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Lariviere v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 5, 2019

Janice LaRiviere, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued March 27, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 16-1138-DRH - David R. Herndon, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Kanne, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          KANNE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Janice LaRiviere is an African-American woman who worked at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville ("SIUE") for fifteen years. After several conflicts with coworkers, LaRiviere was notified that she would not be reappointed to her position. Immediately afterwards, she was transferred to a new office with less than satisfactory conditions. She sued SIUE and her supervisors.

         The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on all claims. Because LaRiviere has not identified evidence that her ethnicity was the reason for her termination or of a causal connection between protected activity and her termination, we affirm.

         I. Background

         The following facts are undisputed. In 2002, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville hired Janice LaRiviere on a continuing appointment as an Assistant Director of Building Maintenance. Her time with the Maintenance Department was uneventful until March of 2011, when LaRiviere learned that her supervisor was retiring. She spoke with Kenneth Neher-SIUE's Vice Chancellor for Administration-about becoming the new Director of Facilities Management. She asked if SIUE would waive two requirements: that the position be publicly posted and filled by someone with an engineering degree (which LaRiviere does not have). Neher declined to disregard those requirements and hire LaRiviere.

         Instead, Neher hired Paul Fuligni to be the Director of Facilities Management. Fuligni was a (nearly) thirty-year Navy veteran-having served as a civil engineer with supervisory authority over hundreds of employees. Despite his manifest qualifications, LaRiviere believed she had been unfairly passed over. She filed two state court discrimination lawsuits challenging SIUE's hiring decisions. Both were dismissed. The state court dismissed the second lawsuit on August 14, 2014; the appeal ended in July 2015.

         Meanwhile, Fuligni hired Donna Meyer to fill a newly created position-Associate Director of the Facilities Department. LaRiviere reported directly to Meyer, who reported to Fuligni. She resented the management styles adopted by her new supervisors.

         Over the next several years, LaRiviere had several conflicts with coworkers. On multiple instances, she refused to sign a Position Description Questionnaire, a document prepared by her supervisor which defined her duties and responsibilities. In April 2013, LaRiviere refused to sign an updated PDQ - prepared by Meyer-because she objected to the new duties and responsibilities outlined within. In early 2016, Meyer gave LaRiviere an updated PDQ which, LaRiviere believed, did not accurately reflect her true duties. Ultimately, she signed the document but also wrote that she was "signing under duress."

         The record contains other contentious workplace interactions. During one meeting, LaRiviere referred to a group of architects as "paper pushers" and stated that she should receive a bonus for meeting with all of "these people." In March 2016, LaRiviere submitted sick leave and vacation requests for a two-week period. She wasn't ill and tentatively planned to work each of those days. But LaRiviere didn't want to comply with a recently implemented 48-hour notice requirement for leave in the event her plans changed.

         Notwithstanding these incidents, Lariviere received positive performance reviews. During her time at SIUE, she received no written reprimands and only one oral reprimand (for refusing to discipline a subordinate employee).

         On May 5, 2016, SIUE notified LaRiviere that she would not be reappointed to her position. Pursuant to the applicable personnel policies, that meant her employment would end in a year. The district court found -and LaRiviere doesn't deny-that employees who have not been reappointed are often transferred to a different office to serve out their term. That's exactly what happened here. After making ...


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