Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 21, 2019

Terry L. Smith, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Illinois Department of Transportation, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued May 30, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:15-cv-02061 - Edmond E. Chang, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Manion, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

          BARRETT, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         After a rocky probationary period, the Illinois Department of Transportation discharged its employee Terry Smith. Smith sued the Department under Title VII, arguing that it had subjected him to a hostile work environment and fired him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to the Department on both claims, and Smith insists that it was wrong to do so. He contends that the district court mistakenly concluded that testimony from two of his witnesses was inadmissible and that he has enough evidence to make it to a jury in any event. We disagree and affirm the district court.

         I.

         Smith began working as an Emergency Traffic Patrol Min-uteman with the Department late in 2013. Minutemen perform various duties related to traffic and roadways. Smith's employment began with a probationary period starting August 1. To be certified, he had to successfully complete three stages of training over the course of six months. His probationary period did not go well.

         According to the Department, Smith was far from a model employee. Early in his training, one of his supervisors reported that he challenged the instructions that he was given, which created a "serious issue" for his training and development. Another supervisor said that Smith regularly "fail[ed] to remember info" and "ha[d] a very hard time following basic instructions." Particularly troubling, however, was Smith's record of unsafe conduct. Once, while driving in an express lane with Marcello Valle, one of his supervisors, Smith approached a place where the lanes divided. Valle told him to pick a lane; instead, Smith stopped short in traffic- only thirty feet from the concrete pillar dividing the lanes. On another occasion, Smith drove away from a gas pump with the nozzle still inserted in the truck. Smith also "almost hit a trooper police car" on a drive with a supervisor. Most dangerous of all, Smith ignored instructions to put his truck in neutral and pull the brake-nearly causing a supervisor to be pinned between the tow truck and another vehicle. Incidents like these led one of his supervisors, Lloyd Colbert, to send an email to some of his coworkers warning that if Smith continued to work on the road, "someone else will pay the ultimate price."

         The Department gave Smith negative reviews from the beginning, and its assessments of his performance became progressively worse. In a performance evaluation in mid-September, Smith received two marks of "unsatisfactory." In October, one of Smith's supervisors emailed another saying that Smith was "not getting any better and cannot get it." By the end of November, Smith was described as "very behind" where he ought to have been at his stage of training. The problems continued into December: emails between the Department employees described him as being argumentative, unstable, reckless, unsafe, and "in no way ready to go on his own." In January, Smith received another performance evaluation, this one giving him unsatisfactory marks in five different categories.

         From Smith's perspective, however, the Department was the problem. On August 22, 2013, he filed an internal complaint with the Department asserting that Valle had used "abusive language" toward him and that another supervisor, Zen McHugh, had threatened to fire him for being confrontational. That same day, Smith also wrote a memorandum to his union representative in which he claimed that the Department had discriminated against him because he was black and had subjected him to a hostile work environment. In October, Smith sent another memorandum to the Department. The subject line was "Illegally docked hours from my pay. Discrimination/harassment." The memorandum claimed that on October 13, Colbert had told him to sign out two hours before he had stopped working, which had the effect of withholding two hours of pay from his paycheck. (He was eventually compensated for those hours.)

         In December, Smith wrote more memoranda to the Department complaining about his treatment. Two of them, dated December 5 and 6, complained that Colbert had denied Smith overtime pay after he responded to a call for assistance with a disabled vehicle late in his shift. He attributed the refusal to racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. He submitted two more memoranda in late December. He addressed the first-which had the subject line "discrimination retaliation"-to a supervisor at the Department. In it, he claimed that he was being treated differently than a fellow employee who had been allowed to work only four hours on a certain day while Smith had been required to work a full day. The second was also addressed to the Department, and it requested a shift change due to "discrimination, harassment, retaliation."

         On December 31, 2013, Smith filed another complaint, this time with the Department's internal Equal Employment Opportunity office. He listed three dates on which the Department had allegedly discriminated and retaliated against him: October 13, December 5, and December 28. From the record, we know that each of those dates corresponds to a specific incident. On the first date, Colbert had allegedly docked hours from his paycheck. On the second, Colbert had allegedly denied Smith overtime pay. On the third, Roman McGhee, a supervisor, had supposedly yelled and sworn at Smith for saying that he was going to back two cars that had been in an accident down a highway ramp. Smith's complaint did not offer his side of those events; it simply stated that he had been treated differently than another coworker and denied overtime pay.

         On January 3, 2014, the Department sent Smith a "Statement of Charges/' which sought to fire him on the ground of his unsatisfactory work performance. On January 16, Smith had a run-in with Colbert, who had recently learned that Smith had charged him, along with other supervisors, of racial discrimination and retaliation. According to Smith, Colbert, who was also black, was "very angry" and made several confrontational remarks: that there would be "eighty-one of us against one of you when we go to trial"; that Smith was going to lose everything that he owned, including his house and car; and that he was a "stupid ass ni[]."

         The Department terminated Smith on January 30, 2014. In March, Smith sued the Department under Title VII, alleging that it had subjected him to a hostile work environment and fired him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to the Department, concluding that Smith had ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.