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Madlock v. WEC Energy Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 13, 2017

ROSEMARY MADLOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
WEC ENERGY GROUP INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         1. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff, Rosemary Madlock (“Madlock”), filed this action against the defendant, WEC Energy Group Inc. (“WEC”), on allegations of racial discrimination in employment and retaliation. See generally (Docket #1). On November 1, 2016, WEC filed a motion for summary judgment. (Docket #21). Madlock submitted her response on December 1, 2016. (Docket #39). WEC offered a reply in support of the motion on December 15, 2016. (Docket #43). The motion is fully briefed and, for the reasons explained below, it will be granted.

         2. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides the mechanism for seeking summary judgment. Rule 56 states that the “court shall grant summary judgment 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); see Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). A “genuine” dispute of material fact is created when “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 Court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., 815 F.3d 356, 360 (7th Cir. 2016). In assessing the parties' proposed facts, the Court must not weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility; the Seventh Circuit instructs that “we leave those tasks to factfinders.” Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

         3. RELEVANT FACTS

         3.1 Improper Briefing

         Preliminarily, the Court notes that the disposition of this motion is based largely on the parties' refusal to comply with the rules of summary judgment practice. The parties' factual briefing is replete with unsupported facts, multiple assertions of fact within one paragraph, and legal argument. They also have included numerous facts which are plainly irrelevant to the issues presented.

         The parties have also made curious additions and omissions in their fact briefs. Madlock fails to reproduce all of WEC's asserted facts and state her disputes with them or lack thereof. As to the facts she actually mentions, Madlock includes legal argument in the form of improper objections. For instance, she often objects as to relevance, when that issue may be argued in her legal brief, and objects to completeness or that “issues of fact exist” rather than simply stating her dispute and citing the appropriate evidence. WEC is not blameless either. Like Madlock, it submits a great deal of commentary and legal argument on the facts rather than directly stating a given dispute. It also regularly fails to cite any evidence to oppose facts. Finally, it offers a “reply” in support of its statement of facts, though no such document is contemplated by this District's Local Rules; the “reply” will be entirely disregarded. See Civil L. R. 56(b)(3).

         The Court expects that the parties will carefully review the requirements of the federal and local rules on summary judgment, and that these woeful submissions will not be repeated in the future. Despite the substantial infirmities with the parties' factual briefing, the Court has done its best to formulate a set of undisputed facts. If the parties are surprised by the inclusion or exclusion of certain facts, they have only themselves to blame.

         3.2 Undisputed Facts

         The facts presented below are limited to a general timeline of events and those relevant to the Court's analysis. Madlock is African-American. She has worked for WEC for almost forty years. Madlock has worked in the Meter to Bill department for approximately the past twenty years. Meter to Bill is further subdivided into the Industrial Billing group, handling large commercial accounts, and Volume Billing, addressing small commercial accounts and residential customers. Madlock began her Meter to Bill tenure in the Industrial Billing group.

         Madlock's co-workers, and Madlock herself, describe her as a confident and knowledgeable worker to whom other employees often go for assistance. Though WEC had no formal training procedure for Industrial Billing, Madlock and other experienced billers provided informal training. In 2011, Cathy Wrycza (“Wrycza”) became Madlock's supervisor. Prior to that time, the parties dispute the quality of Madlock's job performance and whether there were hints or outright statements showing discriminatory animus by her superiors.[1]

         Other employees on Wrycza's team observed that she was not very good at billing, and when Madlock tried to help her, Wrycza would become upset. This, in Madlock's view, led to retaliatory discipline. WEC maintains that Madlock's discipline was appropriate given its recent emphasis on improving customer service through, inter alia, accurate billing. This was not only Wrycza's duty to implement, but fell to her superiors as well. Wrycza and Renee Rabiego-Tiller (“Tiller”), the manager of the Meter to Bill area and Wrycza's boss, never specifically looked for errors in Madlock's work; those were always presented to them by a third party. Wrycza believes that Madlock's errors were due to carelessness, not a lack of experience or training.

         In February 2012, Madlock was issued a “Record of Corrective Counseling” (“RCC”), a form of internal discipline, for two work errors, one of which had occurred in December 2011. Both errors concerned an inaccurate meter reading, and the parties dispute to what extent Madlock was responsible for failing to investigate the error. WEC claims the errors cost it over $80, 000.[2] Madlock filed a grievance in response to the discipline. The grievance was denied by Wrycza and Tiller. In doing so, Wrycza acknowledged that as to the December error, the account in question had been consistently billed incorrectly in the months preceding Madlock's involvement. When the grievance came to Tiller, she denied it on the basis of a newly discovered error on a different account.

         In May 2012, Wrycza issued a written warning to Madlock for taking only twenty seconds to review an account, which led to the customer being overbilled by almost $60, 000. The warning stated that additional errors could lead to greater discipline or even termination. Such warnings are a step higher than an RCC on the disciplinary ladder.[3]

         In August 2012, Jean Frelka (“Frelka”), the director of Meter to Bill, reduced the February 2012 RCC to a “coaching, ” a lesser form of discipline. The May 2012 warning was also lowered to the level of an RCC. Frelka nevertheless stressed that Madlock was to apply her experience and knowledge with a critical eye to find potential problems and raise those issues with management. The RCCs kept coming for Madlock, however. In October 2012, Madlock was issued another RCC for a billing error, and in light of her previous errors, Tiller concluded that it was the result of Madlock's inattention to detail. Yet another RCC was issued in November 2012, this time for inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Madlock's grievance on this latest RCC was denied by Wrycza, on Frelka's orders, because the inappropriate behavior was reported by multiple sources.

         Wrycza was made aware of another error in early 2013 which had originated in December 2010. This error involved mis-coding an account such that it would not be billed even though the customer was using energy. Madlock maintains that the error was the result of the meter itself being broken, which WEC ultimately confirmed was true. She further admits, however, that her job was not restricted to merely passively receiving information from broken meters, improper readings, or otherwise, but that she needed to use her experience and judgment to critically assess the information provided. In general, when assigned to review an account's bill, billers must use their skills and experience to determine whether the bill is accurate and/or what caused an inaccuracy. Madlock contends that this can be difficult, however, because the billers have no way of confirming whether the data presented to them is ...


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