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Onyemelukwe v. Caterpillar, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

October 23, 2019

OBIORA ONYEMELUKWE, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael M. Mihm, United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 37[1]). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is instructed to close this case.

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has federal question jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as Plaintiff's claims arise under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. It also has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), as Plaintiff is a citizen of Massachusetts, Defendant is incorporated under the laws of Delaware and has its principal place of business in Illinois, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Venue in this Court is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2), as a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in Peoria, Illinois.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiff Obiora Onyemelukwe began working for Defendant Caterpillar Inc. as a Pre-Field Part Service Operations Representative (“PSOR”), in its Global Marketing Talent Division on September 11, 2013. (D. 38-2 at 3; 58 at 19.) Plaintiff is a black male who was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States in 1999. (D. 58, ¶ 2 at 91.) Employment as a Pre-Field PSOR entailed completion of an initial 14-week corporate training class and one to six-month field rotations. Id., ¶¶ 8, 11 at 20. The purpose of the rotations was for the Pre-Field PSOR to learn the people, processes, and products necessary for successful placement into a long-term PSOR position. Id., ¶ 4 at 25. PSORs served as liaisons between Defendant and third-party dealerships, marketing Defendant's products and services to those dealerships. Id., ¶ 5 at 19.

         Plaintiff completed the corporate training class in December 2013, and moved on to his rotation assignments. Id., ¶ 11 at 20. In December 2014, he interviewed for two open PSOR positions. Id., ¶ 18 at 21. Although Plaintiff received sufficient marks on performance reviews up to that point (D. 65 at 2-5; 66 at 3-8), two of the three PSOR interviewers testified Plaintiff either performed poorly in the interview, or that the other candidate's interview went better. (D. 38-7 at 2; 38-8 at 3.) In early 2015, Plaintiff had another interview for a PSOR position in Seattle. (D. 58, ¶ 23 at 35.) He was not selected for that position either, with Plaintiff conceding the hiring manager “selected a candidate with more experience than any Pre[-]field PSOR” for the position. Id.

         In April 2015, Plaintiff's work performance took a hit when his supervisor was notified Plaintiff had attempted to use his corporate credit card for a large personal expense. Id., ¶ 26 at 23. The notification resulted in Plaintiff admitting he had made prior unauthorized personal charges to his corporate card. Id., ¶ 30 at 24. What turned out to be extensive misuse of his corporate card resulted in a lingering cloud of suspicion over Plaintiff's performance and trustworthiness thereafter. (D. 65 at 17.[3]) It also resulted in close scrutiny of Plaintiff's subsequent expense reporting (D. 60, p. 168 at 37) and the implementation of the first of two Employment Action Plans (“EAP”s) (D. 58, ¶ 30 at 24).

         In August 2015, after multiple disagreements between Plaintiff and his supervisor, and a sinking premonition that things were not going to end well for him (D. 65 at 39[4]), Plaintiff contacted Defendant's Office of Business Practices (“OBP”) alleging his supervisor was planning to terminate him on a false allegation regarding his meal receipts. (D. 58, ¶ 51 at 55.) An internal investigation ensued, a member of the OBP advocated on his behalf, and Plaintiff was placed into a revised second EAP. Id., ¶ 56 at 59-60. Although the OBP had been his advocate, after the implementation of his second EAP, Plaintiff believed his days with Defendant were numbered. (D. 66 at 28.[5]) The final straw came when a PSOR informed Plaintiff's supervisor that Plaintiff had skipped a pre-arranged customer tour at one of Defendant's facilities (D. 38-6 at 15) and had arrived ten minutes late for a class (id. at 13). Plaintiff had failed to inform his supervisor he attended a Donuts and Dad's Day event at his daughter's school (D. 66 at 28[6]), even though his supervisor was aware of his attendance at the event and had asked Plaintiff his reason for missing the tour (id.).

         On September 25, 2015, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment. (D. 58, ¶ 79 at 81.) The reason for his termination: dishonesty. (D. 38-1, p. 345 at 65.)

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 9, 2017, Plaintiff filed his complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. (D. 1.) On March 20, 2018, Defendant filed its answer. (D. 19.) Plaintiff's claim was transferred to this Court on March 21, 2018. (D. 22.) On June 21, 2019, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment (D. 37[7]), and on August 28, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Amended Response (D. 58[8]). On September 26, 2019, Defendant filed its Reply. (D. 68[9]). This Order follows.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “In deciding motions for summary judgment, courts must consider the evidence as a whole, ” de Lima Silva v. Dep't of Corrs., 917 F.3d 546, 559 (7th Cir. 2019), and “view[ ] the record and all reasonable inferences . . . drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, ” Laborers' Pension Fund v. W.R. Weis Co., Inc., 879 F.3d 760, 766 (7th Cir. 2018). However, the court will not draw inferences that are “supported by only speculation or conjecture, ” Argyropoulos v. City of Alton, 539 F.3d 724, 732 (7th Cir. 2008), and “[c]onclusory allegations alone cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Thomas v. Christ Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 328 F.3d 890, 892 (7th Cir. 2003).

         To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. “It is not the role of the [c]ourt to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment; instead, the nonmoving party bears the responsibility of identifying evidence to defeat summary judgment.” Aberman v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., 242 F.Supp.3d 672, 685 (N.D. Ill. 2017) (citing Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008)). Summary judgment is proper if the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Ellis v. CCA of Tenn. LLC, 650 F.3d 640, 646 (7th Cir. 2011). ...


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