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Cervantes v. Ardagh Group

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 29, 2019

Juan Cervantes, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Ardagh Group, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued December 11, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:16-cv-11080 - Ronald A. Guzman, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Ripple, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

          Ripple, Circuit Judge.

         Juan Cervantes brought this action against his employer, Ardagh Group ("Ardagh"), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq. ("IHRA"). The complaint asserted that Ardagh had refused to promote him, had issued him performance warnings, and had demoted him because of his race and national origin and in retaliation for previous complaints about discrimination and harassment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ardagh.

         The district court's decision is correct. Mr. Cervantes did not exhaust his administrative remedies for his discrimination claims. His retaliation claim also must fail because there is no evidence of a causal connection between any protected activity by Mr. Cervantes and an adverse employment action by Ardagh. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Cervantes began his career at Ardagh in 1991 as a pallet loader. He was promoted to fork lift driver in 1998 and to electro-mechanic in 2000. His complaint followed an incident that took place in 2015. Taking the facts in the light most favorable to Mr. Cervantes, [1] on June 20, 2015, after completing his shift, he remained at the Ardagh facility to assist his father, a fellow Ardagh employee, with fixing a machine. During this second shift, supervisor Katina Stewart attempted to call Mr. Cervantes on his radio, but could not reach him. When Stewart located Mr. Cervantes in the facility, he explained that he had not responded to the radio calls because he was not working a second shift; he was only stay- ing past his shift to help his father. Stewart informed Mr. Cervantes that if he was not accepting assignments for the second shift, he must leave the facility. He eventually complied. Stewart reported the incident, and Mr. Cervantes was written up for insubordination and temporarily suspended. Following an investigation, Ardagh demoted Mr. Cervantes from electro-mechanic to forklift driver.

         On September 3, 2015, Mr. Cervantes filed a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR"). In the section of the form titled "Discrimination Based On," Mr. Cervantes checked only the box for "Retaliation."[2] He did not check the box for race, national origin, or any other basis of discrimination. The IDHR commenced an investigation into his allegations, seeking additional information from Mr. Cervantes and from Ardagh. By March 31, 2016, Mr. Cervantes had retained counsel, who sent a letter to IDHR on his behalf in response to the agency's questions about the charge. On July 13, 2016, the IDHR dismissed Mr. Cervantes's charge, finding a lack of substantial evidence to support his allegations.

         On December 5, 2016, Mr. Cervantes filed a complaint in the district court. He alleged that Ardagh had violated Title VII and the IHRA by failing to promote him, issuing him performance warnings, and demoting him based on his race and national origin and in retaliation for his previous complaints about harassment and discrimination. Ardagh moved for summary judgment on all claims, and the district court granted that motion.[3]

         The district court first determined that Mr. Cervantes could not proceed on his claims for race and national origin discrimination because he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and because these allegations were not reasonably related to his retaliation charge. The district court then concluded that Mr. Cervantes had failed to state a claim for retaliation because he had not established that he engaged in protected activity. He also failed to offer any evidence that his supervisors were aware of any complaints he raised and therefore did not demonstrate a causal connection between any protected activity and an adverse employment action. The district court entered judgment in favor of Ardagh on November 14, 2017, and Mr. Cervantes timely appealed.

         II

         DISCUSSION

         We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Ortiz v. John O. Butler Co.,94 F.3d 1121, 1124 (7th Cir. 1996). "We will not resolve factual disputes or weigh conflicting evidence," but "will only determine whether a ...


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