YANCICK v. HANNA STEEL CORPORATION (AUGUST 3, 2011)
Hanna Steel Corporation employed Matthew Yancick, a white man, for a few years in the mid-2000s. Hanna has a policy prohibiting all forms of harassment and instructs employees to report any harassment to the Human Resource Manager or the General Manager. Yancick signed an acknowledgment of the policy and pledged to follow it. Smith worked with Brad Johnson, an African-American man, while at Hanna. Originally, their relationship was good. It began to deteriorate in early 2005. The two had several confrontations, some of which had racial overtones and some of which did not. Johnson also had confrontations with other employees. Yancick complained at times to his immediate supervisor but never to the Human Resources Manager or the General Manager. In December of that year, Yancick suffered severe and permanent injuries when a steel coil fell on him from a machine operated by Johnson. Yancick asserts that the action was intentional and brought a hostile work environment claim under § 1981. Hanna moved for summary judgment. Yancick moved for and was granted additional time under Rule 56 but was warned by the district court that no additional time would be allowed. With four minutes left in his extension, Yancick filed an oversized brief with a motion for leave to file. He did not file any of the referenced exhibits. A short time later, Yancick filed a substitute response that met all of the page and word limits, again accompanied by a motion for leave to file but again unaccompanied by any exhibits. He finally filed the exhibits a few days later. Judge McDade (C.D. Ill.) denied the motion's, did not consider his response or his disputed facts, and granted summary judgment to Hanna. Yancick appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Wood, Williams, and Tinder affirmed. The Court first addressed the procedural issue and noted that it routinely endorses district courts' strict compliance with local rules. The Court rejected Yancick's argument that he had good cause or that his failure was simply a "requirement of form" under Rule 83. The Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's ruling. On the merits, Yancick must prove that: a) he endured a subjectively and subjectively offensive environment, b) race was the cause, c) the conduct was severe or pervasive, and d) there must be a basis for employer liability. The Court conceded that the record before the coil incident showed that Johnson's conduct was immature and boorish and that he exhibited hostility toward Yancick, but concluded that it did not amount to the severe and pervasive work environment required. In fact, most of Johnson's hostility was not race based. With respect to the coil incident itself, Yancick relied in large part on lay opinion testimony that Johnson was racist to support his assertion that the act was intentional. The Court concluded that the testimony was unsupported by facts and merely reflected the witnesses’ beliefs. In addition, the record supports the conclusion that the incident was an accident and not intentional. Finally, the Court noted that Yancick failed to establish employer liability. Hanna had a formal procedure in place. Yancick was aware of it. Yancick did not take advantage of the remedies provided.