Obazuaye vs. IL Dept Human Svcs
OPINION AND ORDER Signed by the Honorable Joan H. Lefkow on 3/29/2017: Defendant's motion for summary judgment 39 is granted. Judgment entered in favor of defendant and against plaintiff. Civil case terminated. Mailed notice(mad, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
PETER O. OBAZUAYE,
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN
Case No. 14 C 08605
Judge Joan H. Lefkow
OPINION AND ORDER
Peter O. Obazuaye filed suit against his employer, Illinois Department of Human
Services (DHS), alleging multiple violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2 et seq., including discrimination based on gender (count one) and national
origin (count two), discrimination based on a hostile work environment (counts one and two),
and retaliation for complaining about the alleged discrimination (count three). 1 DHS moves for
summary judgment on all claims. (Dkt. 39.) For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.
Obazuaye, a Nigerian-American man, began working as a registered nurse at the Illinois
The court’s jurisdiction rests on 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). Venue is proper in the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391.
Unless otherwise noted, the facts in this section are taken from the parties’ Local Rule 56.1
statements and are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. The court will address
many but not all of the factual allegations in the parties’ submissions, as the court is “not bound to discuss
in detail every single factual allegation put forth at the summary judgment stage.” Omnicare, Inc. v.
UnitedHealth Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). In accordance with its
regular practice, the court has considered the parties’ objections to the statements of fact and includes in
this background only those portions of the statements and responses that are appropriately supported and
relevant to the resolution of this motion. Any facts that are not controverted as required by Local Rule
56.1 are deemed admitted.
Center for Rehabilitation and Education on Roosevelt Avenue (ICRE-Roosevelt) in March 2013.
ICRE-Roosevelt is a medical facility that provides transition training to young adults with
physical disabilities, “students” who reside at the facility during the week. At ICRE-Roosevelt,
there are two levels of registered nurses: Registered Nurse I (RN-I) and Registered Nurse II (RNII), with RN-IIs having additional duties including making assignments and acting as a point of
contact for doctors and students’ families. During all relevant times, Obazuaye was an RN-I. 3
Nurses work one of three shifts at ICRE-Roosevelt—day, p.m., and night. Each shift is
required to have an RN-II on duty. When Obazuaye began working at ICRE-Roosevelt, however,
a shortage of RN-IIs had left no RN-II on the day shift. Instead, an RN-I was temporarily
assigned (TA 4) into the position each day. The governing union contract states that the employer
should “attempt to . . . distribute such [temporary] assignments . . . giving due consideration to
seniority, providing that senior employees have the qualifications and ability to perform the
required work.” (Dkt. 41-1 at 166.)
The two main duties of all nurses at ICRE-Roosevelt are to provide medication and assist
in the students’ educational process. As part of these duties, nurses are required to provide
information for case management reports for the students assigned to them. 5 In addition, nurses
teach health and wellness classes to the students.
Between March and June 2013, Obazuaye worked the day shift, from 6:00 a.m. to
2:00 p.m. In or around August or September 2013, Obazuaye went on a flex-time schedule,
Since the time-period during which the activities that form the basis of this suit took place,
Obazuaye has received a promotion to RN-II at a different ICRE facility.
“TA” is used interchangeably by the parties and the court to mean “temporarily assign(ed)” and
The information is submitted to the Director of Nursing (Florence O’Leary at that time), who
compiles the information into a composite report for use of social workers at the facility.
which shifted his working hours to 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. He stayed on this flex-time schedule
until approximately January 2014.
Obazuaye makes numerous complaints about his employment at ICRE-Roosevelt. First,
he complains about how the TA for the RN-II on the day shift was filled (the TA issue). The
most senior qualified RN-I on the day shift, Ora Simpson-Brown, would regularly take the TA,
although on days that Simpson-Brown was not working Obazuaye would get the TA instead.
Obazuaye alleges that his supervisor, Florence O’Leary, told him that Simpson-Brown got
preference because she was “more qualified” and “the students understood her better.” DHS, on
the other hand, states, that the TA position was filled based on seniority, which would have
correctly preferenced Simpson-Brown. In any case, Obazuaye believed the TA should be
assigned by rotation among the RN-Is on the day shift, rather than always being offered to
Simpson-Brown first. He brought his concerns to O’Leary, and up the management chain at
ICRE-Roosevelt, meeting with Therese Manderino, the superintendent of the facility, and Ben
Davis, the facility’s HR Specialist, in January 2014. Obazuaye filed a union grievance on
January 23, 2014, which resulted in ICRE-Roosevelt’s posting a job opening for a permanent
RN-II on the day shift.
That same day, Obazuaye also filed a complaint with the Illinois Governor’s Office of
Executive Inspector General in which he claimed that O’Leary had discriminated against him by
not regularly rotating him into the RN-II TA and by not posting the position to be permanently
Obazuaye applied for the RN-II position when it was posted, but it was awarded to
another RN-I nurse, Eden Soco, who had more seniority than Obazuaye. Obazuaye complains
about being passed over for that promotion as well.
Next, Obazuaye complains that O’Leary expected him to submit case management report
information electronically, whereas other nurses were permitted to fill out paper forms (the
report issue). Obazuaye also complains about having to regularly teach a health and wellness
class. He was assigned to teach the class twice a week during the months he was on a flex-time
schedule (the teaching issue). This regular assignment ceased, however, once he returned to a
normal day shift schedule.
Finally, Obazuaye complains about a period of about three months when he was limited
to only thirty minutes for lunch (the lunch issue). In October 2013, O’Leary sent an email to the
entire nursing staff, outlining the break policy at ICRE-Roosevelt. The email stated that nurses
were allowed a thirty-minute unpaid lunch break and two paid fifteen-minute breaks. The email
stated that these breaks were to be taken separately rather than combined to create an hour-long
break. Until this policy was revised in January 2014, Obazuaye took thirty-minute lunch breaks.
On August 26, 2014, Obazuaye filed a charge with the EEOC in which he claimed he had
been discriminated against on the basis of his gender and national origin. He also claimed that
when he complained of this discrimination he suffered retaliation, and that the discrimination and
retaliation combined to create a hostile work environment. On September 8, 2014, the EEOC
issued a right-to-sue letter to Obazuaye, and Obazuaye timely filed this law suit.
Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and the moving party 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,
106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). To determine whether any genuine fact issue exists,
the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to
interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In
doing so, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and
draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S. Ct.
1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007).
The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548,
91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In response, “a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular
issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual
allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial.” Day v. N. Ind. Pub.
Serv. Co., 987 F. Supp. 1105, 1109 (N.D. Ind. 1997); see also Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc.,
216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). If a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be
disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323–24.
Disparate Treatment Claims
Obazuaye claims that DHS discriminated against him on the basis of gender and national
origin with respect to the TA, teaching, report, and lunch issues in violation of Title VII. (Dkt. 45
at 4–11.) 6 “A plaintiff may prove employment discrimination under . . . Title VII . . . using either
the direct method or indirect method.” Hutt v. AbbVie Products LLC, 757 F.3d 687, 691 (7th Cir.
2014) (quotation omitted). Obazuaye offers no direct evidence of discrimination; thus the court
In his response to DHS’s motion for summary judgment Obazuaye abandons his allegation that
the Soco promotion constituted discrimination against him, choosing instead to address it only in the
context of his retaliation claim. Therefore, the court considers that claim waived. See Roe-Midgett v. CC
Servs., Inc., 512 F.3d 865, 876 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that undeveloped argument constitutes waiver);
Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 597–98 (7th Cir. 2003) (holding that claims not addressed in a
summary judgment opposition brief are abandoned).
focuses only on the indirect method. (See Dkt. 45 at 4.)
Under the indirect method, Obazuaye must first establish each element of a prima facie
case of discrimination. He must show (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was
performing his job satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the
employer treated similarly-situated employees outside the protected class more favorably. See
Bass v. Joliet Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 86, 746 F.3d 835, 841 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973)). If he can make
such a showing the burden shifts to DHS “to assert a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the
challenged action.” Goodwin v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 442 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2006);
Paluck v. Gooding Rubber Co., 221 F.3d 1003, 1012 (7th Cir. 2000). If DHS meets this burden,
then Obazuaye must “present evidence that [DHS’s] proffered reason is pretextual.” Vakharia v.
Swedish Covenant Hosp., 190 F.3d 799, 806–07 (7th Cir. 1999). Pretext means “a lie,
specifically a phony reason for some action.” Jackson v. E.J. Brach Corp., 176 F.3d 971, 983
(7th Cir. 1999) (quotation marks omitted). At all times, however, Obazuaye bears the “ultimate
burden of persuasion.” St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511, 113 S. Ct. 2742,
125 L. Ed. 2d 407 (1993).
It is undisputed that Obazuaye is a member of a protected class—he is a NigerianAmerican man—and that he performed his job satisfactorily. Thus, he must only present
evidence that he suffered an adverse employment action and that another similarly-situated
employee was more favorably treated than he.
“[N]ot everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action,”
Conley v. Vill. of Bedford Park, 215 F.3d 703, 712 (7th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks
omitted). It must be materially adverse. Id. An employment action is materially adverse if it “is a
significant change in the claimant’s employment status such as hiring, discharge, denial of
promotion, reassignment to a position with significantly different job responsibilities, or an
action that causes a substantial change in benefits.” Rhodes v. Ill. DOT, 359 F.3d 498, 504 (7th
Cir. 2004). The change must be something “more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an
alteration of job responsibilities.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The Seventh Circuit in
O’Neal v. City of Chicago, 392 F.3d 909, 911 (7th Cir. 2004), articulated three general
categories of actionable adverse employment actions concerning a person such as Obazuaye who
(1) cases in which the employee's compensation, fringe benefits, or other
financial terms of employment are diminished, including termination; (2)
cases in which a nominally lateral transfer with no change in financial
terms significantly reduces the employee's career prospects by preventing
her from using her skills and experience, so that the skills are likely to
atrophy and her career is likely to be stunted; and (3) cases in which the
employee is not moved to a different job or the skill requirements of her
present job altered, but the conditions in which she works are changed in a
way that subjects her to a humiliating, degrading, unsafe, unhealthful, or
otherwise significantly negative alteration in her workplace environment.
The TA Issue
Not being rotated into the TA to RN-II on the day shift on an equal basis with SimpsonBrown could be an adverse employment action, 7 thereby satisfying the third element of a prima
facie case. But Obazuaye must still establish that he was treated less favorably than a similarlysituated individual who is not a member of his protected class.
Two individuals are similarly situated if they are directly comparable in “all material
respects.” Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 680 (7th Cir. 2002). Obazuaye
argues that he and Simpson-Brown were similarly situated because they were “equally qualified
As DHS acknowledged in its reply brief, the claim rests on a loss of income from not receiving
a higher position, even temporarily. (See Dkt. 40 at 7 n.2.) This renders it comparable to a denial of
promotion, which is an adverse employment action. Rhodes, 359 F.3d at 504.
for the position in terms of grade (both were rated Grade ‘A’ by Central Management
Services . . . )” (dkt. 45 at 5), and, therefore, Simpson-Brown was treated more favorably when
she was preferentially offered the TA on day shift. Accepting that Obazuaye has thus made out a
prima facie case of discrimination, the court moves to the question of whether DHS can put forth
a non-discriminatory reason for its actions.
DHS responds that Obazuaye and Simpson-Brown were not similarly situated in one
material respect: seniority, which is the basis on which both O’Leary and Davis testified TA
positions were offered. (Dkt. 41 ¶ 15.) DHS additionally points to the governing union contract,
which states that the employer will attempt to “distribute [TA] assignments . . . giving due
consideration to seniority,” (dkt. 46 ¶ 16; dkt. 41, ex. F at 16), to argue that it had a nondiscriminatory reason for offering Simpson-Brown the TA first.
Obazuaye admits that Simpson-Brown had more seniority and that it would be proper to
award the TA on those grounds. (Dkt. 46 ¶17; see also Dkt. 45 at 5.) He argues, however, that
the court must ignore this proffered explanation because he was at one point given different
reasons (that Simpson-Brown was “more qualified” and easier to understand), which he believes
masked a discriminatory bias against him. (Dkt. 45 at 5.)
“[T]he existence of a genuine issue of triable fact with respect to some of the reasons for
discharge proffered by the employer is of no consequence as long as at least one reason is
uncontested. . . . [unless] the grounds that are offered are so intertwined or the pretextual ground
for one of them so strong that a reasonable jury, hearing all the proffered grounds, could find for
the plaintiff on the discrimination issue.” Adreani v. First Colonial Bankshares Corp., 154 F.3d
389, 399 (7th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted). Obazuaye does not dispute that it would have
been proper for DHS to offer the TA to Simpson-Brown based on seniority, and he has no
evidence that at any other time, even on another shift, his employer did not apply seniority in
assigning the TAs. Even if O’Leary believed Simpson-Brown more qualified and easier to
understand than he, Obazuaye does not raise a genuine issue of material fact. There is no
evidence that O’Leary did not honestly consider Simpson-Brown more qualified for the
particular assignment. As a supervisor, she was entitled to make that judgment so long as it was
an honest one. 8 This leaves only a reference to language ability. This single comment is not
intertwined with seniority and is not strong enough to permit a reasonable jury to infer that, had
Obazuaye been more understandable, and everything else had remained the same, he would have
received the TAs on a rotational basis. See Carson v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 82 F.3d 157, 158
(7th Cir. 1996) (“The central question in any employment-discrimination case is whether the
employer would have taken the same action had the employee been of a different race (age, sex,
religion, national origin, etc.) and everything else had remained the same.”) Because Obazuaye
cannot demonstrate that seniority was not the true reason for the TAs, DHS is entitled to
summary judgment on this claim.
The Teaching Issue
Obazuaye acknowledges that he did not receive lower wages when he taught the health
and wellness class or otherwise experience any negative consequences comparable to those
identified in O’Neal. (Dkt. 46 ¶ 54.) In other words, Obazuaye provides no evidence that (1) the
financial terms of his employment were diminished; (2) he was prevented from using his skills or
experience such that his career was stunted; or (3) that the teaching assignment made the
conditions of his employment humiliating, degrading, unsafe, or unhealthful, as opposed to a
The two were equally ranked and equally qualified for purposes of establishing comparability,
but a supervisor is not barred from making assignments based on an assessment of who would be better
suited, so long as it is not pretextual, i.e., masking a preference, as here, for women or against foreigners.
“mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities” that does not rise to the level of a
materially adverse employment action. Instead, he relies solely on the unsupported allegation,
found in his complaint, that these teaching duties were “unpopular work” that was “routinely
refused by the predominantly female Filipino nursing staff.” (Dkt. 48 ¶ 7.) Because this is not
sufficient to establish that he suffered an adverse employment action, DHS is entitled to
summary judgment on this claim.
The Report Issue
Obazuaye initially alleged that O’Leary “handled” the case management reports for the
rest of the nurses on staff, while he had to complete his own. (Dkt. 19 ¶ 22.) His stance has since
shifted, and now he agrees that all the nurses at ICRE-Roosevelt were responsible for
contributing case management information to be compiled by O’Leary. (Dkt. 46 ¶ 46.)
Obazuaye’s only remaining complaint is that he was trained to enter his case management
reports electronically, while other nurses filled out paper forms and, occasionally, O’Leary took
the information orally. (Id. ¶ 47.)
This claim fails for much the same reasons that Obazuaye’s claim about teaching the
health and wellness classes did, for lack of any evidence that meets the standard of proof of an
adverse employment action. Thus, DHS is entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
The Lunch Issue
Obazuaye asserts that he was instructed by O’Leary to stop combining his breaks, even
while “it is apparent that the practice continued among [the other nurses] despite Ms. O’Leary’s
edict to [him].” (Dkt. 45 at 9.) The uncontested facts do not support Obazuaye’s claim, even
when the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to him.
Obazuaye acknowledges (1) O’Leary sent an email outlining the lunch-break policy to
the entire ICRE-Roosevelt nursing staff (dkt. 46 ¶ 58); (2) he understood that the policy applied
to all the nurses at ICRE-Roosevelt (id. ¶ 59); and (3) the superintendent of ICRE-Roosevelt
believed that the nurses were following this policy. (Id. ¶ 60.) Obazuaye tries to create a dispute
of fact by pointing to deposition testimony of Soco, who at the time was an RN-I on the night
shift. Soco testified that she did not remember there being an issue around the length of lunch
breaks and that the nurses on her shift regularly combined their breaks to take an hour-long
lunch. (Dkt. 46, Ex. G at 19:4–17.) But Obazuaye does not point to any evidence that the policy
was actually being differentially enforced against him, particularly on the day shift. Furthermore,
Obazuaye points to no evidence that management was aware that any nurses were not following
it, even on the night shift. 9 See, e.g., Day, 987 F. Supp. at 1112 (holding that plaintiff had failed
to assert a convincing adverse employment action because she could not show that policy was
Thus, even if there were differences in compliance with the lunch-break rule between the
day and night shifts, Obazuaye has no specific evidence that the policy was enforced only against
him on his shift. For this reason, DHS is entitled to summary judgment on this claim.
Hostile Work-Environment Claim
Obazuaye claims discrimination based on a hostile work environment, asserting that the
report, teaching, and lunch issues created a hostile work environment. (Dkt. 45 at 8–9.) 10
In fact, Soco testified that O’Leary was never there when they took their combined lunch breaks
and there was no “clock punching or any record of combining” their breaks that would have alerted
management to the fact that anyone was not complying. (Dkt. 46, Ex. G at 20:16–22:16.)
DHS argues that Obazuaye failed to adequately plead hostile work environment in his
Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 40 at 11 n.3.) DHS did not move for dismissal of the claim under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6); therefore the argument is moot. Additionally, while it may generally be
preferable for a plaintiff to allege discrimination by disparate treatment and discrimination based on
hostile work environment as separate counts, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not require it.
To survive summary judgment on his hostile work-environment claim, Obazuaye must
provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate “(1) the work environment was both objectively and
subjectively offensive; (2) the harassment was based on membership in a protected class or in
retaliation for protected behavior; (3) the conduct was severe or pervasive; and (4) there is a
basis for employer liability.” Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 920 (7th Cir. 2016). Courts evaluate
hostile work environment claims under a “totality of the circumstances” approach, which
requires considering factors such as frequency and severity of improper conduct, whether such
conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether the conduct unreasonably
interferes with the employee’s work performance. Id.
Obazuaye has not established that he was subjected to a hostile work environment. While
he claims he perceived his environment to be hostile, he has provided no evidence that it was
objectively so. As discussed above, under Seventh Circuit law the actions he complains of do not
even qualify as discrimination, let alone reach the level of severe and pervasive. Being limited to
thirty-minute lunch breaks, teaching a health and wellness class, and having to file case
management reports electronically are neither physically threatening nor humiliating. And, rather
than “interfering” with Obazuaye’s job, each of these responsibilities or limitations was part of
either his job description or the governing union contract. Finally, Obazuaye provides no
evidence that the actions he complains of were motivated by bias or retaliatory animus.
Thus, Obazuaye cannot satisfy either of the first two elements of a hostile work
environment claim, and DHS is entitled to summary judgment.
Obazuaye stated in both his EEOC charge and his Amended Complaint that he was subjected to a hostile
work environment, so the court will consider the claim. (See Dkt. 19, Ex. A; id. ¶¶ 38, 56, 75.)
Obazuaye claims that DHS unlawfully retaliated against him for complaining about the
discrimination he allegedly endured. Retaliation, like discrimination, may be proven using either
the direct or indirect method. Leonard v. E. Ill. Univ., 606 F.3d 428, 431 (7th Cir. 2010).
Obazuaye acknowledges that he has no direct evidence of retaliation, but he maintains there is
sufficient indirect evidence to support his claim. (Dkt. 45 at 11–12.)
Obazuaye must establish that he (1) engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) suffered
a subsequent adverse employment action; (3) was performing his job satisfactorily; and (4) was
treated less favorably than a similarly situated employee who did not make a discrimination
complaint. See Leonard, 606 F.3d at 431. Only if he can make such a showing does the burden
then shift to DHS to provide a non-retaliatory explanation for its actions. See Smart v. Ball State
Univ., 89 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 1996).
Obazuaye limits his claim of retaliation to his allegation that he was wrongfully passed
over for promotion to RN-II in favor of Soco. 11 This claim fails because Obazuaye has not
provided sufficient evidence to show he engaged in protected activity prior to being passed over
for the promotion.
In his Amended Complaint, Obazuaye also alleged retaliation based on the teaching, case
management report, and lunch issues, as well as alleging that O’Leary threatened him with the loss of his
job. (Dkt. 19 ¶¶ 80-82.) DHS argues summary judgment is warranted on these claims because (1) these
instances of alleged retaliation all occurred prior to Obazuaye’s complaint of discrimination; and (2)
Obazuaye fails to demonstrate that any of these acts are adverse employment actions. (Dkt. 40 at 13–15.)
Obazuaye did not respond to DHS’s arguments on these claims and, therefore, has waived them. See RoeMidgett, 512 F.3d at 876 (holding that undeveloped argument constitutes waiver); Palmer, 327 F.3d at
597–98 (holding that claims not addressed in a summary judgment opposition brief are abandoned).
Moreover, in his Amended Complaint Obazuaye attributed all of the above acts to O’Leary, and
nowhere in either parties’ Rule 56.1 statements of uncontested facts does Obazuaye point to evidence in
the record showing that he complained of discrimination by Ms. O’Leary prior to the allegedly retaliatory
acts listed above. Thus, because Obazuaye failed to establish a prima facie case that these actions were
retaliatory, summary judgment would be appropriate regardless of Obazuaye’s waiver.
Filing an EEOC charge is not the only way to engage in protected activity under Title
VII; an official complaint made to a plaintiff’s employer may also be sufficient. See
Tomanovich v. City of Indianapolis, 457 F.3d 656, 663 (7th Cir. 2006). Such a complaint,
however, must indicate that the discrimination occurred because of a characteristic protected
under Title VII. See id. (“Although filing an official complaint with an employer may constitute
statutorily protected activity under Title VII, the complaint must indicate the discrimination
occurred because of sex, race, national origin, or some other protected class.”); Sitar v. Ind.
DOT, 344 F.3d 720, 727 (7th Cir. 2003); Miller v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 997,
1007–08 (7th Cir. 2000). “An employee can honestly believe [he] is the object of discrimination,
but if [he] never mentions it, a claim of retaliation is not implicated, for an employer cannot
retaliate when it is unaware of any complaints.” Miller, 203 F.3d at 1008.
Obazuaye has provided no evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that he
complained to DHS in terms that made it clear he believed he was being discriminated against
because of either his gender or his national origin. His complaint filed with the Office of the
Inspector General complains only in general terms of O’Leary’s being unfair to and
discriminating against him and not following proper procedures. (Dkt. 46, Ex. K.) This is
insufficient to put DHS on notice that Obazuaye believed he was being discriminated against on
the basis of gender or national origin. Indeed, the DHS employee assigned to investigate his
complaint, Sherrie Bridges, testified that she understood the discrimination allegation to be the
same as his allegation, also in the complaint, that O’Leary had not put a “RON position” 12 up for
all of ICRE to apply. (Dkt. 46, Ex. F at 31:17–21.)
The parties do not explain what a “RON position” is, but the context makes clear that the term
does not need to be defined for the court to find that it does not refer to a protected characteristic under
Pointing to his January 2014 meeting with the Superintendent and the HR Specialist is
unavailing as well. All of Obazuaye’s communications with Manderino and Davis before and
after the meeting refer to it as “labor-related” and do not mention discrimination as a topic that
was discussed. (Dkt. 46 ¶¶ 69–70.) Additionally, the “agenda” for the meeting (Obazuaye states
he brought it to the meeting), contains only generalized grievances. These include bullet points
about “discrimination” related to “[l]imiting the staff’s ability to enhance their full potential and
skill at work” and “prejudice” in the “failure to post the RN 2 position [which] allowed
prospective applicants to be denied of this opportunity.” (Dkt. 46, Ex. S.) Even when viewed in
the light most favorable to Obazuaye, the undisputed facts in the parties’ Rule 56.1 statements
describe a series of generalized complaints about “discrimination” related to the TA process and
the failure to post the RN-II position, without any explicit description of discrimination based on
either gender or national origin.
Because Obazuaye has not provided any evidence on which a reasonable jury could base
a finding that he engaged in protected activity, his retaliation claim must fail.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
For the foregoing reasons, DHS’s motion for summary judgment (dkt. 137) is granted.
The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of plaintiff. The case is terminated.
Date: March 29, 2017
U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow
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