Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp.

281 F.3d 676 (7th Cir. 2002)



To meet her burden of demonstrating that another employee is "similarly situated," an employment discrimination plaintiff must show that there is someone who is directly comparable to her in all material respects. A court must look at all relevant factors, the number of which depends on the context of the case. Such factors include whether the employees dealt with the same supervisor and were subject to the same standards. It is also relevant whether the employees had comparable experience, education, and qualifications, provided that the employer took these factors into account when making the personnel decision in question.


Plaintiff employee brought a suit against former employer alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq. The district court granted the employer's motion for summary judgment, and the employee appealed, arguing she had established a prima facie case and the court erred in denying a motion to compel a deposition. 


Did the trial court err in concluding that Patterson failed to present a prima facie case of gender discrimination?




The appellate court found that one other employee was not similarly situated because they reported to and were evaluated by different supervisors and had different levels of experience and responsibilities. And, at the time of the employee's termination, she was subordinate to the other employee. Because a second employee held an entirely different position in another division of the company, their positions could not be equated. When the employee was terminated, she was assigned to a temporary logistics task force, her assignment was completed and there were no job functions to be "absorbed" by other employees in that department. She could not satisfy the fourth prong of the McDonnell Douglas test in that manner. The proposed deponent was a high-ranking executive in a multinational corporation, who worked more than 1,000 miles away from the employee's facility. It would have been a costly and burdensome means for determining whether he had information bearing on the termination. The employee could have submitted interrogatories to the proposed deponent, but did not do so, casting doubt over her claim that he had relevant information.

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