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Richards v. U.S. Steel

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 28, 2017

Mary R. Richards, Plain tiff-Appellant,
U.S. Steel, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued December 9, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 3:15-cv-00646 - J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

          Before Williams and Hamilton, Circuit Judges, and Chang, District Judge. [*]

          Chang, District Judge.

         Mary Richards filed this lawsuit against her employer, U.S. Steel. As the case comes to us, all that remains is an Illinois state-law claim for intentional in-fliction of emotional distress. On that claim, the district court entered summary judgment against Richards on the ground that it is preempted by the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/8-111(D). Although our analysis of the preemption issue differs from the district court's take on it, we agree that the emotional-distress claim fails as a matter of law. U.S. Steel can be held responsible for only a subset of the factual allegations that Richard relies on, and on that set of facts, U.S. Steel did not engage in "extreme and outrageous" behavior under Illinois common law. We thus affirm the entry of summary judgment against plaintiff on her emotional-distress claim.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         Because the district court granted summary judgment to U.S. Steel, we recite the facts in the light most favorable to Richards. Richards was hired by National Steel Corporation in 1995, and she continued to work for the company following its sale to U.S. Steel in 2003. At some point in 2009 or early 2010, Richards did a four-month rotation as a "learner electrician" in a department supervised by Daniel Harris. R. 29-8, Harris Dep. at 6. During that rotation, Richards told Harris that she wanted to be the best electrician she could be. Harris Dep. at 11. But in response, Harris told Richards that she would never be able to meet his standards. Id.

         After the learner-electrician stint, Richards moved on to different department, namely, the Basic Oxygen Furnace De- partment, where she worked from April 2010 to January 2011. R. 29-1, Richards Dep. at 15, 28. There, Jesse Byrd was one of her supervisors. R. 29-3, Byrd Dep. at 11. Richards had several negative experiences-most involving Byrd - during the nine months that she worked in the Furnace Department.

         For example, on her first day at the Furnace Department, Richards met with Byrd in his office. Richards Dep. at 36. During this meeting, Byrd asked Richards whether she could draw a motor circuit and what she had learned in blueprint class. Id. at 36-37. Richards was the only learner electrician to be asked those questions. Richards Dep. at 37-38. In May 2010 (the month after she started in the Furnace Department), Richards lost a work glove. Richards Dep. at 45-46. On her break, she approached Byrd, who was talking to four or five men at the time, and she asked for a new pair of gloves. Id. at 45-46. In response, Byrd asked her if she wanted one glove or two-and then made a comment about incompetent people. Richards Dep. at 46.

         In June 2010, Richards had another encounter with Byrd. Richards was walking from a patio back to the work area when Byrd approached her, jerked her jacket open, and said "I like that" while staring at her. Richards Dep. at 38-39. Richards was shocked and scared, so she "got the hell away from" Byrd. Richards Dep. at 39.

         Around three months later, one of Richards's coworkers succumbed to heat exhaustion. Richards took that coworker to the break room, called 911, and started to administer first aid. Richards Dep. at 87. When Byrd showed up, Richards offered to retrieve her and her coworker's tools from the job site, but Byrd went "b[ers]erk" and told her to stay put. Richards Dep. at 88. After around 30 minutes, Richards left the break room to go back to the job site to "see what was going on, " and she ran into Byrd. Id. Richards just asked Byrd if it was ok for her to retrieve the tools, but Byrd "screamed at [her] again, " so she walked away, returned to the break room, and sat down at a table. Id. at 89. Byrd walked in, towered over Richards, and told her to tell him that her boss (which was him) was a prick. Id. Byrd then stood behind Richards and said "[m] after of fact, tell your boss he's a prick." Id. Richards replied, "I don't have to, you already did." Id.

         Later that same day, Richards was in the breakroom when Area Manager Lowery McBride (Byrd's supervisor) came into the room. Richards Dep. at 206. Without saying anything, McBride grabbed Richards's radio off of her chest to make a call. Id. at 207. The radio had been hooked to Richards's bra. Id.

         Toward the end of December 2010, Richards had several more run-ins with Byrd. In one incident, Richards had to stand on a bucket in order to reach some screws that she needed to fix a light. Richards Dep. at 43. Byrd saw her doing this and said, "You think that bucket will hold all that?" Richards' Dep. at 43. Two other electricians were in the room. Richards Dep. at 43. In this same time period, Richards and several coworkers were gathered in the break room when Byrd came in and told a sexual joke. Richards Dep. at 92.

         Then, on December 31, 2010, Byrd asked Richards to call a coworker and ask that coworker if he would work over- time. Richards Dep. at 68-69. During the call, the coworker asked Richards if she could work the overtime instead. Richards Dep. at 69. When Byrd heard this he told Richards to get off the phone and said "[b]efore I let you work the overtime, I'll jump off the bridge." Richards Dep. at 69. Richards retorted, "I'll take you to the bridge." Id. Richards ended up working the overtime shift, and Byrd placed her on trash detail (though Richards's coworker ended up taking out most of the trash, Richards Dep. at 112).

         During Richards's nine months in the Furnace Department, Byrd also (1) criticized her in front of her coworkers for putting a box on the floor instead of on a shelf; (2) asked Richards if she was listening to him and said "[w]hat, are you scared of me?"; (3) threatened to fire Richards after she called him for help with a unit breakdown; and (4) ominously told her that she was sitting in a chair where a coworker had sat when he was fired. According to Richards, Byrd also would not give her the tools she needed to do her job, despite providing tools to other Department employees. Richards Dep. at 15. When asked for specifics during her deposition, however, Richards remembered only two instances. Once, Richards asked for two stick rulers-one for her and one for her coworker-but she received only one, which she gave to her coworker. Richards Dep. at 24, 32-33. The second time, Richards was out of the office on leave, and Byrd gave everyone in the Furnace Department a flashlight as a Christmas gift. Id. at 26. When Richards returned from leave, Byrd did not have a flashlight for her. Id. at 26.

         Richards left the Furnace Department on January 9, 2011 and began working for the Maintenance Services Department. After she left, Byrd followed her and attempted to speak with her twice. Richards Dep. at 157, 159. Richards does not know what Byrd tried to say ...

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