Allowing the plant's water level to get too low;
• Failing to properly adjust the plant's chemical feed;
• Making unnecessary chemical changes, causing equipment failure; and • Neglecting to identify that two EPA-required lab tests (testing the raw ...

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