Roger v. Yellow Freight Systems, Inc.

Decision Date30 March 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-2613,93-2613
Citation21 F.3d 146
Parties127 Lab.Cas. P 57,653 Pat ROGER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. YELLOW FREIGHT SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Jerry Serritella (argued), Peoria, IL, for plaintiff-appellant.

Jeffrey L. Madoff and Steven L. Brenneman (argued), Matkov, Salzman, Madoff & Gunn, Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellee.

Before ESCHBACH, RIPPLE, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Pat Roger filed this diversity action claiming that his employer, Yellow Freight Systems, Inc. ("Yellow Freight"), discharged him in retaliation for exercising his rights under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act"), Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 48, pp 138.1-138.30 (1989). The district court granted Yellow Freight's motion for summary judgment after concluding that Mr. Roger had not exercised his rights under the Act, nor established a causal connection between the alleged exercise of his rights and Yellow Freight's decision to terminate him. Because we agree that there were no genuine issues for trial, we affirm.

I BACKGROUND

Mr. Roger was an at-will employee of Yellow Freight, a trucking company in the business of freight transportation services. Mr. Roger's job as a Safety Training Specialist consisted of touring the United States with a Safety Training Unit and presenting safety programs to various audiences. On October 31, 1990, Mr. Roger injured his back when he fell off a tractor-trailer. Kenneth Thompson, Vice-President of Linehaul Safety, told Mr. Roger to file an incident report. A claims examiner, Juanita Ball, then handled Mr. Roger's claims for medical attention. 1 According to Mr. Roger, both Thompson and Ball were openly hostile to him after he was injured. Despite his injury, Mr. Roger continued working until June 6, 1991, when he could no longer perform his job duties because of his pain.

In November 1991, Yellow Freight requested Thompson's assistance in reducing expenses because its parent company was experiencing economic difficulties. Yellow Freight reduced its work force by 1,400 employees between 1991 and 1992. Mr. Roger's position survived this first wave of cost-cutting measures. In January 1992, however, the Safety Training Specialist position was eliminated on Thompson's recommendation. In his affidavit, Thompson attributed the decision to eliminate Mr. Roger's position to the high cost of operating and maintaining the Safety Training Unit, to the fact that the service it offered did not contribute directly to revenues and was aimed primarily at public relations, and to Yellow Freight's desire to demonstrate its cost-cutting measures to customers who were experiencing rate increases. Only one month earlier, Thompson had submitted a favorable evaluation of the Safety Training Program, urging the company to retain it. Nevertheless, Thompson's later recommendation that the program be eliminated was adopted by the company.

On January 23, 1992, over one year after Mr. Roger was injured, he was laid off. After unsuccessfully attempting to relocate Mr. Roger to another position within the company, Yellow Freight terminated him due to "lack of work" on April 9, 1992. The Safety Training Unit was sold some time in 1992. One or two months after Mr. Roger was discharged, in May or June 1992, Mr. Roger filed two workers' compensation claims, one in Illinois and one in Kansas. He also filed a complaint against Yellow Freight for retaliatory discharge. Mr. Roger acknowledged in his deposition, however, that he neither had discussed his intention to file a workers' compensation claim nor had contemplated filing one prior to his discharge. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Yellow Freight. 849 F.Supp. 1256.

II DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review

This court's review of a motion for summary judgment is de novo. Pantoja v. Holland Motor Express, Inc., 965 F.2d 323, 326 (7th Cir.1992). Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, admissions, and affidavits show that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). However, in cases in which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on a dispositive issue, that party also bears the burden of affirmatively demonstrating a genuine issue for trial on that issue. Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In such a situation, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in the pleadings but must offer specific evidence demonstrating a factual basis on which he is entitled to relief. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. at 2514. Summary judgment will not be defeated simply because motive or intent are involved. Morgan v. Harris Trust & Sav. Bank, 867 F.2d 1023, 1026 (7th Cir.1989). If a plaintiff fails to establish any motive or intent to support his position, summary judgment is appropriate. Id.

In determining the propriety of summary judgment, this court must review the record and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513-14; Pantoja, 965 F.2d at 326. A genuine issue for trial exists only when a reasonable jury could find for the party opposing the motion based on the record as a whole. McEwen v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 919 F.2d 58, 60 (7th Cir.1990); Morgan, 867 F.2d at 1026.

B. Analysis

Generally, an at-will employee may be discharged for any reason or for no reason at all. Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc., 74 Ill.2d 172, 23 Ill.Dec. 559, 563-65, 384 N.E.2d 353, 357-59 (1978). However, Illinois has recognized the tort of retaliatory discharge in cases in which an employee is terminated for filing a claim under its Workers' Compensation Act. Id. To establish a claim of retaliatory discharge in this context, the plaintiff must prove (1) his status as an employee of the defendant before injury; (2) his exercise of a right granted by the Workers' Compensation Act; and (3) a causal relationship between his discharge and the exercise of his right. Groark v. Thorleif Larsen & Son, Inc., 231 Ill.App.3d 61, 172 Ill.Dec. 799, 802, 596 N.E.2d 78, 81 (1992).

The causality requirement calls for more than a sequential connection--the filing of a workers' compensation claim followed by termination. Marin v. American Meat Packing Co., 204 Ill.App.3d 302, 149 Ill.Dec. 818, 822, 562 N.E.2d 282, 286 (1990). The plaintiff must affirmatively show that the discharge was primarily in retaliation for his exercise of a protected right. Id. 149 Ill.Dec. at 821, 562 N.E.2d at 285. The critical issue is the employer's motive or intent. Id. 149 Ill.Dec. at 824, 562 N.E.2d at 288. Because an employer can discharge an at-will employee for any reason at all, it need not provide a legitimate reason for its decision to discharge unless the employee proffers sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that the employer was improperly motivated. Cannella v. Nationwide Carriers, Inc., 687 F.Supp. 362, 365 (N.D.Ill.1988); see also Austin v. St. Joseph Hosp., 187 Ill.App.3d 891, 135 Ill.Dec. 364, 367, 543 N.E.2d 932, 935 (1989).

Reviewing the record in the light most favorable to Mr. Roger, it is clear that the district court properly granted summary judgment for Yellow Freight because no reasonable jury could find that it discharged Mr. Roger to retaliate against him for exercising his workers' compensation rights. Although Mr. Roger alleges in his amended complaint facts regarding Yellow Freight's hostility toward him after he required medical coverage for his injury, he does not allege that Yellow Freight discharged him for those reasons. Instead, Mr. Roger states that he was discharged in retaliation for "filing a claim." Paragraphs nine and ten of the amended complaint read as follows:

9. That the discharge of the Plaintiff was in retaliation for the Plaintiff filing a workmens' compensation claim against the Defendant.

10. That under Section 4 of the Workmens' Compensation Act of the State of Illinois, it is illegal for an employer to discharge an employee for exercising his rights under the Act by filing a claim seeking relief under the Act and said Section 4 establishes a clear mandated public policy of the State of Illinois.

Mr. Roger did not file any claim until after he was discharged; therefore, he cannot establish that Yellow Freight discharged him because he filed a claim. Mr. Roger urges us to overlook this defect: He meant to claim that Yellow Freight discharged him because it anticipated his filing of a workers' compensation claim. Although his complaint was poorly drafted and included neither the relevant facts nor the proper legal basis for relief, he argues that the allegations are sufficiently related to his current claims to put the defendant on notice of the charges against it. Hinthorn v. Roland's of Bloomington, Inc., 119 Ill.2d 526, 116 Ill.Dec. 694, 698, 519 N.E.2d 909, 913 (1988).

Even construing Mr. Roger's complaint liberally, he cannot survive summary judgment because he has offered no evidence that Yellow Freight was aware of his intent to file a claim. Factual support that the employer was informed or in some way found out about the plaintiff's intent to pursue relief under the Act is essential to a retaliatory discharge action. Horton v. Miller Chem. Co., 776 F.2d 1351, 1356 (7th Cir.1985) (citing Burgess v. Chicago Sun-Times, 132 Ill.App.3d 181, 87 Ill.Dec. 292, 295, 476 N.E.2d 1284, 1287 (1985)), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1122, 106 S.Ct. 1641, 90 L.Ed.2d 186 (1986); Mercil v. Federal Express Corp., 664 F.Supp....

To continue reading

Request your trial
131 cases
  • Malesevic v. Tecom Fleet Services, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • September 23, 1998
    ...F.3d at 836. Finally, summary judgment "will not be defeated simply because motive or intent are involved." Roger v. Yellow Freight Systems, Inc., 21 F.3d 146, 148 (7th Cir.1994). See also Plair, 105 F.3d at 347; United Association of Black Landscapers v. City of Milwaukee, 916 F.2d 1261, 1......
  • Anders ex rel. Anders v. Fort Wayne Commu. Schools
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • December 14, 2000
    ...v. Porca Co., 38 F.3d 289, 295 (7th Cir.1994); Tolle v. Carroll Touch, Inc., 23 F.3d 174, 178 (7th Cir.1994); Roger v. Yellow Freight Systems, 21 F.3d 146, 148-49 (7th Cir.1994). The bottom line is that a summary judgment determination is essentially an inquiry as to "whether the evidence p......
  • Paloianv. LaSalle Bank Nat'l Ass'n (In re Doctors Hosp. of Hyde Park, Inc.)
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • June 7, 2013
    ...“The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Roger v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 21 F.3d 146, 148 (7th Cir.1994) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). If the initial burde......
  • United Consumers Club, Inc. v. Bledsoe
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • July 17, 2006
    ...Cir.1990). Finally, summary judgment "will not be defeated simply because motive or intent are involved." Roger v. Yellow Freight Systems, Inc., 21 F.3d 146, 148 (7th Cir.1994). See also Miller v. Borden, Inc., 168 F.3d 308, 312 (7th Cir.1999); Flair v. E.J. Brach & Sons, Inc., 105 F.3d 343......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT