Seymour-Reed v. Dupage County Forrest Preserve
OPINION. Signed by the Honorable Charles R. Norgle, Sr on 11/19/2017. Mailed notice. (jjr, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Civil Action No.
I : 16-cv-1933
Hon. Charles R. Norgle
FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT OF
Plaintiff Daron Seymour-Reed ("Plaintiff') brings this lawsuit against Defendant Forest
of DuPage County ("Defendant") seeking damages for his allegedly racially
motivated and illegal termination. Before the Court
is Defendant's motion for
judgment brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons,
Defendant's motion is granted.
Plaintiff began working for Defendant in June, 2009 and later worked in the Finance
a Senior Account Clerk. Plaintiffs duties included "'Process[ing]
contracts, and requisitions for payment,' 'Process[ing]...petty cash requests for payment,' and
'Performfing] other duties as assigned."' Def.'s Local R. 56.1 Stmt. of Undisputed Material
Facts, fl 2 (quoting, Ex. 2, Job Description) (hereinafter,
required interpersonal skills
in order to deal effectively with other employees.
s conduct was governed by Defendant's Personnel Policy Manuel, an Ethics Policy, and
a Finance Department
7l-2"). His position
policy addressing personal cell phone usage.
The Court takes the undisputed facts ffom the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements.
During the years of his employment, Plaintiff made two complaints about, what
perceived as, racially motivated statements by his co-workers. On June
2, 2011, Plaintiff
complained that a co-worker used the term "whip" which drew parallels in his mind to slavery
and was therefore offensive, despite not being directed at
him. On March 1,2013, Plaintiff s co-
worker asked what kind of chicken he had for lunch; Plaintiff believed that:
"You know, being black it's offensive to be thought of as a person,
you know, you only eat chicken, especially during what I think
people understand as a time when there are some cultures, some
religions, you know, during this time specifically tomorrow - my
wife is Catholic. She is not going to have a meat dish tomorrow.
So even though I'm not Catholic myself, you know. I understand
it's a religious holiday. Immediately, it's offensive to me to hear
that especially in the setting of the time it took place."
CM-ECF No.: 71-2. fl 27 (quoting, Ex. 1, Reed Dep. at 67:12-22). Both complaints led to human
resources investigations, neither of which resulted in a finding of racially motivated behavior.
After each incident, Plaintiff was informed that he should contact Human Resources in the event
that any other harassing, discriminatory, or retaliatory conduct should occur. Plaintiff made no
other complaints to the Human Resources department after the March 1,2013 incident.
From June 5, 2013 through Plaintiffs termination he met with supervisors and human
resources officials for a number of reasons. On August 8,2014, Plaintiff was suspended for a
half-day due to his insubordinate behavior toward his supervisor and inappropriate and excessive
cellular phone usage during mandatory training. On September 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge
of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") alleging
race discrimination and retaliation by Defendant. On September 15, 2014, the EEOC issued a
Dismissal and Notice of Rights.
On December 19, 2014, Plaintiff was again suspended, this time as a result of raising his
voice and behaving inappropriately when talking with his supervisor about an accounting
mistake discovered on December l'7,2014. Following a Human Resources investigation into the
December 17,2014 incident, Plaintiff was terminated on January 5,2015. Defendant informed
Plaintiff that he was being terminated because of performance problems, unprofessional and
insubordinate behavior, and unethical conduct.
Following his termination, on January 26 2014, Plaintiff filed a second claim of race
discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC. That same day, Plaintiff filed a charge of
with the Illinois
Human Rights ("IDHR") alleging
discrimination and retaliation. On December 8, 2015, the IDHR issued a Notice of Dismissal for
Lack of Substantial Evidence. Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination, no.: 2015CF2187, with
the IDHR on February 8,2015, and on October 29,2015, the IDHR dismissed the charge for
lack of substantial evidence. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the EEOC investigate Charge
2015CF2187, and on March 23,2016, the EEOC adopted the IDHR's findings and issued a
Notice of Right to Sue.
On April 4, 2016, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint alleging: (I)
Discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. $ 1981; (II) Discrimination in violation of the Illinois
Human Rights Act ("IHRA");
Gender Discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. $ 2000e-
2(a); and (IV) Retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. $ 1981, the Illinois Human Rights Act, and
42 U.S.C. $ 2000e-2. On July 19,2016, the Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Count
before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment,
brought pursuant to Rule 56, on Counts II, III, and IV(B) and (C).
Summary Judgment Standard
"Summary judgment is appropriate
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact,
and the moving party is entitled to iudgment as a matter of
law." Dunderdale v. United Airlines.
Inc., 807 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 , 322 (1986).
such that a reasonable
issue of material fact exists when the evidence is
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Wells v. Coker, 707
F.3d756,760 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court views
the evidence, and draws all reasonable inferences, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
Id. The Court does not "assess the credibility of witnesses, choose between
reasonable inferences, or balance the relative weight of conflicting evidence." Stokes v. Bd.
Educ. of the Ciry of Chi., 599 F.3d 617,619 (7th Cir. 2010).
But before the nonmoving party 'ocan benefit from a favorable view of evidence, he must
first actually place evidence before the courts." Montgomery v. Am. Airlines.
, 626 F.3d
382,389 (7th Cir. 2010). Simply showing that there is "some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts" will not defeat a motion for summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citations omitted); see also Argyropoulos v. Citv
of Alton, 539 F.3d 724,732 (7th Cir. 2008). And "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby.
Inc. , 477 U .5.
Section 703(a)(1) of the Civil Rights Act
discharge an employee on the basis
1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to
of sex. 42 U.S.C. $ 2000e-2(a). The legal standard "is
simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff
race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or other proscribed factor caused the discharge or other adverse
employment action." Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises. Inc., 834 F.3d 760,765 (7th Cir. 2016).
In order to establish a prima facia
of sex discrimination, the Plaintiff
'(1) [he] is a member of a protected class, (2) [he]
performed reasonably on the job in accord with [his] employer['s] legitimate expectations, (3)
despite [his] reasonable performance, [he] was subjected to an adverse employment action, and
(4) similarly situated employees outside of [his] protected class were treated more favorably by
the employer."' David v. Bd. of Trustees of Community College Dist. No. 508, 846 F.3d 216,
225 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Andrews v. CBOCS West" Inc. ,743 F.3d 230,234 (7th Cir. 2014),
ovemrled on other grounds by Ortiz,834 F.3d at765.).
instances "the employer's
job expectations themselves may be tainted with
, 495 F.3d 840, 846 (7th Cir.
2007). Therefore, "[w]hen a plaintiff produces evidence sufficient to raise an inference that an
employer applied its legitimate employment expectations in a disparate manner, the second and
fourth prongs of McDonnell Douglas merge-allowing the plaintiff to establish aprimafacie case,
off summary judgment for the time being, and proceed to the pretext inquiry." Id. at 846
(emphasis in original) (quoting Peele v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 288 F.3d 319,329-330
(7thCir.2002); citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green.411 U.S. 792 (1973)). Accordingly,
to prevail, the Plaintiff must produca
expectations." Id. at 846.
evidence to raise the inference of discriminatory
Moreover, "[t]he analyical framework for [claims brought pursuant to the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 and the IHRA arel essentially identicalf.]" Bagwe v. Sedgwick Claims Memt.
Services.. Inc., 8l
I F.3d 866,879 (7th Cir. 2016), cert. denied. 137 S. Ct. 82 (2016) (ovemrled
on other grounds by Ortiz,834 F.3d at 765) (citing Moultrie v. Penn Aluminum Int'I. LLC, 766
F.3d747,754 (7thCir.20l4) (resolving a Title VII and IHRA claim at the same time.); Brown v.
Advocate S. Suburban Hosp., 700 F.3d 1101, 1104 n. 1 (7th Cir.2012) (discussing Title VII and
g 1981); and Zaderaka v. Illinois Human Rights Comm'n, 545 N.E.2d 684,687 (Ill. Sup. Ct.
1989) (discussing Title
and the IHRA)).
Because the IHRA claim, Count
and the Title
VII claim, Count III,
share the same
analytical framework, the Court will address both Counts simultaneously.
Plaintiff Cannot Raise an Inference that Defendant Applied Its Legitimate Expectations
in a Disparate Manner. the McDonnell Douelas Framework Applies
Here, Plaintiff argues in favor of applying the less stringent merged framework to his
claims. Plaintiff argues that Defendant applied its legitimate expectations in a disparate fashion,
and as a result, Defendant used those reasons as pretext for firing Plaintiff to cover its race and
gender discrimination. In support of this approach, Plaintiff argues that the record is "replete
with evidence that Plaintiff did meet Defendant's legitimate performance expectations,
evidenced by his performance appraisals." Pl.'s Memo. in Resp. Def.'s Mot for Summ. J. 5
(hereinafter, "CM-ECF No.: 82"). However, the Court disagrees.
While the Court views the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party-the Plaintiff-he
must first put the evidence before the Court, which the Plaintiff has not done. The evidence
Plaintiff refers to above cites to his Statements of Undisputed Material Fact, CM-ECF No.: 83,
submitted pursuant to Local Rule 56.1. The "fact" cited is Plaintiff s performance evaluation for
the 2013 calendar year. That evaluation describes Plaintiff as an employee who "[met]
[e]xpectations" for each of the four performance categories and was conducted by Jan Schroeder,
Plaintiffs supervisor. Although this tends to support PlaintifPs argument that he was an
Plaintiff s argument is undermined by the lack of support for his allegation
In support of his allegations of discrimination, Plaintiff has not put any evidence before
the Court. Plaintiff claims he was terminated because he is an African American and male but,
the only evidence to support these claims are bald conclusions. During his deposition, Plaintiff
was asked is there was supporting documentation, witnesses, or other evidence to support his
claim of sex discrimination Plaintiff responded,'No." CM-ECF No.: 71-2. fl 27 (quoting, Ex.
Reed Dep. at 97:6-15). Further,
in support of his claim of race discrimination in violation of the
IHRA, Plaintiff failed to present any evidence in support of his claim. Instead, Plaintiff presents
the Court with the conclusory statement that: because he was the only African American or male
in his department, those classifications must have been the basis for his termination.
In order to be evaluated under the less stringent framework articulated in
Plaintiff must first "produce[J evidence sufficient to raise an inference that an employer applied
its legitimate expectations in a disparate manner[.]" Montgomery v. Am. Airlines. Inc.,626F.3d
382,394 (7th Cir. 2010) (emphasis in original) (quoting Elkhatib v. Dunkin Donuts. Inc., 493
F3d 827,831 (7th Cir.2007)). Here, like in Montqomery, Plaintiff does not produce
evidence aside from his own conclusory deposition testimony
in support of either
"fPlaintiff] may not put the pretext cart before the prima facie horse by substituting allegations
for proof." Id. at 394 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Accordingly, because Plaintiff
does not support his allegations
with actual evidence of disparate application, his claims cannot
be evaluated under the less stringent, merged framework.
Plaintiff Fails to State a Prima Facia Case for Discrimination in Violation of Title VII or the
Illinois Human Rights Act
It is undisputed that Plaintiff is a member of protected classes, African
male, and that he was subjected to an adverse employment action, when he was terminated.
However, Plaintiff cannot establish the second or fourth prong
of the McDonnell Douglas
framework because, again, Plaintiff has not put any evidence that tends to support his position
before the Court. To present a prima
of discrimination, Plaintiff must show that he
met Defendant's legitimate employment expectations and that similarly situated employees
outside of his protected class were treated better. He cannot satisfy either of these elements.
First, in support of his argument that he satisfied Defendant's employment expectations,
Plaintiff relies on his 2013 Non-Exempt Administration/Clerical Performance Evaluation.
CM-ECF No.: 82, Ex.
This employee evaluation was for the 2013 calendar year and was
conducted by Jan Schroeder. In his employment evaluation, Plaintiff was deemed to "Meet
Expectations" in each of the four Job Knowledge/Skills categories and catch of the three Work
Quality/Accuracy categories. However, Plaintiffls contention that he met his Defendant's
expectations is belied by his 2014 Non-Exempt Administration/Clerical Performance Evaluation.
No.: 82, Ex.
On his 2014 evaluation, Plaintiff was as rated as "Does Not Meet
in two of the four Job Knowledge/Skills
procedures/policies and Performs
categories: Follows work
a variety of activities/projects independently. Plaintiffls
evaluation also noted that: "Daron was asked to participate in discussions regarding strategic
planning fot [sic] the District. Our outside vendor reported back to Director Hogan that Daron
did not participate in discussion and was observe [sic] texting and viewing his phone during the
session." CM-ECF No.: 82, Ex.
F. These evaluations
taken together show that while Plaintiff
may have originally met Defendant's employment expectations, by the time he was terminated
he no longer
did. Accordingly, Plaintiff
cannot satisfy the second prong necessary to state a
of sex discrimination.
While failure to establish any of the four prongs of the McDonnell Douelas framework is
enough to undermine Plaintiff s Counts
III, Plaintiff also fails to show similarly
of his protected class were
better. Plaintiff argues that other
employees within the Finance Department raised their voice at their supervisors, spent time on
their cell phone, and frequently held informal personal discussions at the water cooler. However,
when asked, Plaintiff was not able to point to a single instance where his co-workers were either
using electronic devices in violation of the Finance Department policy addressing personal cell
phone usage or where his co-workers behaved contemptuously.
Because Plaintiff has not produced any evidence, save his own conclusory deposition
testimony, to state a prima facia case of discrimination in violation of either Title
VII or the
IHRA, the Court finds that Plaintiff was not terminated because of his race or gender. Because
there is no genuine issue of material fact such that
ajury could return a verdict in favor of
Plaintiff, the Court enters judgment on Counts II and III for Defendant.
Plaintiff is Unable to Show a Causal Link Between his EEOC Charee of Discrimination and his
Next the Court turns to Plaintiff s Count IV, retaliatory termination in violation of the
Illinois Human Rights Act, and 42 U.S.C. $ 2000e-2. "To succeed on a Title VII retaliation
claim, plaintiffs must 'present evidence of (1) a statutorily protected activity; (2) a materially
adverse action taken by the employer; and (3) a causal connection between the
two."' Volling v.
Kurtz Paramedic Servs.. Inc., 840 F.3d 378, 383 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Turner v. The Saloon.
Ltd., 595 F.3d 679, 687 (7th Cir. 2010)). Again, "[t]he analytical framework for [claims brought
pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the IHRA arel essentially identical[.]" Baswe, 811
F.3d at 879.
It is undisputed that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity by filing two formal
Resources, and that Defendants took an adverse employment action
against Plaintiff by terminating
him. Therefore, this claim turns on the third element: the causal
link between the two.
To show a causal link, Plaintiff relies on allegations above, namely that similarly situated
employees outside of his protected class were treated better. However, as the Court stated above,
Plaintiff relies on his own self-serving, bald, and conclusory statements that his co-workers were
treated better and that they were treated better because
of their race and gender.
Plaintiff has not produced any supporting evidence, save his own conclusory deposition
testimony, he fails to establish the causal link prong.
Additionally, Plaintiff argues that because he received positive employee evaluations for
the 2013 calendar year, there was no basis for Defendant's determination that Plaintiff performed
poorly. However. the temporal connection is attenuated at best.
See Turner v. The Saloon. Ltd.,
595 F.3d 679, 687-90 (7th Cir. 2010) (analyzing the temporal aspect of a causal connection and
finding that as time progresses there must be something more to create a causal link).
Daron Seymour-Reed has not established a causal link between his termination and the
protected activity in which he engaged because the last protected activity took place over a year
before his termination. Accordingly, Plaintiff has not stated a prima facia case for retaliatory
termination under either Title
VII or the IHRA.
Because there is no genuine issue
fact such that ajury could return a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, the Court enters judgment on
Count IV for Defendant.
For the foregoing reasons, summary judgment is granted in favor of Defendant on Counts
III for the alleged
race discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act and
gender discrimination in violation of Title
Summary judgment is also granted in favor
Defendant on Count IV for the alleged retaliatory termination in violation of the same.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
CHARLES RONALD NOR
United States District Court
9t s tll 0z ll0ll
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