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Madlock v. WEC Energy Group, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 14, 2018

Rosemary Madlock, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
WEC Energy Group, Inc., d/b/a WE Energies, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued November 1, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:16-cv-00332-JPS - J.P. Stadtmueller, Judge.

          Before Manion, Kanne, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          Manion, Circuit Judge.

         Rosemary Madlock has worked for Wisconsin Electric Power Company ("WEPCO")[1] for approximately forty years. In 2016, she brought this § 1981 suit against WEPCO after she was transferred from one section of WEPCO's billing division to another, a move she claims was the result of racial discrimination. She also claims WEPCO retaliated against her by disciplining her after she filed an internal discrimination complaint against her former supervisor.

         The district court granted summary judgment to WEPCO, and Madlock now appeals. Because there is no genuine dispute about any material fact and WEPCO is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I.

         This is an appeal from the grant of summary judgment, so we "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, " Foskett v. Great Wolf Resorts, Inc., 518 F.3d 518, 522 (7th Cir. 2008), and "draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence" in her favor, Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Nw. Nat'l Ins. Co., 427 F.3d 1038, 1041 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Franklin v. City of Evanston, 384 F.3d 838, 843 (7th Cir. 2004)).

         Madlock, who describes herself as a "confident and knowledgeable African American woman, " has worked at WEPCO since 1977. In the mid-1990s, Madlock began working in the "Meter to Bill" division of WEPCO, which was responsible for handling WEPCO's billing. Meter to Bill was split into two sections: Industrial Billing, which served WEPCO's large commercial customers, and Volume Billing, which served smaller commercial and residential customers. At the time of the events involved in this action, Madlock was working as a Lead Customer Service Specialist in the Industrial Billing section. As a "Lead, " Madlock was not in management, but she was expected to be a point person for her team of "billers."

         In 2011, WEPCO assigned a new management team to Meter to Bill, and Renee Rabiego-Tiller assumed the position of Manager. This new management team came in with a mandate to perform a comprehensive review of Meter to Bill to reduce rebills. As part of this focus, management instituted various metrics to measure performance.

         Jean Frelka, the Director of Meter to Bill, hired Cathy Wrycza, a white woman, to be a "Team Leader" in the Industrial Billing section, meaning that Wrycza became Madlock's direct supervisor. From very early on, Wrycza and Madlock butted heads. Wrycza, who had come from WEPCO's Call Center, was unfamiliar with certain aspects of her new post. Due to her lack of experience, Wrycza would approach Madlock with questions, but these sessions would not go well, and Wrycza would storm away. At some point, Wrycza admitted to Madlock that she had problems dealing with Madlock's stature, which Madlock took as a reference to her height and her demeanor in conversation.

         Even before the new management team arrived in Meter to Bill, Madlock's conduct, such as personal phone use, had drawn the attention of management, and under Wrycza and the rest of the new management team, Madlock's conduct came under even greater scrutiny. In December 2011, Wrycza learned of a billing error Madlock had made the preceding June. In February 2012, Wrycza gave Madlock an official written "coaching, "[2] which constituted the first step on WEPCO's graduated discipline system, for that error. Madlock filed a grievance against that discipline, but Tiller ultimately denied the grievance, noting Madlock had committed another error on a different account. In May 2012, Wrycza issued Madlock a "Record of Disciplinary Action, " the second step in the discipline system, because Madlock had approved a bill that overbilled a customer by $58, 900. In August 2012, Frelka rescinded the February discipline, concluding that Madlock had not received the requisite training at the time she committed the error. This downgraded the discipline for the $58, 900 overbill to a first-step official coaching. In November 2012, Frelka instructed Wrycza to discipline Madlock for inappropriate behavior and the use of unprofessional language due to an incident with two coworkers. Madlock filed a grievance against that discipline, which Wrycza denied.

         By February 2013, the conflict between Wrycza and Madlock was apparently coming to a head. The two met with Tiller, who told them to communicate. A month later, Tiller decided to transfer Madlock out of Industrial Billing into Volume Billing. Tiller cited Madlock's billing errors as the reason for the move. Because Volume Billing handled smaller accounts, the magnitude of any future errors would be mitigated.

         As a result of the transfer, Madlock was moved to a cubicle in the center of the room between two managers, and her team from Industrial Billing was told to no longer go to her for help. Though WEPCO did not initially give her a new team in Volume Billing, this was due to Madlock's unfamiliarity with Volume Billing's processes. The transfer did not affect Madlock's title or salary, but one co-worker described the transfer as a ...


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